Big Stevie Wynn, founder of the Mirage, is known as the guy who invented the mega-showroom in 1990 when he paid for a $55 million special-effects theater for Siegfried and Roy. It was pretty much the most elaborate stage in the history of western civilization, and certainly the most expensive. Then he topped himself in 1993 with the theater for "Mystere," which cost $75 million, and again in 1998 with the theater for "O," which came in at $95 million.
All these theaters are so elaborate that opera companies now dream of someday using them to do the Wagner "Ring" cycle, since this sort of stagecraft has never before existed.
The complete plot of "EFX." But to tell ya the truth, I'm not so impressed by em, because it gets to a point where the room itself is the star of the show, and that's changed Vegas entertainment forever, mainly by making the Sinatra-style saloon singer obsolete. Call me an old-fashioned loser, but I still love shows with a singer and an orchestra--the only two big ones left are Wayne Newton at the Stardust and Clint Holmes at Harrah's--and how much longer can they last when all the public wants is spectacle, lasers, Ricky Martin production numbers, and a whole heckuva lot of flash powder?
Yet there's one mega-show that Steve Wynn didn't invent. Kirk Kerkorian, the Armenian master-builder and Stevie's across- the-Strip rival, commissioned this show in 1995 and set some kind of Guinness World Record for the number of times the flash powder blinds the audience and turns the insides of your eyeballs into gooey cheeseballs.
I speak, of course, of "EFX" at the MGM Grand. Last week they announced the show would enter its sixth year with a new star, Rick Springfield, who replaces Tommy Tune, who replaced David Cassidy, who replaced the "Phantom" himself, Michael Crawford. And I only have one question:
I can't take it anymore.
I hope you haven't seen this show. If you have, I hope your visit to the eye, ear, nose and throat specialist was covered by your HMO. I'm trying to imagine the meeting where this show was conceived:
"What if we could do a show that has 27 million blinding deafening special effects but no actual purpose?"
"Good plan, Stu. Sort of like a simulated total-body mosh pit. And what about having the biggest performing cast in the world, but they just sort of leap on each other and fly around on guy wires but without any particular direction?"
"We'll have the high rollers from Osaka eating out of our hands."
"Yeah, that's right, and speaking of Asia, try to avoid dialogue. What should we call that style?"
"International! It's an international show! You can understand it even if you speak Swahili!"
"Should we hire any actual talent?"
"Hire one guy from some place like Broadway. Do they still have Broadway?"
"Last I checked."
"Hire some guy from there to come and do some songs."
And so we ended up with "EFX." Be sure to marvel at the size and opulence of the showroom itself when you get there, because that's pretty much the last thing that's gonna impress you.
After a warmup comedy dance number— which is mandatory, since they can't turn out the lights until all 1700 people are seated— it opens with a giant hologram of a pit-faced James Earl Jones talking like God, doing one of those speeches about "the place where fantasy meets reality," which is the same speech they do in all Vegas shows when they have no idea what the theme of the show is. This is followed by the 61-year-old Tommy Tune descending from a flying saucer in white tails. (Sorry, I haven't seen the Rick Springfield version yet. Do I have to?) Tommy's opening song is "What a Night This Is Gonna Be!" (Okay, that's specific.)
Next we have a veritable ocean of over-costumed summer stock gypsies doing cliched fifties dance moves, seething in every direction, like Bob Fosse's cancerous tumor. Every time they're about to complete a segment, they set off so much flash powder that half the time you're fumbling for your cocktail and saying, "No, I'm fine, it's nothing, I'll be okay in a minute."
Then a guy in a Merlin costume flies in like a refugee from Excalibur and says, "The journey begins now. There is no line between fantasy and reality." (Wait a minute. Didn't the journey begin ten minutes ago? But the journey will begin two more times.)
Then there's a sequence featuring a child actor (always my favorite part of a Vegas show) playing Tommy Tune as a boy, climbing over huge Toys R Us props while Tommy talks about his boyhood dreams in Houston. And, of course, that can only lead to one thing— an enchanted-forest ballet with blondes in chartreuse nightgowns cavorting with a green sprite. Somewhere in this part the little boy Tommy becomes the boy King Arthur, and I'm sure it will stun you to know that the costume change is accomplished with . . . blinding flash powder!
Merlin warns Arthur about Morgana the evil queen, but somehow the bitch gets loose on the stage anyway and starts fighting with Tommy Tune with, of course, blinding flashes of fire. I don't remember if she turns into a fire-breathing dragon or she just vanishes in one of the flash-powder explosions and a fire-breathing dragon appears, but this contraption out of "Clash of the Titans" shows up on the stage— now that I think of it, it's not that different from Siegfried and Roy's mechanical dragon— and there's a lot of Tommy Tune fire-hurling with Tommy occasionally breaking character to do little cutesie lines to the audience. "I love that part," he says, as some kind of magical blowtorch scorches Morgana's mumu. As Morgana finally burns up, he says, "Bye bye, my little marshmallow!"
Somewhere in here you start to realize that all the actors are speaking in really bad rhyming couplets. I think it's right before the dragon battle, which leads into Tommy's reminiscences about the first book he ever read as a child, "Toby Tyler." His profound observation: "I identified with him because we had the same initials."
But have we had circus clowns yet? I think not. After Tommy's syrupy tribute to "The Master of Laughter"--I'm sorry, but I've forgotten just who The Master of Laughter is--there's a 20-minute cast free-for-all called "P.T. Barnum and the Intergalactic Circus of Wonder" that features a spaceship landing on the stage, "Close Encounters"-style, followed by dozens of clowns rappelling down to the stage on ropes, and Tommy himself donning a red top hat and sequined tails and frolicking with dancing unicorns and other bestial terpsichoreans. Tommy then tapdances a little bit, for no apparent reason, except that they probably need the time to set up for the . . . Russian trapeze act!
Yes, that's what I said.
"Folks, you ain't seen nothin' yet!" yells Tommy. And yes, that's what he said.
After the Rooskie beefcake bounds off into the wings, Tommy comes out and sits on the edge of the stage and gets up close and personal with all 1700 audience members, answering their questions and even being reunited with an old student of his from the University of Texas. She remembers the old dance routine he taught her, so they do it together. (Are you buying this?) And once Tommy starts dancing, gosh darn it, he just can't stop, so he does a "song and dance man" number with about 50 dancers tapping behind him, but the curtain is raised only about a yard so that all you can see is their feet. Maybe it's better that way, because a 61-year-old man leading a tap-dance chorus is not going to set any taps-per-second records.
But wait a minute! The curtain is coming up! The chorus is getting ready to break into . . .
Now there's something you never see these days.
But can we stand any more excitement? Can we bear to put on our cardboard 3-D glasses thoughtfully left on our table by the MGM Grand waitstaff to watch a five-minute 3D movie with giant fish swimming around the room?
And oh my God, I was hoping he would do this--a complete reenactment of H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine," complete with evil Morlocks whipping chorus girls in fuzzy animal-print bikinis and forcing them into an underground cave, where they do some monster percussive drumming with sticks while waiting to be liberated by Tommy, who flies all over the stage in his time- travel device and attempts to throw one punch in the general direction of a stunt performer during the riot sequence. Suddenly Tommy is singing "There's a world beyond realiteeeeeee . . ." and there's an explosion of lasers and flash powder leaving Tommy and the Child Tommy alone on stage in matching white tails.
The big finale production number is called "Let It Shine!"
I was rubbing my eyes and shouting "Snuff It Out!"
The crowd files out in a state of mild shock, having been numbed into catatonia by a sensory experience that is so overwhelming it makes you feel like you've just flown eight hours in coach with a family of accordion-playing terrorists.
Yet that show has everything the Vegas show of the future is supposed to have. When Tommy was halfway through his second year, the MGM Grand chain made a tender for all the stock of the Mirage chain, and Kirk Kerkorian ended up owning all three of Steve Wynn's shows.
With "EFX" I've seen the future of Vegas, and all I can say is that we're all gonna need shades.
MGM GRAND The Vegas Strip
Theme: 1930's Hollywood Glamour with Chrome and Mirrors
Known For: Being the largest hotel in the U.S., second largest in the world, with a live "lion habitat" in the lobby.
Marketing niche: High-rollers, theme-park lovers
Gambler's Intensity: Medium (high in the separate Mansion facility, available to high rollers only)
Cocktail speed: Slow
Dealers: Harried but professional
Surrounding area: South strip, near Tropicana, sister property New York-New York, and Excalibur.
Overall rating: 80
Joe Bob's bankroll: Up $20 after an hour of $15 blackjack: total to date: -$55