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“Toni Braxton: Revealed”

Christmas on the Strip probably should be more “Santa Baby” than “White Christmas” anyway.

Toni Braxton has become smart about accentuating the positive during the past year and a half at the Flamingo. No one doing the Vegas thing this week should mind if her rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is less memorable for the singing than for the singer’s peekaboo Santa suit.

Santa has his elves. Braxton has “the cousins,” as she calls them, or alternately, “Siegfried and Roy making a comeback.”

Amid all the hoopla surrounding Celine Dion’s final shows last weekend, Las Vegas’ other working pop-star mom forged on with “Revealed,” a revue that runs on a fraction of the budget of “A New Day …” but likewise has become a smoother, more graceful showcase over time.

Braxton is actually a year older than Dion; she turned 40 on Oct. 7. But she’s still able to work the spangly mini-outfits and the sex appeal cultivated through the steamy videos that accompanied her run of hits in the 1990s.

Just as important is delivering it with personality. Braxton banters with the ringsiders who line a small stage extension like a cross between Oprah and the Rat Pack, to the point that those seats could come with a disclaimer: “You will be in the show. The gents will have their laps occupied.”

“Is there any truth to the seven-year itch?” she asks during a typical girl-talk detour. Elsewhere, she solicits all birthdays and special occasions for a collective singalong.

By this point, most of the crowd is extremely forgiving of a breathy contralto that often was barely above a whisper, albeit an agreeable whisper. Many lyrics were indiscernible to those who don’t know them already. Braxton had canceled two shows earlier last week, and on Friday told the crowd that she was bouncing back from “a terrible, terrible cold.”

It also may explain the anticlimactic treatment of her best-known songs. They just don’t have the resonance they should, considering Braxton sold 8 million copies each of two albums (“Toni Braxton” and “Secrets”) in the ’90s. Could be the cold, but more of the letdown seems to lie in how the songs are handled beyond the actual singing. Time after time, the show seems to head toward a musical peak that never quite materializes.

“Another Sad Love Song” is interrupted to bring an audience member up to sing it. “Breathe Again” becomes the lap-sitting bit, complete with photo ops for the lucky fellows. Finally, at the end, Braxton emerges at the top of the staircase, looking all Diana Ross, ready to knock one out of the park with her biggest hit, “Unbreak My Heart.”

But guess what? The crowd is invited to join in again.

At least the production elements are more controlled than when the show opened in August 2006. The sound system is better, and the 10 dancers are used more judiciously; the five women now kept hidden for the first half-hour to come as a surprise during “Seven Whole Days.” And the choreography has been pruned of some counterfeit Bob Fosse cliches.

“Revealed” has been successful enough that Flamingo president Don Marrandino says it almost certainly will exceed the full two years of its original options — which will take it to August — and likely will go beyond that. Another ’90s-era R&B act is in talks to balance the schedule during Braxton’s time away: Boyz II Men doing a Motown tribute.

Whenever Braxton does close this chapter of her career, there are worse things to be remembered for than a fun, sexy show that reconnected with old fans. But if she uses her time left to bring it all up to the level her stardom once promised, no one would mind that any more than they do the Santa suit.

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

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