One could excuse Terry Fator for simply cleaning his puppets, clearing his voice and rolling with the same show he’s performed since winning “America’s Got Talent” more than a decade ago.
But that isn’t Fator’s style. His lips might be sealed, but his mind is open. In his 11th year as a headliner at the theater named for him at the Mirage, the ventriloquial master has rewritten his annual holiday — sorry, Christmas — show, and also his regular stage production.
The seasonal showcase is “A Very Terry Christmas 2, The Sequel,” which opened Friday night at Terry Fator Theater. As a rite of the Christmas season, the 54-year-old Fator unveils a new puppet among the 24 or so used for these themed shows. A squinting Frank Sinatra is this year’s new model, swapping lines with Sammy Davis Jr. for a customized take on Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song.”
Those spanning the celeb-pupped landscape include Dean Martin; Justin Bieber, with Dolly Parton as his guardian angel on one shoulder and Ozzy Osbourne as his devil counterpart on the other; Paul McCartney with Stevie Wonder; Willie Nelson; David Bowie with Elton John (and later with Bing Crosby). Those stars join fictionally Fator mainstays Winston the Impersonating Turtle, country bumpkin Walter T. Airdale, distracted Elvis impressionist Maynard T. Tompkins, and adorable stoner Duggie Scott Walker.
Sidelined chief executive
Fator has edited out one prominent figure: President Donald Trump, a focal point of Fator’s regular stage show and also Christmas show over the past 3½ years. The Trump puppet, with his pop-up hairpiece, has been sidelined from both shows until further notice.
In a rare maneuver, the hotel itself asked Fator to make this onstage change.
“It was kind of one of those things where the Mirage came to me, and they have never told me what to do, ever. But they asked politely, and when they ask politely, I do it,” Fator said after Friday’s show. “We have a good relationship. It’s a give and take. I’m not a diva. I’m not going to go off and say, ‘Screw you’ when they ask me to do something. But they said, ‘This political season is very, very, very rough and it’s going to get nastier. Would you mind?’ I said, ‘Fine, I’ll do it.’”
Instead, Fator is using mini-Trump in a series of mock TV setup with another new figure — Bernie Sanders. Beginning next year, Fator plans to post clips on Instagram and YouTube of the two puppets co-hosting a variety/entertainment show (maybe this concept will replace Donny & Marie).
Also, in August, in a move that sent a ripple across the Las Vegas entertainment scene, Fator lopped most of his band, which had backed him since he opened at the Mirage in 2009. Fator said the move did save money, by design, but contends, “I can afford to have a band, but I just wanted to try something new. I told the guys that, too, that I was going in a new direction and I hope they are ready to come back when I make that call.”
Fator has recently partnered with a new manager with a fresh perspective, Ron West, out of Beverly Hills. “It’s funny, I just hired my new manager and he saw the show and said, ‘It’s incredible, but the band is drowning you out.’ I want this show to be focused on this (points to his voice). Don’t get me wrong, they are the best musicians in town. We all know that. But it was a matter of scaling down and changing the focus of the show.”
Keyboardist Bill Zappia and multi-instrumentalist Jim Buck are the surviving musicians.
The Christmas production also is sans Fator’s wife, Angie Fator, a co-star in his previous productions dating to 2015. Simply, Angie was only happy to contribute in a video clip with Winston, as the puppet is shown racing to make to the stage by the end of the show.
“I have to tell you, by the end of the show, Angie was like, ‘I am so sick of this,’ ” Fator said, laughing. “She is not like me, because I love show business. I was saying, ‘Just one more week, Honey. Please, please make it.’”
Comic actor Fred Willard (“Best in Show,” “Waiting for Guffman,” “A Mighty Wind”) is the Christmas show’s new guest star, also in video form throughout the show. The 80-year-old Willard plays the unnamed president of the Mirage who advises Fator on his holiday show, suggesting he call it “Celine Dion In Concert,” because, hey, it’s a winner.
Fator has known Willard for years; Willard actually appeared in Fator’s original performances at Las Vegas Hilton in 2008, just after Fator won his “America’s Got Talent” championship. As his act, Willard poured a glass of water into a sock puppet, which was actually just a tube sock, drenching the item.
Fator had just emerged as a national figure in those days. He’s now talking of producing a Netflix concert special, expanding his act beyond Vegas while tightening what is onstage for a national audience.
“I’ve been dreaming of this for about three years,” Fator said. “I have to do what’s in my heart, and that’s reinventing myself and going with my voice and my puppets, even just for a little while.”
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