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‘Zombie Burlesque’ dares to be fun, original

“Zombie Burlesque” finally got around to its “official grand opening” last week. Even though it has been running since January and I reviewed it then, I went back, for two reasons.

First, what other Las Vegas show do you want to read about on Halloween?

Second, I wanted to.

I do get paid to see this stuff, and a lot of it does feel like work. But “Zombie Burlesque” is just fun, a bright spot in a dim year for traditional Las Vegas shows.

And so far it’s the only new one to stick. Who would have guessed that in January?

But producer David Saxe says the cabaret-style revue has been selling out its 200-seat theater. There’s even a cast album now for the original songs and customized covers (Harry Belafonte’s calypso standard “Jump in the Line” becomes “Jump in the Grave”).

All positive reinforcement for thinking outside the box and not scrimping on things like a seven-piece band for this “little” show.

Las Vegas doesn’t have defined “previews” like Broadway, so “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” doesn’t have to worry about the zombies breaking that infamous musical’s record of 183 shows before it declared itself open.

But “Zombie” has changed and become slicker in its months in front of paying customers. That isn’t a perfect way of doing things, but in this case it did allow a show created from scratch to keep getting better.

Not that the concept is 100 percent original. It basically takes “Cabaret” — the Nazi-era Berlin club inhabited by the metaphoric walking dead — and makes it literal, down to the ghoulish emcee (here played to the hilt by Enoch Augustus Scott).

But the idea provides a greet meeting ground for B-movie and the retro burlesque cultists. Both elements fold into the ’50s-style film intro, which explains how a zombie war comes to a truce after the living agree to feed their prisoners to the dead.

Co-existence creates Club Z, in which zombie guys and gals alike try to raise the blood pressure of those of us still living. (The makeup is light and the dancers wear pasties, so it’s not like this is superkinky or weird.)

A few numbers include the stripper pole and silk acrobatics familiar to Las Vegas cabaret dance shows, but “Zombie” has become just as much an off-Broadway musical.

If the word “story” goes too far, there are at least a few plot threads to create forward motion and allow the show to not be stolen by one of the curvaceous women, but by the learning curve of a new zombie named Mikey (Patrick Leahy).

During the year, Saxe and director-choreographer Tiger Martina have added a fancy new opening that mixes the live-actors with rear-screen video versions of them (good thing the original eight-person cast remains intact). And separate sequences devoted to ’50s B movies are now presented as an actual drive-in double feature, complete with the dancing-candy concession ads.

The songs take the less-chosen path as well, letting Sophia Monica tear into “It’s Oh So Quiet,” the Betty Hutton swing tune resurrected by Bjork. A string version quartet of the Cranberries’ — wait for it — “Zombie” leads Antenor da Silva and Amber Snow’s almost touching ballet.

This is the kind of creativity that might have kept a lot of other Las Vegas shows from eating themselves over the years. It’s easy to make the nightclubs into the monsters when all the show producers were too busy copying other shows to give us something different.

It’s for this reason I wish “Zombie” would relax and take more confidence in its success. The one thing that hasn’t changed since January is the cast overselling the concept and forcing the fun that happens anyway. It’s like the players have spent too much time in the proximity of “Evil Dead The Musical,” their willfully bad roommate musical.

Hey, a show called “Zombie Burlesque” is the year’s most unlikely hit, and it’s good. The most punk-rock thing it could do now is dare not to be so silly.

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

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