Roughly a year into their residencies, we take a second look at two imaginative productions at The STRAT Showroom…
In this age of “Director’s Cuts”, “Special Editions”, and “Legacy Sequels”, we’ve grown accustomed to the notion that no piece of entertainment is ever truly finished. In Vegas, we’ve seen reimagined versions of long-running productions like The Beatles LOVE, OPIUM, and a regular retooling of LEGENDS IN CONCERT. While all of those examples are primarily designed to lure back existing fans, sometimes a show just doesn’t work
The production team at SPI Entertainment is a rare example of an entity that actually listens to guest suggestions and reviews. Recently they’ve undertaken significant overhauls of a long-in-the-tooth THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER (original review here) and a badly-floundering iLuminate (original review here).
Both shows made major improvements, as these updated write-ups demonstrate (here and here). Now an integral part of the entertainment slate at The STRAT Hotel Casino, SPI Entertainment oversees four productions: Banachek – Mind Games Live, Xavier Mortimer – The Dream Maker, iLuminate, and ROUGE. While the latter two are performing quite strongly in today’s market, the earlier offerings appeared to need an infusion.
You might recall my review of Banachek, in which I said “there’s every reason to expect a fair share of excitement and flash in his Vegas production. Alas, there’s none to be found.” And that was my primary gripe with the mind reader’s show. Sin City audiences expect dazzle, no matter how impressive the entertainer might otherwise be.
In a total demonstration of class, Mr. Banachek acknowledged my unflattering review and months later, invited me back to revisit his production. Unlike the now-notorious fiasco with Criss Angel, this entertainer welcomed my points of view like the pro that he is. He stated that exciting new elements had been added, along with a high-tech video backdrop to amp up the flash.
Upon revisiting MIND GAMES LIVE, I did indeed form an improved opinion, but not in the way that I’d expected. Without question, the new video wall adds atmospheric depth to whatever trick Banachek is accomplishing at the time. Things seemed to move at a faster clip, and the performer himself appeared to be having a terrific time.
But what I came away with was, perhaps, an interesting reminder that even the most successful productions can experience an “off” night…one in which typically home-run moments don’t quite land. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then can an audience not make or break a performance? And by the same token, can a critic feel or not feel something different from the others?
I’m reminded of the time that I interviewed Willie Gomez, a powerful singer/dancer/model who was performing with Britney Spears at Planet Hollywood for a number of years. After our conversation, Willie asked me to be his guest for that evening’s show. He was quite aware of my dislike for the lip-syncing pop tart but suggested that I enter with an open mind. “Try it for the audience experience, not to see Britney,” he told me.
While the troubled star’s performance was indeed an atrocity of landmark proportions, the production itself was top-notch. And the capacity audience had an excellent time, turning what could have been a tortuous two hours into a memorable evening.
“Seeing things from a different perspective” was the goal for my recent return to BANACHEK’S MIND GAMES LIVE. Everything worked for the better this time around. The jokes landed just right, and the trickery grabbed me to a more impressive degree. A lion’s share of audience participants demonstrated enough quirky behavior to amplify the chemistry between the self-proclaimed mind reader and his subjects.
Another takeaway from visit #2 was a clearer understanding of Banachek’s purpose. I had originally inquired “how can you enjoy a show when the star blatantly identifies himself as a fraud?” This time, I found his goal to be sharper. The charismatic gentleman states that there is no such thing as psychic power. And he adds something to the effect of “I’m not even reading body language. It’s just plain trickery.”
How those tricks are accomplished becomes the real mystery of BANACHEK’S MIND GAMES LIVE. You won’t learn the answers, but you’ll walk away mystified. Because, as everyone knows, a good magician never reveals his secrets.
Earlier this year, XAVIER MORTIMER – The Dream Maker got a pretty stellar response from VEGAS 411 contributor Clay Bushes. At the time of its opening, she said “There’s no question that Mortimer’s star is on the rise.” Even so, it was reportedly a challenge for Mortimer to fill the cavernous STRAT Theater with his eye-popping production. So once again, more bells, whistles, and pizazz were reportedly added.
French entertainer Xavier Mortimer is the rare performer who actually benefitted from the pandemic shutdown. Mortimer created a series of short videos during the downtime that focused on his talents. They were superlative, viral-worthy…and eventually reached thirteen million fans, old and new. That helped to justify his rise from a tiny theater in Planet Hollywood to The STRAT‘s main showroom.
Now that COVID-19 is fading into the rearview mirror, Mortimer is facing off against more than a dozen counterparts in the magic field. Very few shows are achieving pre-pandemic levels, and the interest in live entertainment has faded. Combine that with rising prices and less discretionary income, and the ability to find an affordable evening of quality entertainment has become quite difficult.
Thankfully, XAVIER MORTIMER – The Dream Maker is a value-packed show filled with whimsy, amazement, and laughs galore. The titular performer excels at circus-style antics, which should come as no surprise from an alumnus of Cirque du Soleil. A physical performer whose lithe body compliments an extremely expressive face, Mortimer is a boundless bundle of energy.
THE DREAM MAKER is a family-friendly journey through the fantasies of its star, highlighting his musical abilities, skills in the art of illusion, and manifestations of other-worldly scenarios. Musical instruments take flight, a disembodied hand bolts across the stage, and the auditorium is filled with bubbles and laughter. If all of those descriptions go over your head, that’s terrific, because THE DREAM MAKER should be experienced in person.
While I wasn’t able to take note of many changes in the production since its opening last fall, the aforementioned video wall adds a great deal of depth and scale to several illusions. THE DREAM MAKER achieves the delicate balance between technology and human elements, giving heart to tricks that could flounder when performed by a lesser personality.
It’s difficult to compete in Las Vegas with a mid-level show. Top draws like David Copperfield and Penn & Teller collect much of the spotlight, and small productions like LATE NIGHT MAGIC and MAC KING cover the niche markets. That doesn’t leave much room for middle-tier attractions.
Fortunately, XAVIER MORTIMER – The Dream Maker has an extremely low “rack rate” of only $39 (even less on sites like Ticket Kite). Combine that with early-evening showtimes, and The Dream Maker becomes a delightful all-ages experience worth seeking out.
BANACHEK’S – MIND GAMES LIVE performs at 4 pm inside The STRAT Theater. Tickets start at $29 plus taxes/fees, discounts are available to hotel guests. Click here for the complete schedule and to order seats.
XAVIER MORTIMER – The Dream Maker performs at 6 pm through December 30th. Tickets start at $39 plus taxes/fees. Hotel guests receive a 30% discount. Click here for the complete schedule and to order seats.