Terry Fator is a lot like a regular Joe who has obtained superpowers. Maybe as a kid, he was bitten by a radioactive insect (or a turtle) to give him the power to perfectly perform the ventriloquial arts.
A superhero who uses these powers only for the purpose of good, that’s Fator. We know what it would be like if he were sinister. Deep into his show at his eponymous theater at The Mirage, Fator tells his audience to imagine what it would be like to be him as he walks through airport security screening. He throws his voice as his original character, Winston the Impersonating Turtle, calling from inside a carry-on bag, “Let me out! Let me out!”
Fator could wreak havoc, in life and onstage, with his undeniably stunning ability to speak and sing wonderfully without moving his lips. But he’s too congenial for such behavior, and too congenial a guy to get really randy in his show at Mirage. He’s never the bad guy in this family matinee.
Fator chalked up his ninth anniversary on Monday night at The Mirage, celebrating the event with two new characters who need NO introduction: Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. Sir Paul is an upgraded version of Fator’s Beatle puppet, who already sounded a lot like McCartney. Those additions bring Fator’s cast of puppets to 16, all developed by Fator since he opened at Las Vegas Hilton in 2007, just after he won Season 2 of “America’s Got Talent.”
The arrival of Jackson, especially, freezes the bit in another era. Fator and Little Jacko joke about the puppet’s light skin pigmentation, which of course would be far funnier if Jackson hadn’t died nine years ago. But the ensuing duet, “The Girl is Mine,” as sung solely and spot-on by a stoic Fator, is a further example of the entertainer’s astonishing stage skills.
For his anniversary, Fator summoned such faves as Maynard Tompkins (an Elvis impressionist who is reluctant to actually sing as Elvis), Vicki the Cougar (a well-worn, 42-year-old gossip columnist whose age has dropped from 49 over the years), Walter T. Airdale (a country singer who still looks like the cowboy guy in the Village People) and Duggie Scott Walker (a cannabis entrepreneur whose pot references give the show some edge).
Winston ends, as always, in duet with Fator (as Louis Armstrong) on “Unforgettable.” Fator is such an accomplished ventriloquist and singer — he has outlasted even fellow “AGT” champ Paul Zerdin on the Strip — that fans simply dismiss some of the show’s shortfalls. Fator opens by saying that as a kid, he was inspired by Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show,” and his puppets are like Johnny’s guests on the show.
Fator even has a desk resembling Carson’s at the side of the stage. But he never sits there, the production doesn’t follow the talk-show template, and after a brief exchange with “my Ed McMahon,” pianist Bill Zappia, that theme is simply dropped. But the audience couldn’t care less — just bring on Maynard!
The mention of Zappia, incidentally, reminds that Fator employs a top-level band of guitarist Jim Buck, sax player Steve Dawson, trumpeter Tom DeLibero, trombonist Dan Trinter, bassist Donnie Castleman, and drummer/bandleader John Wackerman. Fator has invested wisely in this lineup, which brings his myriad musical numbers to life.
Fator has also ditched the audience-participation bit (which ate up several valuable minutes, to mixed results), but is keeping President Trump in the act. Fator maintains that the puppet can be universally appealing; I maintain that if you don’t like Trump, you’re not going to like the little Trump, either. But he remains, mostly as a vehicle to jab at Hillary Clinton.
Prior to Monday’s performance, I spoke with Fator about his longevity and recalled a similar party to open the show in 2009. “We have something REALLY special planned for the 10th anniversary,” he said, smiling.
A decade at The Mirage seems a certainty for the master puppeteer, for whom there seems no kryptonite.
They call him ‘High Note’
Paul Johnson, a Las Vegas Academy grad and a favorite singer among singers in VegasVille, has joined “Baz — A Musical Mashup” at Palazzo as the show’s full-time swing. That means he performs all the guy characters.
Johnson is best-known for his performances in “Rock of Ages” at the Rio and “The World’s Greatest Rock Show” at Stratosphere. He was also a swing for Josh Strickland in “Vegas! The Show” at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.
Johnson stepped into the cast Saturday, a night before Ruby Lewis, who co-starred as Daisy, departed the show. Look for Lewis as the resident Marilyn Monroe in “Marilyn: A New Musical” at Paris Las Vegas.
Who Was Where
Siegfried & Roy, Matt Goss, Criss Angel, Carrot Top, Piff the Magic Dragon, Murray Sawchuck and Robert Hatcher (the singer eliminated in the final eight of “AGT” the year Fator won), all at Fator’s pre-party at Stack at The Mirage … UNLV Runnin’ Rebels coach Marvin Menzies, at Pia Zadora’s Pia’s Place performance Friday night at Piero’s Italian Restaurant … members of Tower of Power at Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns’ show at Copa Room at Bootlegger on Monday … Steve Arnell, the Green Arrow in “Arrow” on CW, at a friend’s bachelor party Friday at Hyde Bellagio’s Friday Night Social …