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Dance in the Desert 2015: A Delicious Buffet of Modern Dance

The 17th Annual Dance in the Desert is a scrumptious buffet of elite dance companies showcasing classic modern and artistic dance. Multiple dance companies from around the region and country are gathering at Summerlin Library Performing Arts Center this weekend to share their repertoire with Las Vegas.

Opening night was a hearty offering of traditional modern dance mixed with contemporary and fusion styles. This is a classic dance festival, with the focus on choreography and the dancers—a clean, bare, set-less stage with intense lighting, minimal backdrops, and simply great dancing.

Fixed Perfection, Shadows was an iconic number. It began with a solo dancer, bound in a straight jacket, who repeated verbal phrases frequently heard in dance classes that urge dancers to kick higher, work harder, dance more perfectly. The soloist’s ramblings built into a frenzy, until she screamed “I have to be perfect! Somebody tell me I’m perfect!” Her monologue completely captured the repetition and torture and pressure that dancers endure for their art, and the implanted neuroticism that urges them on while sometimes becoming their undoing. Self-loathing perfectionism amidst all the created beauty. The cruel truth is—a dancer can never be perfect. Beauty, Insanity. Dance.

"Interactions" by MAC & Company

“Interactions” by MAC & Company

 Wright Noise featured strong lines and formations, with an almost military feel in its attack and discipline. An EKG-style design, projected behind the dancers, imparted a pulse-like undercurrent to the number, mirroring the urgency of the movement.

"The Eve Complex" by Dulce Dance Company

“The Eve Complex” by Dulce Dance Company

Silent told a tragic story of a woman wrongfully imprisoned told through lyrical, heart-felt choreography,

“Sanitas” by Kelly Roth & Dancers

Kelly Roth’s Sanitas was a brightly-lit narrative with clever partnering, live violinist and pianist, and a joyful feel.

 Wind: 3 by 2 featured 3 duets with entrancing interaction and chemistry between the partners. This sweet, flowing number had intricate partnering that was mesmerizing.

“Def.i.(d)ance” by JarricoDance

 

The closing number, Def.i(d)ance was perfectly placed in the program. 7 dancers in plain black 2-piece outfits brought heavy-hitting rhythms and choreography to the stage. Both the movement and music had a tribal feel, with a hip hop edge and attack. Defiance was the defining emotion. This number was a feast for the senses and left the audience cheering. A perfect, strong, rollicking ending to the night.

With free admission and an intimate, comfortable venue, this dance festival is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered by arts-lovers in Las Vegas. If you want a taste of New York-style modern dance, here it is. Las Vegas is very lucky to have Dance in the Desert.

Rating: A+

Audience: all ages

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Yoomi Lee Voted Best Ballerina in Las Vegas

Congratulations to Yoomi Lee of Las Vegas Ballet Company for being voted “Best Ballerina” of 2013 in Las Vegas by readers of Desert Companion Magazine!

Her elegance has graced the stages of Las Vegas for more than a dozen years, and brought the love of ballet to countless students at Kwak Ballet Academy. Having written about Lee and her husband in a previous blog, it is a pleasure to congratulate her on her well-deserved recognition by the community!

Yoomi Lee and Kydong Kwok

Yoomi Lee and Kyodong Kwak

Jubilee! Could Have Been Saved by Better Marketing

Now that Bally’s Jubilee! has been officially shuttered for the next month to update and change unspecified portions of the show, questions still abound about what prompted this decision of Caesars Entertainment to give up on the last gem of the golden age of Las Vegas showgirl production shows.

In a cynical sense, change in Las Vegas entertainment is always driven by one thing: money. Shows were originally mounted in casinos to attract, retain and reward gamblers. It’s only logical that if Caesars felt changes must be made to Jubilee! it was because the show was not generating enough money.  Since the show was paid off decades ago, and the performers are paid the least of any performers on the Strip, the lack of profit must primarily be due to lack of ticket sales.

Jubilee! Finale Jewel Box

It’s that hard to market and sell tickets to THIS!?!! Gimme a break.

Jubilee! is as beautiful and gorgeous as at any time in its 33-year history; wardrobe legends Donna Shad London and Marius Ignadiou have done extraordinary work in preserving the condition of these decades-old costumes. The gorgeousness and retro-quality of the show would be any Las Vegas marketer’s dream because of its uniqueness, high production quality, and historical value. The show should be raking in the money.

So, if the show is aesthetically spectacular, with a world-class talented cast, and is the last jewel of an era that millions pine for, why is it not selling?

In marketing terms, it’s not selling because the target audience is not being reached or influenced. In public relations terms, it’s not selling because it hasn’t been branded effectively.

Looked at with a non-insider’s eye, marketing and PR efforts lack some important components:

  • There are no social media channels for Jubilee!.
    • There is no active official Facebook page for Jubilee! There is a Facebook page entitled “Jubilee! at Bally’s Las Vegas”, but it has no posts, and so appears unused.  9,448 people have visited the page (that’s 9,448 people out of 40 million Las Vegas visitors each year), but there is no indication how many likes it has.  There is no impetus for anyone to “like” this page, as it appears inactive.  So, there is no active Jubilee! page on Facebook for audience members to “like” or follow.  Therefore, there are no daily posts showing up on followers’ Facebook pages to remind them of the gorgeous show, which is the whole idea of social media in marketing.
    • “The Pulse of Las Vegas”, Caesars’ Facebook page, occasionally posts about Jubilee! special appearances, but does not promote the show or describe it.
    • There are no Jubilee! Instagram or Twitter accounts — no other social media that is easily found by Internet surfers.  There are no links on the Bally’s website entertainment page to any social media.

Dear Caesar’s PR/marketing team,

Facebook and social media are free advertising.

Sincerely,

Everyone on planet Earth.

  • There are no Jubilee! souvenirs or t-shirts on sale. From a marketing view, souvenirs and t-shirts are one of the most popular items for tourists, and one of the most effective ways to spread the word about the show in distant parts of the country and world.  A show-goer has no memento of the Jubilee! experience, and therefore, it fades in his memory as soon as another experience creates a more immediate memory. If a show-goer had a t-shirt or desk souvenir that could be worn or displayed in the weeks after the show, the memory of the show would be rekindled, the show-goer would likely tell others about it, and maybe make plans to return again. Word-of-mouth would be created, and the show-goer’s friends might put Jubilee! on their lists of things to do in Las Vegas. Nothing (i.e. no souvenirs) leads to nothing, unfortunately.
  • There are no programs. This abolishes any chance of audience members bonding with the cast and show, as programs give information, stories, and up-close images that people relate to and remember. Another lost marketing opportunity.
  • There are no billboards of Jubilee! around town, only two on Bally’s own marquee, and even that is reduced from the previous three. If you are driving eastbound on Flamingo, you see no advertisement for Jubilee! on the Bally’s marquee. There were many years when Jubilee! did not even do taxi cab banners.
  • There are no local TV commercials for the show that this writer has seen, as a member of a moderate TV-watching public.
  • Jubilee! is listed at the bottom of the entertainment show page on  Bally’s website, below every other entertainment offering at Bally’s.  It is listed AFTER “Tony & Tina’s Wedding”, (which isn’t even running); below once-a-week shows “Dancing Just Like the Stars” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show”; and below a singer who imitates other singers and doesn’t even have a national name in the US.  Any PR or marketing person knows that website viewers tend not to scroll to the bottom of pages. So by pushing Jubilee! to the bottom of the page, they are burying it beneath imitators, not-open shows, and once-a-week, low-production knockoffs. This is not the way to promote a multimillion-dollar, world-class show.
  • Jubilee! has made some recent guest appearances on TV talk shows, which is great PR placement. Guess how most of us found out they had happened? Social media postings by the cast.

This lack of, refusal to implement, or ignorance of modern and effective promotional techniques leaves people who care about Jubilee! feeling one thing: that Jubilee! has been abandoned by Caesars.

Jubilee! Opening Act

Hundreds of Beautiful Girls. This could go viral! Oh, wait, it’s not on social media.

Caesars has the amazing opportunity — nay, the responsibility — to keep Las Vegas showgirls alive in the mind and awareness of the public, if they want it to sell tickets. Caesars has a virtual lock on the Las Vegas showgirl – they basically own the brand, as no other show has classic Vegas showgirls wearing $3,000 Bob Mackie costumes. How they have not seen this as an opportunity to take over the image and make it work for them is beyond the comprehension of outside PR professionals. It’s a tragically lost opportunity, in marketing, sales, and to lovers of classic Las Vegas entertainment.

Dear Caesars Marketing/PR Team,

Many people love to see gorgeous, gifted, topless dancers draped in glittering rhinestones tell a story through dance.  So, please let us know that you still have them on stage.

Sincerely,

Everyone in the world

By bringing in the choreographer of a current hip hop/pop celebrity to revamp the show, it seems apparent that Caesars is targeting the Millennial generation as preferred audience members. Which is fine – although it ignores the fact that many Millennials have never learned to appreciate full-length live theatre or elegant performances; they only know Youtube videos and Pussycat Dolls (although Dancing With the Stars is helping with that, somewhat).

Hiring this new choreographer has garnered some news coverage for the show, but mainly within Las Vegas and regional print newspapers and online news.

The best way to find and communicate with Millennials is through social media. That’s where they live.  So, even if Caesars is willing to pay for new choreography and music, their target audience won’t know about it, or learn why they should care, unless Caesars goes to where they hang out. Not print newspapers, not TV news.  Online — in social media.

Since 2010, notably, the fastest growing demographic of Facebook users is senior citizens — people aged 50 and older. This older generation, known as the “Baby Boomers”, appreciates and seeks out classy theatrical productions, and would highly value information about shows like Jubilee!

If social media and innovative branding had been used expediently, years ago, to promote the show, would the image and popularity of showgirls have been resurrected and ticket sales enhanced, without even needing to bring in such drastic changes and cost to the show? Has corporate resistance to new media, and lack of creative thinking, lost Caesars millions of dollars in ticket sales, and squandered the potential title of “home of the real showgirl”?

Jubilee! Disco act

Gorgeous showgirls, dripping in Swarovski crystals, dancing gracefully to Gershwin. Nah, people won’t want t-shirts or souvenirs.

From a marketing and PR standpoint, here are some suggestions for promoting Jubilee!:

  • Team Jubilee! up with “Dancing With The Stars”. It would be great PR for Jubilee! and for DWTS. Bring in guest celebrity/pro duos from DWTS to do Pink & Purple Ballroom, Top Hat, or any act, on a monthly basis, and then actually promote them on your new…
  • …Social media channels.  You should be using all of them. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and more.  Need some help?  Ask any 14-year old.
  • Hotel outdoor wrap advertisement with Jubilee!’s name on it.  Full coverage of the entire Strip-facing side of the hotel. Using Jubilee! showgirls in the current restaurant wrap is nice, but it looks incidental and does not actually promote the show directly.
  • Bring in internationally-known guest artists, who use retro style in their performances, for guest spots.  Justin Timberlake, Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Jackman, Michael Buble, Michael Feinstein, Tommy Tune, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweiger, Richard Gere, Jason Alexander could all be candidates. Brand Jubilee! as THE place for classy, musically-trained pop and movie stars to show their singing and dancing skills. And then, you could mention it on…that’s right! You guessed it correctly…your new social media channels.
  • Hand out free Jubilee! postcards to every audience member as they leave.  People love free things.  They can take photos of it and post it on their Facebook pages.  Then their friends will see what show they went to.  It’s a handy way to control the online image of show. This is called what, Caesars?  Right again!  “free advertising”. Did you also know your PR department can track social media mentions, so you can actually measure how your free advertising is working?  Cool, huh.

Jubilee! is a timeless icon of lush beauty and elegance that speaks across time and cultures.  It is an important cultural institution.  Caesars shouldn’t abandon it without updating — updating the marketing and PR efforts.  It CAN reach a new audience without changing the essence of the show.  Brand it right, promote it smartly, and Caesars will have an irreplaceable money-maker on its hands for a very, very long time.

Disclosure: This writer was a performer in Jubilee!. This writer is near completion of a Masters degree in Media & Communications Psychology from Touro University Worldwide. This writer receives no remuneration for posts to this website.

 

Burlesque Hall of Fame 2013 Tournament of Tease

A crowd awash in gowns, victory rolls, sequins, feathers, rhinestones, glittery neckties and tuxedos swept into the Orleans Hotel for the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender. Audience members and performers from around the globe gathered to celebrate glamour, beauty, and the art of the tease. This annual Las Vegas event hosts some of the most creative, artistic, and original performing seen at any time of the year in Las Vegas.  Burlesque is alive and well, and this weekend shares its seductive, naughty, and comedic best with the world.

Elektra Cute

Elektra Cute

The third night’s “Tournament of Tease” featured current acts vying for best in their category, as well as the contest for the new Miss Exotic World. Various acts highlighted classic stripteases, innovative ideas, and special skills such as acrobatics, fans, reverse-strips, and butterfly skirts.

In the “Best Debut” category, Elektra Cute wowed the audience with her Art Deco-era style and mystery. The drama in her expression was riveting, and her costume pieces were elegant, flapper-inspired works of art.

Eliza Delite brought her creative Pope-inspired act, starting in Victorian-era robes and crown, then disrobing into a beautiful gold cape which she manipulated in beautiful butterfly-movement using embedded sticks. She evoked the image of one of the first motion-picture-captured dancers in silent films, who turned in a circle as she fluttered beautiful fabric wings. Ms. Delite was regal and old-Hollywood retro.

Lady Borgia started with nice fan work that ended too soon, but transitioned to very nice dancing using her flowing dress teasingly.

Laurie Hagen presented a reverse strip that also attempted to give the feeling of movement done in reverse. Her jerky movements were foreign to this art’s normally beautiful and graceful style, but was an interesting variation.

In the “Best Group” category, Swing Time presented a comedic take on a threesome with great boylesque and nice group sculptures. They won their category.

Burlesque artist Lou Lou D’Vil won the crown of Miss Exotic World, Queen of Burlesque with her classic, elegant striptease and ermine-dripping costume.

LouLou D'vil doing her winning number.

LouLou D’vil doing her winning number. Photo Credit: copyright Don Spiro. Photo from 21stCenturyBurlesque.com.

While the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender is not for all ages, it presents an expressive art form that is enjoying a well-deserved revival.  Especially in a city of raunchy strip clubs and nightclubs, it is a welcome breath of beauty, camaraderie, and glamour.

Rating: A

Ages: 18+

“Phat Pack” Delivers A True Punch

Plaza Hotel, January 1, 2013

Phat Pack infused a classic entertainment genre with modern, theatrical sensibility.  Four experienced performers offered classic crooning of popular musical theatre fare.

The small theatre allowed the audience to experience these legendary singers (and musician) in an intimate setting. The

Phat Pack

Phat Pack

performance by each cast member was focused, genuine and lighthearted, and built friendly rapport with the audience. Impeccable group harmonies, varied vocal dynamics, resonant vocal tones, comedic playfulness and personal stories made the show exhilarating and compelling.

Audience reaction was positive; people clapped along to the upbeat songs, laughed and applauded generously, and fell into quiet awe during dramatic solos.

Gershwin, Sondheim, Cole Porter and other illustrious composers were on the rich Broadway-based bill.

The projected slides were used effectively for the most part, as adjuncts in story-telling or to display background patterns that supported the particular mood of a song. During the autobiographical segments, there were, at times, too many family-moment slides. Paring down the number of slides would help tighten up these scenes and reduce the distraction of so many slide changes.

The stage set-up was basic: black backdrop curtain, piano, stand-up bass and a few microphone stands.  Props, choreography and staging were cute and cleverly used. The show would benefit from more visual changes, such as shirt or jacket changes (to ones with color) or progressing from tied to untied bowties. Backdrop changes would be very fitting.

“Phat Pack” has all the musicianship, content and talent one could wish for. Its irrepressible fun is bursting with personality and charm. A classic crooner format sweetened with musical theatre showstoppers and up-close contact with world-class talent makes this show one to share with family, friends and out-of-town visitors.

Rating: A

Audience: All Ages.

“Oliver!” at Super Summer Theatre

July 11, 2012 (Opening Night), Spring Mountain Ranch

The British National Theatre Company of America’s production of “Oliver!” opened on a strong note at Super Summer Theatre.

The sets were richly painted and detailed, with deep colors, lots of textures, and multiple levels that were enhanced by varying heights of set pieces and props. The lighting enhanced the creation of a dark, forbidding, grimy atmosphere, effectively transporting the audience to a war-torn, crumbling city.

Oliver!

Oliver! at Super Summer Theatre

Immediately notable in the opening of the show was the talent and professionalism of the child actors. The children were focused, clean and confident in their scenes, group dances and interactions. Sara Andreas, who played Oliver, demonstrated vibrant vocal quality and strength. She was in good company, as every lead and ensemble member sang strong and clear.

Costumes were period-appropriate, with good detail and style.

The choreography for the children was delightfully creative, with a modernized hip-hop style suffusing the children’s movements throughout group lifts, canon movements and prop work. The fresh style was eye-catching and fitting in its street-feel, and in many ways reflected movement that children naturally do.

All of the children were good dancers, and the sharpness of their performance was impressive. Whether in formations or during simple gestures of the head, focusing to and away from a lead adult character, the children moved in unison and were obviously well-rehearsed, giving the production a polished appearance. Great job, especially on an opening night.

Oliver!

Oliver! at Super Summer Theatre.

“Consider Yourself” had interesting formation work and character choreography, including umbrella choreography.  Artful Dodger performed a quirky, clean, memorable dance solo.

Violence toward women and children was graphically presented in “Oliver!”, and was disturbing. Children in the audience may need adult guidance to navigate the violent themes.

While these themes are part of the original foundation of the show, and traditionally central to the show’s theme of ‘survival’, they make the audience wish that one of the victimized characters would outright resist, outwit their persecutors or trick them into turning on each other, or that the offenders would ‘get their due’ as vividly as Oliver and the women suffer abuse and death.

This production of “Oliver!” was admirably directed, choreographed, and performed. With modernized choreography, robust singing and confident performances, it entertained the full-house crowd and set a high bar for its three weeks of performances.

Audience: appropriate for ages 10-up

Rating: A

Signature Productions’ “Hairspray”

April 11, 2012 at Summerlin Library Performing Arts Center

Signature Production’s Hairspray blew our wigs off with its high production quality and joyful performances.

The cast had terrific energy, talent and passion. Even though many characters were written to be somewhat over-the-top or caricature-ish, the actors in this production played those at just the right level to be believable, likeable and relatable.  These subtle choices in acting and direction are to be commended.

The interaction of the actors established solid relationships, drawing the audience in from the first moment.

Singing by every actor was strong and well-articulated. All sang at a professional level.

Signature Productions' "Hairspray"

Signature Productions' "Hairspray"

Direction was superb.  Transitions were inventive and clever, and performed smoothly.  Use of sets, lighting and script during scene changes made them as engaging as the scenes. Staging was creative and contributed greatly to the storytelling.  Placement and movement of each actor had a reason, and furthered the story.

Choreography was pleasingly stylish, sharp, and well-rehearsed.  It was not distracting, gratuitously complex or self-aggrandizing; it was well-chosen for the level of dance ability of the cast.  The cast performed it cleanly and joyfully. Choreography of sets, such as the jailhouse bars, was witty and interesting. And choreographed special effects using real hairspray –- terrific!

Costumes were richly designed and constructed, authentic in style to the 60’s, eye-catchingly detailed, expressive of each character’s story, and perfectly tailored.

Lighting was judicious and effective in creating the right mood and directing the eye to the action.  Sound had no discernible problems, and the performers’ voices sounded natural and clear.

Sets were impressive in size, detail, construction, mobility and variety.  Of special note was the huge blue-checkered backdrop early in the show, and the simple jailhouse scene set: the former perfectly symbolized the aesthetic of the 60s and created a ‘groovy’ atmosphere with its rich colors and sophisticated execution; the latter effectively evoked the setting due to its shape, minimalism and starkness.

Signature Productions' "Hairspray"

Casting an actual child in the part of Little Inez is rarely done, but Malia Blunt sang, acted and danced with skill and poise.  Her talent and skill are professional-theater level, maybe even Broadway-ready.

This performance belied the label ‘community theater’.  In all respects, including staging, costumes, sets, directing, acting and singing, this company and production offered a professional theater-level experience.  If a few of these theatrical and production elements were weaker, the show would still have been well-worth attending.  But every element was designed and performed with excellence, which made attending it fun and memorable.  The production sparkled with professionalism. This show was truly a gem.

Audience: All Ages

Event Rating: A++

Las Vegas Shakespeare Company’s “Cinderella”

April 20, 2012 at Henderson Pavilion

"Cinderella" by the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company

This performance, in the beautiful Henderson Pavilion, was a sore disappointment in every aspect except one (to be addressed later).

First, the obvious: theater has a strong visual component.  Costuming and scenery matter.

In this show, the opening costumes were bland, and of rough construction, on all the characters.  They all read as flat, and blended into the background scenery, especially Cinderella’s dress. If a contrast to the later ball gowns was intended, it went too far to the plain/visually-uninteresting end of the spectrum.

The king wore what appeared to be a modern black suit with a white collar shirt.

The low-cost nature of wardrobe efforts was also evidenced by the proportion of actors who wore plain Capezio character shoes or modern ballet flats that were unadorned and unmodified to resemble period footwear.  It doesn’t cost much to indicate period style; it just requires a good designer and clever ideas.  The costumes in this show were disappointing in their lack of creativity, dimensions, and historical details.

The sets were alarmingly amateurish.  The opening sets looked painfully small for the stage, and did not read as three-dimensional structures – they were painted very two-dimensionally.  While minimalistic sets can be done very effectively and cleverly, this was not the case in Cinderella.  The butcher’s building, supposedly a stone structure, had no depth or weight to it because of how it was painted.  The palace bedroom looked like a shack or converted garage, as it was merely a chaise sofa and a window treatment – no painted or hung adornments to indicate wealth, prestige or royalty.  There were no backdrops in the first act to create atmosphere or indicate place or time.

The sound suffered from unending reverb, and many of the actor’s voices were muffled and too low in volume to be heard, especially in the ensemble.

The inclusion of children brought its own problems.  Their costumes were alternately ratty, ill-fitting, or not appropriate for their ages.  The white-horse girls particularly lacked confidence, continually looked at, and talked to, each other, and steered the pumpkin carriage right into the legs (side curtains). It appeared that the children in animal costumes did not have character makeup on.  Choreography for the children was extremely simple, yet they were under-rehearsed or not quite at the level of performance that a show like this, in a performance space like this, requires.

Of note, the mice were ticklingly cute.  But that wasn’t the significant positive aspect of the show.

Gail Bennett, who played Cinderella, was a joy.  Her singing, acting, timing, and stage presence were of the highest caliber. She was a bright light of talent, intent, and skill.

Unfortunately, the overall impression of Cinderella was of an uncreative, unclever amateur staging – more like a dance school recital than a professional production.  This was an unexpected shock from a company that named itself after one of the world’s greatest playwrights.

Luckily, other community theater groups in Las Vegas are doing better than this. In fact, several other production groups have mounted exceptional shows, even in smaller venues, that border on regional- or professional-theatre quality.  These include Signature Productions and PS Productions. Don’t give up on all Las Vegas theater, just head for those other productions and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Event Rating:  F    (for Ms. Bennett: A)

Audience: All Ages

UNLV Opera Theatre “Divas”

Dr. Arturo Rando-Grillot Recital Hall, UNLV 

Nov 18, 2011

Leather pants, face glitter, goth drag and Twitter gags – this is opera? Yes, and hilariously so.

UNLV Department of Music’s updated version of opera paired traditional music and librettos with modernized characters of pop and Las Vegas culture, making centuries-old stories relevant and poignant to today’s audiences.

Starting the program with a contemporary piece from Too Many Sopranos by Edwin Penhorwood, a bevy of elegant ladies in evening gowns graced the glowing wood stage and backdrop of floor-to-ceiling organ pipes.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Penhorwood's "Too Many Sopranos"

UNLV Opera Theatre: Penhorwood's "Too Many Surprises"

Lead singer Nathan Van Arsdale, appearing in drag and sporting a very long, very black wig that gave him a distinctive gothic vibe, wowed the audience with powerful vocal resonance and projection. Tongue-in-cheek delivery made this piece instantly likeable.  If texting had been allowed, messages like “OMG! WTF! opera rox!” would have prevailed.

The second piece, Haydn’s La Canterina, was presented in the original Italian  and in traditional attire (floor-length, frilly dresses for the women, and short pants, white stockings and powdered wigs for the men).  The cast’s vocals were of professional quality – clear, strong, controlled, and soaring.  The pantomime and face-acting by each character told the story quite well, done with perfect drama and subtlety. Libretto translation was projected onto a movie screen that was on the side of the stage.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Haydn's "La Canterina"

UNLV Opera Theatre: Haydn's "La Canterina"

In this comic opera, the duplicitous nature of the characters and the knavery in the story were playfully acted by the cast, evoking much amusement from the audience.  The cast’s  performance made opera accessible and fun.

Jahmaul Bakare, Sheronda McKee, Cecilia Lopez and Kathleen McVicker were riveting to watch and hear. Ms. McKee carried on as a true professional when her skirt tore midway through a scene.  The porters provided comic relief through their bumbling, half-wit characters (one of which, Mr. Van Arsdale, was the previously-seen drag diva).  The quartet and arias were pure pleasures to witness. One felt privy to early performances of future opera greats.

Their voices were commanding, rich and sophisticated.  Piano was the only accompaniment. Pure human singing, unprocessed and unamplified, feels different to our ears; kinder and gentler than amplified musical events, yet more thrilling.

The cast members in the next three pieces, excerpts from Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, Victor Herbert’s The Enchantress, and Thomas Pasatieri’s Divas of a Certain Age, displayed various levels of experience and accomplishment.  “We’re the UNLV Divas” was spunky and spirited.  Despite the inconsistencies in the choreography execution and a lack of confidence evident in some ladies, all showed potential for development.  Divas of a Certain Age was well-staged, but the costuming was confusing; the characters were supposedly middle-aged, yet they were attired as college girls.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Mozart's "The Impresario".  Lady Gaga (Erin Kennelly) and her Little Monsters.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Mozart's "The Impresario". Lady Gaga (Erin Kennelly) and her Little Monsters.

The last piece of the evening was the most inventive and delightful.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario (Der Schauspieldirektor), retained Mozart’s plot line, while substituting modern pop-divas and reality-TV personalities for the original characters.  In music director Linda Lister’s updated version, Steve Wynn (Mr. Van Arsdale) is looking to hire a singer for his newly-acquired Caesar’s properties. He is advised (or ill-advised) by Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino (Brian Myer), and lobbied by Ari Gold (Jonathan Mancheni) to audition Madonna (Isabella Ivy) and Lady Gaga (Erin Kennelly).

UNLV Opera Theatre: Libretto translation projected on a side screen.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Libretto translation projected on a side screen. Text of Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino (Brian Myer) in Mozart's "The Impresario".

The competition between the two divas is fierce; Madonna snipes, “Oh, now Gaga sings opera? Can’t she come up with anything of her own?”; Gaga purrs, “I can sing Mozart in German while tweeting!”.  Dueling arias ensue between Maddie and Gaga, and progress into a rivalrous trio with Gold — an operatic cat fight – while The Situation flashes his six-pack and takes digital photos of the divas, which he shares with ever-amorous groupies.  Wynn quits Caesar’s to start a vegan farm and leaves The Situation in charge of the casino empire. Yoga poses from all participants fail to calm the group, until Gold pleads for harmony.

The vocal performances by all of the featured characters in this Mozart piece were astounding. Ms. Kennelly and Ms. Ivy’s soaring, robust singing was pure greatness. Mr. Mancheni and Mr. Van Arsdale had terrific stage presence. The staging was creative and effective in advancing the story.  Production details, such as Lady Gaga’s backup dancers wearing origami claws and hats, added interesting visual elements. The piece was engaging, invigorating and riotously funny.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Mozart's "The Impresario" Trio.  Lady Gaga, Ari Gold, Madonna.

UNLV Opera Theatre: Mozart's "The Impresario" Trio. Lady Gaga (Kennelly), Ari Gold (Jonathan Mancheni), Madonna (Isabella Ivy).

This evening of opera was inspiring, enjoyable, educational, and memorable. UNLV showed that not only  can it preserve and present the classics, but also update them in a meaningful and entertaining way for today’s audiences.

Event Rating: A

Audience: All Ages

M&M’s “Love 2 Dance”

Aug 19, 2011 at South Point Casino

The joy of richly-experienced performers pervaded the cozy stage as the 14 international dancers revealed intimate memories of their dance careers.

Audition fears, inspiration sources, performance experiences, and personal reasons for dancing were questions asked and answered through dance and live recitation.

M&M

M&M Love 2 Dance

Among the standout acts were Don Bellamy’s recollection of dancing with Alvin Ailey and sacrificing electrical service for dance shoes; the full company demonstrating the humorous side to auditioning (featuring terrific breakdancing); Tony Coppola’s tap solo  and percussion work; and the hip hop-styled “Money”, which elucidated the challenging costs of classes, shoes, rehearsal space, agents and costumes.

Top acts in the show were “Big Spender”, “I Wanna Be A Dancin’ Man” and “Love 2 Dance”.

“Big Spender”, danced and acted by statuesque former showgirls Liz Eliot Lieberman, Lynn Martin Fouce and Karlyn Zambrotta, incorporated Fosse-style choreography and clever banter based on their true life stories.  It was the most delightful and enchanting act of the night.

“I Wanna Be A Dancin’ Man”, a group chair dance, was well-conceived, well-sung, tight and concise.

“Love 2 Dance” featured each dancer stating what he or she felt when dancing, and then soloing to his or her preferred rhythm, played live on drums by Coppola.  An engaging chance to get to know the dancers, and the first indication of the wide variety of dance training among the cast.

The show’s strengths were the variety of musical and dance styles, the technique of the dancers, Coppola’s percussion playing and the live storytelling.  The weaknesses of the show were the costumes, the length of numbers, the ‘Q&A’ structure – and the live storytelling.

Music styles ranging from hip hop to standards, and dance styles from ballet to hip hop, varied the visual and aural experience.  The dancers’ technique shone for the most part (M&M aborted several lifts in the latter part of the show; fatigue could have been a factor).  The personal stories were riveting, celebratory, tragic, inspiring and heartbreaking.  The stuff of a great show.

Speaking or singing while dancing is extraordinarily difficult, and it was executed quite well.  However, heavy breathing, an unavoidable result of dancing, was picked up by the mics,  and was distinctly distracting.  This may be something that their sound guy can smooth out.

Visually, the most disappointing aspect of the show was the lack of costume changes and color – dancers wore the same outfits for several numbers, and everything was black.  Color livens a show.  Melinda’s red dress in the finale was a relief, but it came too late.

Many of the numbers ran too long, and there were too many of them.  The numbers and show would have more punch if shortened.  Ruthless editing will achieve this.

M&M’s elder-characters were funny and would be an appropriate act in a variety show (assuming seniors aren’t offended by them).  However, in the end, the elder-spoofing and Q&A structure were superfluous and jarring.  Omitting them from this show, (yes, cutting all of it out)  and letting each act flow seamlessly into the next would generate anticipation and mystery before each act.  Each act would reveal an answer to an implied question – and that question might vary for each audience member, thereby having different meaning to each observer.

At the very least, M&M should cut the on-stage explanation of how they put the show together.  If it  has to be explained, then the show doesn’t stand on its own legs.  This show can.  An on-stage introduction is scaffolding  —  which should be removed once a structure is completed.  Creator/director thought processes can be shared in director’s notes in the program.

This show has great ‘bones’, in the form of world-class performers with decades of experience.  The Las Vegas community is fortunate to have creative, passionate performers who gather and craft original productions.  “Love 2 Dance” is a nice concept and with further development will become a good show.

Rating: B+

Audience: all ages