EFX at MGM Grand

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NouvelleBaron's picture
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EFX at MGM Grand

Anyone remember this show at MGM? It opened 20 years ago today and starred four different headliners over its eight year run. The show's focus appeared to be on special effects like pyrotechnics, a 3D film and two animatronic, fire-breathing dragons, but also contained a flying trapeze troupe and a stick choreography that appears to be a rip-off of Mystere's Taiko...

Here's a clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvoG5_8k1Uk

MadameLePetit's picture
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I first took interest in Las Vegas from hearing about this show in the mid-'90s, a few years before I was really old enough for that city, simply because Michael Crawford was in it. I remember looking up its review in the "Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas" guidebook -- still my personal favorite guidebook for the city, thanks to its amazingly thoughtful reviews of shows -- back in '98 or so. The reviewer loved it, almost as much as he loved..."Mystere"! (Which, to this day, regularly ranks at or near the top of the book's annually updated show rankings. They're pretty big on Cirque shows, save for "Criss Angel Believe".) The reasons were somewhat similar -- both shows had an aesthetic unity and ambition that, at the time, was near-nonexistent in Vegas entertainment. I think it was also the first non-Cirque Vegas show to have soundtrack albums (only Rick Springfield's tenure in the show's final years went without a recording), and the Crawford one actually had a major label release, rather than being relegated to the show gift shop. I have/had copies of the Crawford and David Cassidy albums. After it closed, the theatre was gutted and became the "KA" theatre we know and love today.

For a while, there was a bootleg of the original show on YouTube -- missing the 3D movie portion and pretty much anything that didn't feature Crawford onstage -- and in hindsight, while fun the show just didn't compare to what Cirque accomplished with "Mystere". It had colossal production values, granted, and some of the musical numbers were excellent (all instrumental and chorus parts were recorded; only the leads sang live). But it's really a relic of the old-school Vegas style that, nowadays, is only represented by "Jubilee" at Bally's -- albeit built around giant special effects setpieces rather than showgirls. Beyond the prologue and epilogue, there were four segments of the show based on four cosmic conceits -- magic (Merlin in Camelot), circus (P.T. Barnum of THE FUTURE!), spirits (Harry Houdini), and time (H.G. Wells rides a time machine through the 20th century and battles Morlocks in the far future). So there's the giant dragons in the first segment, a descending spaceship in the second, illusions in the third, and the 3D movie and an erupting volcano in the fourth, surrounded by musical numbers, a few ensemble dances, and (in segment 2) circus acts.

It's hard not to see the show trying to ride the coattails of both Siegfried & Roy's show at the Mirage (segments three and arguably one, given its suspiciously similar premise to S&R's "magical forest, evil sorceress" plot) and "Mystere" (segment two, not just with the simple circus stuff but Crawford's ringmaster doing a comedy act that includes bantering with a big bird puppet on one arm! Granted, he was rather good at it; people forget he was best known as a comic actor with a gift for stunts before he did "Phantom of the Opera"). The script and lyrics were hokey in the Crawford version, though it does have a sense of humor; the show came off as a sentimental, Disney-esque production with more talk and singing of magic, wonder, and childlike delight than actual moments of such. Starting with Cassidy, they was also a Cirque-style preshow with a "wacky waiter" character, this being the days when most showrooms were still set up in the old-Vegas tables-and-booths configuration. (Bless Cirque for bringing those days to an end!)

Interestingly Crawford and Cassidy both left the show because they kept getting seriously injured, and Springfield took his lumps too. Cirque's seen its share of disasters, but this show sounds as bad as "Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark" was. (One wonders how the ensemble fared.) Also, the show pretty much needed a total, ground-up rethink every time it changed leads. The Wikipedia page below isn't the easiest to read, but it's thorough as to how much the show changed over the years with regard to the plot, songs, etc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EFX_(show)