Las Vegas Theater Review: VEGAS! THE SHOW (The Saxe Theatre at Planet Hollywood)

by Tony Frankel on November 10, 2010

in Theater-Las Vegas

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GIMME THAT OLD TIME VEGAS

In front of a necropolis where Vegas marquees and hotel signs of old are the tombstones, an old, black janitor (the multi-talented Tezz Yancey) comes out with a broom and reminisces with us about the Vegas of old. It doesn’t take an idiot savant to know what cards the creators of Vegas! The Show are holding: you know that the set will burst into more blinking lights than a hillside of fireflies in mating season; you know that Mr. Yancey’s make-up and presentational interpretation of old age will fly off faster than a bra from a Vegas stripper on cocaine; you know what we are in for – a figurative, pumped up, chronological look down memory lane, celebrating and recreating the Las Vegas acts of the 1940s to the 1980s.

As valentines go, this jazzy, hot potpourri of old-style Vegas acts grabs you by the memories and shakes you into a sin-city stupor that manages to find a lot of heart inside its exaggerated sentimentalism. Yes, the show could use some snazzier dialogue, and there are times you may wish for precise impersonations of Vegas stars versus re-enactments, but the stage is packed with astounding Broadway-caliber talent and the sheer joy on display will make you wonder why you spent twice as much on some heartless spectacle across the Strip.

Right off the bat, just as I wondered whether this type of pastiche could take off, identical twin brothers Sean and John Scott appeared in a phenomenal tap-dancing routine that was no mere emulation of the Nicholas Brothers; it was the hottest tap dancing this reviewer has ever seen live. These boys managed to execute more rat-a-tat-tats than an entire chorus of 42nd Street. The crowd roared with delight and I myself unabashedly yelled out, “Now THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about!” Those dancing fools set off a tone of infectious and unbridled enthusiasm that never wavered for the next ninety minutes.

Soon enough, out comes Yancey, suited up in threads from the 1950s, joined by another black gal; a lounge set rolls on, band members join them, and – boom – they become vintage Vegas icons Louis Prima and Keely Smith; but not really. You see, these kids are not a literal impression of the infamous duo; they (and others) are the spirit of erstwhile Vegas acts. You will only be disappointed if you expect anything more than a resemblance. Here is the surefire way for you to be touched, thrilled, entertained, and satisfied with Vegas! The Show: just remember to think TRIBUTE and not impersonation.

Don’t get me wrong, some recreated acts blow the roof off the joint: Trina Johnson Finn’s Tina Turner tantalizes while her Gladys Knight is a sensation – distinctive and gloriously personable. Since there are no programs, it’s tough to know the performer’s names; just know that either Jaime Preston or Joelle Righetti-Jenson did a knockout Cher during the salute to the 70s.

The crowd erupts with excitement when Elvis is announced, but Tom Lowe stunned us when he sang as, well, Tom Lowe. Elvis with a British accent! He starts an off-the-cuff chatter with the audience after his number and asks, “Has anybody been married here in Vegas?” A darling, older woman in the front row set down her cocktail, (causing her heavy jewelry to slide down her arm), and screamed, ala Elaine Stritch, “Yeah, a couple ‘o times!” I remember thinking, “This show may not be presented the way I thought it would be, but, man, am I having fun.”

Joseph Gabriel is the astounding magician on board; he pulled so many white doves out of nowhere that it made me wonder where in his body they were coming from (when he pulled out a Macaw, I knew it had to be somewhere else). Gabriel’s other specialty act was a marionette of Liberace doing the boogie-woogie on the piano – it’s a genius who can keep you from looking at the magician and have you remain fixated on the puppet.

The dancers are marvelous. These are not acrobats as dancers, they are profoundly skilled at dancing; some of the women are so intensely lithe and leggy that I was thinking Cyd Charisse more than Vegas. The 10 chorus girls kicked the merde out of the can-can! The dancing is a very stylized Old Vegas on steroids (yes, that’s a good thing).

There is no director or writer credited, but we do have astounding choreographer Tiger Martina and producer David Saxe, whose mother was a dancer in Folies Bergere and his father a bandleader for The Rat Pack. Musical director Pat Caddick has worked with the biggest names in the business, and it shows; his beefed-up arrangements are an authentic big-band sound you would expect in old Vegas, yet none of it is hackneyed. Band leader Jerry Lopez keeps the high octane 11-piece band musically muscular; these players are at the top of their game.

During a rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” we watch a video montage of old hotels imploding on the strip, demolished to make way for newer, more lavish resorts; the effect was authentically moving. I found myself missing a Vegas I have only heard about. Ironically, Vegas! The Show claims to miss the classic Vegas and then slaps us in the face with a sound system that would be better suited to a football stadium – some people up front actually had their fingers in their ears. Plus, the cast asks us to “give it up for old Las Vegas”– an odd pairing of modern lingo and reverence for the past. Technology and dialogue like this illustrate how the show smacks slightly of incongruity…maybe that’s where a director and/or writer could have helped this outing decide exactly what it wants to be.

Either way, the show is fun, a lot of fun, but wouldn’t it be amazing to find talent like this who could actually do spot on impressions? Then this show could soar into the Stratosphere (the sky, that is, not the hotel).

Vegas! The Show
David Saxe Productions
Luxe Theatre at Planet Hollywood
open run
for tickets, visit Vegas! The Show

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ray Finn November 10, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Thanks for the fantastic review Tony! You hit on many of the shows strengths and areas of improvement spot-on. Where you suggest, “think Tribute, not Impersonation”, you hit the nail on the head! Personally, it’s refreshing to see such a talented group of performers being able to capture the “essence” of the original artist’s performance, as opposed to trying to do a spot-on impersonation. It’s what gives the show it’s uniqueness, as it doesn’t shy away from focusing on pure talent. I give David and Tiger much credit for showcasing pure “in-your-face” talent with powerful vocals, unabashed and enthusiastic dancers, and a heart-pounding orchestra to boot!

Take for example your assessment of Trina Johnson-Finn’s performance (who by the way also sang the part of Keely Smith). She in fact, also works as a Celebrity Impersonator or Tribute Artist, which appears to be the nom-de-jour), but what works for her in this show and what allows her to deliver that “WOW” factor, is David allowing her to just be her. That’s what really sets this show apart from it’s competition, an All-Star cast, who collectively, just bring it, day in and day out.

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Bonnie & Vaughn Zavsza November 10, 2010 at 9:45 pm

We saw the show a few months ago & we loved it! The Best advertisement is… “Word of Mouth”. We have told lots of friends & they loved it too!

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Stanley December 20, 2013 at 3:17 am

Those tap dancing artists are amazing. Their dance moves are gorgeous! I found a great video of them in an Art website: Art Days, here is the link! Enjoy 🙂

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