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Digital world creeping into shows

Las Vegas shows usually wage a constant, losing battle for your attention span with your phone.

A press release for a recent circus “invite(d) Las Vegas families to disconnect from the digital world” for old-fashioned thrills. Ha!

Shows here are often a cat-and-mouse game with ushers who roam the aisles as enforcers, trying to protect the shrinking group of people who still feel that after paying $172.50, their ability to focus on the “O” guys jumping 60 feet into water takes priority over a text from your boyfriend.

But people don’t like to be disconnected for even an hour and a half. So this brave new world comes with amusing twists, including live-time critics. The best was Perez Hilton’s tweeting about Criss Angel, not realizing Angel wouldn’t be too busy to read it backstage and serve up a profane onstage retort, all before the show was over. Awesome.

But downtown at Fitzgeralds, we have perhaps our first case of smartphones being folded into a show. “Marriage Can Be Murder” already is an interactive game; dinner guests try to ferret out who among them is an audience plant in the play-along murder mystery.

“I know people are fidgety and like to connect. We’re so connected to our phones,” says Jayne Post, who with husband Eric produces and performs the long-running title. She calls the notion of letting people play along on the show’s Facebook page “gold. A million-dollar idea.”

Already, “Marriage” was the rare show to let phones remain on, if only for the selfish reason of being able to milk laughs when someone gets a call from Aunt Martha in the middle of the action. But now, when the announcement comes that they can interact on Facebook, “There is an audible gasp in the room,” Jayne says.

When a victim gets stabbed in the back with a pen, smartphoners get an extra clue: “Who’s missing a pen?” Or sometimes they just get a joke. (It’s tricky not to let phone people get too much of an edge over Luddites.) Eric says the two-month experiment is 80 percent evolved from where it started, but “not even halfway to what we can do.”

The new mystery starting Monday will go a step further, with a plot inspired by the recent Rep. Anthony Weiner scandal. That brings up the, um, promotional possibilities of social media. “It’s a good way of keeping customers in my fold,” Eric says.

The degree of participation varies with each show, largely on the age of patrons. One recent night, Jayne saw “people sitting beside each other at one table not talking to each other, but talking to each other on their phones.”

Welcome to the new world. And speaking of that, R-J entertainment writers now have our own Facebook page. Play along with us at facebook.com/rjneon.

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

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