Revamped “Thunder” Goes From ‘Strike-out’ to ‘Home Run’

Long-running male revue takes early lead as most-improved production of 2021…


Regular readers of Vegas Unfiltered Blog have probably figured out by now that this writer is an out-and-proud gay man. If you haven’t, my long-running “Hot Guys of Vegas” series should have tipped you off. Nevertheless, this column has never been focused on that aspect of my personal life. I just mention it now to give some insight on my perspective of male revues.

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Clowning with the guys of “Aussie Heat”…

That being said, I’ve spent many a night with my friends at Aussie Heat and Chippendales. And I’ve deliberately avoided that misguided mess called Magic Mike Live (one of the worst major productions of any kind). The other that’s been high on my “Do Not Fly” list is Australia’s Thunder From Down Under at Excalibur.

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My first visit to “Thunder” was in December 2015…

If you’re curious as to why “Thunder” ranks so low in the hierarchy of Vegas beef-fests, the full review from 2018 is here. But I can give you the Cliff Notes version:

“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.”

Now, I experience no joy in publishing negative reviews, especially when the cast and crew are rarely to blame. “Thunder” being in a temporary venue at the time (their second-floor showroom was undergoing a desperately-needed re-fit) certainly didn’t help. But three years later, I revisited this “Outback throwback” on a whim and found myself having a fantastic evening.

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“Thunder” shares a revamped showroom with “Australian Bee Gees”…

Let’s start with the venue itself. The newly-christened THUNDERLAND showroom received a pretty modern retrofit. The odd two-level footprint is sadly unchanged, and the choice of furniture is somewhat curious (psuedo-IKEA, much like Mat Franco’s space at The Linq). But the current positioning of seats and tables has improved the sight lines. Moving video walls double as a stage curtain, bar service has received an overhaul (with optional online ordering), and the lighting/sound system booms like a beating chest. 

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Speaking of chests, the cast of Thunder is one pec-tastic bunch. Each is chiseled, handsome, and much better at dancing than the last go-round. And this is where I noticed the first major improvement…individual performers are given a chance to shine. Each guy is introduced after their respective showcase moment, removes their mask, offers a few words to the audience…and one even sings the rafters loose.

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As for the ensemble numbers….my biggest gripe was the lazy choreography and cliched acts. Mercifully, “George of the Jungle” seems to have crashed into his final tree, and the vampires have retreated to their coffins. Replacing them are an uncomfortable SWAT team sequence in riot gear (too soon, guys) and a take on the 300 Spartans (meh). The rest is a top-shelf combination of musical hits, contemporary moves, and extreme athleticism that brings horney guests to their feet. 

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It’s worth noting that the element of male audience inclusion remains unchanged since my last review:

“Don’t expect to get more than a fist-bump from the dancers as they work their way through the audience. The rough-and-tumble men of the Outback are dripping with testosterone, but only seem interested in sharing it with the ladies.”

The show is specifically geared towards women, and the few guys in attendance are presumed to be supportive straight men (not tonight, fellas!). Hopefully the minds behind Thunder will catch up with the all-are-welcome Aussie Heat and realize that they’re turning away an untapped, lucrative market. Click here and here for more of my analysis on that topical subject. 

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New host Scott Reading is sass, class…and one sweet surprise…

Now for the best improvement of all….host Scott Reading. This bloke is just about everything you could hope for in a male-revue emcee. He’s sexy, charming, charismatic, funny, engaging, spontaneous, and downright fantastic. In other words, he’s everything that former front-man Marcus Deegan wasn’t:

Abrasive and short-tempered, Deegan seems to take delight in belittling rowdy audience members. 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 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.

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Yes, Marcus…that’s the exit door…

Who knows how many ticket-buyers failed to return thanks to Marcus and his abusive antics? But with any luck, he’s gone for good. Let’s hope that Scott Reading is a permanent fixture. He alone is worth the price of admission….and that’s before he unleashes a massive surprise at the finale.

With the recent sale of RIO Hotel Casino to Hyatt, there’s no telling when gold-standard CHIPPENDALES will return to Sin City…if ever. Thank goodness Thunder From Down Under has stepped up to the plate. It’s an early front-runner for “Most Improved Production of 2021”. And once COVID restrictions are finally removed, this generous serving of beef from the Outback will become a veritable buffet.

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Australia’s Thunder From Down Under performs Wednesday through Monday at 9pm with additional showtimes on weekends. Click here for full schedule and to order tickets. Prices start at $70.95 (plus taxes/fees).

Photos: Sam Novak, Thunder From Down Under, Scott Reading via Instagram