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A CurtainUp Review
Live in Las Vegas
The question from many theater professionals as well as the general public is: Are the spectacular Cirque du Soleil shows and abbreviated Broadway musicals established in hotel-resorts on the Las Vegas strip the birth of a new art form? Can they travel or are they unique to Vegas which uses sparkling entertainment as a lure cunningly located next to the casinos?
The town, it is evolving, from the days when night club acts were the city's only distractions. That's why The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) was persuaded to hold its annual convention there. Co-chaired by Anthony Del Valle of The Las Vegas Review Journal, the city's only theatre critic, and Michael Grossberg of The Dispatch in Columbus, Ohio, the 136 members were so immersed in panels, tours and productions there was hardly time to spin a roulette wheel or take a dip in the waterfall-garnished pool of the marble-floored Mirage Hotel, where the group stayed and held meetings.
The convention kicked off with Cirque du Soleil's O, the most acrobatic and breath-taking of the five Cirque du Soleil shows in the city, because of its spine-tingling high diving. These feats were balanced by clowns whose pranks and poignancy humanized the show. Among the stunning special effects were a ship that unfolded from a mobile dangling in mid-air and costumes that appeared on nude bodies when lighting made patterns blossom into glittering colors.
A presentation by Philip Himberg, Producing Artistic Director of the Sundance Theatre Program, which has developed such hits as I Am My Own Wife, The Light in the Piazza & Grey Gardens featured two numbers from the new musical Doll composed by Scott Frankel (Grey Gardens). One was sung by Brent Barrett, one of two alternate Phantoms in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular. and later wsaw the other leading man, Anthony Crivello. This production has no crashing chandelier and some of us missed the omitted scenes but most of us felt the production was sharper and more forceful in the tightened version.
Barret was also on hand to give us the performer's perspective at a panel titled "Is The Vegas Strip Becoming A Broadway West?" Whether it is or it isn't, it's different.
Unlike Broadway visitors who often plan their trip around theatre-going well in advance, 55% of Las Vegas theatre-goers buy their tickets the day of the production. It was a surprise to see people eating popcorn at the family-friendly shows. And, contrary to LV's City of Sin image, Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity has been considerably toned down since 250 people at the first performance found it too erotic and walked out.
A panel called Vegas's Other Theatre Scene: Performing and Producing Off The Strip whetted our appetite so see some of the shows discussed and we did get to see Just Another Man, a new autobiographical musical composed by and starring Clint Holmes, a performer who had his own room, The Clint Holmes Theatre at Harrah's hotel. This work in progress uses the rich source material of his life, as the son of an African-American jazz performer and a British opera singer, to highlight not just racial but musical conflicts. The second act focuses on his troubled relationship with his son as a "dad on the road."
At the Franco Dragone production, Le Reve: A Small Collection of Imperfect Dreams, we sat in the loge where each seat had a small video in front of it portraying the underwater acrobatics. Our second mini-musical was the 90-minute production of Spamalot which is fortunate to have John O'Herlihy as a robust King Arthur. On Critics Choice night I chose Blue Man , mainly because it wasn't Cirque du Soleil or any Broadway musical I had ever seen. I hoped it would be the existential mime made memorable by Marcel Marceau but there wasn't much of that. Its theme is that our alienated society is mainly connected by plumbing used visual pipes, lots of numbing drumming and culminated in so much toilet paper draping the audience that claustrophobia got the better of some of us and I got the feeling that the production has been slanted toward the very young audience that filled most of its seats.
What else to do besides mini plays, CirqueDu Soleil productions? There's a City Tour that includes the Nuclear Museum, the Liberace Museum, the Neon Graveyard where dead casino signs wait for a museum all their own, and an ascent of the Strathosphere, sister to Seattle's Space Needle.
The final event of the eventful meeting was a talk with Franco Dragone, the architect of many Cirque Du Soleil productions but who's also developing productions that include a modern version of Carmen at The La Jolla Playhouse and plans for The Divine Comedy and Shakespeare's Othello. Thus while, the answer to the question of whether Las Vegas has spawned a new art form may still be an answer-in-progress, the city is unique, its diversions and delights are colorful and provocative and, if you can enjoy it for what it is and not regret what it isn't, it'll be a New Day.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide