Ah, Christmas in Vegas. Angels and dragons.
To some (probably tourists), a Las Vegas Christmas show is a guy with a Santa hat on top of his dragon suit. Setting the mood with a slide show of creepy Santas, as Christmas carols slow to a warped demonic crawl.
To others (probably locals), it’s the annual chance to hear Clint Holmes sing “William the Angel.” The otherwise obscure song lets Holmes combine two of his gifts: creating theatrical character in big, bold strokes, but not letting your focus stray from the details of a lyric. For those who may have seen him do this since the early 2000s, it just wouldn’t be December in Las Vegas without it.
The lull between the National Finals Rodeo and New Year’s is a fine time to visit the Strip. Holiday show makeovers cater to every taste and tone, from Merlin making it snow in the “ ’Twas the Knight” version of “Tournament of Kings,” to Terry Fator reuniting David Bowie and Bing Crosby for a “Little Drummer Boy” puppet duet.
This year’s newcomer is Piff the Magic Dragon, the British comedy magician (sometimes known as John van der Put) who came to fame on “America’s Got Talent” in 2015.
“Piff’s Piffmas Piff-tacular” isn’t full-on “Bad Santa,” but closer to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” for parents who should make sure their youngsters will fully appreciate the opening bit: An elf needing someone from the audience to help dislodge a candy cane from an embarrassing area.
Piff amassed hours of material prior to “Talent,” so the holiday show through Jan. 4 at the Flamingo is about half different from the one he offered a few months ago. Three sidekicks (Brett Alters, Johnny Miles and Jimmy Slonina) and showgirl Jade Simone build an ensemble feel from what’s essentially a one-man show.
Piff is still mainly about the one-liners — “I don’t want to patronize you. Which means talking down to you” — and the banter with audience recruits, who can never get on with things quickly enough for a bored dragon.
While the comedy usually overrides the magic, there’s an impressive selection routine that leads to a new costume for Mr. Piffles, the scene-stealing Chihuahua. The sidekicks also spell Piff midway for a (deliberately) bad improv song, which turns out to be a clever reinvention of the “prediction box,” usually one of magic’s most worn-out tricks on the Strip.
A Piffmas miracle indeed.
While Piff delivers on his quip that he is “contractually obligated to make it snow in Las Vegas,” Holmes is not. You could say the veteran showman accessorized his Palazzo showcase rather than giving it a full makeover: No costumes or fake snow, but a few red or green ties amid the six-piece band and a half-dozen Christmas songs in the mix on Sunday, Monday and Dec. 25 and 26.
Holmes is less like a live Christmas TV special (a la Fator) and more about taking your friends or family to one of the rare personality-based showcases in a city once defined by them, and leaving a little bit inspired by both his physical, all-in commitment and his message.
While some interpretive singers keep the arrangements tightened down under their vocals, Holmes loves to work with musical directors who go big. These days it’s Christian Tamburr, giving Trans-Siberian Orchestra pomp to “We Three Kings,” or making the curtain-closing “Jingle Bells” sound like the “Saturday Night Live” theme song.
But it pays off when flute and Cuban rhythms sneak into the requisite “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” duet with Cuban backup singer Noybel Gorgoy, or when a big buildup on “Little Drummer Boy” drops to almost a whisper: “Then he smiled at me …”
And sometimes Holmes surprises us by doing the opposite: Taking Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” back from “American Idol” histrionics and doing it just with piano, putting the focus back on Cohen’s words.
Another Piffmas miracle. Or at least a seamless blend with the Christmas songs that will make you want to come back in January.