Terry Fator was the best entertainment news Las Vegas had in the past couple of years, and the news keeps getting better.
Oh sure, Donny and Marie were a home run. But who ever doubted that? More dramatic is the tale of the ventriloquist who worked state fairs before sweeping the second season of "America’s Got Talent."
Fator even seems to beat Cirque du Soleil’s two most recent pricey productions in terms of making it look easy; no mean feat when you’re doing singing impressions without moving your lips.
Watching Fator now, you wonder why he wasn’t a Las Vegas star sooner.
Here is a variety show with a unifying thread. You like the Beatles? A little mop top makes fun of Yoko Ono. What about ’80s rock? A funny stoner dude leads a fist-pumping "Sweet Child ‘O Mine." Some Gnarls Barkley? If "Crazy" managed to escape you in the past four years, Fator makes a joke about the Patsy Cline song of the same name on your behalf.
Hindsight is 20/20 now that Fator is here, punching your pop music jukebox as precisely as the late Danny Gans, who beat Fator to Las Vegas stardom by 11 years.
But we might have had a problem with the P-word back in ’96. It took Fator’s TV celebrity — and arguably the parallel rocket-launch of Jeff Dunham — to fast-forward a slow word-of-mouth process and convince people it’s OK to pay for puppets.
Fator always had the goods. It was just a matter of how he would package them. The current show displays a keen sense of objectivity: a willingness to tighten and punch the material, even retiring a Michael Jackson spoof he’d done for most of his career as it no longer gibed with the new reverence the star achieved in death.
Fator managed to add a segment with a new crash test dummy character (named Wrex, natch) without substantially increasing the running time of last year’s show. That means spending about eight minutes or less with each of his characters; enough to make a grand entry, say or sing something funny, and then make way for the next one.
Fator also upped the joke count — not shying away from topical references such as "Pants on the Ground" — and evened out the humor. I hope it isn’t just familiarity that makes me say the double-entendres come early enough to strike a steadier tone, and that the randy Vicki "The Cougar" doesn’t seem as jarring a turn from Fator’s state fair days as she did last year.
Someone on Fator’s team has discovered Photoshop, adding visual humor to the video screens, and a pre-show dance display by DJ Ben Harris pumps up the energy.
Fator still sings one song in his own voice — currently Michael Buble’s "Home" — that doesn’t do much beyond establishing a base line for those curious enough to wonder where all the other voices come from.
And the show still ends with a home-run bit in which a guy from the crowd gets transformed into Cher .
But the puppet characters are still the heart of it, from Fator’s very first cowboy sidekick to the new crash test dummy who sings car songs from "Little Deuce Coupe" to "Low Rider."
And the puppets are still a fair place to draw the line. If you are simply of no mind to see a ventriloquist, best to stick with the Blue Men after all. But if anything can change your mind, Fator is as close to something for everyone as you can find on the Strip right now.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.Review
“Terry Fator & His Cast Of Thousands”
7:30 p.m. today and Saturday
Terry Fator Theatre at The Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. South