Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The night begins with Skye Dee Miles and her new Tropicana Nights show at Tropicana Lounge. It is important to note that Miles kicks off this coincidentally aligned weekend of entertainment on the Strip because she unleashes a consistently entertaining show.
What lies ahead, beyond the Skye zone, is largely unknown. But she delivers, always.
Miles voice fills the wide-open spaces up and around the Trop’s lounge, cascading across the casino floor and rising to the mezzanine and the entrance to the Laugh Factory, where standups such as Gallagher have leaned on the rail and watched her perform. And mercy, this woman can sing. Miles also makes innumerable costume and wig changes (Miles’ head is a veritable Benetton ad) as her band blazes through a 4 1/2-hour set ending at 2 a.m.
I have to leave Miles far earlier than that, though. I don’t want to, as she has set the bass line for the events to follow.
Up first is a jaunt to Beacher’s Madhouse at MGM Grand.
As is his wont, Jeff Beacher has created robust buzz in the run-up and opening of this nightclub, which has taken over the old Crazy Horse Paris venue across from Hollywood Theater. Beacher has talked up his 6-foot-7 stripper, and also his 3-foot stripper, and little people in all sorts of weird roles. At least one is dressed as an Oompa Loompa, buckled in white overalls and his skin painted an orange hue.
The little people scoot across the club on cables and pulleys, carrying vodka bottles to thirsty VIPs. As promised, and elephant (a fake elephant, it should be noted) is at the right of the entrance. I walk in, and I am met by that elephant, but also by a man (or a fairly tall woman) in a panda suit. Off in the distance, amid the strobes, is DJ Tiesto celebrating his birthday.
The video screens around the room are wishing Tiesto a happy birthday (he is 45), and later he’ll be treated to a fireworks show at nearby Hakkasan, where he regularly produces electronic dance music for indiscriminate nightclub inhabitants.
Already, I am remembering the last time I’d seen Beacher’s production, at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel. In an odd night in VegasVille, I sat with Clint Holmes for that show, and afterward all I recall saying to him was, “Ya gotta love Jeff Beacher!”
This experience was similar, as there is no apparent rudder to guide what is happening in this place. It’s something of a free-form freak show; no less than 15 of Beacher’s acts are listed as “mini” something — Mini-Britney, Mini-KISS, Mini-Beyonce, Mini-Miley, like that. The emcee is a plaid-slacked (or maybe pajama-bottomed) Pete Giovine, who is exactly the type of smart-ass personality with whom you’d love to visit a nightclub. Beacher’s Madhouse, for instance.
Giovine trots out a wild assembly of specialty acts. The World’s Smallest Stripper is exactly that: A very small woman who swings around the stripper pole and booty shakes to great effect, but who does not really strip? But really, can it matter? The crowd goes nuts, milling near the middle of the club to photograph and record video of the act.
The Mini Kombe African tribal dance and drum act is one of Beacher’s favorites. Two little people who gyrate and hot step to African rhythms while swinging their lengthy dreadlocks. An act I like, the quite tall performance artist Leonid the Magnificent, balances a sword on a knife he holds in his mouth.
Leonid came to fame as a contestant on “America’s Got Talent” in 2006, and his imposing stature (and also that of 6-foot-7 stripper Amazon Ashley, who I do not see on this night) is to draw a jarring visual comparison to all the little people scrambling and soaring around the club.
Also not onstage in these intermittent performances is Busty Heart, another “AGT” alumna who crushes beer cans, tiles and other solid objects with her breasts. Or, more specifically, her right breast, which she slams hard on the target objects in an unnerving and unexpectedly violent presentation. Heart’s bra size is 34 M (reminding that, conceivably, a bra size can span the entire alphabet), the result of one or more enhancement surgeries.
Near the show’s close, after a father who seems to be the model for Phil Dunphy, ambles over to shout, “I am partying with my son for the first time! He is over there!” And the son responds with a slight wave and nervous smile that says, “Dad, please stop acting like a dork.” To end the night, Tiny Bon Jovi (or is it Mini-Bon Jovi?) performs to a track of some variation of a recorded hard-rock song.
By now, the events are a blur, which seems the intended result. Beacher wafts onstage in his trademark red-vested tux, swinging with the costumed assortment of characters he’s amassed at MGM Grand. Afterward, I say hello, and he grabs my arm and shouts about how happy he is.
And who can blame him? Beacher will have the time of his life until he doesn’t, and one can hope the celebrities keep pouring in (Cyrus, Katy Perry and Vince Neil have all dropped in) to party and promote.
Beacher is always at the center of this semi-organized chaos, a quality that is not always restricted to the stage, as he has reportedly split with Angel Management Group (which manages Hakkasan) and has turned to MGM Grand to co-manage the club. This, before the venue has been open for a month.
The following night is a return to Rose. Rabbit. Lie. and a performance of “Vegas Nocturne.” What this venue shares with the Beacher operation is a reluctance to make a comparison between the two nightlife experiences. “We don’t do what they do” is the mantra from both enclaves. Each performances are orchestrated by throwback entertainment visionaries, Beacher and Spiegelworld founder Ross Mollison, for whom the self-assigned moniker of impresario is an apt title.
But they do offer something slightly askance in the way of nighttime entertainment in Las Vegas — or anywhere. Beacher’s offers madness; Rose. Rabbit. Lie. and “Vegas Nocturne” present a through-the-looking-glass experience that reminds vaguely of “Alice in Wonderland” or a scene in a David Lynch film for its dream-like imagery.
It seems the restaurant and interlocking lounges that comprise Rose. Rabbit. Lie. — and the nightclub itself — is sent through a blurry filter. Everything is designed to feel a little off-kilter, from the octagonal entrance to the antiquated sounds of glass harpist and armonica player Robert Tiso.
You nibble from the restaurant’s small-bites menu, such yummy items as snow peas salad, short-rib stroganoff and caviar tacos served on vintage china ordered from an antique company in Kansas City.
The silverware is made of that — silver — inlaid with an ornate, cursive design and placed delicately on matching cutlery holders. Much to the chagrin of Coastal Luxury Management co-founders David Bernahl and Rob Weakley, whose company partners with the Cosmopolitan in the nightspot, the silverware is so appealing that it is a cinch that some diners will pilfer them from the restaurant.
At the end of the dining experience, as with visions of Ricky Ricardo and Sammy Davis Jr. alternately dancing in your head, we are led to the 10 p.m. canto of “Vegas Nocturne.” The performance opens with the doling of ping-pong balls and the display of an oversized roulette wheel. One of the performers, a rail-thin manservant called Ripley, uses a pool cue to fire a giant, white marble at this wheel.
The color-coded balls are to coincide with the colors on the wheel, but I’m not sure what the point of this game is (and I pocket my red ball for later), as I am watching all of the performers lined up along the side of the big gambling prop. Two of them, dressed in bellman suits, are guys I have known for a long time: Tap dancers Sean and John, plucked from “Vegas! The Show” and “V - The Ultimate Variety Show,” to join the Spiegelworld production.
The hosts are Alfie, a smarmy, tuxedoed, blithely unaware emcee who banters with his sister, Beverly. She is annoying, dropping the names of famous friends with whom she is recording a charity song (“Two members of Destiny’s Child, and some of the guys from ’N’ Sync”), whom she happens to point out from the audience (these are regular audience members).
There is some order of progression in the acts, produced on a circular, rotating stage. Some numbers are purely dazzling, such as vocalist/musician/beat box artist Butterscotch. We are captivated by the contortions of Captain Frodo, a tennis coach who greatly resembles Bjorn Borg in the ’70s and works his entire body through the open face of a racquet.
Piff the Magic Dragon (John van der Put, a good friend of Penn & Teller) and his sidekick pooch are subtly funny, and a performer who is funnier with each performance. And it is impossible to avert your eyes from whalebone artist Lara Jacobs Rigolo, who gracefully assembles, then deconstructs an entire bone sculpture in each performance.
“Vegas Nocturne” is not yet confident, as many of the acts are new or new to this particular variety format. There has been an uneasiness in what is produced onstage, as if the performers are still thinking through their acts. This will likely be remedied simply through the repetition of performing the show.
Comparisons to “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace are inevitable but unfair. “Absinthe” does roll out a series of circus-styled, vaudevillian and burlesque acts, but the show has been in a groove for more than a year, at least.
Two performers who are clearly self-assured are Sean & John. Nobody in Las Vegas does what these two do, and when they are dancing to the performance of Butterscotch, the show wins.
There was a scene, a mini-production, in this show that most of the audience did not see. It was the watery funeral of “Fish Angel,” a goldfish sacrificed in Piff’s act. Audience members who understood the show’s progression of acts moved to the “coat room” at the side of the stage, where maybe 20 people filed in to take part in the ceremony.
Oddly enough, one of these folks was Mac King, who swallows a goldfish (or pretends to) in his act twice a day at Harrah’s. “I’ve killed more goldfish than anyone here,” he said. Piff offered to sell concessions from a case to make some cash on the side and repeatedly asked guests to “stand” and “be seated” at his whim.
Guests then dropped tablespoons full of water over Fish Angel, who had been dumped in a bathtub. We were giggling throughout, though Piff glared at anyone who laughed. One of those to drop water on the lifeless (and rubber) gold fish was Mollison, whose face was frozen in grief.
There is nothing akin to the subtly brilliant funeral of Fish Angel at Beacher’s Madhouse, nor would you expect there to be. Beacher’s operation presents itself as a risque carnival of goofballs, geeks and freaks, and it is.
But at “Vegas Nocturne,” you sense there is more risk. And more reward, too.
MGM Grand, a AAA Four Diamond resort, offers 5,044 rooms and suites.
MGM Grand features KÀ by Cirque du Soleil; Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club; and world-class entertainment at the Grand Garden Arena and Hollywood Theatre.
The resort offers signature restaurants by celebrity chefs including Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak, Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans Fish House, Wolfgang Puck’s Bar & Grill and Michelin three star and Forbes Five Star restaurant, Joël Robuchon.
As part of its ongoing “Grand Renovation,” MGM Grand has remodeled all rooms and suites in its main tower and is adding several new experiences to its lineup including Hakkasan Las Vegas Restaurant and Nightclub, a new upscale dining/nightlife concept (coming in April 2013).
MGM Grand also features a state-of-the-art, non-smoking conference center, the Grand Spa, Cristophe Salon, "CSI: The Experience" and an inviting pool complex featuring the tantalizing daylife of Wet Republic.
Upscale accommodations include The Mansion, an exclusive hotel within the hotel; the luxurious two-story SKYLOFTS at MGM Grand; and The Signature at MGM Grand, a luxury all-suite, non-gaming hotel located adjacent to the main resort.