The new disco-Abba tribute “Dancing Queen” made me realize Las Vegas no longer forces me to spend a lot of time thinking about camp, and whether it’s better when it’s knowing or unintentional.
This Planet Hollywood Resort show is old-school along those lines. The opening number hits you with women in white feathery skirts and men in white tuxes and tails, all of them sporting silver-sparkly shoes wondrously reminiscent of disco balls.
So, it was back to Susan Sontag’s pioneering 1964 essay, “Notes on ‘Camp.’ ”
Ah, here it is: “Pure Camp is always naive,” she wrote, while “Camp which knows itself to be Camp is usually less satisfying.”
But you really don’t have to choose here. This show offers both.
“Dancing Queen” keeps its tongue in cheek for almost an hour, even to the point where two of the whitest boys you’ve ever seen (Katch Gray and Aaron Coulson) sing “Play That Funky Music.”
But the cards are on the table for the Village People tribute. Five guys in the classic costumes, followed by female dancers in their skimpy versions of the cop, construction worker, etc.
If I seem obsessed with the tone of this show, it’s because there is not a lot else to obsess about. “Dancing Queen” is a serviceable, cruise-ship style revue, with attractive people, energetic choreography and strong, if generic, singing (to recorded tracks).
The show is an expanded version of the same title that played a small room at New York-New York last year. But this time, the singers and dancers look more like grown-ups and less like students working summer jobs at a theme park.
You see ballroom dancing during “Fernando,” shirtless dudes for “Voulez-Vous” and women doing the Bob Fosse-style chair dance for “Man After Midnight.” The envelope is pushed no farther than some silhouette shadow dancing and a guy briefly dropping towel to moon the audience at the end of “Car Wash.”
But you can’t help feeling like you’re looking at the staging that usually frames the star attraction and wondering when said star is going to show up.
To that end, the smartest thing the show does is hold out its best singer, Avis Ellis, for a delayed entry. She jumps in after a properly balanced quartet of the two men and two women (Anne Martinez and Jenny Farney) serve up about 20 minutes of Abba covers to justify the title.
Ellis puts the fire in “Disco Inferno,” even while singing it in front of guys in orange shirts and black slacks. She belts Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” with the female dancers working aqua-hued bodices over black boots, peeking over hand-held fans in round sunglasses. It’s the standout visual sequence, even if (or perhaps because) it breaks ranks with the disco kitsch.
Despite these colorful moments that would make a pleasant time-waster at sea, it’s still hard to figure out just who this show will draw in a competitive, walk-up market.
Producer David King said it targets the baby-boomer tourists who came of age in the disco era and made the “Mamma Mia!” musical a big Broadway hit. Those folks were indeed the majority of the small audience on this night, but they found it easy to resist repeated invitations to “Get up on your feet if you want to dance!”
And there’s that gay-camp appeal, maybe for those who see drag shows in gay nightclubs.
Don’t know if target-marketing this niche could sell enough tickets to keep the show in business. But even a few takers would sure perk up the energy level and push the show closer to its stated goal of being “the biggest disco party in Las Vegas.”
For now at least, the show proves that disco never dies. But I’m not so sure about the audience.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.