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No Trump, no problem as Terry Fator maps Strip return

Terry Fator is eager to hop back on the Manhattan Express at New York-New York. He’s become accustomed to thrill rides, metaphorically, riding the roller coaster over the past year during pandemic.

“I rode it about 10 years ago,” Fator said of the popular ride during a phone chat Friday afternoon. “I love it. My nieces and nephews are gong to go crazy that I’m actually performing on a property that has a roller coaster.”

The latest loop-the-loop in Fator’s career has played out during the pandemic shutdown, when his decadelong residency at the Mirage closed as COVID closed in. After a series of false starts as pandemic restrictions vacillated, Fator finally reopens Thursday night at New York-New York Theater. Dubbed “Terry Fator: Who’s The Dummy Now?” the show takes up the former Zumanity Theater, running 7:30 pm. Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays; 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Fator is returning after finishing his run at Mirage Theater, which was named for him during his residency, in March 2020. During the shutdown, the ventriloquial star has performed select dates at Funny Bones Comedy Clubs in Columbus and Toledo, Ohio; and the Improv in Addison, Texas, near his hometown of Dallas. He’s also played the Coral Springs Center for the Performing Arts in Florida.

But nothing beats a sit-down (for the puppets, anyway) residency in a swanky Strip showroom.

“I couldn’t even sleep the night before last. I woke up at like 4:30, because my brain is just going, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s going to be a week and I’m back onstage,’ ” Fator said “You know, I can’t wait.”

As he wished, Fator has returned to an MGM Resorts International venue. He’s previously stated his contract with the hotel runs through the fall of 2022. But his run at New York-New York is presented as a limited engagement, with no end date specified.

“You know, I’m open to whatever we can work out, but we were looking at another possible venue here at New York New York,” Fator said. “I think right now it’s like tentatively until September.”

And about that new venue …

“They’ve just said they have some other ideas, and I’m like, ‘You know what? Let’s talk about it, let’s walk the place,’” Fator said. “I know that New York-New York wants to keep me for a while, so hopefully there’s even possible thoughts of building a theater out for me.”

A possibility is Liberty Loft on the hotel’s second level, a space several local entertainers seeking a Strip residency have visited. That room has been used as private event space for several years, but has potential as a small showroom.

Regardless, in the big room Fator is back with his “must” lineup, beginning with Winston the Impersonating Turtle, who became famous as Fator captured the Season 2 “America’s Got Talent” championship in 2007. Walter T. Airdale, Maynard Tompkins, Vickie The Cougar and Emma Taylor all are in the upper tier of Fator’s 21 total figures.

“Walter T. Airedale is my sentimental favorite, because he’s my very first professional puppet,” Fator said. “I like having him there, but if I was to swap him out I wouldn’t feel like I’m cheating the audience. But if I didn’t have Winston, I think the audience would go crazy. They would be like, “Where? What happened?’ because he’s hands down the favorite of my audience.”

Fator has sidelined his Donald Trump figure, possibly forever. The character sent a ripple through the Mirage Theater upon its debut in 2016 and throughout its three-year run. Fator benched the routine in mid-2019, saying that “removing any political overtones” was the right call.

“I have no plans at this point to bring him back,” Fator said. “I think, hopefully, the sheer hatred and anger of half of the audience would be gone and I can just do comedy. … Maybe I need a couple more years, two or three years, to bring him back.”

The figure’s signature effect was that its hair stood up. That was funny. Otherwise, the crowd was predictably split on the comedic intent.

“I just have fun with people, and I never did mean stuff with him,” Fator said. “I figured, if you want to hear people bash Trump, watch any late night show, any comedian. I want to do something different. I just wanted to have fun. I just wanted to make people laugh.”

Fator is adding a new duet segment where he sings live onstage through a puppet, along with a recorded performance on the video screens. He’s worked up a duet between Justin Bieber and teen-age Emma Taylor, a freckled 12-year-old who can’t seem to keep her face out of her phone.

“Bieber is going to sing a duet with Emma, because in spite of the fact that he’s not so popular right now, she’s a die-hard fan,” Fator said. “She’ll never give up on the Biebs. She’s a true ‘Belieber,’ you know?”

Fator, too, is a believer, in his own capacity to stand on a stage, throw his voice for an hour or so and leave his guests feeling happy. Nobody does what he does, exactly, and about the only time his lips move are when he’s smiling.

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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