Show Time In Sin City:
Where Everything New IS New Again
by Randall Shirley
March 12, 2011
Donny Osmond's teeth are each about the size of a single-storey window on the side of the famous Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Marie's hair covers a couple of storeys, too. The billboard promoting their surprisingly good show is, Marie gloats, the biggest in Vegas.
Whether you head to Vegas this winter as a snowbird or just for a weekend gamble, the show options have never been better. Yet really they're the same as they've always been -because the more things change in Vegas, the more they seem to stay the same.
Whether you're a little bit country or a little bit rock 'n' roll, there's something for every taste. Some of the best entertainment is free: people-watching along the strip. Where else can you see a sad clown in a wheelchair and a guy getting his nipple chewed by a parrot on the same street?
On a recent trip I checked out the current offerings in four classic Vegas entertainment genres -headliner, stripper, circus and magician. And I managed to get the strippers and circus in one show!
The singing Osmond siblings may have the big-gest billboard, but they are certainly not the biggest names that have played the Flamingo's vaunted showroom (the only remaining of Vegas' original showrooms). Yet Dean and Frank and Liberace and the many other grand ghosts-of-Vegas-past would be impressed with the show Donny and Marie do there eight times a week.
You will be, too, especially when you realize they've been part of popular culture for nearly 50 years, and that you actually know as many of their tunes as you know of Cher's, who is across the street at Caesar's (in the room that was built for our Celine, who returns March 15 for a month), or of Barry Manilow who is down the street at Paris.
Women still swoon for Donny's Puppy Love. The only difference between the Osmonds' show and most other headliner entertainment: the content is as clean and white as their teeth.
Vegas shows are not supposed to be clean, are they? I mean . . . too much clean and what's the point of the city's famously overused slogan, "what happens in Vegas . . . " (you finish it).
Looking for a little more debauch, and wanting to see what Vegas offers in the tradition of topless girls and stripper guys, my partner and I head for New York New York hotel, where Cirque du Soleil claims to present an evening of circus that is not for the kids. We liked the concept . . . I mean, really, who among us hasn't watched those Cirque performers in the tent at Currie Barracks and fantasized about what they'd look like naked?
Zumanity, Cirque's erotic show, delivers on the skin factor. We're shown just about everything we've ever wanted to see of the ridiculously fit athletes.
They cavort through a couple of hours of simulating various versions of sex, from S&M to lovemaking to a Chippendales-style male stripper (if that's your thing, the real Chippendales strip twice nightly at the Rio Hotel). As is expected with Cirque's brand attached, the acrobats are dazzlingly talented.
The evening is expertly narrated by a drag-queen who "oohs and ahhs" and reminds us all repeatedly that we deserve to get some lovin' . . . whatever that means to us.
I'm told the show, now in its seventh year, used to be a lot raunchier, but regardless how "try anything in Vegas" audience members claim to be, most Vegas showgoers are simply middle-aged Americans with typical puritan attitudes around sex, and the nastier elements were pulled from the show early in its run. What makes it worth seeing are the comedy elements.
Cirque has always been exceptional at humour, and Zumanity delivers that in spades with skits about fake boobs, strangers in bed, and a hilarious (and disconcerting) male contortionist.
If Cirque is your thing (or you simply feel compelled to help the Quebec economy), Vegas is the place for you. Cirque has seven shows running on the Strip, and offers discount packages on multiple shows.
The latest to open are Cirque shows celebrating the music of Elvis at the swank new Aria Resort, and the music of the Beatles at the impeccably maintained Mirage Hotel, where I stayed this trip (I like its centre-of-Strip location, and the rooms are updated).
Since really everything about Vegas is largely an illusion -including the thought that you'll win a million dollars -it seems fitting that magic has always had a place on the city's stages.
Magic fans these days make a beeline for the newage illusions of Chris Angel and the comedy magic of Penn & Teller. But I want the grandmaster, and luckily he is in town: David Copperfield is a regular performer in the MGM Grand's showroom.
Copperfield is the one guy who has always made magic seem less nerdy, more cool, and indeed he puts on a show that leaves us baffled. I mean, on a stage surrounded by audience members the guy makes a full-sized 1957 Chevy appear out of nowhere. He walks through industrial fan blades, he vanishes on stage and appears instantly in the middle of the audience. If you're a little bit drunk, as most Vegas-goers tend to be, his illusions will be even more mind-numbing. But the thing that made seeing Copperfield worth giving up two hours of gambling and the $100 price tag: you finally are in a position to see him without TV editing . . . and I figured out where that damn car came from!
What I can't figure out, however, is how Donny Osmond still looks so good at 53.
You may not come home to Canada with big casino winnings, but a few Vegas shows make great memories of the city where everything new is new again.
If You Go
Stay: Mirage Resort & Casino. This mid-strip location has held its own over the years, and the rooms are beautifully up-to-date at good prices. www.mirage. com.
For super-swish without casino bells, the new Mandarin Oriental at City Center gets big nods. www. mandarinoriental.com/ lasvegas.
Eat: Stack at the Mirage. The tiered, curvy, hardwood walls make for quite a setting, and the tapas are great here, but their desserts are the thing. Even the best home chefs would be hard-pressed to re-create its fresh, raspberry "jelly doughnut munchkin holes" or the brownie/banana ice cream bonbons. www. mirage.com.
Silk Road. Located at the ultrahip Vdara Hotel (new City Center), this is your weekend brunch spot, period. Order the full brunch and be prepared for a variety of happy tastes served in mini-courses; it ranges from sublime beef sliders to french toast laced with cider reduction. $39 per person and worth every dollar. www.vdara.com.
Aureal at Mandaly Bay. You likely heard about the four-storey glass wine cellar with flying human bottle fetchers when this palace of haute cuisine opened in 1999. It's worth seeing, but the food is geared toward diehard gourmands (tip: try a prix fixe). www.aureolelv. com.
Play: Buy show tickets in advance for Donny & Marie, www.flamingolasvegas. com; Celine Dion, www. caesarspalace.com; Barry Manilow, www.parislasvegas.com; and Love, Cirque's Beatles show, www.mirage. com.
Many other shows are available on same-day discount via Tix4Tonight. We snagged David Copperfield this way. They have booths around the city, www.tix-4tonight.com.