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Mayfair at Bellagio aces first test in return to Strip

Updated June 5, 2020 - 12:14 pm

Singer Steve Judkins paused between songs at The Mayfair Supper Club and said, “I want to introduce the hardest-working band on the Strip! It’s also the only working band on the Strip!”

He’s not kidding.

Overlooking the Bellagio fountain show, the Mayfair reopened Thursday night, hours after Bellagio welcomed back guests for the first time in 11 weeks. Led by Judkins and co-vocalist LaShonda Reese, the band showed no signs of rust.

“It’s great to see people again,” Judkins said from the stage. “It’s been too long between shows.” By the end of the night, he looked like he’d run a marathon, and in some ways he has. The show has been run ragged during rehearsals leading to Thursday’s opening.

The supper club stands alone as a restaurant presenting live entertainment. Mayfair qualifies as an entertainment venue because of its social distancing protocols, its show is nonticketed, and the restaurant has cut its seating back to 50 percent of its fire-code capacity.

So, we have what is becoming a familiar restaurant layout: Tables distant from each other. Half of the booths at Mayfair are not seated. The floor is open. If you want to dance, do so next to your table.

For the staff, face masks are mandatory. The hosts and servers have already learned to modulate their voices to be heard, “Table for two!? Do you have reservations!?”

Masks removed

Most guests Thursday wore face covers as as they arrived, then pulled them off. The crowd was almost entirely unmasked during dinner. Get used to that effect in Vegas restaurants, as dinner guests toggle safety with the obvious impossibility of eating and drinking while wearing a face cover.

The show’s set list is about 25 percent new, but (from here) that shift is largely undetectable after a nearly three-month hiatus. The reimagined “Come Together,” and “Copacabana,” with Judkins and Reese retelling the saga of Lola, Tony and Rico, are still personal favorites. Catching the Sinatra vibe, Judkins delivers “Luck Be a Lady” as the water production erupts in the backdrop. He also delivers “Fly Me To the Moon,” with Thursday’s nearly full moon fortuitously in the background.

And Reese, a wonderful talent, inhabits every number. The singer and actress from New York also sports a new eye-popping outfit with a tailed jacket topped by furry epaulets and laden with sequins. The whole ensemble should be named “Whoa.”

Across the stage, the show’s costuming remains a highlight — pianist Patrick Hogan dons a fedora and a pink velvet jacket that glows under the light. Owing to the COVID-19 directives, the cast has been outfitted in silk, club-branded face masks between sets and, for of bandleader Jean-Francois Thibeault and drummer Andrea D’Angelo,during the show. Reese’s face cover matches her glimmering costume and is so dazzling it should be sold as merchandise.

The Mayfair show runs nightly, its cast rotating with Jason Martinez (“Jersey Boys” in Las Vegas), Lisa Marie Smith (“Pin Up” at The Strat and “Baz” at Palazzo Theater), Janien Valentine (“The Scintas”) and Jassen Allen (“Mondays Dark”) also headlining.

Show modified

The production is not quite the same as when Mayfair bowed on New Year’s Eve. The show’s dance team is absent, the lyra hoops stuck in a fixed position over the dining room. How and when that troupe returns is still under review.

But the dinner show still satisfies. I arrived just after 7 p.m. and planed to have dinner and bounce. Instead, I stayed for nearly four hours, through the end of the performances about 11. Members of No Ceilings Entertainment team of Kim Willecke, Dennis Jauch, Nick Guerts and Phil Shaw were on hand, reviewing their handiwork from a table near the stage.

The No Ceilings gents are easy to spot, with their stylish hats, slick jackets and occasionally colored hair.

But the show’s production team had company. Taking up a back booth were execs from Spiegelworld, producers of “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace, “Opium” at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vega and “Atomic Saloon Show” at The Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes.

Company founder Ross Mollison was especially interested in the scale of the Mayfair show, and how the production plays to a socially distant crowd. Spiegelworld is developing a plan to redesign its Spiegeltent to cut capacity while delivering the great acts in “Absinthe.”

Mayfair is being watched, and not just by hotel guests. It’s the first, best test of how entertainment can return to the Strip, and this crew has aced it.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian and Palazzo.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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