Vegas 2018 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst in Large-scale Production Shows

 


Wrapping up another event-filled year with fond memories and a little sass…

Can it really be that Santa is returning to his home base to put the elves back to work? Perhaps, but that Christmas hangover still lingers, ensuring that you didn’t dream your way through another holiday season in Vegas.

As you bring out the noisemakers and put champagne on ice for New Year’s Eve (check out my piece for tips on last-minute NYE planning), let’s look back at some of the noteworthy…and notorious…moments and madness from Las Vegas 2018. First up: the shows…

BEST NEW SHOW – Manilow: The Hits Come Home

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I’ll admit to being a bit worried when 75-year-old Barry Manilow missed his own big night at Westgate Las Vegas. The legendary singer was hospitalized on the morning of his kick-off weekend, which scuttled a massive media party and prompted singers Clint Holmes and Earl Turner to entertain the sold-out auditorium with their SOUNDTRACK show in his absence.

It turns out that my fears were unnecessary, as Manilow snapped back quickly, proving that he truly is the World’s Greatest Showman. Brimming with energy and love for his audience, Barry is everything you want in a Las Vegas event production. Check out my full review here and be sure to see Manilow: The Hits Come Home through June of 2019.

Runner-up: Soundtrack with Clint Holmes and Earl Turner, also at Westgate (now closed), OPIUM at Cosmopolitan (tie)

WORST NEW SHOW – Inferno: The Fire Spectacular 

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                                        “We need more GAS-O-LEEN!!!!!” 

There are certain entertainment venues in Sin City that seem to have a hex on them. Bad things happen, shows close way faster than they should and nothing seems to go right. Tropicana Showroom, Encore Theater at Wynn and Palazzo Theater have all gone through this period at one time or another (in Tropicana’s case, it’s as bad as ever). Now the curse seems to have landed at Paris Hotel Casino.

This was a bad year for Paris. Its troubled (and aging) Paris Theater chewed up and spit out Circus 1903 and Marilyn: The New Musical in just the first half of this year. Next came the cringe-worthy Inferno: The Fire Spectacular. Built around the supposed talents of peculiar and obscure magician Joe Labero, this upstart element-based production squandered every bit of potential in its premise and left you laughing for all the wrong reasons (“We need more gasoline. Lots and lots of GAS-O-LEEN!”). Read my full review here.

While Inferno could have been salvaged by jettisoning its star and focusing on the fire aspect (and The Fuel Girls), the show was abruptly yanked from the Paris schedule just six months in. Its cast was rudely told to hit the road during a break without the benefit of a farewell performance. Show business can be cruel.

It’s interesting to note that I Love The 90’s, the next production to enter this venue, went on an abrupt hiatus for most of December, just two months into its residency. UD Factory‘s CEO Seth Yudof assures me that there is no reason to be concerned. He swears that I Love The 90’s will return stronger than ever in January. Let’s hope his production is the one to break the Paris showroom curse. Entertainers in Sin City already have it tough enough.

Look for my review of I Love The 90’s when it returns in 2019.

MOST UNWELCOME RETURN – Mariah Carey/Britney Spears/Criss Angel (tie)

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                   A stripper, a robot and a douche bag walk into a bar…

The worst thing about Christmas is taking down the tree, packing up the lights and tossing away all that torn wrapping paper. I get that same sinking feeling every time I spot a billboard hyping the residencies of these three clowns.

Like a dried-up fruit cake that won’t go down the garbage disposer, the miserable triad of Carey, Spears and Angel continue to regurgitate up our collective pipes and spread noxious odors throughout the Vegas valley.

There’s an amazing amount of common ground among the self-proclaimed diva, robotic lip-syncer and goth faux-magician. Arrogance, fakery and distraction are the hallmarks of their supposed talents. Onstage gaffes, cancellations, accidents and savage reviews have plagued each of their productions. Yet minimally-talented blowhards continues to sell tickets and broker new residencies shortly after the last ones have been kicked into the desert.

The PR teams for each were touting their “returns” before the stench had even cleared from their previous rounds. Mariah’s somehow on her second stint at Caesars…three if you count last year’s Christmas gig. MGM Resorts wooed Britney from Planet Hollywood over to Park MGM Theater starting in February (why, exactly?). They’re probably regretting it now that advance ticket sales have been lukewarm at best.

Criss Angel’s partnership with Cirque du Soleil is finally over (they’re probably breathing a collective sigh of relief for surviving ten tumultuous and embarrassing years). He’s left Luxor biggest theater for a mezzanine-level auditorium at PHo, the same troubled theater that swallowed Frankie Moreno and Paul Zerdin just last year. Let’s hope it manages to choke down Mindfreak Live…and digest it once and for all.

Santa didn’t hand out coal this year…he gave away tickets to Mariah, Britney and Criss.

SADDEST CLOSURE – BAZ/David Goldrake’s IMAGINARIUM (tie)

It’s frustrating to see unique and talent-packed shows being overlooked for the likes of the notorious three mentioned above. And while they’re vastly different, both BAZ and IMAGINARIUM suffered similar fates.

Palazzo Hotel Casino deserves a lot of credit for backing BAZ, the daring musical mash-up built around a trio of familiar and tragic love stories. Defying simple descriptions and difficult to promote in any form of media, BAZ relied on word of mouth to put butts in seats. Those who saw it praised the innovative production and its amazing cast. In other words, it was doomed from day one.

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David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM had the unfortunate challenges of 1) coming in behind notorious child-porn illusionist Jan Rouven in the cursed Tropicana Showroom 2) sharing the same corner with high-profile magicians Criss Angel and David Copperfield, and 3) being better than Vegas audiences wanted…or deserved. The hard-working Goldrake made IMAGINARIUM far superior to anything either of his competitors currently offer. And he did it with sincerity, dignity, humility and a great deal of sexiness.

Runner-up: Soundtrack at Westgate Hotel Casino

BEST OVERALL PRODUCTION – Le Reve The Dream

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It’s nice to have my all-time show back on this list. Le Reve – The Dream had to take a backseat to BAZ for a few years. But now that the musical has closed down, nothing shines more brightly than Wynn’s signature spectacular.

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Not only is Le Reve back to the top of my list, but it’s fresher than ever. New costumes and make-up design, a fabulous re-imagined score and songs by original composer Benoit Jutras…and a revised story line all come together for an unforgettable experience. When it comes to sheer spectacle, nothing on the Strip beats Le Reve – The Dream. Read my full review here.

Be sure to check back for my next entry in 2018’s wrap-up. And best wishes for the New Year.

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INFERNO’s Magician Goes Up In Flames


Visually-spectacular production is a victim of its own star performer…

A few years back, the handlers for Britney Spears were faced with an unusual dilemma…what to do when the star of your production is a washed-up tabloid punchline with an inexplicably-strong fan base. Their answer was simple yet effective: launch her residency with a circus of hoopla, stick her onstage with all the pyrotechnics and distractions that money could buy and hope for the best.

As fate would have it, Britney: Piece of Me was indeed an unqualified hit. The mentally-troubled pop tart flapped her arms and silently moved her lips while a small army of gorgeous dancers did the heavy lifting, both literally and figuratively. They carried her around like a mannequin accompanied by prerecorded audio tracks and propped her up in whatever area of the stage that the choreography required. Think of it as “Weekend at Bernie’s: The Musical”.

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                         Joe Labero thanks Britney Spears for her #1 idea…

The minds behind INFERNO: The Fire Spectacular (now playing at Paris Hotel Casino) seem to have taken a similar route. Their featured performer is Joe Labero, an obscure illusionist (at least to American audiences) who’s apparently a big name in Europe. He’s also a former recipient of Illusionist of the Decade. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of him.

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Labero’s version of smoke-and-mirrors distractions comes courtesy of a London pyrotechnic troupe known as The Fuel Girls. You may know them from the UK tour of rock group Fall Out Boy….or maybe not. The resultant pairing is the most uncomfortable seen on a Vegas stage since Criss Angel crawled into bed with Cirque du Soleil nearly a decade ago.

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On their own, The Fuel Girls could easily warrant their own show. Stunts, flame throwers, explosions, choreography and visual effects are all top notch. Ramped up and fleshed out, INFERNO could be to fire what Le Reve and WOW – World of Wonder are to water.

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Alas, the show is hostage to Labero and his magic routines. The illusionist does everything he can to remain front and center, despite being the weak link. Like an annoying uncle who laughs at his own jokes then repeats the punchline a second time, Labero attempts to milk every last clap from the audience.

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Walking to the edge of the stage after each bit, Labero stretches out his arms in a “Ta Dah!” pose that he holds far too long…before dashing into the audience to repeat it in the aisles. There were frequent snickers from people seated all around me. Yes, it’s that embarrassing.

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Labero’s stage presence is hampered by a strong Swedish accent that makes it quite difficult to understand what he’s saying much of the time. Also distracting is that the 54-year-old host is frequently out of breath, heaving heavily and sweating…even in the quieter moments of the show.

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As for the illusions themselves, expect the requisite “person sliced into pieces”, sleight of hand, card tricks and people disappearing/reappearing. Two illusions that do have merit are one where Labero seems to walk right through a person stretched between two supports and another where he passes through a mirror.

Aside from that, there isn’t anything truly special about the magic acts in INFERNO: The Fire Spectacular. With the likes of David Copperfield, David Goldrake, Masters of Illusions, Criss Angel, Matt Franco and many more filling the Strip showrooms with this type of entertainment, was there really a need for another? Of course not, especially when one European import in particular is already doing it so much better (David Goldrake’s IMAGINARIUM was my choice for Best New Production of 2017).

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What makes the show worthy of your consideration are all the sequences without Labero. Pyrotechnics are always jaw-dropping in any medium, but feeling the heat, hearing the sizzle and being bombarded with loud blasts are a visceral experience. In this case, the flames are deftly used through aerial stunts, physically-demanding choreography and handling of fiery objects like batons, whips and an umbrella frame.

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Other saving graces are the elaborate production design and costumes. Stylist collaborators Georgia Richardson and Jeffrey DeBarathy (ALICE: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy) bring a distinctive “Mad Max” look to the performers that’s a perfect match for the Fuel Girls’ visuals. The character of “Animal” is clearly inspired by The Road Warrior.

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Unfortunately, Labero’s attempt to associate his magic acts with the far superior fire aspect are truly cringe-inducing. The two just do not overlap well. It’s clear that the magician has taken his existing acts and awkwardly grafted them onto this new production with wildly uneven results.

Joe frequently breaks from what he’s doing to grab a large vase on the side of the stage and dump its contents into a nearby barrel. “We need more gasoline. Lots and LOTS of GAS O LEEEEEEN!” he exclaims time after time before returning to the business at hand.

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Amidst more hushed chuckling from nearby patrons (several of whom had walked out at this point), my companion leaned in and said “Am I missing something here?”. No, my friend…it’s just the sound of another expensive Strip production going up in flames.

INFERNO: The Fire Spectacular performs Wednesday through Sunday inside the Paris Theater. Tickets start at $65.77 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here.

VegasFool.com is offering a $20 discount on INFERNO by following this link. Discounts on additional shows and hotels can be combined/increased by visiting here.

Photos: INFERNO: The Fire Spectacular, Joe Labero