Broadway is alive and well and living in Las Vegas. The influence of the Great White Way on the Las Vegas Strip is more evident than ever and the word of the day is "QUALITY!" For theatre goers visiting Las Vegas who have digested just about "one Cirque too many" – Caesars Entertainment offers the antidote, producing the finest theatrical experiences in town ranging from a first rate production of JERSEY BOYS to Jerry Mitchell's tantalizing PEEPSHOW to the always surprising PENN AND TELLER, and more. On a recent trip to Sin City I attended five of Caesar's great theatrical offerings and was treated to a feast for the senses at every turn.
Caesars Entertainment owns nine properties in Las Vegas – Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Paris, Flamingo, Rio, Harrahs, Ballys, Imperial Palace and Bills Gambling Hall – and is home to over 24 production shows starring the likes of Celine Dion, Elton John and Donny and Marie. Las Vegas has truly become a show-lovers' mecca -- next to Broadway's theatre district there is no other comparable entertainment district in the world. And Caesar's Entertainment is leading the pack in offering the truly must-see offerings on and off the strip.
My "sampler platter" of Caesars' entertainment included JERSEY BOYS, PEEP SHOW, PENN AND TELLER, LEGENDS IN CONCERT and the longest running production show in Las Vegas, JUBILEE.
Let me start by saying – RUN, DON'T WALK to see the Vegas iteration of JERSEY BOYS playing at Paris Las Vegas which in my opinion – dare I say it – rivals the original in every way. The casting is right on the money with stellar performances by Graham Fenton as Frankie Valli, Deven May as Tommy DeVito, Jeff Liebow as Nick Massi and Rob Marnell as Bob Gaudio. Fenton was in great voice – pitch perfect -- and carried the show with his charisma, energy and multi-layered portrayal of Valli. Standby Merissa Haddad performed the role of Mary Delgado on this particular night and delivered one of the evening's strongest performances – it was riveting to watch her emotional arc and she added great dimension to a character I have seen played with "one note" in other New York and touring productions. The chemistry between the four leading men was to die for and every moment they shared the stage together, riveting. The entire ensemble is as finely tuned and highly polished as you might expect in any great long running show but hasn't lost the freshness and exuberance of an opening night. John Salvatore's Bobby Crewe was comic genius and he hit all the right notes, never overplaying his broad take on Crewe. The venue itself is spectacular – state of the art – and, though quite large, has the intimate feel of any great Broadway house. The production was technically flawless. I am a big fan of the New York Production, but I can't say I have enjoyed any production more, or even as much, as the one that has found its home in Vegas. The theatre was sold out all week at 100% capacity – I hope that translates into a long and happy run for this incredible production. It was great to see a book show done so well in a city more known for production and variety shows.
I have mixed feelings about my second show – Jerry Mitchell's PEEPSHOW, at Planet Hollywood, starring Holly Madison. (Madison plays her final performance on October 21 – having played Bo Peep for over 1,000 performances). PEEPSHOW is like the Vegas version of "Broadway Bares" and features some wonderful original music by Andrew Lippa – but like the leading character Bo Peep, the show seems to have lost its way somewhere along the journey. The show seems very confused as to its genre and, in fact, precisely what audience it is reaching for – which may be why the house was less than a quarter full. The audience was confused as well. It is not quite burlesque and not quite Broadway musical – lost somewhere in a sort of purgatory in-between --- and so it is not really very satisfying for any audience seeking either kind of show. Jerry Mitchell's pedigree assured high quality production numbers, and he delivered. Clever,clever,clever. The staging was impeccable and the entire production was technically flawless. Cotton candy for the eyes. But the quasi-storyline and the tug of war between Lippa's quite wonderful original songs and various other pop songs that didn't really serve the quasi-storyline (except to give reason for some more creative Jerry Mitchell ideas) made for a roller coaster of an evening – a clash of styles –that, frankly, left me cold. The performances were mixed as well. Josh Strickland's vocals were just annoying. It was difficult to understand any of the lyrics he sang and his over-stylized vocal quality was quite cloying and at times pretty unbearable. He comes off as neither sexy, seductive or a leading man. Rather, he generally just comes off silly. Cheaza's Peep Diva is the strongest vocal in the show but her performance is uneven, especially when she is tasked to lead the (too much) audience participation, which comes off quite forced and unappealing. Holly Madison is beautiful, no doubt. She makes it through the show with very little to do, except a doe-eyed smile and showing off her assets, and came off pretty much unscathed – with the exception of a Teddy Bear number which proves that singing is not her strongest suit. It was evident that her male fans came to see two things -- and they were not singing or dancing -- and they were not disappointed. The ensemble was extremely talented – first rate -- and deserve much praise. During the final bows, the Peep Diva asked, no demanded, the audience stand – no kidding, the first "forced" standing ovation I have ever witnessed – and, because it was not genuine, it was almost embarrassing. All in all, it was a frustrating evening because there was so much Jerry Mitchell creativity to love and yet he gave me no compelling reason to recommend it. It is a show that is directed brilliantly – and yet wanders aimlessly with no direction. I am hoping that with the ushering in of a new leading lady to replace Holly Madison, the creative team might take a hard look at re-tooling PEEPSHOW to insure it a long life on the strip. I do applaud Caesars Entertainment for giving Mitchell and Lippa the creative freedom to explore something new and hope it is just the beginning of such creative collaborations. But PEEPHOW, in its current state, is both a hit and a miss. Go see it? YES, if you have a spare evening. It is eye-candy done impeccably well.