Thunder From Down Under: Time To Toss Out This Outback Throwback


Long-running male revue needs to desperately up its game plan…

Maybe it’s just an off-season phenomenon. Perhaps it’s the temporary venue being utilized during their theater renovation. But more likely, being covered in dust has more to do with neglect than construction debris.

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Whatever the reason, Excalibur’s THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER is a relic in need of a serious upgrade. Out of touch with the times and suffering from a complete lack of production values, this by-the-numbers slog is about as erotic as a post-Halloween jack-o-lantern that’s left sitting on the porch to rot.

Much of the blame rests squarely on the muscular shoulders of Marcus Deegan, the host of this sad little time capsule. Abrasive and short-tempered, Deegan seems to take delight in belittling rowdy audience members. That’s totally unacceptable, especially in the type of show where getting wild is typically not only welcomed but encouraged.

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           Host Marcus Deegan will put you in your place. No fun allowed…

The past two times that I’ve seen THUNDER, Deegan’s stopped the show dead in its tracks to berate rowdy women. He’s gone so far as to blatantly tell them to “Shut the f*ck up”. On one occasion, he even came out during final bows to flip his middle finger at an audience member while mouthing “F*ck you!”…and it wasn’t done with a wink.

Such obnoxious treatment of guests might be tolerable if the show itself was a must-see. Unfortunately, this isn’t 1974 and Excalibur isn’t in remote Tonopah Nevada. Contemporary visitors to Sin City have every reason to expect flashy high-tech glitz but that just ain’t happening inside this sad little showroom at The Castle.

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Despite being currently housed in an abandoned casino-side location once home to the bankrupt Lynyrd Skynryd BBQ (which itself has been collecting cobwebs behind a wall for six years) the show is virtually unchanged from its usual upstairs location. With a plain black-canvas backdrop, awkward tables that resemble balance beams and rows of uncomfortable bar stools, it’s clear that no expense has been…er, spent to elevate your experience.

As for the show itself, it’s everything that the equally awful Magic Mike Live ridicules male revues for being. Packed with rote production numbers, Thunder will have you mentally scratching off each item from the list of cliches as it plays out on a cheap plywood stage. Erotic vampires? Yep. Law enforcement and military officers? Of course. George of the Jungle and a gorilla? Unfortunately, that’s here too.

Then there is the requisite songbook that every male revue includes: “Uptown Funk”, “Save A Horse – Ride A Cowboy” and a Michael Jackson number all get spun by the DJ, along with that brain-piercing Beyonce earworm “Run The World – Girls”.  The costumes are cheap, there are no sets to speak of and props are at a bare minimum. Choreography is decent but certainly not innovative.

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As for the performers, they’re an unremarkable lot that actually seem quite bored. Going through very basic movements with a minimum of energy or attention to synchronization, the cast projects a complete absence of sincerity…and a clear lack of engagement. These guys seem more interested in their gym memberships than creating a memorable experience for the audience.

One notable exception is Chad Homan, formerly of the far superior Aussie Heat at Planet Hollywood. The youngest member of Thunder, Chad’s also the best dancer by far. Smiling from ear to ear, he spins and sails through the air in ways the other guys could only hope to pull off. He also brings inclusive energy and audience interaction from his previous gig, even hugging male audience members (apparently a no-no here).

Speaking of that matter, THUNDER flounders next-to-last on my published ranking of male revues for their treatment of men. Guys are barely acknowledged here and host Deegan even says something to the effect of “This night is for ladies only…you won’t see your guys here”. Take away from that what you will. But in this era of inclusion, saying “Ladies ladies ladies” is another example of just how dated the Outback boys really are.

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                    Free tickets abound yet the showroom is nearly empty…

Perhaps it’s rather telling that, despite the proliferation of free tickets on MyVegas (the online game that awards real prizes) and various fill-a-seat services, Thunder From Down Under was roughly 75 percent empty last night. You’d think that with the current tidal wave of cowgirls here for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the venue would have been overflowing. Instead, it resembled a dried-up lake during a severe Aussie drought.

Let’s hope that when a newly-renovated theater debuts at Excalibur, the shopworn Thunder From Down Under also unleashes a fresh new version. Until then, it’ll continue to be a great big middle finger to the audience. So save your discretionary income for genuine grade-A beef like the Chippendales. Or maybe just a bargain cut of steak at your local Outback restaurant.

If you’re going: Thunder From Down Under performs nightly at 9 pm with an additional 11 pm show on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets start at $50.95 (plus taxes/fees) and can be purchased here

Photos/video: Sam Novak, Marcus Deegan/Thunder From Down Under via Facebook 

 

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Las Vegas and the Australia Connection


There’s a unique bond between Sin City and the Land Down Under…

Thanks to casino developer Sam Boyd and his trio of downtown properties, the people of Hawaii have forged a strong relationship with Las Vegas. The FremontMain Street and most especially California hotels are dependent on regular tourism from the Island State, and they cater to the culture in a variety of ways.

Restaurants serve Hawaiian favorites, staff wear island-style shirts, and Hawaiian retailers like ABC Stores and Lappert’s Ice Cream have locations Downtown. Signs throughout Boyd casinos even proclaim “Aloha Is Spoken Here”.

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        Olivia Newton-John at the opening party for her residency at the Flamingo…

On the other side of the equator, the continent of Australia has also formed a bond with Sin City. While not nearly as defined, there’s an undeniable connection between the folks from Down Under and the City of Entertainment. Let’s take a look at a few examples, and perhaps uncover why such distant locations are joined by an invisible highway of travelers…and why so many people relocate from one place to the other.

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   Perth’s Andrew Gill welcomes guests to the Mike Hammer Comedy Show at 4 Queens…

For Andrew Gill, it was the lure of magic that drew him to Vegas. Then 19 years old, this native of Perth flew across the Pacific to attend the World Magic Teen Mentoring Seminar by legendary Lance Burton. Things turned out so well that Gill remained and worked his way up to becoming production manager for Mike Hammer Comedy Magic.

Andrew stayed with Hammer’s team a few years until his work visa expired. Before returning, the ambitious young Aussie had developed relationships with fellow magicians Murray SawchuckDavid Copperfield and of course, Burton. Now a successful realtor (with his own magic act to keep things fun), Andrew returns annually for the MAGIC Live Convention at Orleans Hotel.

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     Human Nature gives Mike Tyson some love at the opening night of JUKEBOX…

Since this city thrives on sex appeal, it’s only natural that the legendary handsome men of Australia would come here to seek fame, fortune…and steaming hot billboards. Outback rancher Aaron Michael Lucey relocated here to become a successful choreographer and performer.

In addition to various other musical productions, Aaron was dance captain for Thunder From Down Under, the long-running Aussie-themed male revue at Excalibur. That was followed by Chippendales spin-off 53X and more recently Masters of Illusion.

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         Aaron Micheal Lucey traded a saddle for the excitement of the Strip…

Three years ago, the upstart Aussie Heat opened downtown, quickly expanding both the show and their audience in the larger V Theater at Planet HollywoodAussie Heat achieved the number one spot for Vegas productions on Yelp. Ninety-three percent of audience ratings are at five stars, so the risky plan for bringing a brand-new, er…brand to Las Vegas seems to have paid off.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations                                       Tommy (far left) with the cast of Aussie Heat…

You may remember the guest article penned by former Aussie Heat dancer Tommy Harvey aka “Tommy Gun” (pictured above, first row far right). Tommy detailed what it was like to move here from Australia. Despite undergoing a bit of culture shock, it wasn’t long before the striptease artist/athlete was feeling right at home.

Former Aussie Heat CEO Jono Weinstock explained the appeal of Vegas stages to Australian entertainers:

“As a performer, this is the pinnacle of achievement…being able to perform so many nights and shows a week. Back home, maybe once a week if lucky. It’s the pinnacle of entertainment, too — a big bold fun adult playground. Parties, gaming, pools, DJ’s, shows…”.

Weinstock was also quick to point out a few of the many positives that Sin City offers for Australian tourism:

“It’s a 15 hour flight from L.A., so we only get big-name performers once every 20 years in their careers! (There’s) cheap shopping also. We pay three times as much for everything down there. The outlets are a winner..and the Aussie dollar at times has been very favourable…now not so much, but shopping is of huge value.”.

Chippendales joined the Aussie-hunk popularity wave by recruiting dancer Ryan Stuart, who was widely promoted as their first member from Down Under. Stuart’s looks, talent, and super-sexy accent aided in him becoming a regular host for the show. After an onstage injury, Stuart returned to Australia but takes back with him a lifetime of experiences.

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              Hit-maker Kylie Minogue cuddles with fellow Aussie Ryan Stuart…

Ironically, Ryan’s fellow Chippendale host Russel Francis chose the opposite path, leaving the stages of Vegas for those of Australia. The handsome singer/dancer from Jacksonville Florida, who had starred in Planet Hollywood‘s PIANO MAN and VEGAS! THE SHOW was riding a career high when he decided to make a big change.

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Former Vegas performers Russel Francis (center) and Ali Francis (far right) bring a little taste of Vegas to the Australian Olympic team in Queensland…

Francis won the affection of a Vegas! The Show audience…and his co-star/future bride Ali…when he proposed to her onstage at the end of a performance. After the honeymoon and lots of traveling, Russel decided to head to Australia for a chance to audition for Ricky Martin on their version of The Voice. A year after going through the audition process, he made it to the finals and worked with legendary singer Seal.

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                       Russel and myself after one of his Vegas performances

Russel sees a definite connection between Las Vegas and Australia:

“I’ve traveled for about five years straight, been to six continents and hundreds of countries. Australia is by far the closest country to the U.S. They actually call Brisbane ‘Bris-Vegas’.

I asked Russel if Australia’s similarity to the United States eased his transition…and if he was welcomed by native residents:

“They have welcomed me with open arms. Everyone has been so friendly and helpful. I’ve been booked on all kind of gigs because everyone loves that I’m here. If I get on the show (X Factor) and do well then we might be here for awhile”.

The people of Las Vegas clearly have open arms for Aussies as well. Take note when you attend a show here and the performers ask audience members “Where are you from?”. Chances are, there will be a large and rowdy group of Aussies, all having a great time together.

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              The Australian Bee Gees celebrate all things disco at Excalibur…

And why not? It’s great to feel welcome when you’re so far away from home. And Aussie visitors are bombarded by advertising for Australian Bee GeesHuman Nature, and previously for Olivia Newton-John. But if they ever feel lonely, there’s a community group dedicated to Australians who have relocated here.

Currently, no casino has followed the California‘s lead and dedicated their marketing directly to Australians (Excalibur comes close with the Thunder/Australian Bee Gees line-up). And this writer has yet to find a restaurant that specializes in lamington and pavlova.

But as the bond between these two cultures continues to grow and strengthen, don’t be surprised if someday the MGM Grand restores their Oz theme with a new twist….and the Rainforest Cafe re-opens as the “Koala Diner”.

Photos: Sammasseur, Russel Francis/Ryan Stuart/Tommy Harvey/Aaron Michael Lucey via Facebook, LIGHT Nightclub/Australian Bee Gees via Facebook