‘Holly’s World’ brings viewers in, adds resonance to ‘Peepshow’

Thanks to reality TV, "Peepshow" is the only Las Vegas title I can think of where the show itself hasn’t changed as much as the audience’s perception of it.

When it arrived at Planet Hollywood in 2009, the focus was on the director, Jerry Mitchell, and how he planned to reinvent the Vegas girlie show with Broadway-quality talent and a human face to spin around a genre that drains the female form of personality.

All of that is still there, if not so grandly. The $12 million production had to downsize considerably in the wake of the recession, sending home the live band that leaves the stage a bit dark and empty at times, and shedding the automation that moved the scenery. (I always figured machines worked cheaper than the guy in the hoodie who now turns the giant pumpkin, but go figure.)

Unless you only watch PBS, you understand "Peepshow" is now crowded with younger couples — the kind the casinos slobber over — because of star Holly Madison’s E! series, "Holly’s World." Two seasons of the show made stars of singer Josh Strickland and peripheral cast members.

You notice this by audience reaction to Stickland’s first couple of appearances. Real die-hards might even recognize a few bars of his homegrown dance single, "Report to the Floor."

But the rest of it’s more or less business as usual, complete with the original — and still bizarre — idea of organizing the topless antics around storybook characters. The improvements come from the show’s being more settled and finding its path, progress mostly independent from "Holly’s World" that probably would have happened even if the show had found some other way to succeed.

When Madison joined three months in, her celebrity profile was out of whack to her role in the action. She mostly wandered around, stiffly reacting to what others did. She has since grown comfortably into the lead, even taking a singing crack at "Teddy." Not to mention going topless sooner and more often.

"Peepshow" was designed to feature two female stars, but budget woes abandoned the notion of a second billed name as the singing emcee "Peep Diva." Thank goodness; the real talent was in their own backyard. Cheaza (Figueroa), who emerged from the original cast as a support singer, is better than either Spice Girl Mel B. or Aubrey O’Day. (I never saw Shoshana Bean in between them.)

Strickland’s turn at Michael Buble’s "Feeling Good" and the cabaret lilt of "Trick or Two" break up the rhythmic bombardment of original tunes and covers of crappy pop hits such as Kelis’ "Milkshake" and Jennifer Lopez’s "Step Into My World."

At least they’re brought to life here with a purpose, sung live by the leads (and sometimes with singers Janien Valentine and Charlene Tappeiner) as the striking dancers step up for burlesque numbers: Michelle Diterlizzi’s dazzling pole acrobatics or Quinn Kingston’s cowgirl swing over the audience.

Never thought there would be anything good to say about reality TV, but "Holly’s World" does give its viewers a kind of shortcut to a cast camaraderie that adds a little resonance to what you see onstage. For a naughty show, this one offers a lot of good clean fun.

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

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