"Laughing keeps you young," Wally Eastwood proclaims after he has spit pingpong balls high enough into the air to create his own Bellagio fountain show. "I'm 82."
He isn't, but he has been doing this a long time. Here are some things that could be keeping Eastwood's co-workers young in "V -- The Ultimate Variety Show":
■ Cracking jokes about being gay while beating on drums and twirling bolos.
■ Struttin' around in nothin' but your flag-striped "Rocky" boxing shorts.
■ Hoisting up an upside-down dude above your head with no leverage but your hands gripped to his, fingers interlocked, mano a mano.
This underdog variety show is closing in on a 10th anniversary in September. It beat the odds for a middle-budget, independent production. And it did so with a surprisingly stable cast, considering producer David Saxe launched it with the concept of rotating all manner of variety acts from cruise ships or European circuses.
Turns out most of those folks prefer being on dry land and going home at night. Eastwood's snapshots of his daughters on the overhead screens show you why. He and Russ Merlin -- whose act of putting Halloween masks on four guys from the audience is funnier than it sounds -- have been onboard since "V" started, after Saxe's sister Melinda decided to retire her headlining magic show.
And now, in a full circle, Melinda is in it, too. You can't expect a "First Lady of Magic" to stay sidelined forever. This one's been hitting the gym even harder than in the '80s, when she first showed more belly than David Copperfield.
They're all looking good, though. Even Hugo Latorre, who's been doing his comic Argentinian gaucho thing since Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra still worked alongside "Jubilee!" at Bally's. For some of us old-timers, all these folks add a layer of sentimental nostalgia. They are constants through our years in Vegas.
Newcomers may only feel this on a subconscious level, responding to the old Vegas-ness of it without realizing it. In the video-screen age, it may even be more special when Joe Trammel works up a sweat to engage you in his crazy quick-change parodies.
"You guys should get out more. ... Take me with you," Eastwood proclaims as he juggles Uncle Sam hats. He also plays up the show's underdog status, talking about how the competition has "Fire, water, they fly ... I got three hats."
It's a good line, but Saxe knows he has to stay in the game and make sure the entire cast doesn't qualify for a senior discount. On the hardware side, the V Theater has been upgraded with raked theater seating and a new stage looking like a giant Lite-Brite game.
There's room for Melinda to do big contraption illusions with her female assistants. But it's cozy enough to feel every strain of the hand-balancing by Iouri Safronov and Nikolai Meinkov. (Saxe has developed an amusing anti-Cirque du Soleil ad campaign to promote his shows, conveniently ignoring that these guys opened "Mystere.")
A round stage extension has been added for the show's main human-ware upgrade: Victor and Jenny Aratas are two beautiful people doing one dangerous act. They whirl on roller skates on a wobbly platform until he's able to spin her at such velocity she flies around him in a circle, making the first few rows share the risk.
The whole act takes less than five minutes but it's that accent mark that keeps "V" from feeling stale and gives people something to talk about as they leave. That is, after they greet the cast.
There are many shows that outspend "V." Some, including "Absinthe" (from which the Aratases defected), weave their acts together with more finesse than the standard voice-over intros.
But few of the big-budget shows shake hands with you on the way out, one final way of making contact before you go home.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.