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‘Dance’ lacks needed spirit; ‘Dancing Queen’ more lively

I used to say Las Vegas doesn’t think small enough, long ago closing the “show lounges” and their live acts to divert attention to the big Cirque stuff.

But British producer David King thinks even smaller than I do. He has reclaimed nightclub space at New York-New York and installed two little cruise-shippy shows that, in repertory fashion, share a cast and even a few costumes. The Irish hot-footing “Spirit of the Dance” in the afternoon, and the ABBA-centric “Dancing Queen” at night, play to a room that can seat about 220 people in straight rows of chairs.

Cocktail tables would enhance the atmosphere, especially at “Queen.” But the chairs help them call it the Broadway Theater, and the long bar lining one wall of the former ROK club wasn’t seeing much action at either performance anyway. Still, things seem to run in cycles, and now Bally’s is enclosing a lounge to serve as a ticketed venue for singer Taylor Hicks later this month.

The double feature at New York-New York will remind you less of the Louis Prima era than of Six Flags, or other theme parks where you come in out of the heat to cool off as young people with pasted-on smiles sing and dance for an hour.

There isn’t anything particularly bad about either of the titles aimed at older customers; the performers are easy on the eye, and their singing and dancing to taped music are all to a standard. It’s just so generic, and – except for a couple of banned-in-Branson moments in “Queen” – bland to the point that you disengage.

Still, the small package is a good thing. Those in the front half of the room sit close enough to appreciate the physical effort. The streamlined staging explains away the need for extraneous sets or costumes. And 13 is a crowd, reserved for a few pull-out-the-stops moments when the whole cast is onstage.

At least the running time – an even hour for “Spirit” with an extra five minutes for “Queen” – is sensitive to those worried about their ability to handle more than 20 minutes of Irish hedge-dancing or ABBA songs.

“Spirit” quickly falls into a pattern of the high-kicking lads and lasses circling each other with lots of ‘tude, a defiant mating ritual set to an Irish version of an ’80s action-flick soundtrack.

After 20 minutes, you’re rescued by a trio of male Irish tenors (James Allen, Steven Midura and Jeff Wait) who waste no time getting right down to “Danny Boy” and even speak to the audience. They hold the stage for nearly a third of the running time, working in Sinatra standards, “Nessun Dorma” and, of course, “You Raise Me Up” before giving the stage back to the dancers.

The home stretch livens up with five dancers hopping on and off circular risers, and by the cast sitting along the edge of the stage for a cute white-gloved, synchronized knee-slapping finale.

But if you want to see more of the dancers, in a literal sense, you have to come back for “Dancing Queen.” The same ladies return in their after-dark nighties to surround surrogate ABBA singers Tiffany Sassanella and Alison Ward as they command “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight).”

Two of the Irish-turned-Swedish tenors (Midura and Wait) show up to complete an ABBA-like quartet covering most of the expected hits in various combinations. Here again though, the theme expands after 20 minutes into a Bee Gees medley and then a random grab of feel-good ’70s hits.

You know this road will lead to the Village People. What you don’t expect, after all this theme-park fluff, is that the gay-camp subtext – the snickery layer beneath the straight-faced appeal to the fanny-packers and Branson retirees – will become the text. The boys show some skin, and one shirtless lad roller-boogies out into the audience in a silver cape.

And for this we are welcome, because it may be the only thing about the whole affair we will remember enough to tell someone about. Still, by the time you are coaxed to your feet for a medley recapping the ABBA hits, “Dancing Queen” has the edge over “Spirit,” if only because it has more spirit. It’s the one the smiling cast really seems to enjoy performing.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford
@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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