Las Vegas. There’s a new show in town. Just a few weeks ago, Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana opened at the Aria Resort and Casino.
There’s an old show in town, too. Legends in Concert will soon be celebrating its 30th anniversary. For the past four years, it’s been in production at Harrah’s Las Vegas. Amazingly, Legends, which began as a six-week engagement back in 1983, has become the longest-running celebrity tribute show in the world and the second longest-running show in Las Vegas.
Although decidedly different, these two Vegas shows are both big on entertainment.
• The Performers: With some of the world’s best celebrity impersonators onstage, Legends’ performers deliver the music, with warmth, humor and pizzazz. Besides the conventional stars that often make up tribute shows, including Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson, to add to the interest, there are contemporary recording artists, too; Adele (J.C. Brando) and Justin Timberlake (Scott Jordan) are a welcome part of the current holiday show. In this type of stage show, building a rapport with the audience is a key element of success. As the “Blues Brothers”, Eric Martin (as Dan Aykroyd) and Carmen Romano (as the late John Belushi) are on point. It’s no wonder. The pair has been performing all over the world together for more than twenty years and has nearly 10,000 shows under their belt. Refreshingly entertaining, the duo re-create some of the original choreography that Aykroyd and Belushi did so well, and Martin sure knows how to play a mean harmonica. Perhaps it may seem unfair to compare the performers in these two shows, given that Zarkana is very unlike Legends. The name Zarkana itself is described as a fusion of the words “bizarre” and “arcane” (arcane meaning “mystery” or “secret”). In this distortion of reality, things cannot be expected to be “normal”, after all. However, something has to be said when performers give it their all (and when they don’t). And those in Legends definitely hold nothing back.
• The Music: Legends takes this category, hands down. Oftentimes, it’s the songs that a performer sings that help make him or her so famous. Hearing these ever-popular and familiar hits, audiences naturally feel good. On the other hand, Zarkana’s composer and musical director Nick Littlemore has put together music that appropriately fits the show’s title; the music is quite bizarre. Add to this, incomprehensible song lyrics (some people refer to Cirque’s unique language as Cirquish) and there exists an expansive void that is too tremendous for any performer to fill. When alone onstage, Zark, the ringmaster, lacks the luster that makes Legends. With other Zarkana performers shrieking and moaning, the sum is often a cacophony of musical mayhem.
• The Musicians: Legends’ musicians rock the house; and sax player Joe Escriba is simply remarkable! These music men are seasoned professionals whose names may never grace a marquee. Nevertheless, they demonstrate heart and soul with every beat, and audiences show their appreciation with enthusiastic applause. It helps that the singers encourage recognition of their musical counterparts, for these instrumentalists deserve every bit of acknowledgement. They are playing to and for the audience and they do a darn good job! Zarkana’s musicians are professionals, too, but there’s something lacking…
• Ambiance: Have you seen the Aria? It’s a dazzling AAA Five Diamond resort on The Strip. Its architecture and interior design is splendid, creating an atmosphere of utmost beauty. Waiting to get into the 1,840-seat theater can actually be pleasurable amidst such stunning scenery. It’s a shame, though, that people sometimes decide to put their cigarettes out on the artsy carpeting rather than use the plentiful ash cans. As for Harrah’s? It’s tacky, but the showroom has a few saving graces, such as the hanging crystal chandeliers. In January, Legends will be moving to the Flamingo Las Vegas, where the showroom is very red.
• Thrills & Chills: Cirque du Soleil has become synonymous with excitement. The performers accomplish spectacular acrobatic feats that defy gravity, and in so doing, take spectators’ breath away. Whether jumping rope on a rotating “wheel of death” or gliding through the air via a flying trapeze, the highly skilled cast of Zarkana continually pushes the limit of what we think humans can do! These folks are utterly amazing. Unfortunately, sometimes, things don’t go as planned. For instance, a performer foul-up during the high wire act can mean that that portion of the show is totally omitted. Then, one will never know what was missed. Still, for some, Legends has its own brand of excitement. There are always more than a few ladies who absolutely swoon over Graham Patrick as Elvis.
• The Bottom Line: Tickets for Zarkana are priced $69-$180. Tickets for Legends in Concert are priced $55-$65. (Upon hotel check-in, some hotels may occasionally offer two-for-one ticket specials for Legends in Concert.) If budget concerns are important, Legends fits the bill.
• “Out with the old, in with the new”?: In a throwaway society, this may be a mantra. Yet, there are times when this adage can easily be debunked. Vegas’ grandiosity may ensure room for everybody and just about anything. Still, in the long run, it’s the audiences that will make or break a show. And thanks to them, Legends in Concert has become a legend itself.
(Legends in Concert continues its run at Harrah’s through December 30, 2012. For more information on both shows, including performance dates and times, and to purchase tickets, please refer to the individual hotel websites.)