Fator brings back holiday memories with 'A Very Terry Christmas'

The Grinch and Charlie Brown are handed down from the TV Christmas of one generation to the next, but you have to be a boomer of a certain age to remember the doorbell.

Were you a child of Andy Williams or Bing Crosby, all sweater-clad in their TV living room when -- ring! -- they answered to door to reveal their real off-camera family or a very special guest?

Terry Fator sure was.

"Since the day that those old specials went the way of the dodo bird, I've always wanted to bring them back," the 46-year-old says offstage of "A Very Terry Christmas," his limited-run Christmas redecorating of his usual vehicle at The Mirage.

And bring them back he does, distilling the essence of those memories into a showcase that plays right to his strengths. What is a ventriloquist anyway, if not a one-man host to a visiting cast of wacky characters?

And who else could perform their own Christmas mixtape, mimicking everything from "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" to Wham!'s irksome '80s-synthesizer ditty "Last Christmas"? And sounding like both George Michael and Thurl "Tony the Tiger" Ravenscroft?

Fator has made a real effort here, changing the material for his regular puppets and adding a couple of new ones: a Vegas lounge crooner and none other than Bing Crosby himself.

"It didn't feel like Christmas until I was sitting in front of the TV when I was a kid, watching Bing Crosby and his family have these guests," Fator says of a tribute that includes the living room set and his knockout wife and stage assistant, Taylor Makakoa, carting out plates of goodies in her apron and best June Cleaver pearls. And yes, the doorbell -- at least the timing of the sound effect -- becomes a running gag.

As a repeat viewer, I liked the Christmas show better than the regular one. Beyond the general warm fuzziness, Fator doesn't feel the need to "introduce" each puppet and repeat jokes to establish each character. If this is your introduction, you might be asking, "Who is the little guy in the Easter Bunny outfit who talks like a stoner?" But it's not rocket science.

Another advantage over the workaday show is the buffet for closet Christmas music freaks (someone must listen to those radio stations that switch to Christmas music all month; just don't expect us to admit it).

Fator's puppets give him enough range to work in about every Christmas song you can think of, plus Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song." A Beatles puppet serves up Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time" (another '80s synth abuser) before announcing, "That was one of the crappiest Christmas songs ever written. Here's a better one." Which would be John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)."

The lounge crooner drew audience applause for a dead-on imitation of Dean Martin's stirred, not shaken "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer." (Could we see him soon in the regular show?) But the naturally high tenor of Fator's singing voice kept his Bing Crosby a "nice try." And it takes a show such as this one to make you realize Karen Carpenter's voice was even lower than Der Bingle's.

The only real thing to Grinch about here is that the lewd innuendo seems more out of place than usual. Sure, Fator probably feels he has to keep up with the Dunhams. And yes, "Christmas in Las Vegas" (a new song here) is usually the province of empty nesters.

"If people want to be with their families, why do you think they'd be at this show?" asks puppet sidekick Walter.

But what a gift it would be if this was the time of year you could take youngsters along without cringing when the gay puppet says, "I'm a big fan of the back door." And if that joke about the burned-out yard sign that just says "Ho" went over the little one's head the first time? You're not out of the woods. That one's such a howler, they repeat it four or five times.

But Fator is building a tradition here. You would do well to ring the bell, especially during a time on the Strip when most headliners ring and run.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.


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