The Strip’s Shows

We grade nearly-just-about-almost all of the production shows in town

Entertainment in Vegas runs the gamut from Tony Award-winning plays to topless shows, and from big-name performers to topless shows. To cover it all, or at least as much as we could before we succumbed to exhaustion, we sent out a crack team of critics—each with their own unique tastes, biases and interest in partial nudity—to review more Strip production shows in one issue of the Weekly than ever attempted before by man or beast.

As new shows open, old ones are revamped, or we get past Rita Rudner's phalanx of security, we'll be pulling out our Official Weekly Critic's Pads and going back to work to keep you, our dear readers, more knowledgeable than Mike Weatherford.

Martin Stein

Avenue Q (5 stars)

Hail the new Q-urator of Vegas Strip Cool—a bawdy Broadway puppet show!

They're so damn Q-ute.

With their arrival, no thoroughfare on our famed boulevard deserves more traffic than Tony-winning Avenue Q—a tuneful, tenderhearted, dirty-minded pastiche, laden with laughs and lewdness.

In its swanky crib at Wynn Las Vegas, Q is the first Strip show to genuinely feel like a Great White Way experience.

What's it about? Those post-college/pre-'burbs years when youth seems forever, plans are anything but permanent and what's next is whatever—cracker-box apartments, revolving-door jobs, lovers and relationships, just figuring out the world. Years that, despite personal insecurity and financial instability, promised endless possibility.

With alternating ensembles, this Sesame Street send-up—not for kids and featuring people and puppet characters, the puppeteers onstage—is headed by original stars John Tartaglia, a Tony nominee, and puppet designer Rick Lyon.

They tell the tale of (puppet) Princeton (animated by Tartaglia), a wide-eyed college grad arriving in big ol' NYC. Moving into Avenue Q, he bonds with his new neighbors: unemployed comedian Brian and his Japanese-therapist wife, Christmas Eve (both human); affable slacker Nicky and his roomie Rod, a Republican investment banker who might be gay (both puppets); Internet-addicted Trekkie Monster (think Cookie Monster on Levitra); and sweet teaching assistant Kate (puppet), with whom Princeton is smitten.

They occupy a funky brownstone whose superintendent is ... TV castoff Gary Coleman. At the local cabaret, shimmying Lucy the Slut puppet (our cover cutie) sways and sashays like Mae West reborn. Plus troublemaking bears, singing box tops and characters popping up in windows, Laugh-In-style.

Oh, and there's (brief, energetic, surprisingly explicit) puppet sex. Forget they're waist-down nonexistent and it's nearly believable. Animation is imaginatively deployed on monitors flanking the stage.

The clever, catchy score—"What Do You Do With a B.A. in English," "It Sucks to Be Me," "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," "If You Were Gay," "You Can Be As Loud As the Hell You Want (When You're Making Love)," "The Internet Is For Porn" ("grab your d--k and double-click")—is a barrelful of belly laughs.

We're marginally aware of the precision choreography, puppeteers ducking on- and offstage, switching puppets and voices, even assuming both ends of a conversation. But we're never taken out of Q, given its likable characters, believable relationships, puppet masters' synchronized acting with their creations, and the performers' palpable joy. The enormously appealing Tartaglia vibrates with boyish wonder, innocence and goodwill only a Scrooge-y audience could resist.

For teens and early-twentysomethings, Avenue Q is a whimsical look at what's coming in that bridge between lingering adolescence and looming adulthood. For grown-ups, it's a wistful return to a time we only later realized we loved.

Steve Bornfeld

Where: Broadway Theater, Wynn Las Vegas

When: Tue.-Sat., 6:30 & 10 p.m.

Price: $88, $99

Info: 770-WYNN (9966)

We Will Rock You (2.5 stars)

Not nearly as good as Mamma Mia! but far better than Rent, this Queen-inspired musical succeeds on some levels and falls flat on others, but respects the attitudes of the '70s super-group: campy and mock operatic.

In the future, the world is almost completely controlled by a single corporation, and all music is coldly calculated to turn a profit, with musical instruments and creativity banned. Galileo Figaro and his love interest, Scaramouche, rebel and join with the Bohemians, keepers of a legend with the power to free the world.

Performances are generally top-notch but competing for our attention is the extravagant and oftentimes unnecessary staging. It doesn't help, either, that the story is tissue-thin, even by musical theater standards. Too much effort is spent trying to get plot elements across, not to mention scenes that only exist to showcase shoehorned-in songs. The script is full of sly topical references but lacks much of the wordplay that made Ben Elton's Black Adder TV series such a hit.

Martin Stein

Where: Paris Théâtre des Arts
When: Mon.-Wed., Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 7, 10 p.m.; Sun., 2, 8:30 p.m.
Price: $80.50-$124.50
Info: 946-4567

Elton John: The Red Piano (4.5 stars)

Everything works: the blow-up breasts, the naughty neon signs, the bizarre video for "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," and most of all the star, Sir Elton John, a delightful, genial gnome in satin and tails.

Much of the credit for The Red Piano also goes to David LaChappelle, whose set design and lighting prove the perfect platform for John and his extroverted music, which is at times celebratory, sentimental and even occasionally cryptic. Just as important are the richly varied videos LaChappelle created to fill the gigantic LED screen. One example is the video for "Rocket Man," with Justin Timberlake as a young Elton John backstage during the wild '70s. Though it could easily have been pure cheese, the video instead succeeds in capturing the harried alienation and overwhelming isolation that can come from being at the center of an endless tour.

John is far more restrained now than back in the '70s. Though he still pumps his leg at the piano, his foot no longer quite reaches the keys. Yet he still plays with verve.

If there is a complaint, it's that The Red Piano, at around 90 minutes, could easily have thrown a few more songs into the mix. But this isn't a concert per se and it is hard not to feel that The Red Piano, as intended, offers a full experience.

Richard Abowitz

Where: The Colosseum, Caesars Palace

When: October 4, 5, 7-9, 11, 12, 14-16, 18, 19, 21-23, 7:30 p.m.

Price: $100-$250

Info: 474-4000

Ka (4 stars)

As slight as the plot of Kà is, the show still manages to be confusing. A gold star, for example, to anyone who can figure out the relationship between the three bad guys: bomb-making bad guy muscle-bound tattooed bad guy and scheming bad guy in the yellow outfit. As for the twins at the center of the story, they are parted by the bad guys, after various adventures they are reunited, and the bad guys, we think, are defeated. Whatever is happening, it is the sort of thing that Northrop Frye could diagram in a sentence.

Of course, it is hard to create interesting characters without using words, and with music that only uses linked syllables for lyrics. For its first story-driven production in Las Vegas, Cirque therefore has not attempted to reinvent plot (or even show much creativity with it) as it has with the theater and circus. Kà feels more like a scenario than a story.

This isn't as serious a problem as it could be because like a Hollywood blockbuster, Kà has more "wow" factor going for it than anything you have ever seen on stage. Even the term "stage" is used loosely here, because Kà has stages that slide in and out and up and down like shifting tectonic plates. This provides ample opportunities for Cirque to apply ingenious lighting and staging which do far more than the characters to move the story along.

At one point an underwater rescue is performed through a scrim and lighting that create a beautiful illusion of motion through water. Among the most rewarding moments is the simplest: a beach reverie with contortionists brilliantly costumed as crustaceans ending with the stage lifting straight in the air to dump off its covering of sand. Of course, this works because the stage is immense and contains an extraordinary amount of sand. Maybe it is a message about erosion or a cheeky illusion to the sands of time; either way, it is cool. Another impressive set piece includes a giant forest packed with acrobatic beings, and as always, Cirque is masterful with the small touches, such as ushers from the Village of Kà offering plenty of attitude with your seats.

In short, Kà more than makes up for what is lacking in story with splash and spectacle.

Richard Abowitz

Where: Kà Theatre, MGM Grand

When: Tue.-Sat. 7:30, 10 p.m.

Price: $99-$150

Info: 796-9999

Rules: 5 or older, under 18 must be accompanied by an adult

La Cage (2 stars)

If it weren't for the fact that all of the performers are men masquerading as women, La Cage wouldn't be notable for much of anything. Not even aspiring to the karaoke status of other tribute shows, La Cage is 90 minutes of occasionally dodgy lip-syncing and pedestrian choreography. That it achieves its stated end of re-creating famous performances by famous performers is almost irrelevant given how underwhelming the results often are.

There are positive elements, though: The makeup and costumes are generally outstanding, and more importantly, effectively mimic the famous women they represent. Most of the performers look uncannily like women and if they don't, it's not necessarily their fault (it doesn't help that the real Liza Minnelli is already pretty manly). The dance routines are tight and well-executed, if not particularly exciting.

But host Frank Marino (as Joan Rivers) is neither charming nor funny, and unless you are perpetually amazed that men can actually make themselves look like women, the show's novelty quickly wears thin. The low point is overweight Jimmy Emerson as Tammy Spraynet, whose entire routine is crass fat jokes. A drag show might have been revolutionary when La Cage opened 20 years ago; now it's just tired.

Josh Bell

Where: Mardi Gras Pavilion, Riviera

When: Wed.-Mon., 7:30 p.m.

Price: $55

Info: 794-9433

Rules: 12 or older, under 18 must be accompanied by an adult

Mac King Comedy Magic Show (4 stars)

It's too bad that people are so quick to dismiss afternoon shows, since Mac King's Comedy Magic Show is not only a great bang for your buck (tickets are less than $25) but it's also one of the funniest shows on the Strip. King isn't a flashy stylist like fellow Kentuckian Lance Burton, and he isn't as subversive as Penn and Teller, but his combination of goofy humor and traditional magic tricks makes for top-notch entertainment.

Despite a few risqué jokes, King's show is perfect for families and he's got terrific rapport with children as well as adults, using volunteers throughout the show to great effect. In many ways, the performer's humor is old-fashioned, relying on puns and silly antics rather than shock and absurdity. King's illusions are old-fashioned, too, with reliable standards such as rope and card tricks, but he delivers them with such charm and energy that you don't mind the familiarity.

The show is short but never flags and has none of the time-filling interludes that mar other productions. King keeps you laughing the entire time and leaves audiences wanting more. It's more than worth venturing out in the afternoon to see him.

Josh Bell

Where: Clint Holmes Theater, Harrah's

When: Tue.-Sat., 1, 3 p.m.

Price: $19.95

Info: 369-5000

Lance Burton: Master Magician (3.5 stars)

Lance Burton's show opens with a video of the self-proclaimed master magician attempting a David Blaine-like stunt, chaining himself to the Desperado roller coaster at Buffalo Bill's in Primm and rushing to escape as one of the ride's cars speeds toward him. It's an exciting stunt, but it's the only nod to magic's evolution in Burton's 90-minute show, which otherwise is as traditional and familiar as it gets. Taking the stage in a tuxedo, Burton exudes both Southern charm (he's from Louisville, Kentucky) and old- Vegas class, chatting up the audience with ease while engaging in some low-key (but still impressive) legerdemain.

As the show goes on, the spectacles get bigger and bigger, and Burton's trademark moments that you may recognize from his commercials (flying car, soaring doves, the strange man in the mask) make their appearances. But throughout the whole thing, it's Burton's folksy, friendly presence that sells his magic, on both a grand and small scale. He interacts with the audience frequently and with aplomb, easily getting you on his side and ready to follow him to whatever trick he's next got up his sleeve.

None of Burton's illusions are groundbreaking but he pulls off old chestnuts like levitation, disappearing and reappearing elsewhere, reconstructing a torn newspaper and even your grandfather's favorite, pulling a coin from behind a kid's ear, with a wink and a smile that make them great entertainment even if they aren't anything new. What Burton adds to his tricks are new variations on old themes. He ups the ante on levitation by doing it to a sports car, and gives thematic theatrical twists (a Twilight Zone pastiche, a French costume ball, even the Garden of Eden) to each illusion he performs.

The show's only lull comes in the middle, when Burton takes a break and juggler Michael Goudeau takes the stage for a brief set. Goudeau's juvenile humor and groan-worthy jokes do nothing to enhance his completely unoriginal set of juggling tricks. While Burton takes the familiar and makes it new again, and even gets away with plenty of corny jokes of his own, Goudeau is merely a hack, a jarring intrusion into an otherwise classy, entertaining and strangely wholesome show, perhaps the closest thing on the Strip to actual, honest family entertainment.

Josh Bell

Where: Monte Carlo

When: Tue., Sat., 7 and 10 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 7 p.m.

Price: $60.45, $65.95

Info: 730-7777

Zumanity (3.5 stars)

Billed as "the other side of Cirque du Soleil," Zumanity brings to the surface the sexual power that's always been a thrilling subtext of Cirque performances. (Those freakishly flexible bodies! Those skintight suits!)

Set up like a cabaret show—instead of threading the acts together in a typical Cirque dream-logic "narrative"—Zumanity mixes the stunning acrobatics with more dance numbers than is normal for the troupe. There are several terrific set pieces: A midget and a beautiful woman enact a drama of longing while swinging over the audience on a trapeze of white drapery; two water nymphs swirl their bodies together in a large bowl, the water and curved glass distorting their motion; two men fight in a cage until they kiss and are released, freed by their self-realization.

The finale is a slowly spinning mock orgy that involves a couple of lucky audience members. Transvestite emcee Joey Arias is the show's earthy, profane center. Zumanity's creators say it isn't about sex but rather love in all of its forms. Love or sex, it works either way.

Scott Dickensheets

Where: Zumanity Theatre, New York-New York

When: Fri.-Tues., 7:30, 10:30 p.m.

Price: $65-$250

Info: 740-6815

Rules: 18 or older, under 21 must be accompanied by an adult

American Superstars (2.5 stars)

Unlike its cross-Strip competition, Legends in Concert, American Superstars doesn't have two decades of history and name recognition upon which to rely. The relatively upstart tribute show also lacks the revolving door of impersonators that characterizes Legends, focusing more on contemporary artists than its competition. The result is a production that feels more exciting and vibrant, if still severely limited by the basic constraints of the tribute show. Mixing the obvious classics (Elvis, Michael Jackson) with a couple of predictable modern choices (Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera) and one odd but surprisingly effective addition (Tim McGraw), Superstars manages to appeal to a broad cross-section of audience members.

The show relies a little more heavily on backing tracks than Legends and its singers vary in quality. It's also a mistake to open with Darren Lee as Elvis, since Elvis is obviously grand-finale material. Michael Jackson impersonator Damian Brantley spends more time dancing than singing, though his singing is effective. But Superstars gets some important things right, including letting performers sing full songs rather than medleys, and understanding that a tribute to a current top-40 artist can be just as appealing as one to a long-dead legend.

Josh Bell

Where: Theater of the Stars, Stratosphere

When: Wed., Fri., Sat. 6:30, 8:30 p.m., Sun.-Thu., 7 p.m.

Price: $27.75, $38.75

Info: 380-7711

Rules: No one under 5 allowed

Clint Holmes (5 stars)

Most performers come here in the twilight of a career. But as a headliner at Harrah's, Holmes has really come into his own, creating one of the most musically rewarding experiences to be had in Las Vegas.

Of course, to the record charts Clint Holmes remains the answer to the Trivial Pursuit question: "Who sang the novelty hit 'Playground in my Mind'?" But what happened next is worthy of a movie: Clint Holmes went from one-hit-wonder to become a Las Vegas institution. Seeing his show, it is clear why local support, critical praise and audience buzz have combined to make Holmes' show so successful.

Holmes is a great singer and charismatic performer, and he has the best band on the Strip. Avoiding the obvious clichés, top-40 covers and impersonations, Holmes opts for the high road.

In his show, Holmes mixes original songs with a few examples from the American songbook, pop and even opera. Together, the material forms an arc that allows Holmes to embrace the audience with his musical universe. On a perfect night, Holmes makes a Vegas showroom feel as intimate as spending the night hanging out with your new best friend who happens to be a world-class entertainer.

Richard Abowitz

Where: Clint Holmes Theater, Harrah's

When: Mon.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.

Price: $59.95

Info: 369-5000

The Fashionistas (4.5 stars)

Two things make The Fashionistas unique in Las Vegas entertainment history. Most obvious is that it is a modern dance interpretation of an epic porno film. And as is implied by that, there is the more profound truth about The Fashionistas, that while every other show on the Strip was produced based on an informed guess as to what people want to pay to see, The Fashionistas brings to the stage the production show that legendary adult filmmaker John Stagliano wanted to make—without any commercial consideration.

Surprisingly, the result is the hottest, sexiest and most critically acclaimed adult show currently available. The Fashionistas stacks the deck with top production values (set changes, lighting, giant projection screen) usually associated with far larger rooms, outrageous and varied costumes, and a huge cast that even includes aerialists. The story involves a love triangle between two girls and a guy, and since all three are exceedingly horny and kinky, the plot can be a bit hard to follow. Amazingly, Stagliano tells this story without dialogue (or nudity), allowing the primarily industrial soundtrack and technically superb dancing and effects to carry the story along.

About to reach its one-year anniversary against all odds, it seems this extraordinary show has found its niche.

Richard Abowitz

Where: Krave, Aladdin

When: Mon.-Sat., 9:30 p.m.

Price: $54.95, $76.95

Info: 836-0830

Rules: No one under 21 admitted

Buck Wild (3.5 stars)

A country-and-western-themed variety show seems like such a no-brainer in a city like Las Vegas, where there are such large numbers of local and visiting fans, that you have to wonder why no one thought of it before.

With its tongue firmly in cheek, Buck Wild has bales of fun with stereotypes such as trailer-park girls, the Dukes of Hazzard and Hee-Haw. Singer and guitarist T.J. Weaver and the backing band, along with singers Tamara Kelly and Annika Starander, do great renditions of country classics such as Garth Brooks' "Friends In Low Places" and Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" The choreography is also creative and fresh, with lots of heel-clicking and thumbs in belts. It's fun just to watch the dancers, regardless of whether the women keep their tops on.

Nathan Burton supplies some suitably themed magic, fiddler Russ Hedrick takes a good run at "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" and 12-year-old L.D. Miller is a force possessed on the harmonica.

By show's end, rebel yells are a requirement.

Martin Stein

Where: Sahara Theater

When: Mon.-Fri., 9 p.m.; Sat., 7 and 9 p.m.

Price: $61.95-$79.95

Info: 737-2515

Rules: No one under 18 admitted for topless show

American Storm (4 stars)

American Storm is the result of the VH-1 reality show, Strip Search, which crossed our great nation in search of attractive, young, small-town boys who wanted to put on a show Vegas style. Thus, cast members look more like that really, really cute guy at the bar than the typical male stripper. Of course, many of the bachelorettes, brides-to-be and divorcees in the audience scream for blonde, blue-eyed, chiseled Sean, who handles the requisite military tribute and looks like, well, the typical male stripper. Then there's Terry, who resembles a handsomer Latrell Sprewell and manages to be both snarky and sexy as an ersatz Austin Powers during the '60s tribute. And Rick—ah Rick—who sports a faux-hawk, has a grin that could disarm a hostile nation and occasionally drops to the ground and flails about like Iggy Pop during his solo in the mandatory cowboy routine (which begins with an all-too-brief appearance in Native American drag). A real range of types are represented in American Storm, dancing around in G-strings, knee pads and sneakers.

American Storm is also unusual in its selection of music; rather than the customary variety of hair metal and boy bands, the boys make with the breakaway clothes to Green Day, Outkast, the Foo Fighters, and believe it or not, Belle and Sebastian. For that last one, they rock with Elvis Costello glasses to go with their suit 'n' ties. Like I said: Something for everyone.

Lissa Townsend Rogers

Where: Riviera

When: Wed.-Mon., 7:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.

Price: $39.95, $49.95

Info: 678-6800

Rules: 18 or older, under 21 must be accompanied by an adult

Legends in Concert (2 stars)

George Tullinger as Buddy Holly was the first act the night I saw Legends in Concert, and he started off the show by remarking that there isn't enough truly live music in Vegas, stressing that the Legends show features all live performers, including a five-piece band, and no lip-syncing by the tribute acts. He's right; there isn't enough live music in Vegas and Legends does get points for featuring nothing but actual live performances. Unfortunately, just being live isn't enough. The lineup of singers varies frequently, but the night I saw the show the only one who truly gave an impressive performance was Tullinger as Holly. Whether he perfectly re-created every one of Holly's moves and vocal tics is less important than the fact that he genuinely connected with the audience and played his songs with passion and energy.

The show's centerpiece, Matt Lewis as Elvis, also connected well with the audience but singers in between, including impersonations of Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder, were pale imitations and their performances were just formless medleys that did not do justice to the original material. Since Legends changes so often, you never quite know what you're going to get, but chances are it'll be pretty mediocre.

Josh Bell

Where: Imperial Palace

When: Mon.-Sat., 7:30, 10 p.m.

Price: $24.95-$59.95

Info: 731-3311

Penn & Teller (5 stars)

Granted, there is little competition but their show remains the smartest in town. Penn may be a world-class juggler but after seeing him toss around some broken bottles, all you will remember is his irony-soaked, postmodern spiel that is cleverer than every writer with a credit from McSweeney's combined.

Their latest show does a wonderful job of spotlighting Teller's subtle illusions (which do not transport airplanes), the most disturbing of which involves a flower's petals falling. Other fans will enjoy the more flamboyant moments such as the magic bullets trick, in which these two grown men intentionally point and fire loaded guns at each other. It is hard to say when entertainment becomes art. But wherever that line, the careers of Penn and Teller prove you can keep a foot on either side while molesting the line.

Penn and Teller were two of the first truly edgy performers to start appearing regularly on the Strip, and the duo proved the viability in Las Vegas of off-Broadway's vibrant aesthetic. In short, though seldom acknowledged, Penn and Teller proved to be the vanguard for a new generation of acts that helped Las Vegas escape what had seemed a terminal case of cheese and sleaze.

Richard Abowitz

Where: Samba Theatre, Rio

When: Wed.-Mon., 9 p.m.

Price: $75

Info: 777-7776

Rules: No one under 5 allowed

O (3.5 stars)

If nothing else, Cirque du Soleil's O is a triumph of set design. The 1.5-million-gallon tank that serves as the show's main performance space is astounding in and of itself, and the various stage elements that shift and change throughout the show are almost as mesmerizing as the actual performers. Luckily, the rest of the show is worthy of its spectacular setup.

Like all Cirque shows, O is an impressionistic collection of acrobatic feats tied together by a vague theme (in this case, water). The limber Cirque performers contort themselves in all sorts of pretzel-like forms, dangle from structures high above the stage and perform feats of agility that are nothing short of amazing. They also engage in water routines that most closely resemble synchronized swimming, which is a relatively low-rent thing for such a glossy show to emulate.

But it all flows together smoothly—like water, even—and is beautiful in its gracefulness. As one of the longer production shows on the Strip, O gets a little repetitive as it reaches its end and the clowns who open the show come back out for two more routines that are more annoying than funny. These are minor quibbles, though, with a show that is otherwise outstanding.

Josh Bell

Where: Bellagio

When: Wed.-Sun., 7:30, 10:30 p.m.

Price: $99-$150

Info: 693-7722

Manilow: Music and Passion (3.5 stars)

With much of Vegas always pushing for sex and edge, it's refreshing when a Strip property brings in what used to be called a "class act."

But what else would you expect from Barry Manilow, who essentially built Arista Records? Not for him are scantily clad backup singers nor aerialists overhead, though the show's impressive "Copacabana" climax features a large, descending catwalk that lets Manilow Inc. perform a few feet over the audience's heads.

Manilow delivers a smooth, fun show, hitting all the right beats. With tongue slightly in cheek, he performs "Mandy" as a duet with himself, a la Natalie Cole and Daddy Nat. Later are two set pieces, perhaps one too many, in which Manilow has some fun with his early years. Thanks to some creative staging, seats in the wings become the best, as patrons find themselves in the fanciful confines of a small club.

Fans will be on their feet for much of the two-hour show, but might need a moment to recover when Manilow segues from "Copacabana" to Fatboy Slim's remix of Groove Armada's "I See You Baby (Shakin' That Ass)" as he hoists one leg over the catwalk's Plexiglas wall and does a bit of bump 'n' grind.

Martin Stein

Where: Las Vegas Hilton

When: Wed.-Fri. 9 p.m., Sat. 7:30, 10 p.m. Performance dates vary

Price: $85-$225

Info: 732-5755

The Anthony Cools Experience (5 stars)

What can you say about a hypnotist who has fans called hypno-sluts, people who become addicted to the orgasms he gives out at the end of each show?

Anthony Cools is a true hypnotist—I nearly fell into a trance at one show and I was seated toward the back—and there's no evidence of plants in the audience. A warning is delivered at the beginning to expect an evening of "good, clean, dirty fun" and he eventually delivers. Once the less entranced are weeded out, the show begins with volunteers being told they are master musicians and playing the instruments of their dreams in an orchestra. Nothing's funnier than seeing someone's wildest fantasy of playing the cymbals come to life. Yes, cymbals.

People also are told they're auditioning for a pornographic film, and the chair in front of them is the hottest person they've ever seen. At the end, Cools thanks each person with a handshake that gives them the most intense orgasm they've ever experienced.

Since the show relies on both the participants and the audience (the people on stage are always aware of the audience and their applause), you can't count on anti-climatic cymbals every night, but you can count on the climaxes.

Martin Stein

Where: Paris

When: Daily 9 p.m.

Price: $40, $60

Info: 946-4567

Rules: 18 and over, if under 21, must be accompanied by an adult

Le Reve (3.5 stars)

When Franco Dragone's Cirque-type show first opened, it was rife with problems, typified by different explanations of the show appearing in press releases and the program.

After cutting performances down and retooling, Dragone has gone a long way toward correcting the shortfalls and clearing up the confusion. The show is now clearly about one man's dreams, of the gentle fall into sleep that becomes a plummet into the darker reaches of consciousness before rising again to wakefulness.

The Everyman, now in white face, is encouraged on his journey by Morpheus, an actor who still bears too strong a resemblance to Satan despite his increased friendliness. A remote-controlled swan, which had first been a throwaway prop, is now put to great use as a symbol of his dream state and of the transitions from light to dark and back again.

The show is still derivative of Cirque shows such as O in its use of water and divers, and even Zumanity to some extent, with the theater's small room and audience in the round forcing Le Rêve to have a greater emphasis on dance and small gymnastics.

Harnesses that allow performers to swing and fly through the air are now better incorporated into the costumes. The high dives are even higher, a trapeze act has been introduced and the man-on-man balancing number is vastly improved with the addition of a chorus.

Problems still exist, though. Appearances by a quartet of clowns are still threaded throughout but often destroy the mood rather than simply providing comic relief. A vampire-themed number looks as if Dragone watched Interview with the Vampire a few too many times. And while audience members are now given protective towels, those in the front rows are still going to get far more than splashed on.

But credit has to be given to both Dragone and Steve Wynn for recognizing problems and attempting to fix them. Le Rêve might still be imperfect but it's now a pleasant dream rather than a nightmare.

Martin Stein

Where: Wynn Theater, Wynn Las Vegas

When: Sat.-Wed., 7:30 and 10:30 p.m.

Price: $121

Info: 770-7100

Rules: No one under 5 admitted

La Femme (3 stars)

Leave it to Las Vegas to combine "classy" entertainment with toplessness. Thanks to its association with the Crazy Horse cabaret in Paris, La Femme has an air of respectability that other topless shows lack. And for the most part, it lives up to that distinction: The dance numbers are sexy and sophisticated and the nudity is integrated into the show seamlessly without being flashy. Befitting its origins in a place that had its heyday in the 1960s, La Femme is so retro-looking that you half expect Austin Powers to show up at some point.

Instead of Austin, we get two intermissions, one with a ridiculous Michael Jackson impersonator and another with a flashy but boring magician. These digressions are pointless distractions from the show's main appeal, which is the creative, kaleidoscopic lighting projected onto the beautiful women. The show's tone is tongue-in-cheek and sometimes groan-inducing, but it conveys sensuality far better than your average crass, service-oriented strip club or gaudy, tiresome showgirl production. After a while, the pieces can become repetitive and what's titillating at first eventually becomes rote. Before you're able to find topless girls boring, though, the show is over, leaving audiences pleasantly sated.

Josh Bell

Where: La Femme Theatre, MGM Grand

When: Wed.-Mon., 8, 10:30 p.m.

Price: $59

Info: 992-7970

Rules: 18 or older, no cutoffs or tank tops allowed in the showroom

Gladys Knight (4 stars)

Yes, she sings "Midnight Train To Georgia." But Gladys Knight offers more than the greatest hits, and that adds the special touch that transforms seeing her perform here from just another concert into a Vegas show. Knight has her dialogue down, from cheeky references to her famous feud with Diana Ross to generous recollections of the music of Motown. There are also the efforts of the scene-stealing star of the show, Merald "Bubba" Knight (the singer's older brother and an original member of Gladys Knight and the Pips), who brings unbelievable energy to his role as comic foil.

Of course, in the end, what is paying the bills is the incredible voice and songs that have netted Knight 10 Grammy Awards. Knight was first to hit with "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," and among her more memorable recordings are "The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" and "I've Got to Use My Imagination." Unlike so many of her peers, Knight has continued to record new material, allowing her to offer more than just nostalgia. In short, if you love the music of Gladys Knight (and who doesn't?), her show is a genial and rewarding experience.

Richard Abowitz

Where: Flamingo Showroom, Flamingo

When: Tue.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.

Price: $65-$75

Info: 733-3333

Mystere (4 stars)

Cirque du Soleil's Mystère is billed as a performance that examines the stages of life, and so starts out with a giant, comedic baby learning his boundaries on stage. From there, the show explodes in classic Cirque fashion into an amazing display of acrobatics, music, costume lighting and showmanship.

Themes stretch from love and sex to battle and celebration; but as with many Cirque shows, the meaning of it all may be overshadowed by the sheer impressiveness of the performers' physical and artistic abilities. They climb up and down walls appearing to deny gravity, build human ladders atop one another, send each other flying through the air bouncing off of see-saws and trampolines, somersault from trapezes, and display beautiful, sensual grace in scenes of modern dance and strength and balancing acts.

The show is full-tilt energy, a feast for the eyes, and there's not a bad seat in the house. Mystère debuted on the Strip in 1993 and continues to draw crowds as a reliable entry into the world of Cirque.

Stacy J. Willis

Where: Mystère Theatre, T.I.

When: Wed.-Sat., 7:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Sun., 4:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Price: $60-$95

Info: 894-7722

Chippendales, The Show (5 stars)

What mother wouldn't want her engaged daughter to spend her last night of freedom being air-humped by a trim, bronzed, hunka hunka burning lust? What mother wouldn't want to watch him rrrrrrrip off his wife-beater, mop the sweat from his undulating abs and hurl it directly at her little angel? If the man in question is a Chippendales dancer then the smart money says Mom will knock her progeny to the ground to catch the incoming shirt.

Like most male revue shows, Chippendales revolves around fulfilling women's fantasies, stars a cast of all flavors and styles of men, and offers something for everyone. Vignettes include tender, teasing domination; romantic interludes with silk sheets and candlelight; men in and out of uniform; and blue-collar hotties armed with hammers, mops and anything else they can pantomime as a phallus.

The new showroom, not yet a year old, allows bachelorettes to kick back with their coteries and watch from their seats on the main floor or reserve a private VIP booth in the balcony. The Flirt Lounge is open before, during and after the show, serving up exciting cocktails in glowing martini glasses. But the real action takes place on stage. Of all the male revues in Vegas, Chippendales is the classiest, best orchestrated, best choreographed, full-scale production—and that means more looking than touching.

This is not to say the ladies don't try. When the Chips periodically venture into the crowd or take volunteers onstage, there is plenty of groping and attempted gripping but the fun is kept clean, making this the perfect show for a first-timer or a bachelorette who may not been looking for a hands-on experience.

Highlights include serenades by Brian Cheatham, who moves from one musical genre to the next, crooning Enrique Iglesias' "Hero" and then busting out the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight." One particularly steamy interlude involves Nathan Minor making himself a bit more comfortable on a pulsating, rotating disk, sending memories of boyfriends and husbands to the back burner.

While the Chippendales brand continues to strengthen, so too does the show enjoy constant attention and improvement. The soundtrack—currently heavy with Usher—is frequently updated to reflect the charts, and periodic injections of fun, new elements (aerialists, body paint and even a game show) keep the show fresh and the crowds coming back for more.

Xania Woodman

Where: Chippendales Theater, Rio

When: Thu.-Tue., 8:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m. show Fri. and Sat.

Price: $34.95-$49.95

Info: 777-7776

Rules: No one under 18 admitted

Fantasy (3 stars)

Recently given a slight name change and a redesign that includes some fast-paced choreography by Cris Judd (best known for his former job as the original Kevin for Jennifer Lopez), the essential elements of the original Midnight Fantasy (which confusingly was not actually at midnight) are still in place. Fantasy, like its predecessor, is a quick-moving topless show meant to entertain bleary-eyed tourists.

This speedy pacing is necessary to serve the clientele. On a recent Friday night, at least three audience members were asleep before the show started. Another typical moment was an impassioned scream from a guest of "Take it off!" long after the girl already had. We could generally hear at least one snore over the ridiculously amplified music. None of this can be blamed on Fantasy; it only suggests the need for the show's high-energy presentation with not only MTV-style moves, but also the quick jumps.

The most talented cast member is not actually one of the dancers but singer Stephanie Jordan, who does her best to project sensuality into predictable chores like karaoke "Lady Marmalade" and "Roxanne." But Jordan also is charged with interacting with the dancers as well as the audience. So, while performing "Black Velvet," Jordan must sing while wearing a corset and working choreography with dancers who are wrapping her in various ways with binding cords. And during the requisite hoedown, she must Shania with a gentleman in the front row—while controlling his hands. Every moment she is on stage, Jordan delivers with enough flair, good humor and enthusiasm to suggest that she will eventually find a bigger spotlight for her talents than Fantasy.

Of course, what matters most about a show like Fantasy are the dancers, and as one would expect, the Fantasy girls are hot, vibrant and well-breasted (real and fake). Though a bit blonde-heavy, in general, Fantasy has avoided just casting the typical statuesque showgirl, allowing a range of heights and types. The costumes are not memorable in any creative way yet still manage to do an adequate job showcasing the dancers' contours.

For better or worse—featuring eight dancers, a male comic and a female singer—Fantasy is simply the sum of its parts.

Ricahrd Abowitz

Where: Atrium Showroom, Luxor

When: Fri.-Wed., 10:30 p.m.

Price: $44.99

Info: 262-4400

Rules: Under 18 not admitted

Jubilee! (3.5 stars)

Though it opened in the '80s, Jubilee! really recalls the Vegas of an earlier time: It is a history lesson in rhinestones, wigs and dumb spectacle. Created by Donn Arden, who first put down roots here with Lido de Paris in the '50s, Jubilee! has now been a Vegas fixture for more than two decades. Though Folies is older and more prestigious, Jubilee! is bigger, and for a production show featuring traditional showgirls, bigger proves to be better. After all, why see dozens of showgirls and outfits when you can see hundreds? In fact, there is no better opportunity in town for seeing a vintage Vegas show and feathered and sequined showgirls than Jubilee!

At every moment, Jubilee! is overdone, overblown and ridiculously cheesy. The show comes complete with 2,000 costumes—many designed by Bob Mackie—to carry the massive cast through set pieces ranging from Samson and Delilah to a tribute to Fred and Ginger, and especially the everything-and–the–kitchen-sink Titanic sequence.

Shows like Jubilee! are exactly why the cool kids once avoided Vegas. Still, if not for Jubilee! (and Folies) Vegas showgirls would long ago have completed a transition from working entertainers to symbolic icons, hauled out only to pose with Oscar.

Richard Abowitz

Where: Jubilee! Theatre, Bally's

When: Sat.-Thu., 7:30 and 10:30 p.m.

Price: $55-$74

Info: 967-4567

Rules: No one under 18 admitted

Bite (4 stars)

Mixing vampires, rock 'n' roll and magic, Bite is just loud enough, goofy enough and erotic enough to qualify as one of the better topless shows in town.

The Lord Vampire already has a coven of six beautiful, undead women but seeks his queen incarnate. The coven descends into the audience, pulling up volunteers, including the Lord's soon-to-be soulless mate, Amy Everitt. Antonio Restivo, as the male vampire, adds some flamboyant and flaming magic touches as proof of his dark powers.

Also pulled up are the married aerialist team of Cees de Kok and Cathy Perquin—who similarly find themselves transformed into vampires and perform their breathtaking routine in the low-ceiling room—and singer Mark Giovi, who finds his voice after being attacked by a trio. But suddenly hearing a live human voice in a show which to that point had been set to recorded music is jarring.

The choreography is much more creative than other similar shows and the theater has a nice gothic feel with false stained-glass windows.

Martin Stein

Where: Theater of the Stars, Stratosphere

When: Fri.-Wed. 10:30 p.m.

Price: $40.95

Info: 380-7711

Rules: 18 or older, under 21 must be accompanied by an adult

X—An Erotic Adventure (1 star)

There isn't much to recommend X, the adult show in the Aladdin's Desert Passage. The choreography is uninspired. The production values are zilch. The direction is sloppy. And the girls aren't even naked. Because of licensing issues involving the theater's location in a shopping mall, the dancers cannot appear bare-breasted and must instead affix crosses of black tape over their nipples.

Ironically, covering their naughty bits makes for a more erotic experience than any of the set pieces, which include a twosome on a vertical bed and a pretend jetliner cabin in which an audience member is tied up and teased. The girl-on-girl action is much better in shows such as Crazy Girls and Bite, and while the mile-high club number has a creative concept, the dancers fail to sell it. The rest is standard Vegas T&A.

The producers get points for using up-to-date rock music for the score but so do the girls down at Cheetah's, and the dancers there are far more entertaining.

Martin Stein

Where: V Theatre, Desert Passage

When: Daily, 10:30 p.m.

Price: $65, $75

Info: 260-7200

Rules: No one under 18 admitted

Splash (1.5 stars)

After 20 years on the Strip, this topless variety show truly is a grab bag of just about every possible act imaginable, from Elvis and Tom Jones impersonators (the latter with pants so stuffed that they wouldn't be accepted as carry-on luggage) to motorcycle daredevils in a steel globe, and from Phantom of the Opera on ice to the topless Vanna Lace, a living, breathing testament to the elasticity of flesh around silicon.

Unfortunately, by casting such a wide net, the various numbers wind up being a hokey mishmash, with the only unifying factor being the energetic fury the performers put out, but which signifies nothing in the end.

Two standouts are the aerialist Vitaly and a dance number incorporating break-dance and urban moves.

Vitaly is truly amazing, with a breathtaking physique and routine, swinging over the stage and audience as he grips twin red drapes in a Cirque-quality performance.

If you can look past the Saved By the Bell costumes and set, the modern dance number is also exciting, with fresh choreography by Strip standards. It's a huge relief to see dancers not indebted to Bob Fosse, and the segment is jarringly out of place amidst the rest of acts that should have been retired when Frank and Dino left town.

Martin Stein

Where: Splash Theatre, Riviera

When: Tue.-Thu., 7 and 9:30 p.m.; Fri., Sun., 8 p.m.

Price: $65, $80

Info: 794-9433

Rules: No one under 18 admitted

Crazy Girls (3 stars)

As the longest-running topless cabaret revue show on the Strip, it's no surprise that Crazy Girls is corny and feels dated at times. But it's a corny leavened with heavy sex appeal, making for a show that alternates between smirks and sensuousness.

Many of the numbers are either references or direct rip-offs to other shows in town, including a solo number with a woman on a rotating platform who appears to strip down to her birthday suit as the lights die, much the same way a man does it in Chippendales. However, the girls on stage sell each number, whether as a group or in any number of strong solo performances.

But Crazy Girls ramps up the lust factor more than other shows in town, with a cast of eight stunning women in a variety of costumes and wigs touching on any number of kinks and fetishes. You won't find any creative choreography in the show, nor feathered headdresses or French lighting effects. What you will get are topless dancers performing to songs mocking breast augmentation.

Martin Stein

Where: Crazy Girls Showroom, Riviera

When: Wed.-Mon., 9:30 p.m.

Price: $34.95

Info: 794-9433

Rules: No one under 18 admitted

Thunder From Down Under (2.5 stars)

Ah, the paradox of Thunder From Down Under: One of the sexiest things about Australian men is their accents, yet strippers aren't required to be exactly, y'know, verbal. And none of the blokes of Thunder talk much, save for the emcee, who drops entendres so barely double that they're Siamese twins—especially during the Orgasm Contest, in which women are called upon to fake it in their most convincing fashion. Don't be surprised if the girl whose mother is in the audience wins.

Thunder is the original amongst male strip shows on the Strip, and it does have a bit of a retro feel to it—longhaired Donovan takes it off to Bon Jovi, making a mid-solo change to fringed white chaps with "Wild Child" appliquéd on his ass. Or Matty, who stands on a table in hot pants and sprays the audience with water while pumping his fist to Quiet Riot's "Cum on Feel the Noize." Most of the audience contact has more charm than carnality, like gymnast/surfer boy Craig, who skips through the audience in board shorts handing out hugs and kisses. A show in which the arguable highlight is a goofy rendition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show's "Time Warp," Thunder is nothing you couldn't bring your mom—or daughter—to. Just watch out for the Orgasm Contest.

Lissa Townsend Rogers

Where: Excalibur

When: Daily, 8, 10:30 p.m.

Price: $39.95, $49.95

Info: 597-7600

Rules: 18 or older, under 21 must be accompanied by an adult

Second City (4 stars)

The legendary Chicago comedy troupe Second City opened for business in Las Vegas in 2001. After a rocky start, the occasionally edgy humor with its improvisational skits mixed with set pieces finally took hold and adapted to the local terrain, and one Second City Las Vegas cast member, Jason Sudeikis, already has made it to Saturday Night Live.

With limited props and a tiny stage, Second City counts on the chemistry of its ensemble cast and audience suggestions to create its aura of spontaneous and surreal juxtapositions. Second City's greatest routines date back to the earliest days of this famous troupe, reminding us of alumni John Belushi and Bill Murray. But it is the speed with which the cast can roll with any scenario the audience creates that makes for the biggest laughs. For those a bit more adventurous, also highly recommended is the less polished and entirely improvised Second City Scriptless 10:30 p.m. show on Tuesdays.

Richard Abowitz

Where: Second City Theater, Flamingo

When: Sun.-Tue. and Thu., 8 p.m.; Tue., Fri. and Sat., 8 and 10:30 p.m.

Price: $39.95

Info: 733-3111

Rules: No one under 15 admitted

Tournament of Kings (2.5 stars)

It's easy to dismiss as unnecessary the pre-show warning not to throw your food into the arena but damned if it isn't tempting to heave a chicken leg at the midget jester or a galloping knight once this medieval production begins. That's not because the show is bad, but rather because it just feels like the right thing to do.

Audience members are divided into countries, each with their own champion and one section representing evil Mordred from the legends of King Arthur. As knights compete, it can be fun to cheer on your own hero, and even more fun to boo the French. The dinner that comes with admission is eaten with your hands and consists of soup, game hen, potatoes and vegetables—filling but unspectacular. Simply offering beer in flagons would greatly enhance the experience.

An attempt is made to tack on a narrative about Mordred, Merlin, Arthur and Arthur's son battling for supremacy and it is here that the staged fighting comes across poorly. But the show is really about watching horsemanship, weapon handling and screaming "Huzzah!" as loud as possible.

Martin Stein

Where: King Arthur's Arena, Excalibur

When: Nightly, 6, 8:30

Price: $55

Info: 597-7777

The Scintas (2 stars)

The Scintas are nothing if not enthusiastic. The hard-working showbiz family (brothers Frank and Joe, sister Chrissi and "honorary Scinta" Pete O'Donnell) give their all at the Rio, combining music, comedy and social commentary in an energetic, lively show that unfortunately comes off as more needy than fun. De facto leader Frank is an accomplished musician, singing and playing numerous instruments throughout the show, of which he is clearly the star. But his musical skill is overshadowed by his flat-footed impressions and the show's overwhelming sentimentality, which feels out of place and awkward alongside the goofy comedy bits.

Although Frank and the show's band are all musically proficient, the song selection is as boring and predictable as any lounge act, and Chrissi oversings like a desperate American Idol contestant. The jokes are either corny and dated or crudely ethnic—and sometimes both. It's jarring to hear humor bordering on racist followed by an extremely serious speech on how great America is because of its diversity. Furthermore, neither is entertaining.

Watching the Scintas is a little like being at a family picnic, forced to endure Grandpa's insensitive old jokes and paeans to the bygone days of entertainment; you indulge him because he's so eager to please, but you don't exactly feel good about it.

Josh Bell

Where: Scinta Showroom, Rio

When: Fri.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.

Price: $59.95

Info: 777-7776

The Amazing Johnathan (3 stars)

There are only a handful of actual magic tricks in the Amazing Johnathan's 90-minute show; the performer gets as much mileage, if not more, out of not performing tricks as he does out of performing them. Taking the "comedy" part of "comedy magician" to the extreme, Johnathan is more of a traditional stand-up comic than a magician, and might most accurately be called a prop comic if not for the horrific associations with Carrot Top that term conjures up.

Johnathan's show occasionally shows its low-budget trappings, with chintzy video effects and a small, sparse stage. But his violent, vulgar deconstructions of magic conventions (often involving heaping abuse on assistant Psychic Tanya) are usually very funny, even if some of them are familiar from his TV specials. Some bits go on too long (he has an audience volunteer on stage for more than half the show), and the Bad Karate Theater segment is especially weak.

At his best, though, Johnathan, like Penn & Teller, makes you laugh at the absurdity of illusions while simultaneously being impressed with his prestidigitation skills. Plus, he never shies away from a good dick joke.

Josh Bell

Where: Sahara

When: Fri.-Wed., 10 p.m.

Price: $44.95, $54.95

Info: 737-2515

Rules: Under 18 must be accompanied by an adult

David Brenner (3 stars)

Listening to David Brenner is a little like listening to an eccentric uncle who's got a million stories and an opinion on everything. The veteran comedian, who pioneered an observational style of humor later co-opted by the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser, no longer builds his show around his quirky observations about the minutiae of life (although he may throw in an unexpected line or two). Instead, his free-form performance is as much a storytelling session as a comedy act, as Brenner uses his 90 minutes on stage to relate anecdotes from his own life, comment on current events and mention anything that happens to pop into his head.

See Brenner twice and you'll see two completely different shows, so it's hard to evaluate his overall quality. Some of his jokes are hilarious, and even when his stories lack laughs, they are often fascinating tales of his days dealing with old Vegas mobsters or appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. At the same time, his lack of focus means he's just as likely to get lost in a pointless ramble (the night I saw him he offered extensive dieting tips). He may not be a completely sure thing, but unlike most Vegas performers, Brenner is completely unpredictable.

Josh Bell

Where: Shimmer Cabaret, Las Vegas Hilton

When: Fri.-Wed., 9 p.m.

Price: $50

Info: 732-5755

Men, The Show (3.5 stars)

"What are the magic words?" our hot emcee AJ asks. "Stick it in!" a brassy blonde cackles between puffs and sips. "Take it off!" I shout, hoping to speed the exchange to a close and get onto the main attraction.

The main attraction can be summed up easily: knee pads and thongs. When a perfect male specimen is thusly undressed for success, he has but one option and that is to find the nearest bachelorette and thrust his pelvis in her face to the squealing delight of her evil girlfriends.

Men, The Show begins with the requisite countdown and theatrical entrance in dramatic, floor-length leather coats. What follows is a series of themed fantasies: the cop, the fireman, the cowboy, the biker and even the twins. The greatest crowd reactions come not so much from the dancing (beef and brawn can interfere with those J. Timberlake moves) but from the sudden appearance of washboard abs when an entire suit vanishes.

When Men, The Show concludes, do not expect to be notified. The show rolls right into nonstop, partly choreographed dollar-dances by the performers. And ladies, these boys can go all night long ....

Xania Woodman

Where: Playgirl Lounge, Sapphire

When: Thu.-Sat., 10 p.m.

Price: $10, $25

Info: 796-6000

Rules: No one under 21 admitted

Mamma Mia! (3 stars)

White music couldn't get whiter if sung by a tube of Colgate. Still, drop your cool, fool, and let your inner ABBA out.

In the '70s, the sweet-voiced Swedes turned vanilla into a designer flavor, then came Mamma Mia!—champ of camp in this kingdom of kitsch we call Vegas.

And damned if it isn't a flat-out fun show—even as plot-poor, ass-backward theater. The inverse of a genuine musical, Mamma is a tricked-up tribute show crowding ABBA's hits around an inconsequential narrative.

On a Greek island (where, apparently, only music by Swedes is performed), Sophie, a young bride-to-be of unknown paternity, realizes her pappy could be one of three long-ago paramours of her mamma mia, Donna. She invites the trio to the wedding—without telling Mom—convinced she'll know Dad when she sees him.

That's it. That, and 22 hits.

Title redundancies—"Honey, Honey," "Money, Money, Money," "Gimme! "Gimme! Gimme!," "I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do"—ram home the reliance on repetitive hooks. For those strictly in it for the ABBA, the oeuvre overflows: "Dancing Queen," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "SOS," "Super Trouper," "Take a Chance on Me," "The Name of the Game," "The Winner Takes It All," "Mamma Mia," "Voulez-Vous" and more.

The exhilarating "Waterloo" is reserved for the rollicking, mini-concert finale, with zero story relevance, but a hell of a beat.

The Daddies Three, rather than drawn as distinct personalities inspiring our rooting interest—who wants which sperm donor?—are generically (if not genetically) decent chaps, any of whom would make a proper papa to our apple-cheeked heroine and honorable spouse to her sweetly cynical mother.

Depth? Nah. Subtext? Please. Social commentary? Absurd. But with a class-A cast and a candy store of a score, Mamma Mia! is a theatrical sugar rush.

Steve Bornfeld

Where: Mandalay Bay

When: Sun.-Thu. 7:30 p.m., Sat. 6 & 10 p.m.

Price: $49.50-$110

Info: 632-7580

Folies Bergere (2 stars)

Folies remains best known for being the oldest show on the Strip, having originally opened in the '50s. Its theme consists of presenting women through the eras in the most stylized way possible, with plenty of vintage outfits and showgirls complete with feather headdresses and plastic smiles. The emcee is as cheesy as his task of narrating the "changes" in women (and not in a way the National Organization for Women crowd would appreciate), from 1920s flappers to today's ladies. On a recent night, many in the audience did not speak English and certainly did not miss much.

About all that makes Folies tolerable is that the show is undoubtedly one of the few relics left of old Vegas. Though the occasional signs of an updated segment or joke are detectable like generational rings in a tree trunk, in general, Folies retains to its core what Las Vegas was like before the discovery of irony. And-—it feels cold to say this but it's impossible to ignore—too much age isn't a good thing in either a showgirl or an adult show.

Ricahrd Abowitz

Where: Tiffany Theatre, Tropicana

When: Mon., Wed., Thu. and Sat., 7:30 and 10 p.m.; Tue. and Fri., 8:30 p.m.

Price: $49.95-$60.45

Info: 739-2411

George Wallace (4.5 stars)

George Wallace gets laughs out of the horrible things that happen in the news and the typical things that happen at McDonald's. There are certain things, such as being from the South, his love of gospel, which Wallace covers in his act—most of the time. But his real genius is for playing off of others, as when audience members are brought on stage to receive gifts. His "Where are you from" questioning frequently gives Wallace opportunities to show off a staggering knowledge of geography with a sometimes remarkably specific barb or comment. Is there anywhere he hasn't been?

Wherever he has been, Wallace was probably working there. On a recent night, one audience member mentioned first seeing him nearly 15 years ago in Ohio, while another caught him a few years ago in Pittsburgh, and yet another couple saw the show last year right here in Las Vegas. The reason so many people are repeat visitors to this show is because Wallace's gifted improvisation makes it one of those rare show that really is different every time you see it. On a great night, Wallace can get more laughs from riffing on that day's headlines than someone else can get out of jokes honed through years of practice.

Richard Abowitz

Where: Flamingo Showroom, Flamingo

When: Tue.-Sat., 10 p.m.

Price: $45, $55

Info: 733-3333

Rules: No one under 5 allowed

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