I first went to Las Vegas when I was 24 years old. I made the trip to “Sin City” with my parents and sister, a few months after my younger sibling’s 21st birthday. When I submitted my vacation request to my employer, my colleagues logically asked where I was going. When I told them, “Las Vegas,” their eyes turned nostalgic. Many of them had fond memories of spending a 21st birthday, bachelor/bachelorette party, or guys/girls weekend in that town – and felt compelled to share their experiences and advice with me. My teammates provided unsolicited insights into the best places to stay, restaurants to seek out, and casinos to try (as well as hotels, dining establishments, and locations to avoid). After they finished sharing their tales with me, my peers then asked what I planned to do during my first visit to “adult Disneyworld”. I told them I would likely gamble with my dad, go shopping with my mom, and explore the strip with my sister and/or on my own. Each colleague I spoke with then asked me, “Are you going to see any shows?” I was unfamiliar with Las Vegas shows; I thought my peers were asking me if I was planning on seeing a musical or play. I looked at them quizzically, clearly confused. One peer explained that in addition to table games and slot machines, nearly every casino in Las Vegas produces and presents a show every night. The colleague then informed me of the nature of the shows: some are individual performers like singers and magicians (Wayne Newton, Celine Dion, David Copperfield…), some are groups or troupes of artists that perform amazing feats and stunning effects (Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group…), and some are of a more, ahem, mature nature (topless and/or nude dancers).
Whoa. At 24 years old, I simply didn’t realize that Las Vegas offered more than gambling – I thought spending (and hopefully winning) money was the primary draw. Armed with this new knowledge, I did some research on possible shows my family and I might want to see during our visit. However, I quickly learned that while these shows may be full of stunning visual effects, they were also stunningly expensive. Being the frugal gal that I am, I quickly set aside the notion of attending a Las Vegas show.
My family and I had a lovely time taking in the free sights of the city, and enjoyed losing and winning conservative amounts of cash. The four of us walked the length of the strip and made a trip to downtown, seeing everything from the volcano at the Mirage, to the pirate show atTreasure Island, to the overhead light show in downtown Las Vegas. We watched dancing water (Bellagio) and roller coasters speeding along the top of a building (New York, New York), and every other spectacle that could be viewed without requiring a ticket (including many of the people all around us). We took in bright sunshine and unexpected surprises (like a few out-of-place statues from Madame Tussauds wax museum), and had a good time being a family on vacation together.
From that first trip until now, I have returned to Las Vegas several times. Some of the trips were with my family (including my sweetie) for a standard vacation; a few treks were for work (conferences and training experiences); and one special journey was for my sister’s wedding (which took place at the Bellagio, and was beautiful). Every time I secured vacation time on my calendar, my colleagues asked what I planned to do in Vegas. When I told them “gambling, shopping, and walking the strip,” they 1) looked stunned that I planned on gambling [apparently my demeanor doesn’t align with one who enjoys betting money on cards], and 2) asked me, “Aren’t you going to see any shows?” When I replied, “No, I’m not really a show kind of person,” 9 out of 10 people attempted to convince me otherwise. “Cirque is amazing!” they would exclaim, or “Celine is a fantastic performer,” they would explain. Each individual tried to get me to see that not taking in a show while I was in Las Vegas was a mistake, and attempted to get me to reconsider my decision.
After years and years of this topic resurfacing, I finally conceded that perhaps I should take in a show. Just once, just to see what the hype was all about. So, I put #53 on my 101 list.
Initially, my plan was to simply attend a Cirque du Soleil show when the traveling troupe came to my city – that way I could save money on airfare, hotel, and other expenses associated with a Las Vegas excursion while still seeing if the “Las Vegas show” buzz was founded. I kept my eyes open for Amaluna, or Dralion, or even Quidam, but every time I became aware of a show in town, the logistics didn’t work out. Either I was too late in booking tickets and the show was already sold out, or I had a scheduling conflict I couldn’t resolve (i.e., being out of town). Finally, I recognized that the Universe wanted me to have the full-on Las Vegas show experience – and I realized that I wanted to share it with my sweetie (as he is a huge Las Vegas fan). So I set aside my hesitation with an expensive vacation (as best I could, anyway), and told my husband to go ahead and book a long weekend in Vegas for the two of us. I didn’t care where we stayed, what we ate, or how we spent our time, so long as we saw a show at some point during our trip.
My husband came through like a champ. A semi-serious gambler during his annual trips to Vegas, he had earned enough “points” to secure us a discounted hotel stay. He researched flights and obtained very reasonable airfares, and even arranged for our trip to coincide with the travels of another couple, so that we could share some of our time with friends. The only piece of preparations he didn’t complete was purchasing tickets for us to see a show.
Now, to be fair, my husband did try to get us tickets before we left on our trip. But every show we had even slight interest in seeing (e.g., nothing that involved nudity) was outrageously priced – we’re talking $200+ per ticket. After my sweetie explained the current state of shows in Vegas, he reminded me of several half-price ticket kiosks along the strip. Basically, each morning various kiosks open and sell lower-cost tickets to shows that had not yet sold out for performances occurring later that same evening. While we wouldn’t know in advance what show we would see (or where the show would take place), we were pretty certain that if we purchased “day-of” tickets, we could get access to a ‘decent’ show at a cost well below $200+.
I agreed that taking advantage of a half-price kiosk offer was a very reasonable option; and heck, it could even add to the excitement of our trip to Vegas. So I set Planner Stef aside, and decided to embrace Seat-Of-Her-Pants Stef on this trip to Sin City.
My sweetie and I arrived in Las Vegas on a Saturday evening – and after getting to the hotel, maneuvering through the check-in process, and finding some dinner, I was exhausted. (We had spent three hours that morning in the car, driving back from a visit to my in-laws – so by the time we completed Leg 2 of our day-long trip [e.g., the 3 hour flight to Vegas], I was spent.) At 9 pm local time (11 pm Minnesota time), I wished my husband good luck as he hit the casino floor, then promptly fell into bed.
Sunday morning my sweetie and I made our way to the half-price ticket kiosk 30 minutes before it opened, and confirmed the show we wanted to see. The kiosk began processing requests at 10 am – and though there were only five other couples in line before us, another full 30 minutes passed before our turn came.
However, once my sweetie and I arrived at the counter, we received service from a very friendly and helpful attendant. With a few keystrokes at her computer, she produced a voucher for two tickets to the Blue Man Group. She then offered us a helpful upgrade: For $2 more, my sweetie and I could purchase a voucher that would give us 25% off our dinner if we dined at one of the casino restaurants. After confirming that yes, the restaurant had a vegan menu, we happily spent the few extra dollars. A few more keystrokes, a few initials placed stating that we understood our tickets were non-refundable and non-exchangeable, a credit card swiped, and my sweetie and I were on our way.
With dinner and a show lined up, my sweetie and I spent the rest of the day walking the strip. He showed me all of the things that had changed since I was last in Las Vegas (nearly a decade ago), took me to one of his favorite ‘hidden gems’ for lunch, and the two of us took some money from the house playing blackjack. (I made $190 – woot!) We met up with our friends for dinner, then made our way to the Blue Man Theater to watch the Blue Man Group.
As I entered the theater space, I was surprised by how small and intimate it was. I expected a huge venue like an orchestra hall – so I was really pleased when I walked into a more cozy space. I was also impressed by the sight lines throughout the theater; there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house.
As my sweetie and I settled into our seats (which were located in the middle of the second row in the second section up from stage left – so basically, in almost the exact middle of the audience), I noticed a large eyeball wearing a red stocking cap floating about the space. As the eyeball turned, I saw that it had a fish tail on its backside. Hmm, interesting…..
The show began at exactly 7 pm – and man, was it a wild ride. There is simply no way I can begin to articulate the experience via the written word – it really is a show that has to been seen to be understood. If I had to try and explain the experience to someone, I would summarize it as a hybrid of four different modes of entertainment:
- Rhythmic music: The musical focus of the Blue Man Group is drumming – but they do not limit themselves to traditional drums. Marimbas, tubular bells, tympani, and other melodic percussive instruments are integrated into the show, augmenting the more standard snare and bass drums. The artists who comprise the Blue Man Group are stellar musicians, and their drumming skills amazed me. The music they produced was not only technically sound (and complex), but was created with such volume and power that I literally felt the beats reverberate in my chest (which may not sound very fun, but which is actually how I like to experience percussion, believe it or not). :)
- Comedy: When my sweetie and I purchased our tickets to the Blue Man Group, I expected a show that was 90% music. (I wasn’t sure what the remaining 10% of the time would yield, but I thought probably things like set changes and other technical necessities.) So I was really surprised when a good third of the show turned out to be comedic. I was even more impressed when the comedy turned out to be genuinely humorous, given the fact that the three men of the Blue Man Group do not say a single word in the entire show. Not. One. Word. Physical comedy can easily reside in the land of slapstick (read: predictable and lame) – but the Blue Man Group’s physical comedy was complex and accessible. It was my kind of humor (for the most part), and I really enjoyed it.
- Visual Spectacle: With a show comprised of three mute main characters, the visual aspect of the performance is amplified – and the Blue Man Group definitely deliver a visually stunning show. Lights, graphics, movement, smoke, paint, and water all combined to produce amazing visual displays. While my ears (and chest) were happy with the musical elements of the experience, my eyes were treated to a plethora of delights, too.
- Interactivity: The men of the Blue Man Group definitely feed off of the audience, and tailor each show to the people sitting before them. At various points in the show all of the men left the stage and entered the audience – and did so in rather outlandish ways. (I.e., walking on top of seat backs, taking candy and popcorn from people, removing one woman’s credit card from her purse…) At two distinct points in the show a “volunteer” (read: semi-reluctant participant) was selected from the crowd and “invited” (read: nudged) to the stage to engage in a semi-complex interaction with the men. The first volunteer was the woman sitting next to my sweetie (!) – and she did a fantastic job playing along with the Blue Man Group’s antics. She really contributed to a great show! The other volunteer was a man sitting on the opposite side of the audience, and his participation was more limited, but still rather intense. (The woman’s interaction was more interpersonal, while the man’s interaction was more physical.) [I know, gender stereotypes… I didn’t create the show, I’m just writing about it.] Interactivity with the audience extended to props, too. Remember those big beach balls hanging from the ceiling that I showed you a few paragraphs ago? Near the end of the show they descended on us, while reams of toilet paper streamed from fans strategically placed throughout the theater space. The Blue Man Group played drums frenetically during this segment of the show, and the total scene felt like a crazy frat party (except with little kids and old people in attendance in addition to college kids and 20/30-somethings, and without the yucky come-ons and unwanted sexual attention). It was pretty crazy.
The entire performance ran 90 minutes, and by the end of it I was exhausted. It was very fun and entertaining, and I was genuinely impressed with the creativity and novelty that went into creating so many different segments of the show – but by the time 8:30 pm came, I had had enough. When the theater doors opened, I was ready to leave and get some quiet and fresh air. (Which don’t actually exist in Las Vegas…) But as I made my way to the performance exit, I turned to my right and saw one of the “blue men” walking immediately next to me. I smiled at him, and he looked back at me with those big, curious eyes. As we both reached the theater lobby, he pulled off to the side and began posing with children who wanted their picture taken with him. Aww… so kind.
Now that I have experienced a Las Vegas show, I can see why people get ‘hooked’ on these outings. If I lived in or around Las Vegas, I could see myself venturing into the city a few times a year to check out the entertainment. But I don’t think I would arrange a cross-country trip to attend these performances. However, I will now have my eyes open for traveling shows that tour the Midwest – and if one comes through Minneapolis, I will be a lot more interested in checking it out. Heck, I might even travel to St. Paul. ;)