Denise Truscello / WireImage / DeniseTruscello.net
Published Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 | 4:24 p.m.
Updated Monday, Feb. 22, 2016 | 1:18 p.m.
About the time the two remote-piloted airplanes buzzed over the audience at the International Theater at Westgate Las Vegas on Thursday night, I thought of Elvis.
This is the room in which Elvis once performed. And Barbra Streisand, Liberace, Wayne Newton, Barry Manilow, Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn … Cheap Trick’s brilliant adaptation of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was staged in this theater.
The venue holds what we refer to as “provenance.” Not everything has been a hit, but the room has always evoked high standards.
“Twisted Vegas” is the new show in the International Theater, taking up the 7 p.m. slot Tuesdays through Sundays. It is the sort of production that has you seeking proper context in real time even as it is performed onstage.
Where does such a show belong in the grand scheme of Las Vegas entertainment? Not with Elvis or any of the above-mentioned performers, certainly. Dear gosh, no. So I searched other venues to exhume memories of such shows as “Surf the Musical” at Planet Hollywood and “Duck Commander Musical” at the Rio to find an apt comparison.
The casts of these shows were actually quite talented, backed by capable musicians, and the shows were visually dazzling.
And like a pair of remote-controlled airplanes, both spun to Earth in less than two months.
“Twisted Vegas” is presented as a spoof show that takes aim at the most familiar shows and stars currently onstage in Las Vegas. There are a couple of past references — Elvis as a little person, and The Rat Pack/Frank Sinatra as “My Way” plays to an aerial act — but the preponderance of this show is a silly sendup of what’s happening in town today. Celine Dion, Bellagio Fountains, Blue Man Group and Cirque are among the more readily recognizable figures trotted to the stage in the 75-minute performance.
It doesn’t work. That’s a given. Not at the moment and not all the way through, at least. The show’s premise is to make light of what the audience will find familiar, and sadly, the balance of the audience is not likely to have seen all of the Cirque shows taken on in the show — “Mystere,” “O,” “Ka” and “Believe” — to grasp the satire.
A giant, and pricey, inflatable snail prop similar to what is used in “Mystere” is moved across the stage, with the production’s baby character leading with a leash. If you have not seen “Mystere,” this joke doesn’t work.
For “Ka,” show host Alex Goude performs the show’s inspired shadow-puppetry, which is very effective. In fact, so effective are these silhouetted shapes that they seem not like satire at all, but a revival of the scene we see in the Cirque show at MGM Grand. Same for the moment drawn from “O,” in which a mermaid soars above the stage in yet another aerial act. It was beautiful. But was it satire or tribute or a free ad for Cirque or what? Even Cirque fans were lost as to how to interpret these scenes.
This show does seem to vacillate between spoof and tribute. The Sinatra scene previously noted is not a wacky satire of The Rat Pack cavorting onstage, but a recording of Ol' Blue Eyes singing one of his most famous numbers as an aerial act is performed, an example of where the show falls out of focus. Inevitably, there is a long stretch in which Criss Angel is mocked. Here, he is depicted as a little person, too, played by longtime stage performer Dimos.
(Angel, incidentally, seems the default figure for satire in Las Vegas shows, as he is indelicately targeted in the raunchy new musical “Spoofical the Musical” at V Theater at Miracle Mile Shops. One day I would love to see Angel bankroll his own satire show. I’ll be there opening night if it ever happens.)
And those airplanes encircling the theater? They are to inspire a scene of aerial tours of the Grand Canyon. Another offbeat reference is a musical number making fun of the smut-card “passers” on the Strip. More familiar is the artist Costic, who portrays Celine and sings “All By Myself” and, later, “My Heart Will Go On” while positioned on the hull of the Titanic. This vessel, and act, concurrently sink; the audience just didn’t find a parody of Celine, at this particular time, especially funny.
This is a tough opening to a show that actually does have a lot of aptitude and investment. Goude is potentially funny as a host, though his French accent is something of a barrier as he delivers his scripted barbs. He’s said to be France’s version of Neil Patrick Harris, who has worked extensively as a stage performer at Theatrouille Comedia Theater in Paris and who also has hosted “France’s Got Talent.”
The talent is further reinforced by onstage and offstage contributions of Michael Goudeau, a man of legendary stage experience —15,000 live shows in Las Vegas as a juggler — who was the guest act in Lance Burton’s stage show for nearly 20 years.
The show’s international investment, too, can’t be dismissed. Among the French investors producing the show, which cost several millions to bring to the stage, is a giant in that country, Fimalac. This show has been at least three years in the making, and that type of dedication to a production has to be noted.
But it seems “Twisted Vegas” is a case in which those backing a show have not appreciated the enormous level of competition in Las Vegas. Often, those who want to spend time and money on a show in this city find out too late that their audience would rather head for a real Cirque show instead of an unproven spoof production.
Further compounding the concerns about the show is that it has been booked into a famous theater that has already seen the recent closing of an Elvis tribute show (the short-lived “Elvis: The Experience” last year). One way for “Twisted Vegas” to attempt to avoid a similar fate is to remind potential ticket-buyers that it is a family show. “Surf,” especially, learned too late that it was actually popular among a younger demographic.
“Twisted Vegas” can turn its marketing attention to that 8-to-80 demo. Broaden the base, sharpen the focus, and find the funny. Drill home the idea that everyone can have at least a few laughs with the affable Alex and his wacky friends.
Otherwise, we’ll hear a phrase long ago familiar in that great theater: Elvis — or, rather, Little Elvis — has left the building.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats.