Summer sees shows rise from dead

In other cities, old shows run their course and give way to new ones. In Las Vegas, zombie shows rise up again to bite back at what replaced them.

This bummer summer has seen a twist on the usual showroom shuffle of musical chairs: a trend, however contrary to the economy, of shows not staying dead and titles continuing to multiply (just like zombies).

• The Comedy Stop, a stand-up club on the Strip since 1990, vowed to return after it closed last March at the Tropicana. Operator Bob Kephart makes good on that promise Monday when the club reopens at the Sahara, sharing the upstairs Congo Room with a long-running Platters/oldies revue.

• The end of Trader Vic’s didn’t mean the demise of the L.A. Comedy Club. Producer Joaquin Trujillo moved the stand-up format into the Canyon Club at the Four Queens. It’s now a few doors down from the room’s former occupant, the dinner-theater comedy “Marriage Can Be Murder,” newly installed at Fitzgeralds.

• Magician Rick Thomas opens in the Sahara’s casino-level theater today. After a two-year break, the family-friendly magician returns to a crowded field of competitors including fellow tiger wrangler Dirk Arthur, who followed him into the Tropicana.

• “Matsuri,” an athletic Japanese revue with the feel of ABC’s wacky summer show “Wipeout,” opens at the Imperial Palace on July 31 after previous runs at the Riviera and Sahara.

• “Shear Madness” wraps it up on Sunday in a free-standing theater at Town Square shopping center; all tickets have been discounted to $30. But the producers will try to hang on to the space, offering improv comedy and a new venture called “Matt Donnelly’s Celebrity Tarot Lounge” produced by Emily Jillette. She’s married to Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, helping to explain why Teller is part of the first show Monday. Author Neil Gaiman is promised Tuesday in the show that builds improv comedy around a tarot reading of the guest.

New ventures in the theater will come without a licensing fee and an Actors Equity union cast. “Madness” is “an expensive show to operate, even though it doesn’t look like it,” says theater operator Terrence Williams.

• And never mind that “Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance” threw in the towel on Sunday after 22 shows. Steve Wyrick’s theater in the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood already has a new roommate called “Rockstar — The Tribute,” with veteran drummer Vinnie Appice keeping the beat for a tribute to ’70s and ’80s rock.

“Lord of the Dance” producer Bob Cayne isn’t as bullish as some takers. After a dismal July 4 weekend, he folded a limited run that was supposed to continue through Aug. 16.

“The economy is way more challenging than I might have surmised,” Cayne says. “There’s something really bad going on everywhere.” Hotel rooms fill up thanks to extreme discounting, but “everybody just has their hands in their pockets.”

“Lord” did have a high overhead, with a troupe of about 36 performers in the Irish dance revue. But he’s not blaming landlord Wyrick, as past tenants have for their failures. Quite the opposite, in fact. “It’s just too nice of a setting,” Cayne says of the theater. “It makes me want to find something that will work in there.”

Magician Thomas, on the other hand, hopes the rest of the summer will be strong for his family-friendly show. “I believe I belong here,” says the performer who hit the road in 2007 after long stretches at the Tropicana and Stardust, and a shorter one at The Orleans.

Thomas will tap into his good will among Las Vegas locals to jump-start the new venture with $25 tickets for Nevada residents the first two weeks.

Summer shows at 4 and 7 p.m. will have six dancers and “three to four tigers, depending on whether one gets up on the right side of the den box,” he says with a laugh.

When Thomas first came to town in 1997, it seemed a bit odd to see a ballroom-dancing magician — a tribute to Thomas’ dance-instructor parents and his own teen days of competition. Now, newcomers might think Thomas is trying to cash in on a TV craze.

“I always knew it would come back,” he says, and ballroom never left his show. “It fits my style and it works.” But male and female dancers now do most of the heavy footwork. “My dancing career was over when I was 20 years old.”

Kephart’s Comedy Stop closed at the Tropicana in March after nearly 19 years. Now the Sahara installation will have nearby competition at both the Riviera Comedy Club and Palace Station’s Bonkerz club, which also targets locals.

If that’s not enough competition, there’s Todd Paul, a new comedy magician at Hooters Hotel, and “The Las Vegas Comedy Show,” featuring Joe Lowers, in a new venue, the former Pegasus restaurant at the Alexis Park.

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

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