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NYC-themed ‘Mad Apple’ takes its shot at New York-New York

Updated May 26, 2022 - 9:36 am

Cirque du Soleil has been running “Mad Apple” for about two weeks. Kind of. The show has been in previews since May 12.

For those uninitiated in how productions are, um, produced, previews are actually a series of ticketed dress rehearsals. Shows that are in previews are not ready for published reviews, but are ready to take your money. Finally, “Mad Apple” celebrates its grand opening Thursday night. The new, original Cirque show runs 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m. (dark Wednesdays and Thursdays).

Having not seen a proper run of this show, we’ll reserve judgment on the quality of it all until Thursday closes out. But Cirque does deserve applause already for delivering a new show during a pandemic, even if it is at about half the scale of “Zumanity,” which closed at New York-New York in November 2020; and the most recent Cirque show to open on the Strip, since the ill-fated $62 million “R.U.N” at Luxor.

“Budget was certainly important, particularly after the ‘R.U.N’ experience,” Cirque President Eric Grilly says, owing to understatement. “We really designed the show for today’s audience. We live in a 140-character society. You see how people consume information in bits and pieces. So we designed a show to do that.”

Grilly says the show will speak to Cirque’s fans and followers, but allows, “It will also offer something new with headlining comics, mainstream music and a hospitality element that we haven’t had in any of our Cirque shows.”

Aside from “Mad Apple,” Cirque has successfully relaunched all of its existing productions on the Strip since the company halted all 44 of its shows internationally (including six on the Strip) in March 2020.

“We’ve had the opportunity to open five shows here, five very successful shows, and this is the first new show,” Grilly says. “We made a difficult decision to close ‘Zumanity’ after 17 successful years, a profitable, successful show, and figure you what was going to happen in this theater. MGM came back to and asked if we had any other ideas.”

“Mad Apple” is that idea. The show is a product of Cirque acquisition company The Works and its founder, Simon Painter, along with director Neil Dorward, known for his work in “The Illusionists” among other shows.

“Mad Apple” is a pre-fab night on the town if that town is New York City. If you have seen the acrobatic troupe that works the crowd (and works for tips) in Times Square, there is a version in “Mad Apple.” The two-man team is called TT Boys.

And, if you remember the Bud Light Daredevils dunking acrobatic troupe, which decades ago performed during breaks at NBA Games (including those at Madison Square Garden), there is a version of that in “Mad Apple.” That team is called Mad Apple Acro Dunkers.

Comedians Harrison Greenbaum, Brad Williams and Chris Turner authenticate the NYC vibe as all have headlined The Comedy Cellar in New York. Greenbaum is an expert at working the crowd. Williams plays off his size, saying, “As a dwarf, I’ve never cared about the height of ceilings.” Turner is the rare freestyle rap artist from the U.K. Throw suggestions at him, such as “The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial,” and he’ll conjure, “Captain Jack Sparrow, keep your marriage on the straight and narrow!”

The show incorporates original and familiar music, with pianist/vocalist Xharlie Black as music director. His legal name is Eddie Cole, great-grand nephew of contemporary music legend Nat King Cole whose father was Natalie Cole’s music director. To our undying appreciation, the show is backed by live musicians and vocalists.

The venue overhaul is crucial for “Mad Apple.” The staged has been overhauled with a bar at the front, two near the back, open for business as the crowd wades into the the venue. The show is supposed to run a little more than an hour (after about a 30-minute cut from its first preview), then turns into a discotheque at the end of the second performance.

There is no formal script to the shows, no storyline to follow. The comics’ segments are blocked so they do their own sets.

“We want this to be the greatest night out in New York,” says Painter, a virtuoso violinist who was cast in “Spirit of the Dance” at Golden Nugget some 20 years ago. “You go to a crazy bar with beautiful people, get drunk, there is a mad band playing on the sidewalk outside, maybe it’s the greatest band you’ve ever heard. You hear some incredible jazz singer. You go to a comedy club and laugh until you can’t breathe. Then you see someone swinging from the Brooklyn Bridge. That, to me, is like a crazy night out in New York.”

And, you might walk out of this Cirque show and into a dueling piano bar where the singer is actually ventriloquial headliner Terry Fator. That can happen, on occasion, at New York-New York, where a slice of “Mad Apple” fits the resort’s Big Apple theme.

“It won’t overwhelm you,” Grilly says of the new show. “The pre-show is pretty special, and a lot of secret things are going on that you don’t know about until you get here. There is some magic in certain areas, you will find. Once we get this dialed in, we will have lots of opportunities with this show.”

Cool Hang Alert

Get to column fave Amy Saunders’ “Mavericks” adult variety show at Cheapshot on Fremont East on Saturday night. There shall be a legend in the house.

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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