Thursday, July 7, 2011 | 6:28 a.m.
Editor’s Note: Today’s guest columnist is Penny Pibbets of Absinthe at Caesars Palace while Robin Leach takes his well-deserved annual vacation to Europe (follow him on his travels at twitter.com/robin_leach). Every day, a new column, plus the usual Strip Scribbles, Tonight’s Tips and Tomorrow’s Teases -- and you never know what Robin will dig up in the wine country north of Rome, so please check back daily.
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By Penny Pibbets
Vegas. The intense insanity of New Year’s Eve packed into a 5-mile Strip every night. People from all over travel here to see the world’s greatest performers frolic and entertain night after night, bringing excitement to the desert. Cirque du Soleil acrobats, rhinestoned dancers, comedians and highly trained magicians come to Las Vegas because they are the best.
But after they’re done hanging up their bedazzled costumes and beautiful breasts for the night, where do all these talented stars go to get a drink? To chill? To create new work?
There’s an underground theater scene here of performers who create shows and make their own dangerous art. Most tourists have no idea about these secret (and very cheap) speakeasy shows put on by entertainers packed inside small theaters bursting with new life that are usually far better than their million-dollar counterparts. There’s a simple, enigmatic energy flowing in these performances that make them quite refreshing to watch.
OK, OK, the Amos Glick Variety Show
As a Vegas performer myself in Absinthe, the new raunchy circus/burlesque show outside Caesars Palace, and a new resident here, I’ve been welcomed and accepted by the many amazing and recluse entertainers. A good friend of mine, Amos Glick, recently asked me to perform in his late-night variety show.
Amos, a clown and musician, performs in Steve Wynn’s Le Reve by day, but at night, he produces and takes part in his own monthly show, accidentally named OK, OK, the Amos Glick Variety Show (add OK, OK Variety on your Facebook group, dummy!). The show stars magicians, romantic tap dancers, accordion players, zombie jugglers, absurd contortionists, and any other random act he feels like throwing onstage. Amos describes his show as “a late-night, post-work, Boho-performer soiree.” I couldn’t put it any better.
He had the inspiration to create a variety show for entertainers to “work on new material or dust off an old routine. No rehearsal, no transitions.” While you’re in the audience, it seems as if there’s room to fail, and that’s what makes these shows so exciting to watch. It’s dangerous and risk-taking and not just another club playing Top 40 hits.
Another show worth mentioning is 1230Show.com, a late-night monthly show built by and starring clowns. The show’s goofy vaudevillian vibe is exactly what you want for a production that plays at 12:30 a.m. The show’s creators, Brett Alters and Benedikt Negro, found each other amidst their Cirque family and similarly wanted to create a show that was “from the industry, for the industry, in the tradition of The Rat Pack.” OK, OK and 1230 have played to sold-out audiences since opening.
1230’s players bring ferociousness to their comedy that’s excitingly new and fresh. The audience is always barely catching up. Steven Hayes, the director of 1230, has a great knack for twisting and turning clowns into shape. It’s so much fun watching Kasey Wilson perform her Midwestern kooky housewife Meredith Tittle (aka Donnie and Michelle’s Mom) with her awkward timing, unfunny (and hilarious) punch lines, subtle glances and pregnant pauses.
Jimmy Slonina, another clown who has worked on various Cirque shows including O and Kooza, is a co-producer of OK, OK and has performed in 1230, as well. He said, “Both shows had different producers, they have completely different vibes, and yet both shows are wildly successful. Just because they have great jobs in various shows on The Strip doesn’t mean they don’t need to stretch their creative bones once in a while and try something new. Everyone does it for the love of the work and for the camaraderie. Usually, when money stays out of the way, the art really shines.”
As a new recruit to the Vegas scene, I keep asking myself, “How does a little clown like me make friends in this huge city?” And like some weird J.R.R. Tolkien novel, the answer appeared in the form of three questions.
Are you into magic? Want to spend a couple of hours (or more) talking to real magicians? Do you have a stupid trick that needs refining?
If you answered yes, like me, then head to the bar Boomers. At first glance, it’s an awesome dive bar with cheap drinks and friendly bartenders, but, in the back past all the drunk, smart-talking regulars, you’ll find Gary Darwin and his troop of charming magicians from all over the world. They gather every Wednesday talking, joking and breathing ... well … magic.
They patiently coach any beginner and even show you a trick or two they’re working on. While you’re there, don’t forget to say hi to Gary, the eccentrically wonderful owner of Magic Club. He’ll probably give you a quick one-liner before showing you some slight-of-hand work.
Rick Lax, a self-made magician and avid visitor to the club (and a regular contributor to Las Vegas Weekly), said in his book Fool Me Once: Hustlers, Hookers, Headliners, and How Not to Get Screwed in Vegas that when you’re there, “It’s all about the magic.” He bravely coached me on my non-existent but soon-to-be-realized magic career. “Some magicians come to try out their new tricks and try to sell their old ones, others come for the friendship, and most come for both.”
When I went to visit, Rick guided me over to A.J. Olson, a magician who broadcasts his show StreetofCards.tv live from the club every week to adoring fans on the Internet answering questions, posting videos of old magic acts and streaming exclusive performances from the club. We were enthusiastically invited to come and join the conversation that was happening right then. They were so welcoming, and I felt so comfortable sitting there talking to strangers that seemed like friends for years.
For me, Vegas isn’t about the nightclubs or the gambling. It isn’t about drinking till you puke on your brand new Jimmy Choos. As surreal as it sounds, I’ve begun to grow roots in this desert sand, and I’m beginning to form a slightly dysfunctional family with all the other crazy performers here. But really, what family isn’t a little messed up?
When most people go to bed, we are putting on our makeup ... or actually reapplying what we had on before. This is when we thrive: A bunch of magical clowns who haven’t grown up yet, living in Sin City and never stopping. We do it again and again because we love it. If you can watch these shows or visit these eccentric characters, I highly suggest you do because it won’t cost you anything but an awesomely ruckus time.
Penny Pibbets, who stars in Absinthe at Caesars Palace, is on Twitter (@pennypibbets), and her blog is http://pennypibbets.wordpress.com/.
Tomorrow, VegasDeLuxe.com welcomes Peepshow and Holly’s World star Holly Madison. Guest columnists this year include Terry Fator, Donny Osmond and cast members of Jubilee! and Jersey Boys, along with Chefs Julian Serrano and Charlie Palmer, plus other surprises including nightlife analysis by Jesse Waits and Jack Colton.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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