Many readers might not remember “The Ed Sullivan Show,” as it went off the air generations ago. I never saw it in its heyday, but I do know (through the miracle of archived videotape) that the show was famous for showcasing unusual acts and artists.
These oddly fascinating guests included mouse puppet sidekick Topo Gigio, hand ventriloquist (and likely the most famous of hand ventriloquists) Senor Wences and the Skating Bredos (who followed the Doors, Yul Brynner and Rodney Dangerfield on a Sullivan show in 1967).
Other specialty acts featured the likes of acrobatic dancers from Suriname or some far-off land, teams of unicyclists, one-man bands and two-person balancing acts. The intros by Sullivan were priceless, “And right here on our stage, dancing and drilling to your delight, the Danish Dancing Dentists!” If you had an act that could hold TV viewers for 2 ½ minutes, by gosh, Sullivan would find a spot for you on his show.
That sort of variety show -- the type that rolls out genuine variety -- went dark for a while on American TV. But it is back for an eight-week run ending Nov. 17 in the form of the “America’s Got Talent” show that has taken over Palazzo Theater, the former home of “Jersey Boys.”
“AGT” has little in common with “Jersey Boys.” At least as production show. Both are terrifically designed (“AGT” by the creatively adroit Andy Walmsley, who has won an Emmy for his work on “American Idol” and also is reliably British).
Both shows also share widespread appeal, which is a cinch for “AGT” because of its vast array of acts. There is something for everyone in this show. If you don’t like dogs, you might like enormous harps. If you are not a fan of straight stand-up comedy, you might enjoy a pair of acrobatic guys pounding on aluminum ladders. If you are afraid of the dark, check out the crew wearing costumes trimmed in strips of lights.
Two former “AGT” champs actually perform in Las Vegas -- impressionist/vocalist/impressionist Terry Fator and singer/songwriter Michael Grimm. Neither is in the show at Palazzo, though, Fator because he is headlining at the Mirage in a theater named for him and Grimm (who performs primarily at Ovation at Green Valley Ranch Resort) because he would fit into this show as imperfectly as, well, a hand puppeteer in a rock festival. Also, he has said he wished he’d finished second in the fifth season of “AGT” because of the contractual commitments winning the show presented.
In its stage and TV versions, "AGT" resurrects the concept that anyone with a talent can find an audience. It’s a pirouette of unusual, intriguing, often fascinating acts. The only performer that is a traditional entertainer is MC and comic Tom Cotter.
Other thoughts about the show:
• The advantage of inventing your own musical instrument is that you are, invariably, the Jimi Hendrix of that instrument. Thus, William Close is the Jimi Hendrix of the Earth Harp. I don’t know how it works. It’s sort of like watching Zamfir, master of the pan flute, play a piece lasting 20 minutes. Sort of surreal, but it’s a pretty sound.
• Lightwire Theater is really inventive, and the younger the audience member, the more likely he or she will be wowed by the illuminated movements. This is a total Ed Sullivan throwback act, or reminiscent of off-beat performers Johnny Carson used to put on “The Tonight Show” late in the show.
• Sand artist Joe Castillo made many shapes that looked like manatees until they reached their final creation (such as the Statue of Liberty), and it was akin to watching someone create art from an Etch-A-Sketch. There is an act in “Zarkana” that performs the same craft onstage, though Castillo says he figured out this medium after happening upon spilled sand at Home Depot. Again, kids will be mesmerized.
• You never actually feel Spencer Horsman will not safely work free of his straitjacket or rise from the glass box filled with water. Several magicians can, and have, performed those acts over the years on Vegas stages. Whenever I see a performer break out the straitjacket, I wonder if the straitjacket is ever used for its intended purpose — to shackle a crazy person — because so many people have learned to break free of the confining garment. Horsman is a likeable guy, though. Very polished.
• Recycled Percussion has about reached its limit in developing means of hitting objects with drumsticks. I give them due credit for building a full show out of beating on common household items. They are still trying to color code the show, a Blue side and a Red side, a gimmick that never takes hold. I have been Red and Blue in R.P. shows, so maybe I am shaded by this cross-color affiliation.
• Cotter has a great delivery and could work in any club in the city. Tonight.
• The Olate Dogs are astonishing. I’ve never seen canines walk on their hind legs so ably. The intricacies of training these animals are remarkable. Dogs do not like to walk solely on their hindquarters. It is unnatural, far more so than hopping on a scooter or jumping through a fiery hoop.
I understand why the dogs won Season 7. They are inspirational, different and right at home on “AGT.” Keep ’em coming. Meanwhile, I will figure out an instrument to invent.