The duo playing bebop jazz onstage before the Penn & Teller show at the Rio are always anonymous.
Except during earthquakes.
Then, comic magician Penn Jillette, who doubles as stand-up bassist to pianist Mike “Jonesy” Jones, makes himself known. Just after Friday’s temblor rolled through Penn & Teller Theater, Penn ceased playing and called out, “Thank you very much!”
Audience members, some of whom were onstage investigating the magic box set up by the duo before every show, shouted and applauded. Though Jones’ piano was moved slightly off its mark, the performance went on as scheduled, the only further commotion caused by the Elsie the African Spotted Pygmy Elephant’s show-closing appearance. The crew triple-checked the production’s props and equipment.
I believe I could have gotten complete credit for shaking the theater, if the leaking press hadn't blown the gag! Damn you.
— Penn Jillette (@pennjillette) July 6, 2019
Friday’s temblor led to widespread mirth and some frayed nerves but no significant consequences from Strip shows around town. A characteristic response was from “Opium” cast member Brett Loudermilk, who plays Todd the sword-swallower in the Spiegelworld adult comedy-variety show at the Cosmopolitan.
“I couldn’t help but think how awful it would be to have to evacuate this building, looking like this,” said Loudermilk, his hair tinted pink and who wears a pair of very snug white briefs and a matching white jacket and corset.
Loudermilk then panned to Rob the Robot (Eli Weinberg), his buddy Chip (Brett Alters) and Yuri (Christian Stoinev) of the Yuri and Sputnik doggie balancing team. They all wear revealing, gawk-worthy costumes that would stand out anywhere in the hotel except the show’s Opium Theater.
Some members of the “Opium” production mistakenly thought the shaking might have been coming from The Chelsea, which is located above Rose. Rabbit. Lie. and the Opium Theater. “Opium” is often interrupted by so-called “jumper” shows, where the audience’s leaping can be felt below. Obviously that was not the case Saturday, because of the earthquake and also because The Chelsea was dark.
— The Gazillionaire (@GazillionaireLV) July 6, 2019
Loudermilk also posted a video of a popular adult prop used in his act, which was swinging from a hook backstage with the message, “Opium Earthquake Detector.” Seemed more than a 7.1 reading, actually …
Across the Strip at Harrah’s, during “Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel in Concert,” the cast was running through, “Let The Good Times Roll” — really — when the quake hit. The band was hammering out the number when the stage started to roll side to side.
“The set is on wheels. It’s pinned to the floor, but it has a little give to it,” said Colte Julian, the show’s music director who was playing piano when the videos screens flickered and the chandeliers shook. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is really rocking tonight.’ But then I saw the audience pointing around the room and though, ‘Uh-oh. We’re not on a cruise ship right now.’”
“Heartbreak Hotel” cast member Geno Henderson sings the song in every performance. “What’s funny was, afterward, Geno’s like, ‘I didn’t feel anything!’ ” Julian said. “He’s out, running around and dancing and totally invested in the song. He had no idea.”
At Planet Hollywood, Gwen Stefani remarked about the quake early in her show at Zappos Theater. “That earthquake was so (expletive) crazy,” said Stefani, who took the stage about an hour after the event. “That makes tonight even more special!”
At the Colosseum at Caesars Palace during Reba and Brooks & Dunn, Reba McEntire was singing “Whoever’s In New England” when the room shook. “I think something just happened,” she said after hearing through her ear monitor she’d just experienced a tremor. Kix Brooks told the audience it was the first time they had performed during an earthquake.
Elsewhere, at least two shows “Le Reve” at Wynn Las Vegas and “Michael Jackson One” at Mandalay Bay cut their productions short by about five minutes and sent the audiences to the doors to run checks on set pieces and rigging. Both performed their second shows, and Cirque also tested apparatus in its other Strip shows, which went on as scheduled.
The event happened between performances of the circus-themed “Celestia” at Stratosphere, which went on uninterrupted. The “Absinthe” tent shook at Caesars Palace, but that show, too, continued its 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. performances.
At “Legends in Concert,” the commotion hit as Adele tribute artist Nair Cardozo sang, “Someone Like You.” Cardozo held the mic stand still and held her composure through the song.
This was Cardozo’s introduction to the Vegas entertainment scene. She just joined the Las Vegas cast after moving here from Toronto; Saturday was her third show on the Strip.
Comic Andrew “Puddle Boy” Collin was onstage at Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club when the shaking started. “I thought my legs were shaking, because I was nervous,” he said on Instagram. “But it was an (expletive) earthquake!” Emil Wakim and Nikki Glaser, also in the lineup, posed under a desk in the green room.
“It was terrifying. I didn’t like how I reacted,” Wakim said to Glaser. “I grabbed my wallet, for some reason. I don’t know why.”
Linq headlining magician Mat Franco had never felt an earthquake until Saturday. A native of Johnston, Rhode Island, Franco was onstage during Saturday night’s shakeup, and posted a video series on Instagram.
“I just experienced my first earthquake, ever, while onstage, in the middle of a show,” Franco said, adding that the audience started “chatting and pointing” as 8,000-pound screens swayed and shook, and the vibrations were felt across the stage and into the audience.
Franco halted for about a minute, then continued the show. He was still shaken after the performance.
“Anything that can happen, will happen,” he said. “Wow. I thought I had seen everything that can happen to you onstage, (but) it just makes sense that the first earthquake I would feel, would happen to me onstage.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.