Which one ones to rush to…and a few to steer clear of…
Earlier this week I put the spotlight on a few of the more spectacular resident productions on the Strip (read here). But for every grand-scale shows there are a dozen or more economical choices vying for your entertainment dollar. These little guys must survive without massive advertising budgets or big-name stars. The casts have to work that much harder to please their audience, often making for a surprisingly enjoyable experience.
Let’s take a look at a few of these lesser-known and more intimate shows…and sort out the gems from the lumps of coal.
MOST OUTRAGEOUS – Miss Behave Gameshow
Sometimes you just need to do something a little crazy. And that madness is even more intoxicating when there are dozens of like-minded guys and girls taking the same trip down the rabbit hole with you.
Miss Behave Gameshow is offbeat, raunchy, free-wheeling fun from creator Amy Saunders. Accompanied by a curious fellow named Tiffany, Saunders (as Miss Behave) guides you through a game whose primary rule is “There Are No Rules”. It’s part improv, part avante-garde performance and a heaping helping of audience participation.
Miss Behave Gameshow earns every laugh in the best way possible…by being genuinely entertaining. And there’s a heartwarming philosophy at its core that will send you out into the casino with a smile on your face. For something you can’t do at home, put this one on your next Vegas “must-list”. Full review here.
Runner Up – Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man
MOST IN NEED OF A FACELIFT – Carrot Top at Luxor
Let’s be clear right away…I’m referring to Carrot Top’s act, not his actual face. And while I adore the orange-haired comic both personally and professionally, his act has become quite stale. It’s still hysterical for those who haven’t seen it in the past, but he’s been performing the exact same jokes and gags for over a decade now.
When I first started visiting Vegas in 2006, Carrot Top at Luxor‘s Atrium Theater was a must. As the years wore on, so did the jokes. Even his props look old and dirty now. The Hooters application. Rosie O’Donnell’s buffet tray. A-Rod’s steroid-filled bat…all past their prime. We love ya dude, but give us something new. And once again, I’m not talking about your face.
BEST DOWNTOWN SHOW – Mike Hammer Comedy Magic
Mike Hammer shares his name with a fictional detective character, but you don’t need to be a sleuth to figure out why he’s such a success. The Chicago-born multi-hyphenate is good-looking, suave, a little bit raunchy and a whole lotta funny.
You might be thinking “Great, another cheesy magic act” but Mike Hammer Comedy Magic is a lot more Don Rickles than David Copperfield. Sure, his illusions are sharp and frequently earn gasps from the audience, but it’s his jokes that you’ll remember long after you leave.
There’s a lot going on when you watch Mike Hammer. The guy is clearly at the top of his game, mixing topicality with wit, sarcasm, unforgettable facial expressions and wonderful sleight of hand. It doesn’t hurt that he’s ridiculously handsome, stylish and more fit than guys half his age, too.
Little guy. Big entertainment…
Dollar for dollar, you won’t find a better entertainment value Downtown…or anywhere else in Las Vegas. If you’re heading down to Fremont Street, be sure to start your adventure at the showroom of Four Queens. And be sure to stick around after the performance to chat (or flex) with Mike. Sometimes that’s the best part of the night.
Honorable mention – Spirit of the King (also at Four Queens)
BEST VINTAGE VEGAS VIBE – Cocktail Cabaret at Caesars Palace
For awhile it seemed like this little treasure was gone for good, then it returned a few months ago to Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars. Nobody seems to know exactly how or why, but what matters is that Cocktail Cabaret is back.
The concept here is simple…a traditional early-evening lounge act overflowing with superb local celebs doing their finest standards and witty repartee. Backed by the wonderful Philip Fortenberry band, this foursome strolls throughout the audience, encouraging you to imbibe as they dance, sing and tell jokes.
Of the three times I’ve attended Cocktail Cabaret, lovelies Maren Wade (The Morning Blend), Niki Scalera and Eric Jordan Young (Vegas! The Show) have been constants. Guest performers include Ron Remke (BAZ), Travis Cloer (Jersey Boys), Daniel Emmet (America’s Got Talent), Shai Yammanee (Jubilee) and James D. Gish.
Whatever the line-up, the talent will be top notch and you’re certain to be entertained. Cocktail Cabaret is the type of show that put Las Vegas entertainment on the map. It’s vintage Vegas at its finest. Don’t miss it.
BIGGEST SNOOZE – Mat Franco: Magic Reinvented Nightly
Vegas has become a bit of a sanctuary for America’s Got Talent contestants. Some hit it big (Terry Fator), others fade away quickly (Paul Zerdin). In the case of Mat Franco, there was a lot at stake.
If the gossip is to be believed, NBC put a chunk of their own bucks into renovating the Linq Hotel showroom for their latest AGT winner. The desire to solidify their brand in Vegas caused a riff between the hotel and Frank Marino’s DIVAS, which was being pushed to the side in favor of Franco. Few know it, but the long-running DIVAS was already in the crosshairs before a financial scandal slammed the door on the drag queen’s closet.
As for Magic Reinvented Nightly, nothing could be further from the truth. Good luck trying to spot something that you haven’t seen before. The production relies heavily on the star’s charisma to make it exciting. Sadly, Mat Franco is about as dull as a dead rabbit. His boyish grin is the only thing the magician has to offer, so you’re left with…..well, not much else.
Tickets to Magic Reinvented Nightly should come with a complimentary dose of No Doz.
FAVORITE TOPLESS REVUE – Chippendales/SEXXY (tie)
In this era of equality, why should beefcake and T&A be separated into their own categories? Not at Vegas Unfiltered, where I’ll crow about the assets of Rio’s Chippendales and Westgate’s SEXXY in equal measure. Both are held in small-ish cabaret venues, feature a nice blend of traditional and cutting-edge sequences…and have a broad range of ages and ethnicities. In other words, there’s something here to curl everyone’s toes.
Despite their naughty nature, Chippendales and SEXXY casts are quite akin to angels. Tirelessly working to raise funds and awareness for charitable causes, the topless performers of Chipps and SEXXY are as admirable as they are breathtaking. Read about Chippendales’ charity work by clicking here.
Runner Up – Zombie Burlesque
MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER – Opium at Cosmopolitan
I hesitated to include OPIUM in the small-production category, as it really could go either way. It may have the backing of Spiegelword entertainment group….and a huge financial push courtesy of a big marketing campaign. But at its heart, OPIUM is very much a quirky little independent production.
Using a re-purposed showroom and sets from their previous flop Vegas Nocturne, the folks at Spiegelworld have fashioned a balls-to-the-wall variety show that wears its cheapness on its sleeves. Not to say that the costumes themselves aren’t fantastic, but any production whose central prop is an old Mattel Simon game…well, I’m sure you catch my drift.
Drenched in the type of naughty nastiness that you might expect to find at an underground avante garde show, Opium will do anything to make you gasp and bellow with laughter. A live band and vocalists, up-close acrobatics, a horny android and the cutest dog act you’ll ever see make Opium a great addition to the Strip. Read my full review here.
SADDEST CAREER PATH – Gordie Brown (Hooters)
Pity poor Gordie Brown, a textbook example of a career in free-fall. The one-time Venetian headliner has been on a downward slide for over a decade. After leaving the Strip, this singer/impersonator settled in nicely at his own Golden Nugget showroom. As tickets sales continued to dwindle, Brown was shown the door. That led to a series of continually-smaller showrooms at Planet Hollywood and now the little-known Night Owl Showroom at Hooters.
It doesn’t help that Gordie’s material is as weathered and shop-worn as his voice. He tries his best, working up a messy sweat while attempting to get the most out of tired George Burns, Nicholson and DeNiro bits…all between gasps of air. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you have to identify the characters to your audience….but since they all sound the same, does it even matter?
It’s worth noting that Mr. Brown is quite a beloved member of the local community. He’s a fixture at just about every fundraiser you can mention. He’s well-respected by his colleagues and fellow performers.
But as for his career, the once-promising star on the rise is now just bargain-basement filler. Even at $24.99 via Groupon, you’ll still feel cheated. Give Gordie Brown a hard pass.
BEST LOCALS SHOW – Mondays Dark at The Space
Mondays Dark gets its name from the fact that most ongoing shows are “dark” on Monday, the slowest day of the week in Sin City. That frees up performers to do their own thing…and many of them still long to be onstage.
With that in mind, creator Mark Shunock (Rock of Ages and the miserable Magic Mike Live) gathers his show-biz friends a couple of times a month to “put on a show”. Then they donate all the proceeds to charity. Each event is absolutely unique from the others…and so are the casts. Each December, stars and the year’s charity reps gather at The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel to celebrate their success and announce the next year’s charities.
A humble concept has grown into one of the biggest little secrets in Las Vegas. I’ll be publishing a full article on Mondays Dark in an upcoming piece for BestOfVegas.com. But if you’re interested in learning more right now, follow this link.
Stay tuned for my next entry in 2018’s “Best of/Worst of”. Thanks for being a reader in 2018 and I hope to see you around town.