We’ve had them since the old days of Vegas: lounge shows and topless shows. And sometimes, topless shows in lounges.
What has changed is you don’t see them for free anymore. Little shows aren’t loss-leaders for the casinos. They have to pay rent and charge you a regular ticket price. You can love their entrepreneurial spirit, but at the end of the day, they must satisfy a crucial question: Was it time well spent?
Or will people walk out saying, "You know, if we had shelled out another $20 each, we could have seen (fill in show title here)."
For two most-unusual efforts, unrelated beyond their wacky premises, the answers to the first question, alas, are "Maybe" and "Probably not."
‘THIS IS HARMIK AS TOM JONES’
Tom Jones impersonator Harmik has modeled this mixed bag on a TV variety show, and it plays like something you might see on summer TV.
It’s a mixed bag, a pleasant time-waster in its second and final weekend in the Las Vegas Hilton’s Shimmer Cabaret. That is, as long as you’re not going primarily to see guest star Joe Frazier, the boxing champ who should probably stick to signing autographs at this point.
Most of the stage time goes to Harmik (fair ’nuff since he’s the producer), one of the more uncanny tribute artists in an overcrowded field. He looks amazingly like the British sex-bomb and masters all the quirks, from the eye-rolling to the lascivious pauses in the speaking voice.
What he doesn’t have is "The Voice," as Tom’s fans call him. Harmik sounds fine on the verses, but, on this night at least, wasn’t ramping up for the full-blown choruses you expect on "Delilah" or "Help Yourself." At least he has scarcity on his side. Harmik seemed pointless when the real deal was at the MGM several times a year, but Jones pulled a vanishing act after his room was taken over by David Copperfield.
The big voice of the evening belongs to R&B singer Marva Scott, and it’s nice to see the "Legends in Concert" regular get to be herself for a few songs.
This career coda takes Frazier full circle; he played the lounge at Caesars Palace in the prime of his boxing career in 1970. But his singing is now a painful, tuneless bark. While Smokin’ Joe still looks cool in a tuxedo, you end up feeling sorry for him as he literally leans on another singer to guide him through "Mustang Sally." And that’s no way for a legend to go out.
‘THE VIPER VIXENS’
Some of us don’t need a lot of coaxing if you play any song from the "Kill Bill" soundtrack and promise "Bikini Girls with Machine Guns" (as the Cramps sang), or at least swords and knives.
A straight-from-the-drive-in version of "The Doll Squad" sounds like a fine way to stand out from the other topless shows. You can’t say stunt-savvy producer and star Ottavio Gesmundo had a bad idea to play Charlie to a quintet of badass angels, with nicknames like Sidewinder and Black Mamba.
For B-movie buffs, the above two paragraphs may inspire visions of what Gesmundo surely had in mind. But he doesn’t quite get it to the stage.
Part of it is the downtrodden lighting and tiny stage of the 99-seat O’Sheas theater. The quality house system at the Hilton’s Shimmer drives home how much of a built-in advantage this can be.
But the bigger problem is the tone. Camp is trickier to pull off than it seems. And here, you can’t even be certain deliberate camp is what they’re after. The cast never quite lets us know if and when it’s OK to laugh. Could it be we’re supposed to take this stuff, gulp, seriously?
Any show with crossbows can’t be all bad. It’s fun to watch Gesmundo and spouse Naomi engage in the foreplay of shooting balloons attached to one another’s body parts, even if the O’Sheas stage puts them so close-range it’s not exactly the Olympics.
Some of the dance numbers perk up with the addition of weapons: swing a pole before dancing on one, slice your own costume off, etc. But others seem a bit tentative (even though "safety first" and all that), and the climactic number is a lot like a yoga class.
You end up viewing the "Vixens" less like dangerous lust objects and more like friends or cousins in a high school production or talent show that isn’t very good, but it’s the fact they tried that counts.
And there, I suppose, they have something in common with Joe Frazier.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.Reviews
"The Viper Vixens"
9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays O’Sheas, 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. South
"This is Harmik as Tom Jones"
6:45 p.m. today-Sunday Shimmer Cabaret at the Las Vegas Hilton, 3000 Paradise Road