Gambling, theatre, street parties, live shows – Las Vegas is one big stage where all kinds of fantasies play themselves out…
We gambled in Las Vegas and hit the jackpot… without even placing a bet on its casino tables or feeding a cent to the thousands of hungry slot machines that seemed to be everywhere, the airport lounge included. And we knew we were winners on the very first night as we watched “O Cirque du Soleil” at the Bellagio. After a full day of hectic activity, including an early morning three-hour flight, we wondered as we claimed our seats if we would be able to keep our eyes open. But the moment the curtains parted, sleep was the last thing on our minds as we were wowed by a jaw-dropping performance!
For, here was a circus, but not just any circus. It was a beautifully choreographed water-themed spectacle in which each act was an incredible gem. We sat through the show like punch-drunk boxers, for, before we could recover from the awe of one performance, the following one would blow us away. Clowns, strong men, fire eaters, contortionists, trapeze artists flying through the air with a pool of water as their safety net, high divers, synchronised swimmers… “O” had it all and more. And the ‘more' was a stage of water and the oh-so-evocative backdrops.
When the contortionists were on, we found ourselves looking not so much at the artists doing their thing on a little platform in the middle of the water but at what was going on around them: a ghoul sitting in rapt admiration on the head of an enormous crocodile, synchronised swimmers dancing like mermaids around the platform, a zebra girl prancing in a fountain… and a cloud burst of thunder, lighting and pelting rain to close the act.
So you thought the best shows were on Broadway, New York and the West End, London? Add The Strip, Las Vegas, to the list. Admittedly, you will not find ‘serious' theatre, but at any given time there are around 75 live shows here from popular musicals and plays to magic shows and comedy skits. This was where the Rat Pack Gang of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. along with Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop performed at the Sands (which, sadly, no longer exists). It was here that Elvis made his spectacular comeback to live performances in 1968. The city is like a magnetic lure to big stars who come here to perform on a regular basis. During our visit we saw advertisements for the legendry and iconic Cher and Donny and Marie Osmond.
Faced with a dilemma and with so much to choose from, we opted for something light — Nathan Burton Comedy Magic at the Flamingo, the first casino hotel on the Strip. It proved to be right on the button with a lot of audience participation, amazing tricks and skits that had us rocking with laughter. The show also provided girls, from a California school, a stage to show off their dancing skills — their first whiff of a career as showgirls or maybe even a stage that would launch them into the orbit of mega stardom.
Sadly, the musical “Phantom of the Opera” was sold out so we took in the “Blue Men Group”, a lively percussion music performance garnished with big helpings of laughter, at Hotel Venetian the following day. On the final night of our stay in Las Vegas we were once more faced with the dark possibility of dozing off in our seats, thanks to the string of late night street parties that we just could not drag ourselves away from each day. But once again, the spectacular, Disney's “The Lion King” at Mandalay Bay wowed us with its music, dance and brilliant stage craft and made sure that we stayed wide awake right through the performance.
Shows aside, the city of Las Vegas is itself a grand stage. It's big, bad, brazen, beautiful… Everything it does, be it gambling, fun, entertainment, music, theatre, street partying … is a larger-than-life act.
Indeed, in Las Vegas, we did not have to go anywhere to see the world; the world came to us. Strolling down the Strip was like setting off on a tour of the famous sights around the globe: the Eiffel Tower and Arch de Triomphe in Paris, the Statue of Liberty looking down at the New York skyline, encircled by a twisting roller coaster, Pyramids and the Sphinx, Monte Carlo, Venice, Camelot…
Inside the casino resorts that line this celebrated avenue, we were swept into a world of pure fantasy. Crystal flower beds blossom on ceilings; gondoliers serenade couples as they punted down Venetian canals; full-grown lions play with their handlers in glass-walled enclosures; ornate chandeliers droop from gilded domes; scantily-clad girls pole dance next to gambling tables…
Back on the Strip we joined the all-night street party to which anyone who visited Las Vegas, regardless of age, sex, creed and race was invited. And to spice up the revelry, the city threw in spectacular shows for free. Like the famous Bellagio Dancing Fountains swaying in dramatic fashion to Elvis' Viva Las Vegas , a fiery volcano erupting outside The Mirage and the sinking of a pirate ship in front of Treasure Island. Multi-hued neon lights blinked and flashed and music poured out from everywhere as show girls danced with temptress intent at the entrances of bars and restaurants.
One night we decided to join the street party — Fremont Street Experience — in Las Vegas's downtown area, some four km from the Strip. It was a rip-roaring affair; a riotous celebration of life in the fast lane with live bands, musicians and street artists adding spice to the party. Every so often, the awning that ran across the entire length of the street would be splashed in brilliant colours and music flowed out from every corner. We gazed up at the kaleidoscope of laser images above us in open-mouthed awe. And when it was over, the street party kicked in as though it had not been interrupted. Yes, the Fremont Street Experience was the icing on our “It's show time in Las Vegas” adventure.