A Review: Psst! Feelthy Acrobats — Absinthe in Las Vegas

Absinthe at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas

Absinthe at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NV – Everyone loves acrobats but not everyone will have a tolerance for the non-stop, filthy, vile, obscene, and often very funny patter that accompanies them in this sui generis offering on the Vegas Strip.

Absinthe is housed in what looks like a temporary storage shed in a courtyard at Caesar’s Palace. The interior looks every bit as ephemeral, with simple folding chairs packed around a stage (and I use the term loosely) that looks to be about the size of the average kitchen table.

In this postage stamp space, Absinthe showcases acrobatic acts from around the world and some of them are doozies. Acts change from time to time, but among recent acts four Russian guys, a speed skating duo from Germany, and two Amazonian aerialists from the Netherlands were especially gasp-worthy.

Check out this video clip:

The spectacle is intensified by your proximity to the action and the fact that these artistes work without nets or safety wires. If they fall, they fall on you.

Adding a bit of spice is a strip teasing chantoozie, the delightfully de-lovely Melody Sweets. But what has made Absinthe a Vegas sensation, I think, is its arch framing device.

The show is ostensibly being produced and emceed by ”The Gazillionaire,” a snaggle-toothed, brilliantined sleazeball played with great relish by Voki Kalfayan, a former Cirque du Soleil clown. His opening line is “If you are offended by words like f**k and s**t, you’re at the wrong f**king show.” Don’t say you weren’t warned.

What follows is a constant stream of vulgarity and sexual innuendo as The Gazillionaire seems to bend over backwards to offend everyone in the audience. And it works. The night I caught the show an older couple (she never cracked a smile) were driven out, an event that The Gazillionaire took as a personal triumph.

Assisting the emcee is one Penny Pibbets (Anais Thomassian) who vies with the host in the vulgarity sweepstakes. At one point, she performs a crazed sock puppet routine that is breathtaking in its obscenity.

The saving grace in all this is that the repartee is often hilarious and most folks in the audience get with the program and thoroughly enjoy themselves. As did I.

By the way, the title is apparently derived from the absinthe-drinking acrobat whose chair balancing act opens the show.

Absinthe at Caesar’s Palace
Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas
(800) 745-3000
Tickets run from $99 to $134 plus tax and are available here.

 

A Review: ‘Love,’ Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles Show at the Mirage, Las Vegas

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds from The Beatles LOVE, Cirque du Soleil

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds from The Beatles LOVE, Cirque du Soleil

LAS VEGAS, NV – I entered with high expectations but, alas, I found myself merely in like with Love.

Cirque du Soleil’s high-powered homage to the Fab Four is chock full of Cirque’s trademark glitz and over-the-top surreal creativity but oddly lacking in the circus style acts that make most Cirque shows such crowd pleasers. It’s a lot of Soleil with little Cirque.

What we get instead can best be labeled interpretive dance. Unfortunately, while it is performed with Cirque’s customary excellence, the choreography has an unfortunate tendency to lapse into the overwrought and pretentious.

Here’s a Youtube preview:

The creators have peopled the ingenious and hyperactive set at the Mirage Resort and Casino with the usual array of post-modern oddities, many of whom seem to bear little relation to the Beatles canon. Yes, there is a briefly glimpsed Father McKenzie, but what’s with the little fat guy, or the tall bald guy in the white frock coat, or the muscular dude in the Michelin-Man rubber pants?

Like the intense intellectual artistes one imagines the Cirque creative team to be, they have placed heavy emphasis on the darker and more “poetic” pieces in the Beatles’ songbook. I, for one, would have liked to have seen and heard more of their earlier, bouncier, subtextless songs. The later, more surreal songs gain little from having their bizarre imagery translated into concrete form.

On the other hand, this approach gave the costume designers an opportunity to showcase their considerable skills. I thought at more than one point that they had more fun creating the show than I was having watching it.

The result is a musical mish-mosh that jumps backwards and forwards in time accompanied by a swirling blur of seemingly unrelated characters and imagery. More than once I was reminded of Shakespeare’s line about sound and fury signifying nothing – although to give the artists their due, I am sure a great deal of effort went into imagining every little thing that goes on during the show.

Still, the show has its moments. There is a bewitching dance featuring a lone male dancer and four white-clad women swirling about him on wires. The best numbers were the most circus-like, including an act featuring four furry-booted roller skaters and two half pipes, and a trampoline free for all reminiscent of a similar bit in La Nouba in Orlando.

Fortunately, the show closes on a high note with energetic renditions of Hey, Jude and All You Need Is Love. Which reminds me, did I mention the music? There’s lots of it, projected on a sound system to die for, and it was all written by perhaps the most talented pop group of the twentieth century. If the production fails to captivate you, you can always just close your eyes and let that magnificent music wash over you.

Tip: Those who didn’t damage their hearing during the Beatles’ heyday will be well advised to bring earplugs.

Cirque du Soleil – The Beatles LOVE
The Mirage Hotel & Casino
3400 Las Vegas Boulevard S
Las Vegas
(866) 963-9634
Tickets for the show range from $86.90 to $198. Click here for details.

Lake Placid: Farm to Table

Salad of yellow beets, spinach, heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumber, goat cheese, with a dressing featuring maple syrup. The dish was served as part of a customized Farm Tour Tasting Menu at the Generations restaurant, at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Salad of yellow beets, spinach, heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumber, goat cheese, with a dressing featuring maple syrup. The dish was served as part of a customized Farm Tour Tasting Menu at the Generations restaurant, at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Lake Placid, N.Y. – Asgaard Farm & Dairy in New York’s Adirondack Mountains is pretty picky about the products it will sell.

Caitlin Aherne (who makes caramels — and soap — from goat’s milk at the farm in Au Sable Forks, N.Y.) said the proprietors recently fed an entire batch of below-standard goat cheese to the pigs, which must have been pretty nice by piggy standards! [Read more...]

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Crow Fair: ‘Teepee Capital of the World’

White teepees on the grounds of the Crow Fair.

White teepees on the grounds of the Crow Fair.

CROW AGENCY, Mont. — I write this in the wake of the annual Crow Fair, held in Crow Agency on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Many Crow and their friends camp at the fair site; the place is often called the “teepee capital of the world” because so many of the cone-shaped tents dot the grounds.

I was lucky to be a guest, for part of the activities, of Ramona Howe, a Crow woman who lives on the reservation. Ramona and I have a friend in common (Joyce Dalton) who lives in Billings, Mont.

The 2013 fair program included a message from Henry Rides Horse, Jr., describing the fair as the time when Crow families reunite with friends from other tribes and from distant states. He said it is a time to honor clan fathers and clan mothers and a time for Indian names to be given. Also, he said in the written message, the powwow is for dancing to the beat of the drum, known to Indians as the heartbeat of Mother Earth.

Young Crow boy dancing his heart out during the Crow Fair powwow in August 2013.

Young Crow boy dancing his heart out during the Crow Fair powwow in August 2013.

Crow man, in traditional regalia, dancing during the Crow Fair powwow.

Crow man, in traditional regalia, dancing during the Crow Fair powwow.

Joyce and I attended an afternoon powwow, where there was indeed much dancing, and the dancers were people of all ages down to some tiny tots.

Ramona was our hostess at her family’s seating area for the horse parade the next morning, when men, women and, again, even small children rode through the campgrounds, on horseback or on floats.

For both events, most participants were in traditional clothes.

The fair, which usually occurs over the third weekend of August, included still more dance events, as well as a rodeo and races. It was not a tourist event and no tour buses came; however, visitors were welcome and they included Europeans as well as North Americans.

Woman riding in the horse parade at the Crow Fair in August 2013. Note the regalia on the horse’s head.

Woman riding in the horse parade at the Crow Fair in August 2013. Note the regalia on the horse’s head.

Uncounted numbers of Crow participated, and individuals in varying

Participant in the horse parade at the Crow Fair in August 2013, carrying an Israeli flag. We were told this reflected recent exhortations in a local church that the Crow pray for peace in Israel.

age and gender categories competed for money prizes in contests that included the quality of their costumes (Ramona said it’s important that they be authentic), their dancing, the races and other activities.

Ramona said families have their teepees made by experts, usually of white canvas. They were a dramatic sight, even more so when they are painted, as a few were.

Wonderful painted teepee on the grounds of the Crow Fair.

Wonderful painted teepee on the grounds of the Crow Fair.

We also learned from Ramona and her family, that some tribe members speak Crow as their first language. In addition, some, including certain members of Ramona’s family, have Indian names in addition to the names on ordinary birth certificates. The Indian names are usually given before the first birthday, but not always.

Ramona said songs can be private property. Someone gave her grandfather a song, celebrating his bravery, which now lies dormant. She said she will ask for it, but no one has the right to use it now. This is a fascinating variation on the copyright system!

Young men riding in the horse parade at the Crow Fair in August 2013. Note the colorful mask on the horse at right.

Young men riding in the horse parade at the Crow Fair in August 2013. Note the colorful mask on the horse at right.

After the horse parade, Ramona hosted Joyce and me to lunch with her family at the Custer Battlefield Trading Post and Cafe in Crow Agency and right at the entrance to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, site of the 1876 battle better

known as Custer’s Last Stand. The battlefield site is within the boundaries of the reservation.

We devoted ourselves to the Crow Fair and, as a result, lacked time for a visit to the battleground.

Dancers show off their shawls in the shawl dance that was part of the Crow Fair’s powwow in August 2013.

Dancers show off their shawls in the shawl dance that was part of the Crow Fair’s powwow in August 2013.

Those who do visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield can take guided tours led by Crow Indians, and the site, unlike the fair we had visited, is very much on the circuit for group tours. And the trading post is a popular place for the groups to have lunch.

The trading post is a large log cabin affair — its design was based on the 1877 Old Fort Custer Hospital. It houses a huge shop selling all sorts of lovely and often pricey things, including great-looking turquoise and coral jewelry and colorful gear that would be part of those traditional outfits we had been seeing for two days.

At lunch, I had Indian fry bread with taco types of ingredients stacked on top. The bread was tasty but not greasy (despite the word “fry” in its name) and, in parts, was loaded with big air pockets that reminded me of Yorkshire pudding. It was more than I could eat, too.

After lunch, the rodeo was next, but that was not our cup of tea. We wrapped up our visit to the Crow Fair back at the “teepee capital of the world” paying particular attention to those with painted designs.

Overall, the Crow Fair was as colorful as any event I’ve attended while traveling the globe.

Women riding in the horse parade at the Crow Fair in August 2013.

Women riding in the horse parade at the Crow Fair in August 2013.

This article and its photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

Craving For Travel Off Broadway: A Review

CravingTravel1

Michele Ragusa plays Joanne, a travel agent among other characters, in “Craving For Travel.” (Photo by Joan Marcus)

There are plenty of laughs for everyone in Craving For Travel, the delightful comedy at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on New York’s Theater Row, but travel agents will take special delight in the savvy inside jokes that lay bare the hidden aspects of the profession.

Co-writers Greg Edwards and Andy Sandberg (Sandberg also directed) have no apparent background in the travel industry, but they’ve done their homework well. They present us with Joanne and Gary, two high-powered luxury travel agents, formerly married, who are engaged in a bitter struggle to be named Travel Agent of the Year. Both are blessed (or perhaps cursed) with rosters of vastly wealthy clients who are insanely demanding as only the one percent can be.

[Read more...]

Richard III and Twelfth Night on Broadway: A Review

Richard III and Twelfth Night are staged under "original practices."

Richard III and Twelfth Night are staged under “original practices.”

At the Belasco Theatre, New Yorkers are being treated to an all-too-rare opportunity to see Shakespeare’s Richard III and Twelfth Night performed under the “original practices” rubric favored at the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London.

All costumes are authentically Elizabethan, meaning no zippers, no Velcro, no artificial anything. The sets are period as well; in this case mimicking a university dining hall where Shakespeare’s troupe sometimes performed with a minimum of props and scenery. Some seats are on stage recreating the intimacy of The Globe. And, of course, all the female roles are played by men.

If the historical recreation was all there was to these two productions it would probably be worth the price of admission. Fortunately there is much more on offer.

[Read more...]

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Banff: The Town, The Park

 

The Banff Springs Fairmont Hotel, which looks like the Scottish baronial castle it emulates. On the day of this visit, the heavens appeared to emulate Scotland’s overcast skies, too.

The Banff Springs Fairmont Hotel, which looks like the Scottish baronial castle it emulates. On the day of this visit, the heavens appeared to emulate Scotland’s overcast skies, too.

BANFF, Alberta — In early September last year, I stepped off a train — the Rocky Mountaineer tourist train — into the small town of Banff, located inside Banff National Park and sitting at 4,500 feet above sea level.

Banff, by law, will never have a population of more than 10,000. Therefore, no one is allowed to live in Banff unless he/she satisfies a need-to-reside requirement. This rule includes a stipulation that the candidate has already worked in the town for five years, according to our local tour guide. [Read more...]

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Galveston, Pre-Cruise

The Disney Magic will leave from Galveston and head to Barcelona. (Photos by Kelly Monaghan)

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of articles from Intrepid Traveler publisher Kelly Monaghan as he makes his way from Galveston to Barcelona on the Disney Magic (and beyond).

As a travel agent, I always advise cruise clients to fly in to their port of departure a day early, because if you miss the sailing you’re pretty much screwed. (Unless, of course, you buy the somewhat inflated airfare option from the cruise line, in which case they have to look after you if the airline screws up.) The one-day-early rule is especially important in the winter when bad weather can really throw a monkey wrench into air travel plans for us northerners. But it was spring. What could go wrong? [Read more...]

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‘The Nance’ On Broadway, A Review

"The Nance" is playing at the Lyceum Theatre in New York.

Broadway used to be awash in larger than life comic talent – Danny Kaye, Phil Silvers, Zero Mostel, the list goes on. Today we have Nathan Lane and we should be grateful we do.

Mr. Lane’s considerable talents are being lavished on “The Nance” at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre. A fascinating if ultimately disappointing tale of the waning days of burlesque in New York City in the late 1930s, the play is set against the background of a rather nasty brand of homophobia that, alas, didn’t wane until much later.

Chauncey Miles (Mr. Lane) is the “nance” at a seedy burlesque house in what is now one of Gotham’s prime neighborhoods. A nance was an effeminate or sexually ambiguous stock character (think commedia dell’arte) used for double entendre sexual humor. The part was often played by a straight male (not to be confused with a straight man), but in Chauncey’s case, life imitates art.

The play, then, opens a door into two worlds: the raunchy, tawdry, low-brow burlesque milieu, at once quite funny and rather sad, and the gay demimonde that Chauncey navigates with one eye cocked for the cops. These guardians of public morals have a disturbing penchant for harassing homosexuals and raiding their meeting places, even those as seemingly innocent as the Automat.

Of the two, the world of burlesque is the far more entertaining. Playwright Douglas Carter Beane has clearly done his research and I have no reason to believe that the comic routines he has recreated (or perhaps exhumed) are not completely authentic. Mr. Lane and the superb Lewis J. Stadlen, as the theatre’s top banana, pull them off with great style and verve. Many of them are truly funny.

The girls of burlesque, the well-cast trio of Jenni Barber, Andréa Burns, and Cady Huffman, are not glamorized but presented as salt-of-the earth working girls, in the best sense of that term. Their tacky burlesque costumes, provided by Ann Roth, are spot on, as is Joey Pizzi’s choreography. Ms. Huffman, by the way, played the blonde bombshell Ulla in “The Producers” opposite Mr. Lane’s Max Bialystock; both of them got Tonys. Here she is commendably beefier and less idealized.

Also enjoyable in these scenes is the easy-going camaraderie of the company. However clichéd it may be, it lets us believe that there are indeed no people like show people.

We also learn less heartwarming things about this world, such as the fact that gay men frequent the theatre’s balcony hoping to service straight men aroused by the girls on stage. No wonder the prudes got their knickers in a knot!

Which brings us to the flip side of “The Nance,” the closeted world of gay New York in the 1930s and the campaign against burlesque. Here Mr. Beane is less successful, although it must be said he is never less than heartfelt.

Like the depiction of burlesque, this side of “The Nance” is something of a history lesson. We learn of the strained codes and rituals with which gay men were forced to court (if, indeed, that is the right word) in a hostile world all too willing to imprison them on the flimsiest of charges. No wonder the rather improbable (and unsought after) romance Chauncey enters into with the handsome Ned is so fraught. Ned is smitten and seeks the kind of long-term relationship that is becoming so common today. Chauncey is horrified and holds up the brief and sometimes brutal liaisons with which he is familiar as a kind of badge of honor.

Beane has stacked the dramatic deck a bit too tidily to make some ironic points. Chauncey is a staunch conservative Republican who maintains that Mayor LaGuardia’s crusade against “filth” in general and burlesque in particular is simple campaign posturing, which will evaporate after the election. Then, when the crackdown lands Chauncey in the dock, he unconvincingly morphs from below-the-radar queen to poster child for the cause.

In the end, with burlesque banned in New York, Chauncey can’t join his fellow troupers as they flee to the less restrictive New Jersey because he is a convicted “pervert,” condemned by the terms of his parole to stay in Manhattan. Not only that, but he throws away Ned, his best hope for happiness, to embrace the demeaning and dangerous world of anonymous encounters.

If this sounds a bit like soap opera, it is. And the play’s startling final image, while rather effective, is not earned by the script.

John Lee Beatty has contributed a large and ingenious revolving set that takes us from the stage of the burly-Q to backstage, to Chauncey’s semi-subterranean apartment and back again, with the occasional detour to the Automat. Unfortunately, the sheer size of the set underscores the fact that the world it depicts seems so under-inhabited.

I found myself wishing that Mr. Beane enjoyed the luxury of a larger cast so he could introduce us to more of the denizens of both worlds. But Broadway economics being what they are, that was probably never an option. The piece might have been more effective in a smaller Off-Broadway space on a smaller budget, but then could we have had top-flight performers like Mssrs. Lane and Stadlen and Ms. Huffman?

Small though the cast may be they perform admirably under the steady hand of triple Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien. And if ultimately Mr. Beane’s script is less than perfect, it is packed with funny lines and endearing moments, and it is clearly written from the heart. Then, of course, there is Nathan Lane.

I quite enjoyed myself.

Vancouver: West Coast Beauty

Part of the Vancouver skyline and anchorage for pleasure boats, as seen from Stanley Park’s seawall.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — I had never seen Vancouver, billed as one of Canada’s most beautiful cities, so any excuse to visit seemed like a good one.

I tacked two days of sightseeing in the West Coast city to the front end of a rail trip in western Canada and invited a friend to join me.

The exterior of the Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver.

We arrived in perfect weather, and our luck held. This was September.

Vancouver isn’t a terribly large city (population: 600,000; greater Vancouver: 2 million-plus), but it is big enough that a city-center hotel is very helpful. We selected the Shangri-La Hotel, which allowed us to walk to many of our preferred attractions and activities.

• Sometimes walks were longer than projected (we were new to town, after all!),

The market area on Vancouver’s Granville Island — which is really a peninsula.

such as the 45-minute jaunt to Granville Island Market.

The so-called island, accessible via Granville Street Bridge, sits in False Creek between two parts of greater Vancouver. However, it is really a tiny peninsula, and False Creek is an inlet — which may explain the name.

Granville Island is charming with theater, galleries and shops, often in repurposed factories, and home to lots of pleasure boats, some available for rent.

This place felt like a cross between a seafaring community and a resort town, plus, with the big market halls, it is a food-shopping destination for locals.

One shopper told us the colorful pipes seen meandering across the landscape have no function; they are decorative, meant to recall the area’s industrial past.

There was even a place to exchange currency, but then this place is very, very close to the U.S, border.

The colorful Aquabus, providing transportation across False Creek. Granville Island is in the background.

Eventually, we returned whence we had come, crossing False Creek on a colorful

Shops on Granville Island are often in refurbished former factories, and walkways are enlivened with colorful pipes such as the blue pipe seen here. The pipes celebrate the island’s history as an industrial area.

example of public transportation, the floating Aquabus.

• We booked an hourlong harbor cruise aboard a paddle wheeler called the Constitution, an effective way to get better acquainted with the city’s geography and appreciate its scenic setting.

Besides looking at an astonishing display of private boats, plus clubhouses, scullers, skyscrapers, cargo gear and even a floating Chevron gas station, we saw seals sunning themselves.

Our narrator pointed out the convention center and said it has the largest living roof in North America.

The paddle wheeler, Constitution, one of several vessels operated by Harbour Cruises for sightseeing, lunch and dinner cruises.

The cruise was great fun. A tugboat captain showed off by turning his boat in circles for us, then our captain responded by making a circle with our boat. This was not typical, our narrator said.

• We walked straight from the cruise into Vancouver’s thousand-acre Stanley Park. Park visitors can sightsee from a horse-drawn carriage.

Some take the time to walk, jog or cycle the 5.5-mile length of the park’s seawall, for a green inner city experience and quality time gazing toward the ocean.

My goals were less grand. We walked the seawall long enough to spot the park’s display of totem poles, some brightly colored,

The display of totem poles seen in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

others not so much, but each with a story.

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