Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 | 11:57 a.m.
Two weeks ago, they were the fiercest of competitors, each one trying to outshine the other for the $1 million grand prize. Today, they are new best friends, each supporting the other in “America’s Got Talent Live” at the Palazzo, and it’s winning them standing ovations and grand applause for proving that an old-fashioned Las Vegas variety show is alive and well on the Strip.
Ed Sullivan would be jumping for joy in his grave that a show without singers and acrobats would get such a winning reception. Maybe he’d be amazed that a troupe of dogs (the $1 million champion Olate Dogs), a sand artist, an illuminated dance group and a man who plays the largest, suspended, 1,000-foot steel harp could hold enthusiastic audiences in such disbelief.
After its debut last Thursday, I talked with Executive Producer Matt Gaven, who had the task of building a show from scratch in just 14 days. Instead of cringing over what could have been failure, Matt was smiling, beaming like the sun with delight at its success:
Robin Leach: How does a show come together here on the Strip when you didn’t even know what the show was two weeks ago?
Matt Gaven: Correct. Two weeks ago tonight. Most of them, I can give you an actual count, four or five of them, were in the finals two weeks ago tonight. In actuality, we weren’t allowed to speak with them and plan this part of their experience until after the show itself because they were focused on the $1 million prize. So, it made it a little difficult.
America's Got Talent
This year there was such an extraordinary amount of talent, it made it different than any previous season. It also created the perfect environment to put this type of show together. There is no singer, there is no wasted space; this is a pure variety show in today’s modern air. Not variety in an old-fashioned way but in a pure way. This is what Vegas is all about, and yet it didn’t have it until tonight. That’s our methodology. We painstakingly put together the best mix of talent. We ripped the superstars from the screen right to the stage.
RL: But the show we saw tonight might not have happened 2 1/2 weeks ago if these people hadn’t won, right? It would have been a totally different show.
MG: Effectively. We were able to pick and choose. Ultimately, everybody you see here made it to the semifinal rounds. We added Recycled Percussion from our alumni of two years ago. They are fantastic. They bring a great energy and a nice surge to the show, but there is something here for everybody. There is a comedian, there is the electronic storytelling of Light Wire Theater.
RL: I thought they were the best of the bunch. No one has ever seen that live in Vegas.
MG: I completely agree. They could be in Cirque. And I had never seen the sand artist until Joe Castillo. It is like watching fireworks in front of you the way it just changes from scene to scene. Light Wire Theater, I am overjoyed for them because I don’t think it translates to photography or television. I think you need to see it in a live theater to really appreciate it. It is unbelievable when they come out into the audience. Unbelievable. That was their doing. They are perfectionists.
RL: How does the cast go from evil combatants hating each other to best colleagues? Overnight? Or does it take a week or so to achieve that camaraderie?
MG: There is such camaraderie between these people. I think even in the competition. There is a sense of I have to defeat you, only one victor will stand, only one millionaire will exist, but from the moment they saw each other, from the moment they were reunited here after they took care of some personal things at home -- hugs, kisses and camaraderie. Now our comedian Tom Cotter lost to those Olate Dogs, yet he has the best attitude on the planet.
He is one very funny man. I have done a great deal of television, and we are looking for hosts and people like this all the time. Tom was never on my radar, and he is an extraordinary talent. This man could headline a show himself. Each member of the cast, BTW, has talent and ability to headline their own show.
RL: How did you get 1,000-foot harp strings to look visually exciting on television and translate that into this Palazzo theater?
MG: It’s interesting. The biggest paradox on the television show, it takes 45 minutes to set up the harp and tune it, TV magic to pre-tape that and switch to performing live. Here, we are in the same dilemma. Our problem was how do we set up the harp and strike it and get him to perform twice. On the TV show, he was always dead center stage, so we devised this in a way to keep them dedicated. The wires go from one side suspended just above the stage straight to the balcony rail and then hook around to the other side suspended above the stage. There’s a method to the madness: it’s cross-hatching.
It took him about two hours to rig it when we moved in here, and now it’s the nightly tuning process. I don’t think either of us have seen anywhere in the world a musical act like this. I think that could be said of every talent onstage. Everybody brings something special, and the audience walks away totally elated. Nobody leaves here disappointed or unhappy over anything they see.
Some of these acts wind up working with each other in the show. That was our key goal in this. We really set it to Olympic pace. We wanted the first 30 minutes to be a nonstop freight train. It’s not your traditional show with a host, where he talks about an act and then brings them on. Then our comedian and MC Tom appears and has them howling with his clean family humor -- well, maybe slightly suggestive, and there’s not one person in the audience who isn’t laughing.
“America’s Got Talent” is at the Palazzo for an initial run of eight weeks. Simon Cowell is the owner of the format for “AGT” and worked with the Palazzo, AEG and TV producer Fremantle to stage the Las Vegas mini-residency. It will run until Manheim Steamroller moves in for Christmas. The hope is that the initial enthusiastic response to “AGT” will continue and be renewed through the first six months of the New Year. A massive marketing campaign gets underway this week now that the producers know the identities of their stars.
Light Wire on America's Got Talent
In addition to Tropicana headliners Recycled Percussion, who still amaze with their high-speed drumming skills and crazy sliding ladders musical routines, young escape artist Spencer Horsman twice makes you fear for his life.
My favorite was the amazing Light Wire company of dancers who use multi-colored electro luminescent wire to create characters that combine dance, puppetry and a glow-in-the dark sensation that lights up the stage and theater when they roam the aisles. Truly beautiful, unique and magnificent.
I also talked with harpist William Close. He told me that despite the size of the wire strings, he doesn’t use a pick. He puts violin resin on his hands, which like a finger around the edge of a wine glass, he runs along them to produce the unique sounds. William told me he invented the instrument; there were no teachers or sheet music. He set up a studio space and shot the strings out of the room and up the side of a mountain in Malibu canyon to rehearse.
I asked him if he was the only person in the world to be performing with his Earth Harp. He told me: “I invented the Earth Harp in 2000. The first time I set it up, the strings went from one side of a valley across to the other side, about 1,000 feet, and so it turned Earth into a giant harp. That is where it gets its title. People have definitely been interested and tried to copy the instrument, but it is tricky, so I am really the main guy that is doing it anywhere in the world.
“Now the only place to see and hear it is in the Entertainment Capital of the World. That’s fantastic, and the theater itself becomes part of the instrument. Because we have two sides to the harp when you are playing one, the vibration of these strings are activating the strings on the other side of the theater.”
He laughed: “All this, and I’m still upstaged by the dogs! I love those damn things. They are so great. They really are amazing.”
Whoever would have guessed that poodles rescued from shelters would star on the Strip? When you see their remarkable skills, you’ll believe. They truly take the biscuit -- the dog biscuit, that is!
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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With top accommodations, first-rate entertainment, high-end shopping and a slew of acclaimed chefs, the Palazzo has positioned itself as one of the most luxurious resorts on the Strip.
More than 3,000 all-suite rooms start at 740 square feet and are decorated in a modern, yet classic, Italian style. Each room features a sleeping area, with a king or two queens, and a sunken living room area with floor to ceiling windows.
A cathedral ceiling tops the Palazzo casino, while a second 80-foot dome brings natural light to the property's lobby. The 105,000 square foot casino features more than 2,000 slots and 80 table games but lacks the stale smell of cigarettes, as the property is LEED certified with smoking off limits in most of the Palazzo — including 50 percent of the casino floor.
Dining at the Palazzo is among the best of the Strip, starting with Wolfgang Puck's CUT. Chef Simon To serves up authentic Chinese cuisine at Zine, while Sushisamba combines Brazilian and Peruvian flavors with Japanese techniques. At LAVO, club-goers can dine on Mediterranean dishes before heading upstairs to the bath house-inspired nightclub.