R.U.N For The Exit – Cirque du Soleil’s Latest is an EPIC DISASTER


Tone-deaf stunt show-cum-blockbuster confuses vulgarity and violence for action…

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If we can applaud entertainment companies for expanding outside of their comfort zone, then we’re surely entitled to speak up when they cross the line. That’s what’s been happening since Cirque du Soleil premiered R.U.N: The First Live Action Thriller at Luxor a few weeks ago. The public reaction has been overwhelmingly negative.

The outcry towards R.U.N has gotten so strong that I was bashed on Twitter for penning an opinion-free article describing the structure and content of the show for a freelance gig:

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Just how bad is it when readers DEMAND a negative review? Well…pretty darn bad indeed. R.U.N could have easily fallen into the category of “So awful that you have to see it”. Which is amusing when you consider that those very words described the previous occupant of Luxor’s theater – Criss Angel BeLIEve. That smelly heap of garbage somehow made it through ten long and miserable years (and several major overhauls) before Cirque could bleach away the stench and move forward with their next offering.

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But this is what they came up with for their newest show? I couldn’t for the life of me recommend R.U.N to anyone in good conscience…not even an enemy. It’s an ugly, inconsistent, poorly-planned and sloppily-executed mess that lies there like a dead body in a ditch. That is, except when characters are shouting F-bombs, being wheeled through the audience strapped to a torture device, having a syringe of drugs pumped into their arm or suspended over the audience by a metal claw driven into the face.

Yes, those things really happen in a Cirque du Soleil show….and people get up and walk out during these revolting sequences night after night (or so I’ve been told). It certainly happened during a Saturday 7pm timeslot that I attended. It’s also worth noting that despite plenty of nationwide advertisements and billboards all over the city, the auditorium was shockingly empty…..perhaps 25 percent of the seats were taken, and that’s not counting the two upper sections that are blocked off and covered with canvas. Ouch.

So how could something so awful make it past a brainstorming session, let alone twice-a-night performances on the Vegas Strip? Your guess is as good as mine. But let’s be real here….Cirque‘s reputation as a top provider of entertainment isn’t what it used to be. Viva Elvis did so poorly for ARIA that they ripped out their gorgeous theater when replacement production ZARKANA tanked there, too.

There have been numerous other missteps in the past few years that have allowed Spiegelworld (Absinthe, Opium and Atomic Saloon Show) to take away and put a new shine on Cirque’s tarnished crown. And the failing attendance of Cirque’s six other resident productions has led to rumors of them pulling out of Vegas altogether in the next few years. That’s what happens when you glut the market on a worldwide scale. You’re forced to eat your own tail just to survive.

Does anyone remember IRIS, the $100 million Cirque du Soleil resident show in Hollywood that closed after only 16 months? How about Paramour, the New York-based musical which did so poorly that Broadway’s LYRIC Theater paid Cirque $23 million just to close up and leave? There were other high-profile flops like Zaia in Macau, Zed in Tokyo, Banana Schpeel (New York/Chicago) and the first attempt to launch BAZ in Las Vegas (yes, it was Cirque that brought BAZ to Mandalay Bay before pulling out mere weeks into the run).

For some reason, Cirque du Soleil has been obsessed with Hollywood as of late. They seem to think that people want to pay over $100 to see a movie salute…at a time when people are skipping the cinemas and doing Netflix-and-chill at home. Besides film-centric IRIS and Paramour, they collaborated with director James Cameron on Worlds Away, a fantasy film that barely made a blip at the 2012 box office. Then Cirque produced TORUK – The First Flight, a poorly-reviewed touring show (based on Cameron’s AVATAR) that one magazine called “A troubling, redface spectacle”.

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                 R.U.N has guns, cars, drug dealers and LOTS of cardboard boxes…

Cirque even considered doing a Quentin Tarantino musical, but chose BAZ instead…because Tarantino films are so dark and violent! In an interview for Los Angeles Magazine in 2015, Cirque Theatrical‘s Scott Zeiger had this to say:

For the Record: Tarantino was going to be playing in Montreal. I went and loved it. I brought all of the top dogs from Cirque parent to see it. While all of them liked it, they were afraid for Cirque to get involved with this brand because the content of [Tarantino’s] films is pretty violent and deals with subject matter that might not be on the same wavelength with Cirque du Soleil’s more spiritual, love-oriented, happier themes.”

Yet here we are with a brand new $63 million production written by film director Robert Rodriguez, the man behind super-violent films like Planet Terror, Machete, Machete Kills and From Dusk Til Dawn. Somehow the company that once brought you glorious productions like Mystere and The Beatles LOVE thinks you want to spend an evening…and your hard-earned cash…watching the kind of show you’d slip into at Universal Studios for free to get out of the heat.

And as the photo below shows, people just didn’t care about the characters or what was going on all around them in the theater.

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                  Some people would rather stare at their phones than watch R.U.N…

That in itself shows just how tone-deaf Cirque has become to our current culture. And R.U.N lacks any kind of wink-wink fun that audiences might expect from the show’s advertisements. People are depicted as being tortured, killed and burned alive. One character has his arms and legs pulled out of joint and broken (with the sound of bone cracks amplified by Luxor’s megawatt sound system).

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Speaking of the sound system, this show is absolutely deafening. About five minutes in, my ears were literally hurting and my head began to throb. Fortunately, I’d read some online reviews warning about the extreme decibel level and brought along a pair of earplugs that stayed in place until the lights came up.

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So can this show be saved? Yes, it can. When Le Reve premiered at WYNN back in 2006, it was received so poorly that performances were cut and the production received a major retooling. Now it’s considered one of the best shows on the Strip…because audience reaction was analyzed and changes were made. And that HAS to happen with R.U.N, too.

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                   You’d have more fun playing a video game in a dark, creepy alley….

I predict a full closure for this show and a massive gutting. Costumes and sequences will be tossed out and the torture depictions have to go. Right now. There is no charismatic leading man to cheer for, no emotional investment in the fates of the characters, and even the plot (“retrieve a necklace to win” belongs in a video game, not a stage) will need to be refashioned into something people care about. A kidnapped child, perhaps? A damsel in distress? Anything but a pendant holding some secret data.

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The opening sequence, which is an actual film, goes on for far too long. From the get-go, people will be wondering “Did I just pay $300 to take my date to a movie?”. When flesh-and-blood characters actually appear, their performances and stunts will have you shrugging. Gang fights are so choreographed and punches so fake that you’ll think you’ve wandered into a high school production of “West Side Story”, despite silvery mylar costumes and moon boots that belong in a 90’s boyband video.

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Imagine if this show was built around an actual, heroic movie star! How cool would it be to watch the likes of Van Damme, Stallone, Chris Pratt or Dwayne Johnson doing their best stunt work before your eyes?  Even a live-action version of a familiar movie would be a cool idea…perhaps Rodriguez’s own SIN CITY, a hit film based on the works of Frank Miller. Now THAT is something I might recommend, not this violent, rambling and ugly excuse for a show.

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And yes, there were children in attendance despite a disclaimer stating that the material is intended for mature audiences 13 and up. I questioned a box office attendant as to whether they enforce this policy and she told me that they do not…it is a recommendation, not a restriction.

R.U.N is not a show for kids. Or teens. Or adults…or anyone, for that matter. Run as far away from R.U.N as you can…and don’t look back. Sorry, Cirque, but you’ve lost it…and heads are certainly going to roll.

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Normally I’d put ticketing information and showtimes here, but that’s not going to happen this time. See anything else (except for Mariah Carey or Criss Angel) but skip this bomb.

Photos: Sam Novak

‘Celestia’ Comes to Earth By Way of the Vegas Strip


New astral-themed production opens at the STRAT…

Anticipation’s been as high as the massive tent erected on its behalf. An announced January premiere came and went, as did competing tent show Fuerza Bruta. But after many delays and hoopla galore, CELESTIA has finally come to Earth…and landed on the Las Vegas Strip.

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CELESTIA is the first large-scale entertainment offering under the STRAT’s new ownership and name. As the iconic hotel casino continues its evolution from Stratosphere into a decidedly more hip and relevant offering, CELESTIA has become an inadvertent keystone of their new image and business model. Naturally, a lot hinges on its success.

Last week’s official premiere was flashy and epic in scope. Celebrities like BMX pro Ricardo Laguna and entertainers from all over the city enjoyed signature cocktails and delicious bites at a pre-show reception. Then guests grabbed boxes of popcorn before heading into the main tent.

The cavernous performance space, which is beautifully landscaped on the exterior, looks even larger thanks to colorful motion projections of the cosmos. Stars twinkle in every direction and colorful astral bodies spin and glow. The stage is arranged proscenium-style, an unusual departure from the typical circus-in-the-round.

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But CELESTIA is more than the traditional three-ring spectaculars of your childhood memories. As a live band pumps out the arresting opening number, a large international cast appears from all directions. Still more plunge downward from unseen platforms, filling the air and stage with wonder.

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A threadbare premise follows central character “Celestia”, a star who’s taken the physical form of a young woman. Hoping to learn about artistry and human emotions, Celestia journeys through our world accompanied by a pair of comical sidekicks. Of course, this story line is just an excuse to present a variety of colorful and jaw-dropping acts.

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The fledgling production is beautifully mounted with snappy pacing, memorable costumes and a very attractive athletic cast. Contortionists, aerial artists, archers and knife-throwing wizards fill every square foot of the wide, neon-lit stage. Performers run through the aisles and leap onto platforms scattered throughout the audience, making for great photo-ops along the way (the show is flash-free picture-friendly).

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Fans of The Greatest Showman will enjoy seeing Russian Bar athletes The Sandou Trio. America’s Got Talent finalists Sergey and Sascha bring their stunning head-to-head balancing act to Vegas crowds as well. A spectacular sequence on the Wheel of Death will have you alternately hiding your eyes and raising your voice with cheers. Mounted of a massive scale, this finale rivals anything Cirque du Soleil can offer.

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Speaking of Cirque, you may wonder where CELESTIA fits into an already crowded entertainment landscape. Click here to continue reading… 

Photos: CELESTIA, Sam Novak

 

 

 

 

WAYNE SKIVINGTON OF ‘ZUMANITY’ TALKS FATHER-SON BONDING, VEGAS-STYLE


Cirque du Soleil performer and young son inspire others through fitness…

Click HERE to read this article via BestOfVegas.com…

Raising a child in any large city can be a challenge. You want to be a great role model, provide for your children yet still make their formative years memorable, fun and happy. Now imagine being a single father in “Sin City”…and you’re a performer working late nights in an adult-themed production. That’s the reality of ZUMANITY heartthrob Wayne Skivington.

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Skivington was born in a British Military Hospital in Germany. He began formal gymnastics instruction at the age of four and his natural talents were quickly recognized. When his family returned to Great Britain in 1994, Wayne performed in many exhibitions. While representing the nation at an international competition in Palm Springs, his troupe stopped in Las Vegas, visited Treasure Island’s Mystere….and Wayne’s love affair with Cirque du Soleil began.

Mesmerized by the renowned Alexis Brothers’ balancing act, Wayne sent his show reel to Cirque du Soleil along with an employment application. In 2008, as he was about to turn twenty-one, the handsome athlete was invited to join the Montreal-based entertainment company.Screenshot 2019-06-10 at 1.02.12 PM.png

To his surprise, Wayne was hired for their Las Vegas division and placed him in Mystere, the very show that had inspired him to apply. Accepting the position required leaving his sports coaching/conditioning studies at University of Leeds, but it’s a decision that Wayne has never regretted.

After his stint at MYSTERE, Skivington became the coach for Criss Angel BeLIEve and joined the cast onstage as a fellow performer. Now thirty-one, he’s a fitness coach at Rebound Vigour during the day and ZUMANITY’s sexy Scotsman at night. His sensual acrobatic routine raises temperatures ten times each week at New York NY Hotel Casino.

Fatherhood has taken Skivington’s personal life to greater heights than a trapeze. Six-year-old son Rowan shares Wayne’s blonde hair and gift for gymnastics and acrobatics. The two have become a worldwide sensation thanks to a series of father/son workout videos that Wayne shared on social media platforms.

 

                                      Photos: Marco Poker via IP FIT Facebook page…

Being a single parent with two jobs, I don’t have a great deal of spare time. So, my son is always with me. It was by sheer fluke that one day whilst videoing, like most parents do, I realized my son was copying me working out. He loves attempting to do what daddy does!

Wayne stresses that his time with Rowan isn’t what he considers to be a formal exercise regime. He saves that for personal training sessions, garage and gym workouts…and of course, rehearsals at the theater with show partner Katerina. When Rowan and his dad do their amazing feats, it’s just father-and-son fun.

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I think my videos have become popular because I am including my son in my active lifestyle, demonstrating the possibilities that lie with the greatest tool we own… our bodies! They can also see the trust my son has in me and the confidence I am building in him, all achieved through bonding during our playtime.

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There’s no question that raising a little one in a city-wide adult playground poses its own challenges. Wayne has the unique added complexity of being in a production meant for mature eyes only. But this son of a military officer grew up quickly on a worldwide stage. He’s gained a lifetime of practical experience that most parents would never have exposure to.

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Now Wayne is sharing his knowledge and perspectives by bringing fitness to families. He’s created a program called IP FIT FUN, which combines time-management principals with exercises that utilize your most valuable equipment – your own body.

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IP FIT FUN helps parents teach basic fundamentals of movement (to their children) through interaction and bonding. (They learn) to work out at home using body-weight exercises. Kids just soak up everything they see and realize anything is possible with a little dedication.

I want to encourage people to be a good role model, live a healthier lifestyle whilst having fun with the family, enriching relationships and memories that will last a lifetime.

As for the possibility of a father-son acrobatics act? Only time will tell if Rowan follows his dad’s footsteps into acrobatics and performance. But for now, he’s off to an amazing start. And his father will be there every step of the way.

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                “You are my motivation, my inspiration and my drive! I do it all for you”…

                                                                                           – Wayne Skivington

Pics courtesy Wayne Skivington social media, individual photographers credited there…

 

 

Fuerza Bruta Is a Sin City Game Changer



Spectacular production poised to redefine entertainment on the Strip….

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Every decade or so, a show comes along that changes the face of Las Vegas entertainment. First Mystere brought Montreal’s Cirque du Soleil to the desert. Then Celine Dion’s record-breaking Coliseum residency paved the way for other top-tier headliners. The last truly innovative production we’ve seen is Absinthe, the bawdy acrobatic tribute to burlesque. That is until Fuerza Bruta arrived on the scene. And this high-energy production is one phantasmagorical thrill you won’t want to miss.

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Like Absinthe, Fuerza Bruta is located in a tent outside of a major casino (in this case, Excalibur). That’s about the only thing these two productions have in common. You’ll know you’re in for something unusual when you step inside the entrance and receive a short briefing by a staffer. He or she will explain that you’ll be required to stand during the entire performance and follow crew instructions to move as set pieces and cast members move through and around the performance space.

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Once inside, you’ll notice that the cavernous area is entirely black and dimly-lit, except for a neon sign displaying the show’s title. The anticipation will be palpable as you try to decide where to congregate and which direction to focus your attention. But don’t waste your time wondering, as you and the rest of the audience literally ARE the stage 360-degree, 3-dimensional.

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Once the lights go down and the cast appears, you’ll be swept away into the most immersive production the city has going. Wind, rain, sound effects, lasers, flying objects, moving sets, live musicians, singers and special effects on an epic scale combine to   envelope you in a way that Las Vegas has never seen.

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Well, that last statement isn’t entirely true. A previous incarnation, entitled De La Guarda, ran for about a year at Rio Hotel Casino. Somewhat ahead of its time back in 2001, the current version is exactly what Las Vegas needs. Not only does it avoid the “sameness” of most new roll-outs, Fuerza Bruta raises the bar for every show in the city.

Trying to describe Fuerza Bruta is a bit of a challenge. There’s no story line or discernible theme. What the Argentinian production does offer is an onslaught of imagery, mind-boggling segments and a daring assault on the senses. The music is fantastic, the cast is extremely attractive and the atmosphere evokes a secret rave.

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How long has it been since you attended a show and your jaw literally dropped? That’s sure to happen when the audience is surrounded by a massive mylar wall that begins to rotate like a horizontal hamster wheel. Performers jog along this enormous silver road,  suspended at a right angle and reaching out to the audience below.

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If you’ve been fascinated by the aqua-stages at “O” and “Le Reve”, wait until you see what Fuerza Bruta does. A transparent swimming pool appears from high above, slides over the audience and descends until you can reach out and touch it. Cast members swim, flip and swoosh through water that’s lit from above, creating a swirling collage of colors and patterns.

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A favorite sequence involves a white-suited young man on a stroll that suddenly turns into a soaking windstorm. He encounters flying furniture, a spinning room and breakaway walls that sail through the air….all while never losing his rhythm to the techno beat. A truly avante-garde sequence that’ll have you cheering, dancing…and perhaps scratching your head.

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Click HERE to continue reading.

 

 

 

 

“WOW” is Wet Outlandish Whimsy on a Grand Scale


Rio’s water-themed production salutes the heyday of Vegas variety….

If you’ve read my show reviews and columns through the years, you’re probably aware that I’m not a fan of the direction the Vegas entertainment has headed. You know the kind I mean…manufactured talents clogging up enormous venues with their auto-tune warbling. Has-been “divas” sleep-walking and lip-syncing through high-ticket residencies for an enormous paycheck. So-called “celebrity DJs” with their creepy mugshot-style billboards peppering the main roads of the city. It’s all garbage!

Sorry, folks, but Vegas was built on the backs of real talent. If you don’t know or don’t remember what that is, you can check out the amazing musical BAZ at Palazzo, where singers can dance and dancers can sing. And they combine their complex roles with superb acting, offering wide-spectrum talent from every member of the cast.

In recent years, an assortment of variety shows have sprung up that remind us of the glorious era of Vegas. Dancers, singers, circus acts and comics zipping on and off the stage in a constant barrage of whimsy to thrill and dazzle. WOW – World of Wonder is the latest of these, and it’s definitely on my list of must-see-again thrills.

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WOW is a rare commodity on the Sin City entertainment scene. It dares to be simultaneously silly, chaotic, retro and modern while offering high-tech amazement. WOW wears its randomness on its sleeve, starting here and jumping over there. You never know who will be coming onto the stage, creeping up behind you, descending from the ceiling or rising from the depths.

If some of that sounds a bit like Le Reve, you’re right. There are plenty of moments in WOW that resemble Wynn’s signature production, along with Absinthe, Mystere, Vegas! The Show and the sadly-defunct Vegas Nocturne at Cosmopolitan’s Rose.Rabbit.Lie. I offer those comparisons as compliments, as all have been personal favorites.

What differs with WOW is in the presentation, starting with the venue. Rio‘s refurbished Crown Theater will definitely elicit a “wow” from your lips. Not necessarily from the seating arrangements (which are a bit dated and not-quite-lush) but from the main stage and panoramic video panels, which are absolutely gorgeous and impeccably utilized.

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Dazzling moving images of waterfalls and intensely-colored landscapes resemble Wonder Woman’s “Paradise Island” and Ariel’s undersea kingdom. Atmospheric sound design adds to the effect, creating significant anticipation for the show to begin.

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The thin plot line involves a nerdy fisherman, badgered by a harpy’s voice into catching something for dinner. Hunkering down in his yellow slicker, he casts his line into the water.  Of course, his baited hook is just there to grab the audience and take them on a journey to the fantastic.

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What follows is a hodgepodge of circus acts, peculiar talents, humorous bits and large-scale production numbers. Some are familiar, like the skating act from Absinthe and V – The Ultimate Variety Show. Others offer talents you’ve surely never seen before.

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That in itself would work just fine…if the individual acts didn’t play to drastically different age groups. For instance, a sexy sequence with three lovelies swimming inside a clear glass bowl (similar to Zumanity but without the toplessness) is geared toward adults. But it’s preceded by a lengthy Pirates of the Caribbean spoof that’s best appreciated by children.

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WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW follows the classic set-up of having smaller acts draw your attention while the big set pieces are setting up behind a curtain on the main stage. One moment an Italian chef is spinning plates on the streets of old Venice.

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WOW World of Wonder Rio

The next, a hot-bodied group of dancers is strutting their sexy stuff to popular and classic music. Just wait until you see the salute to Singing In The Rain, wherein the raindrops actually form the shape of umbrellas. Clever!

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WOW World of Wonder Rio

All of it is superbly done and most is highly enjoyable…and really, really random. But that’s what’s great about variety shows, especially in our era of short attention spans. As they say about San Francisco weather, if you don’t like what’s happening, just wait a moment.

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Perhaps that’s why Riviera’s SPLASH and Bally’s JUBILEE!, a pair of Vegas classics, lasted for decades.  The format also allows for frequent refreshing, so each visit is sure to yield a unique experience.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The epic production numbers were my favorite aspect of WOW, especially a jaw-dropping ballroom scene aboard the Titanic. Your entire field of vision is filled with the ship’s interior, rising waves seen through the windows and a cast of dancers that is suddenly engulfed in the deluge. This obvious nod to the legendary sequence in JUBILEE! takes the experience much, much farther. Hold onto your life preserver!

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WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

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My least favorite act involves Guinness World Record holder Dickson Oppong of West Africa. This large fellow has the unique ability to guzzle huge amounts of water, then spray it as continuous stream from his mouth. Although fascinating, it’s also a bit disturbing. Germ-aphobes may wish to avoid sitting in the splash zone.

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WOW World of Wonder Rio

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More entertaining is a bit involving statues who become fountains too…in a funny, clever way. The gag builds layers of whimsy until it segues into another a trio of swimmers. I’d have like to have seen the statues go on a bit longer first.

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Sadly, the comic-relief character that opens the show has solo moments that go on way too long. He also gets worked into too many of the other acts. Mostly wordless, his child-like bits involving a clap-along and a series of boo-boos make for excellent bathroom breaks. But he’s still more entertaining than the creepy, annoying clowns of O.

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Some acts would be more at home in a traveling circus but don’t necessarily translate well to an evening Vegas production. Perhaps the fact that WOW comes from overseas (Israel, in fact) helps to explain why it feels so offbeat. The weirdness isn’t the same as Cirque du Soleil‘s French humor…nor is it as annoying. But a little fine-tuning for Vegas audiences might do WOW a whole lot of good.

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I also had issues with some clumsy sound cues and abrupt changes in volume that distracted from the performances of a uniformly excellent cast. As the show is relatively new (it opened just last month), things like this should eventually be worked out.

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But that’s a small complaint when compared to the scale of talent and visuals represented here. The 30-member international cast is beautiful and overflowing with skill. And they have one goal in mind – to leave you saying “WOW”.

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The success of any variety production depends largely on whether you’re drawn into the premise. WOW succeeds in capturing your imagination. It grabs you from the opening moments, twirls you around, lifts you up and doesn’t let go until the final bows.

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It’s classic Vegas variety entertainment on a grand scale.

WOW – World of Wonder performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm with an additional 9pm show Friday-Sunday. Tickets start at $49 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here. Travelzoo currently has discount tickets from $39 with no additional taxes/fees. Click here to access this offer, good through 1/7/18.

Photos: Diane Lynn, Sammasseur