Terry Fator keeps experimenting with new material, new puppet

Terry Fator is an amazing ventriloquist but hardly a subtle one.

His new character arrives onstage in a closet, but it is of the wardrobe/armoire variety and not a walk-in. So, just to clarify, there is a sign on top of it reading “Closet.”

It sets up the character’s announcement, “Thank you so much for getting me out of that closet.”

The show tune-singing Berry Fabulous isn’t protected by a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. “Are you gay or are you not gay?” Fator wants to know.

“I could think of a better way to save a horse,” the character says, tying back to a previous character’s rendition of the Big & Rich country hit (“Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy”).

Berry’s voice might be modeled upon Siegfried & Roy’s German accent, but sounds like it could be Viennese, too. However, a gay dude would probably have better taste than to tease his hair into a cross between a mohawk and Martin Short’s Ed Grimley character.

At another point in the show, Fator puts down his puppet to sing an original composition in his own voice. It’s about a boy whose friend is dying of cancer, and asks:

“Are there horses in heaven? Can we ride them to the stars? Will they take us up to Jesus and drop us off in his arms?”

Fator tells the audience the song came to him around 3 a.m. Because it was “a gift to me in a dream,” he’s giving the money he makes from it to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. So if you like it, buy three copies. And if you don’t like it, buy two.

Berry Fabulous and “Horses in Heaven” are new additions celebrating the start of Fator’s third year at The Mirage. Whether you like the new stuff or wish he’d kept past favorites instead, you have to admire the forward motion. Fator keeps experimenting and tweaking the show instead of locking it down.

Those who would take offense to the gay puppet (and they probably aren’t in the audience to begin with) should figure it’s at least a trade-off with those who might earlier have taken offense to his black puppet.

Julius has been physically refashioned from a bug-eyed soul-singer in a white suit to a cool character who looks and sounds more like Nat King Cole. The joke’s all on Fator now: “You are the whitest guy I know,” the puppet tells him. “You make Donny Osmond look like James Brown.”

The puppet goes on to belt out Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” reminding people, not for the first time, that Fator’s ability to do this full-throttle singing without moving his lips is indeed a wonder.

The new edition offers more puppets in less running time. I’ve always hesitated to endorse “less is more” as an excuse to chase people back to the casino after 90 minutes, especially with today’s ticket prices.

Fator’s show was one of the few that dared to run longer, but 90 minutes seems just right now, and fans devoted enough to know he cut the hick puppet who sings like Aaron Neville are devoted enough to enjoy the new stuff, too. Maybe the compromise could be finding a way for the puppets — his real talent — to salute our veterans instead of Fator’s singing Lonestar’s “I’m Already There” in his own journeyman voice.

Fator landed at The Mirage on the momentum of winning “America’s Got Talent” and pulling big numbers at the Las Vegas Hilton. His timing with the economy could have been better at The Mirage, but it’s hard to imagine a safer, more resilient headliner — unless Jeff Dunham himself decides to have a more year-round presence here.

But if it’s Berry you want to see, you don’t have to visit Vegas. His “Coming Out Tour” will take his rap version of “Over the Rainbow” to “Manchester, Manitoba, Bangkok and … Salt Lake City.”

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

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