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Broadway... Off Broadway

Occasionally, we venture away from New York and take a look at shows, either touring companies, or cities with long run shows such as when Ragtime opened in L.A. This time, we're heading to Las Vegas, home of glitz and glitter, T & A, and the occasional tired bus and truck tour of some touring musical in the magnificent performing arts center at the Aladdin Hotel. (The hotel is being demolished and the 7,000 seat theater is being saved. They have it backwards.)

For Broadway musical lovers this is hardly the town you would expect to find anything even remotely close to a Broadway show. That is, until now. Before I get into that, let me tell you what you can expect in most of those lavish hotel casinos. The huge production shows like Jubilee at Bally's, and Folies Bergere at the Tropicana are staples in the entertainment industry here and each has a cast of about a hundred singers and dancers. Because it's spectacle, what you get is lots of bare skin, a million feathers, piped in music and lots of lip-syncing, and the dancing, well, don't even ask. As I watched these shows, I couldn't help but think that surely some of these performers have talent, but talent is suppressed in Las Vegas Ziegfeld type shows where spectacle is king.

So, where's the talent in this town? Head on over to Convention Center Drive to the Debbie Reynolds Hotel and Casino where the most talented cast in town is performing in Broadway... off B'way!

First off, this is not a revue type show, but a brilliantly designed evening of highlights from Broadway musicals. There is no book to the show, but yet there is an underlying book that threads this whole thing together quite cleverly. When the curtain goes up, the 22 member cast makes its entrance from the audience and the show begins with "God! I Hope I Get It" from A Chorus Line. "At the Ballet" and "The Music and the Mirror" complete the opening segment. They sing "All I ever needed was the music, and the mirror, and the chance to dance for you" as a production number which works beautifully for setting up what they are about to do. Once the number is finished and the casting is done, instead of hearing their life stories, we, the audience, get to see the musicals these gypsys may have been just cast in perform.

Starting off with Cabaret, the M.C. bids us "Wilkomen" as he struts throughout the audience and then he is joined on stage by the Kit Kat girls for the conclusion of the song. What follows is "Money, Money" and "Tomorrow Belongs To Me." Before moving into the next segment, you realize that you're on a trip down memory lane and what a fun trip it is! Before long, you're visiting old friends like Chess, Grease, Jesus Christ Superstar, 42nd Street, Evita, Victor, Victoria and Show Boat.

It's hard to single out anyone in this gifted cast for they can all sing, dance, do splits, spread eagles or whatever director/choreographer Christopher Tompkins asks of them. However, Mark Moschello as the M.C. in the Cabaret segment nails it dead on as does Juan Cantu as Che in his song "O, What a Circus!" from Evita. He sings in english and then spanish which is a nice touch. I hate singling people out in ensemble shows but you just can't help admiring the work of Tina Walsh, Jeff Hutson, Brian Kent, Troy McLaughlin, Jennifer Mrozik, Kimberly Leheny and Robin Berry. Hell, I'm on a role here. Here's the rest of those gypsys... Gigi Allen, Chris Champion, Paul Finocchiaro, Kimm Kidd, Russ Thomas, Kathryn Arianoff, Amelia Childs, Satomi Hofmann, JoLynn Scott, Gregory Vander Ploeg and Mark Moschello. Did I mention Mark twice? That's okay, I really liked hisCabaret.

Aside from the cast, what makes this show work is the choreography by Christopher Tompkins, who obviously has been influenced by Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett, which is understandable as he studied with both of them years ago. There is a terrific tap number in the 42nd Street segment and the credit for that number belongs to both Tompkins and assistant choreographer, Arlene DeLuca. When you see the show, you'll know when Arlene takes charge. Hint: She's a former New York City Rockette! And that spells "precision".

As I've stated, this musical show takes you down memory lane, but it's more than just a few familiar tunes that we are all familiar with. The selection of the material and the way it's presented gives you a feel for the musicals, making you wish you were visiting that old friend in a full production.

People question why Chess is included in the production as many know it was a huge flop in 1988. The producers hope that audiences will get an appreciation for Broadway musicals and learn something whether the show is a flop or not. They did use the popular song, "One Night In Bangkok" which sounded like it needed some oomph to it, but then again, so did Chess. "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" from Cabaret started nice, however, it dropped an octave or two and while fun to hear, was hardly the haunting song we know. I would have much preferred a Sally Bowles solo.

The creative team on the show were very smart in their selection of material. Not all of it is direct from Broadway. For instance, the "Money" song from Cabaret is from the film as you'll instantly have memories of Joel and Liza. Sally Bowles even has the Liza hairstyle. "Le Jazz Hot" from Victor, Victoria was also staged and choreographed similar to the slick film version, and not the flat Broadway musical, which is a definite plus in my book. B'way has a cast of 22, an excellent live orchestra and about 20 others backstage. It's a big Broadway show with costuming that's quite good, but with that Vegas twist. The sets are minimal but effective. In a larger Venue, perhaps, they'll get themselves a '57 Chevy for Grease.

For the finale, the curtain opened and there they were in those glittering outfits, Vegas style, and closed the show with "One" from A Chorus Line. Because of the small stage they couldn't do the full version, but perhaps, in a different theater they can expand this finale, which in its present form is certainly a crowd pleaser, but I'd like to see it in all its spectacle.

This is the type of show that I expected would open the new New York, New York Casino showroom here in town. Instead they opted for something else which is now folding. Broadway... off B'way would be the perfect show for this hotel. It's very New York, very Broadway, and could be updated easily for repeat customers. They could cut Chess and throw in Gypsy, or even change numbers in the show to complement new cast members and their singing abilities. Even now, I understand Kimberlie Leheny is working on "Maybe This Time" for the Cabaret section which will be added in a week or so.

The structure of the show reminds me of the show at the Imperial Palace called Legends In Concert and on any given night, you never know who is going to perform as the show is constantly updated. (And highly recommended by the way!) The same thing could be done with Broadway... off B'way where you could build a repetoire and a repeat customer at the same time. I go to Legends two or three times a year and would do the same with this new show.

So, if you're heading to Las Vegas and have that Broadway urge, then head over to The Debbie Reynolds Hotel, Casino and Hollywood Movie Museum. Come and meet the dancingest feet on the most talented cast in town. The show plays Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays and is worth the short trip off the strip. If you need another show to see while you're in town, then go see Legends In Concert at the Imperial Palace, or better yet, go see Debbie Reynolds in her show. She's not only great, she's unsinkable! ; ) Call 702-693-6309 for reservations and tell 'em Talkin' Broadway sent ya.

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