Tuesday, January 12, 2010

(No.73) RickardsRead ratings of Las Vegas shows

Pat and I have made several trips to Las Vegas within the past couple of years, the principal purpose of which has been seeing shows. We have no interest in gambling. The bigger hotels all have their own large theatres; virtually all hotels have showrooms and nightclubs.

Pat is a fan of Cirque du Soleil productions. Las Vegas has become the real home of Cirque shows -- 7 different shows are playing at present if one counts preview performances of the new "Viva Elvis" show still in previews. She appreciates the combination of Cirque features involving artistic athleticism and creative staging and production values including the music and elaborate costumes. What most interests me is the engineering and technology involved in mounting these Cirque shows, often in theatres custom built for them. My appreciation of the Cirque shows per se is less well developed than Pat's, partly because they do not feature much in the way of a 'story line' even the ones which claim to do so. However the nature of the Cirque shows in most cases means no story line as such is really required to enjoy the show.

We offer below our assessments of most of the shows we have seen in Vegas (all are still playing; they are long running, the standard pattern in Vegas). Our 'ratings' of each are what we present a 'personal enjoyment index' rather than an attempt to assign some sort of cultural ranking. They represent our respective evaluations (out of 10) of how much each of us enjoyed seeing each show. They are accompanied by certain factual information and notes.

All of the theatres we list below are in or adjacent to hotels located on Las Vegas Boulevard, the famous 'Strip', that stretch of high-priced real estate which is the area where most of the tourists on which Vegas depends focus their time, energy and money.

A tip on the buying of show tickets to Las Vegas shows: while tickets can be purchased on line or by telephone in advance of a trip we have found that visiting the hotel/theatre box offices can often produce discounts on the ticket prices if one asks specifically if any discounts are available. The volume of tourists coming to Vegas has dropped significantly and the hotels want to fill their theatres as well as their rooms (generally room rates have never been more of a bargain than currently).

Also: most of the Strip hotels today are owned by only 2 conglomerates with just a sprinkling of independents. Therefore one can often buy tickets to more than one show at a hotel theatre box office (e.g., at the Bellagio). Still a further advantage to actually going to a box office for tickets is being able to see, consider and get suggestions from staff involving which seats are good and the comparative value for this or that seat price or location.

RickardsRead.com's Las Vegas Show Enjoyment Ratings*
(* out of 10)

1. Show -- "Legends in Concert"
Hotel -- Harrah's
Ratings -- Pat: 6 Al: 5

This show has been playing in Vegas at one hotel or another for years. It features a varying cast of musical impersonators who do their own singing and playing. The version we saw featured 'tribute artists' backed by dancers doing musical impersonations of uneven quality, including (among others) Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and Michael Jackson.

2. Show -- " Mystere "(Cirque du Soleil)
Hotel -- Treasure Island
Ratings -- Pat: 6.5 Al: 5

The first of the Cirque shows in Las Vegas. It is the one most closely related to Cirque du Soleil's circus roots. The most purely athletic, circus-like individual performances of the Cirque shows in Vegas. It lacks many of the qualities as well as the staging of other more spectacular Cirque shows.

3. Show -- "Jersey Boys"
Hotel -- Palazzo
Ratings -- Pat: 8 Al:6.5

This is the full broadway version of the show, not the abbreviated version of a Broadway production which tends to be appealing in Vegas because it allows a theatre to put on 2 shows per night. It is the story of the pop group Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. The story incorporates effective renditions of 30 or so of the group's hits.

4. Show -- "Blue Man Group"
Hotel -- Venetian
Ratings -- Pat: 8 Al: 4

A very popular show, another production originating on Broadway in New York. It has been called "performance art" which I suppose is as good a name as any for 3 bald-looking performers done up in blue makeup who are mute but backed by a percussion-led musical group. It is funny and multi-media. After the show I hastily and unkindly described it as "Sesame Street" for adults but I was in a distinct minority. Pat's enjoyment of Blue Man Group was certainly representative of the audience's; mine was not.

5. Show -- "Fab Four"
Hotel -- Planet Hollywood
Ratings -- Pat: 8 Al: 8

This show is presented in a much smaller venue than the other theatres in our list but the show is full value for the money. It involves a 'tribute' band of Beatles impersonators whose singing and musicianship is amazingly accurate and well presented. All the music is played and sung on stage by the 4 performers -- no recordings. Their wigs do not transform them into close depictions of each of the Beatles but it really does not matter to enjoyment of the show.

6. Show -- "Viva Elvis" (Cirque du Soleil)
Hotel -- Aria
Ratings -- Pat: 5.5 Al: 5.5 (seen in preview)

This new show is meant to be an entertainment monument to help establish a high profile for the recently opened CityCenter complex on the Las Vegas 'Strip'. The Aria Hotel and its theatre are a major feature of the complex. The twice postponed formal opening of "Viva Elvis" -- now set for Feb. 19 -- is one indication of the creative problems encountered with this homage to Elvis Presley. We saw the show in a "preview" version which we expect will end up being revised. As I indicated in a lengthy column on RickardsRead.com (column No. 72 "Elvis: stumbling back to Vegas") the "Viva Elvis" show needs much work before it opens formally.

7. Show -- "The Lion King"
Hotel -- Mandalay Bay
Ratings -- Pat: 7 Al: 5

This is a full length version of the Broadway musical. In its music, colourfulness and spectacle the show shares much in common with some of the Cirque shows. The innovative costumes add materially to the spectacle. It appeals to a wide audience.

8. Show -- "Love" (Cirque du Soleil)
Hotel -- Mirage
Ratings -- Pat: 8.5 Al: 7

A spectacular production loosely tied to the lives and music of the Beatles. It uses multi-media very effectively and incorporates elaborate costumes, choreography and some of the hits of the boys from Liverpool.

9. Show -- Le Reve
Hotel -- Wynn
Ratings -- Pat: 6.5 Al: 6.5

This show should really be categorized as a Cirque du Soleil show except that it was created by a former Cirque chap who went out on his own. The show is performed entirely in or on water; it is a wet 'theatre in the round' presentation that calls on every Cirque-type effect one can think of and puts them one after another into a damp mix.

10. Show --"Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular"
Hotel -- Venetian
Ratings -- Pat: 8 Al: 7

This is a shortened version of Broadway's "Phantom of the Opera" adapted by its creators for a Las Vegas audience, i.e., all the songs but not all of the dialogue. Pat, who has seen Phantom several times elsewhere (and loves it) was a bit disappointed with the removal of too much dialogue/story to the detriment of the play's continuity. She still liked it in this version but the Vegas venue and staging also sacrificed the benefits of a larger stage to more pyrotechnics on a smaller one.

11. Show -- "Jubilee"
Hotel -- Bally's
Ratings -- Pat: 6.5 Al: 7.5

This is a musical show featuring a cast of 100 or so showgirls and variety acts. It is the last of the traditional Vegas shows of this sort, the kind that flourished during the Vegas years when the Strip hotels and casinos were run by the wise guys. Anyone who has seen the shows at the Lido and the Moulin Rouge in Paris will see how reminiscent "Jubilee" is of both.

12. Show -- "O" (Cirque du Soleil)
Hotel -- Bellagio
Ratings -- Pat: 9 Al: 8

Uses water on and as a stage extensively and impressively. The physical stage is transformed back and forth quickly and impressively from hard surface to water as the cast's performance space. The changing depth of the water on top of the stage allows for spectacular dives as well as for large objects (e.g., a piano with its pianist) to disappear beneath the water's surface.

13. Show -- "KA" (Cirque du Soleil)
Hotel -- MGM Grand
Ratings -- Pat: 9 Al 8

Supposedly a Cirque show with a linear story involving twins, each making a journey. This serves as background to various performers doing their thing on a stage that moves up and down and every which way -- a technical marvel. The show is a spectacle based on impressive technology. Pat describes it as a 'Star Wars' adventure set in new worlds.

14. Show -- "Bette Midler"
Hotel -- Caesar's Palace
Rating -- Pat: 7.5 Al 7.5

Caesar's Palace has a large theatre created for Celine Dion's long run. It has been occupied since by a revolving cast of headliners but mainly Bette Midler. The venue is large and impressive and her show "The Showgirl Must Go On" has lots of music and humour.


A final tip. As for any major trip, the best investment in a quality result is research in advance, an essential element of which is reference to solid guide books. The best, most candid guide to Las Vegas of several we have used is, without question, the annual edition of The Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas (Wiley, 2010) by Bob Sehlinger.

Alastair Rickard


email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca