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‘ShowStoppers’ a gift to theater lovers, wrapped in a belt

You say that for Christmas, all you really want is a belt?

So modest and humble you are. We’ll make sure it’s a really nice one and …

What? Sorry, misunderstood. You said all you really want for Christmas is a belter!

Whew. Woulda been bad if I undershot your waist size.

“ShowStoppers” has enough roof-rattling voices to fill the stockings of all your out-of-town guests, Thanksgiving and Christmas both. It’s the only show on the Strip that gives you Sammy Davis Jr.’s signature song “Once in a Lifetime,” and then, a little bit later, Barbra Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

The classic-Broadway revue is closing in on its first anniversary at the Wynn Las Vegas. Because it’s officially advertised as “Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers,” and because the title page of the program tells us it’s “conceived and written by Stephen A. Wynn,” lasting a year may not be as big a surprise as the survival of a big-cast, live-orchestra production show not personally micromanaged by a casino chairman (who happens to be the recorded narrator as well).

Think of it as kind of a community give-back, this show that, oddly, doesn’t seem to be as commercial as it should be. If there’s a knock on this gift horse, it’s the dated air of its costumes and approach. It’s not just that it’s a retrospective of golden-age Broadway musicals from 1946 through 1975. It’s a revue staged as it would have been in 1985.

An odd kind of retro, and yet one that will sit comfortably with older, often-neglected Las Vegas visitors who may remember 1985 as a very good year. If younger folks snicker at the silver top hats, red bow ties and pink-spangled jackets, younger folks who love Broadway won’t. Whether or not they like the gift-wrapping, they get to hear great voices sing timeless favorites from “Cabaret,” “Hello, Dolly!” and “Guys and Dolls.”

The idea of rolling up only the biggest numbers from the big Broadway shows comes with two huge challenges, and “ShowStoppers” at least conquers one of them: If the songs are out of context — and only a few with sets and staging to approximate the original story — do we still invest in them and the people performing them?

The answer isn’t original, just well executed: Recruit six lead singers of different ages and types, and let them click as an ensemble. Here’s where a year helps. A new opening lets the six leads introduce themselves with “There’s No Business Like Show Business” before the dancers join in and the stage erupts into a fullblown “It’s Today” from “Mame.”

The principals use their real names and break into small groups, winningly pitting the barrelhouse voice of Randal Keith (a “Les Miserables” Valjean) in a note-holding battle with Rachel Tyler. And since she’s singing the Annie Oakley part, you can probably guess who fares better on “Anything You Can Do” from “Annie Get Your Gun.”

The second challenge is tougher. Yes, “Chicago” had three big showstopping songs: “Razzle Dazzle,” “Cell Block Tango” and “All That Jazz.” But they didn’t come all in a row. A lot of story and character songs were spread in between.

Likewise, the composers of “Big Spender” (from “Sweet Charity”) never intended for their standout number to be chased two songs later by “Razzle Dazzle,” another big step-and-strut, play-directly-to-the-audience number from an entirely different show.

The answer here for Wynn and director Philip McKinley — who also served as “the fixer” for Broadway’s troubled “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” — might have been to ask, “Weren’t there any quiet showstoppers?”

They get close, though. If the pretty ballads of, say, Stephen Sondheim weren’t available, our ears at least get to dial down for Nicole Kaplan’s sexy-cute perfection of “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” from “Damn Yankees.” Another comic turn by Kaplan on “Nobody Does It Like Me,” from “Seesaw,” also serves as the rare song to surprise an audience challenged by overfamiliarity and so many songs in the same timbre.

Those solo front-of-curtain numbers have expanded since “ShowStoppers” opened, along with the arrival of a whole “Guys and Dolls” sequence. It begins with Andrew Ragone (Raoul in The Venetian’s “Phantom”) belting “Luck Be a Lady” and leads into another fine example of Marguerite Derick’s always precise, storytelling choreography on “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” as church breaks out amid classic Fremont Street neon signs.

The one true showstopper, the one that gets everything right, is “Cell Block Tango.” Fronted by a ferocious Lindsay Roginski — a Broadway Roxie Hart — it’s both faithful to the original number and a Vegas-like take on it, an aspirational blend indeed.

By the time the cast re-creates the circular choreography of “One” from “A Chorus Line,” you may or may not miss the era of high-stepping, satin-and-sequin production shows. But you will be happy to see something even more old-fashioned — people singing and dancing at a level that can floor you — is alive and well, and living up to the city’s entertainment legacy.

Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com and follow @mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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