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PHANTOM OF THE OPERA SHOW REVIEW
Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera seems right in every way for Las Vegas and succeeds where many other plays have failed on the Strip. This spectacle flaunts extravagance, hidden identities and romantic pursuits matching the persona of Vegas and many of its visitors -- things are not always what they appear. And that is how it should be in this phantastic version of a theatrical classic.
Production values surpass the original and record-breaking Broadway theatre version, setting a new standard for plays that come to Vegas. The Paris Opera auditorium detailing will please the eye of a watchmaker and the sound system reveals the softest whisper on stage. From the Paris Opera, to Hannibal, to Masquerade to the Phantom’s Ghastly Cavern, sets are comparable to those seen in an epic Hollywood movie. Special effects and pyrotechnics are on point and thankfully for the actors, extremely precise. Phantom takes every opportunity to showcase where all of its $40 million production costs are spent. Since Phantom has been seen by so many, I’m not giving anything away to say, purchase tickets in the Orchestra, Section 2 to best experience the chandelier stunt.
I witnessed Brent Barrett infusing the fiendish Phantom character with a romantic verve that draws empathy to his deformed inner and outer being. Tony Award-winner Anthony Crivello plays the role on occasion, so I doubt that you could go wrong with him either. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Loyacano as Christine Daae displays a buoyant innocence as she prances through scenes – she’s a real sweetheart. For my taste and not necessarily yours, I prefer Elizabeth’s voice to the one I heard on Broadway, which I found to be a tad high-pitched. Tim Martin Gleason plays Christine’s smitten love-interest, Raoul, with as much distinction as one can bring to a weaker character by design. The background character of Carlotta is a diva with taut lines and wit to match. Monsieur Andre’ and Monsieur Firmin are comedic twits who bring a welcome dose of levity in their dialogue. The rest of the cast hums along with the proficiency of veteran Broadway actors who love their work.
Music of the Night, All I Ask Of You, Masquerade and The Phantom of the Opera have been heard and sung by so many millions of fans that they approach pop culture status – no thanks to the uninspiring movie. In fact, the movie’s failing bespeaks why The Phantom of The Opera is best experienced as live theatre where music echoes across the auditorium with perfect tenor and quixotic shadows convey as much ominous suspense as the actors lines. Hint to the fellas … this is a great date show.
Downers? Two … and only one matters to non-Phantom buffs. If you are a Phantom buff who has seen the original production more than once, you may quarrel with this version. In order to make this production fit the timing and business requirements of a Vegas mega-resort, the show was shortened to a brisk 95 minutes. Some lines that fill in the backstory and extended scenes have been cut. Having seen the original Broadway version, I barely noticed those cuts, nor did it diminish my ability to follow or appreciate the storyline. Unfortunately, The Point of No Return, a Phantom anthem of sorts, was reduced by a couple minutes. Since music is critical to the experience and this particular song is an emotional anchor to the storyline, lets hope the director reverses this poor decision.
If you are a Broadway Phantom purist, see the Vegas Phantom, if only for comparison purposes. But If you like a Vegas show extravaganza in general, prepare for an evening where, nighttime sharpens, heightens each sensation.
Le Reve' at The Wynn
Having created Mystere, O and Celine Dion’s New Day, Franco Dragone had a wide reservoir of inspiration to create his latest masterpiece in the fine art of escapism, Le Reve. As soon as the lights dim, you enter Le Reve (“The Dream”) or as Dragone describes it, “a small collection of imperfect dreams.” Pick your favorite superlatives for this show: surreal, mystical, visually stunning, and thrilling and flawless. All apply with equal gusto.
Though you want to evaluate the show on its own terms, that may be a fool’s errand given Le Reve has so many similarities to O and Mystere. But unlike the older Cirque du Soleil shows, Le Reve’s venue for storytelling is an aquatic theatre-in-the-round that is far more immersive. A few statistics about this custom-made water theatre immediately impress you. The water stage is 68 feet in diameter and its furthest seat is a scant 42 feet away. Every seat lets patrons see more detail in each costume, more facial expressions by the performers and everyone cricks their neck to see aerialists directly above them.
Le Reve did not begin with the rave reviews of today. In fact, it was rushed into production to match the opening date of the Wynn Hotel in April 2005, even though its profound artistry and technical wizardry needed at least 9 more months to ferment. Le Reve also had the disadvantage of being compared to two well-oiled shows down the Strip, O and Mystere. Predictably, early reviews for Le Reve suffered.
With 18 months of fermentation for this viewing, Le Reve succeeds from its beginning to end. Imagery evolving from dreamer’s bed bursts with suggestion and metaphor. Artistry varies from outlandishly bold to tastefully subtle, astutely executed at what always seems to be the right time. Multimedia effects and nefarious two and four-legged figures enhance rather than distract from the experience. The pitch-perfect high dives are stupendous and the sheer beauty of aquatic sequences in 1.1 million gallons of water matches the best of O. You’ll hold your breath wondering how the synchronized swimmers perform so long underwater.
The fire sequences and lighting effects burst with imagination and precision. These guys must really be sharp to get this show approved by the fire department. The music of Le Reve, though not as magical as the vocals in Mystere, is every bit as good as O, while being more technically sophisticated.
The director’s every whim or pardon the pun, every dream has been met by the Wynn, who to its’ credit, stuck with Le Reve through its growing pains. Considering the special venue and experience of Franco Dragone, most patrons who also see O and Mystere will love all three, but concede that Le Reve has a slight one-up in theatricality.
Legends in Concert at Imperial Palace
This celebrity impersonation show is neither over-the-top, nor boring. Instead, it finds a happy medium as a choice Las Vegas variety show. Perhaps that is the reason it’s the longest running show of its kind in Las Vegas. The set design is rather sparse by Strip standards, but they seem appropriate for the show. Thankfully, no stage wires distractingly transport artists from the heavens to the stage. Yet production values are high and the band is diverse, a wise decision given the range of music they cover from R&B, Rock & Roll, Pop, and Country. The theatre seems amply scaled for the production as well.
Some performers look like celebrity twins. Others are close enough, but sound and dance like them. At the time of this review, Denita Asberry impersonated Aretha Franklin’s booming dynamic range and soulful vocalizations. As incredible as it seems, she came closest to matching the original artist. You’ll want to hear her for a whole concert. When her contract expires, expect big things from her. She’s that good!
Bobby Brooks is a dead ringer for a 30-something Stevie Wonder at the piano. His talking voice also sounds like a replica of Stevie, but in all other ways, no one comes close to the real Stevie. Rest assured though, Booby will have you waving your hands and dipping your shoulder as he charges through the legend’s tunes we know and love.
The Janet Jackson tribute artist, whose name escapes us, looked close enough and moved like the sultry multi-platinum album Janet. But her voice, like the real Janet Jackson, was nothing to rave about. It was not bad, its just undistinguished performing in the same show as her contemporaries. But like the real Janet, stage routines matter and this artist delivers.
The Elvis Presley tribute artist looks like he could be Elvis younger brother. After the show, patrons of all stripes took pictures with him and not necessarily because of his performance.
If not for the Aretha Franklin tribute artist, the Righteous Brothers tribute artists would have stole the show. They don’t look much like the real thing, but they sure sound like it with each baritone to falsetto note. You will want to hear more of them.
At the time of this review, the Las Vegas show did not have a Prince impersonator – too bad. Mad props to the producer who launched this much-copied theme series in 1983. Legends in Concert also perform in Myrtle Beach, Atlantic City, and Hollywood, Florida.
What do you get when you put on a Broadway musical in a small hotel in Greece, owned by an American woman, whose daughter's father could have been one of three of the single momma's lovers 21 years ago? The perfect date show in Las Vegas - Momma Mia.
Depending on how you feel about the popular 1970s Swedish group ABBA, (“Dancing Queen”, etc.), you’ll either love the music or interpret it as pleasant accompaniment to the actor-singers and their dance routines. And if you expect elaborate sets like Cats or Lion King, this show may not meet expectations. But when the curtain rises, the engaging storyline, acting and top notch dancing will gradually seduce you.
Mamma Mia starts slowly as three men come to the island under secretive circumstances without knowing who or what the other men represent or that she may be their daughter. The basic story is explained with crisp dialogue amidst the azure scenery of an imagined Grecian sky. Then after a couple mood setting love songs, it explodes into highly entertaining musical dance sequences that cause the audience to clap and tap. The Rich Man’s World, in particular, is a rousing piece. And the dancers may be some of the finest in Vegas.
At times the story seems nostalgic when told from the Mom’s perspective, but the daughters perspective brings a hyperkinetic energy to the story and enraptures the audience.
Another pleasant treat is the producers give props and lines to the daughter’s best friend, who just happens to be African American. It’s a nod to inclusiveness, without overplaying their interracial friendship.
The charming Momma Mia is a modestly priced delight for the Strip and perfect for couples or girls night out.
If you’re looking for a classic Las Vegas production with showgirls and show guys, look no further. Les Folies Bergere is complete with pageantry, lively music, glamorous sequined costumes, sexy showgirls & male dancers that enough draw critical acclaim to keep it rated the number one show of its type in Vegas. The choreography of Jerry Jackson generously exploited with imaginative, athletic and graceful routines that confidently hold your attention.
Having run continuously on the Strip since the 1950s, the show is a Las Vegas legend. Yet, its lineage go back to the French burlesque days as indicated by its theme "Women through Time", which begins in the 1800's. The production starts from those early times and shows the beautiful transition to the present day. New acts bring modern interpretations of how sexy women dress that connect with young audiences today as well. Each scenario flows seamlessly into the next, particularly show-stoppers like the turntable, dressing room and vamps of the 1920s. Lots of black silk and velvet.
Wally the juggler-comedian just might steal the show. If there were a way to rate jugglers, you’d have to conclude he’s one of the best in the world based on the difficulty of his act. And to do it as a funnyman – truly remarkable and memorable.
Les Folies Bergere is timeless and exceeds expectations. Experience an evening where your eyes will thank you profusely. Show times are 7:30 pm and the topless shows are at 10 pm. The show is dark on Sundays.