If you haven’t figured it out by now, one of my interests is the history of Las Vegas — in particular, the history of the strip and major casinos in the pre-Mirage era. My folks had their honeymoon at the Desert Inn in 1956, and I remember staying at both the Sahara and the Aladdin in the 1970s. There aren’t many of the old hotels left — practically nothing on the strip from the founding era with the exception of some two-story rooms at the Tropicana, and the hotel at the heart of the Riviera. That list gets even smaller on Star Wars Day, May the 4th, when the Riviera Hotel and Casino closes at noon (followed by a liquidation sale two weeks after), to be replaced by more convention center space. As we’re in vacation two weeks before the Riv closes, that meant that a “must see” was a show at the Riviera. The show we chose is at the heart of the Riv’s identity– a show that just celebrated its 28th anniversary. It is a show that is honored with a special bronze casting (FB) at the front of the hotel. That show is Crazy Girls (FB), a 75-minute topless dance/burlesque show.
Writing up this show is somewhat difficult. The show has a rotating cast (no pun intended), and there is no cast list or credit list provided to the audience or posted on the Crazy Girls website. There is also no scene list. External reviews (such as on Yelp) are across the board, and seem overly subjective: complaints about lip-synching (which is common in such shows), complaints about lack of breasts, complaints about what isn’t shown, complaints about the lighting. I’ll do my best to eliminate such subjectivity and to ferret out what information I can.
Crazy Girls should be looked upon as a dance/burlesque show. The girls are hired for their looks, for their dance ability, and for their performance skills (and probably in that order). Most of the dancing is to recorded tracks, and the girls lip-synch to those tracks. A few numbers (the ones where the girls have a microphone) feature actual singing. Although 7-8 girls appear to be on-stage (I think the number is 7, but most of the ads show 8), the actual dancing cast is larger and provides the ability for girls to rotate in and out on any given day. As each girl has a tailored solo, that means some dance numbers rotate in and out as well. There is also a magician who shows up at a few points, both to entertain the audience and to provide the girls time to do more involved costume transformations.
I’m an avid theatre nut, and have been to a few pure dance shows. This was my first topless show (or second, depending on how you view Zumanity). To me — an older, jaded, 30-year married, Los Angeles guy — I didn’t find it all that sexy or outrageous. But I believe my judgement was skewed, and the show doesn’t seem tuned to my sensibilities. I was watching it focusing on the dancing and the performance, and enjoying watching the movement of the musculature, the artistry of the bodies, the glory of the dance. Many of the rest of the audience seemed to be more of the “mid-west” sensibility where this was something out of the ordinary and titillating — they were screaming and hooting at appropriate points, and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
The version we saw is supposedly a “new” version. Evidently, the show declined for a period in the early 2000s along with the Riv, and was revitalized and reinvigorated for the 25th anniversary. It worked, in my opinion. I found the show quite enjoyable. There were some aspects I was less-than-crazy about, but I also understand they are burlesque conventions (so I went along with it). Those aspects: the clearly non-realistic wigs and the lip-synching. I think that’s more because I truly want to see the real performer — the girl, the dancer, the singer, the actor, the talent. Any girl can strip, put on a wig, and lip-synch. I want the performance to make clear what these girls have that is special, and that is something other than physical endowments and beauty.
Luckily, this shows does provide those glimpses. It highlights the very strong dance and movement skills of the girls — and those are a delight to watch. There are some routines where the girls seem to be working without any wigs (i.e., when they show up with normal brunette hair), and those seem to provide extra enhancements to the beauty. If you watch the mirror to see the girls from the back as they perform, you can see the muscles they have developed, and can gain a greater appreciation of the work that goes into performance these dance numbers. Many numbers are quite acrobatic. Thinking about it, the athleticism makes this a much less expensive version of Zumanity — strong lightly-erotic dance and performance.
Piecing together the various articles on the show provides some good descriptions of the scenes and numbers, although not in order. The show opens with a number actually sung by Michelle (last names are not used, I’ve been told, for security reasons). Other scenes include Lisa miming Eartha Kitt’s “How Could You Believe Me?”, and a kinky S&M number to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.” There are also stripper-pole dances to Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” and a girl-meets-girl scene. Another number cited that I remember is “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets”. There is also Danielle dancing to Led Zeppelin’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and a group of four who started on a revolving wheel to Oscar Benton’s “Bensonhurst Blues.” All the girls perform a cowgirl number to Sheba Potts Wright’s “I Need A Cowboy to Ride My Pony”. Another number in the show is Peggy Lee’s “Why Don’t You Do Right?”. Rachel also pays homage to burlesque with her rendition of “Nasty Naughty Boy.” I checked with the show, and the girls at our performance were Danielle (dance captain) Sarah, Janell, Missy, Lisa, Melissa, Rachel, and Michelle (singer). According to one article I found, for many of the girls, this is a second job: The hours (come in to work at 8:30 PM, leave at 11) provides the ability for day work or school. [Edited to indicate the girls at our show, based on information from the Crazy Girls staff]
[One other observation that struck me about the girls: they were all tall and white (perhaps one Asian). This could be an homage to Crazy Horse, where all the girls look the same. However, the advertising shows one black dancer. It could be that (as the show is winding down at the Riv) the cast has shrunk. Still, it bothered me. I believe that if we are going to have a show that celebrates the beauty of women (as these shows do), they should celebrate all colors and ethnicities. This might also broaden the potential audience of the show. I’d love to also see the show broaden beyond all colors and ethnicities to all shapes and sizes as well, as I feel that all women are beautiful and can show that beauty through dance… but I also know that’s not likely to happen given the Vegas crowds.]
Intermingled with the girls dances are some simple magic acts and jokes by Tony Douglas (FB) cabaret-magic standards in 15 minutes. The most novel is a straitjacket escape to stop a borrowed ring from falling into a whirring blender. These tricks were simple and cute, including interactions with a groom-to-be in a humorous magic routine, and another interaction with a bride-to-be in a different routine. What I liked best was probably the simplest routine: the drawing that came to life. There were some adult jokes that fell a little flat, but again, that’s burlesque tradition.
There are no technical credits provided; the show indicated that the Choreographer and Producer were responsible for the technical aspects. The sound, thankfully, did not overpower. The lighting was effective in providing both distraction and camouflage, which probably annoyed the hornier audience members. They need to get over it — a show like this is about the tease, not full disclosure. If you want that, there are plenty of places on Industrial or west of the freeway. There were some flares out to the audience that were a little annoying, particularly in the “Fuck You” number. But in general, the lighting worked well to augment the dance. Scenery was simple: dancing in front of a mirror with appropriate props to support the dance. Costumes were by Jean Corporon and Holly McKinnis (a credit I found from a story profiling them), and were appropriate revealing… while being not revealing. In other words, they were sexy, allowed for quick display of what the girls wanted to be displayed, but had sufficient design to hide what needed to remain hidden. Crazy Girls was choreographed (and managed) by Jennifer Stowe (FB), who is married to the show’s producer, Norbert Aleman (FB).
At the production we saw, the show was about 30% sold — and that’s with aggressive marketing. Whether that is due to impending demise of the Riviera,the lack of advertising from the Riv, the weakness of the North end of the Strip (there’s not much left there with the hulk of the Fountainblu, the closure and demolishment of the Frontier and Stardust — really only SLS, Circus Circus, and Westgate are left). Crazy Girls performs its last Riv show on May 1st. There are statements that the show will move to another venue, but nothing specific has been announced. Yet. [ETA 4/29: They have announced a new venue: The Sin City Theatre at Planet Hollywood…. and they get to keep the bronze butts]
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
Upcoming Shows: We have one more show booked in Vegas: Penn & Teller at the Rio. Other shows that are possibilities are either Don Rickles at the Orleans or Jeff Dunham at Planet Hollywood. Los Angeles theatre resumes in May with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School). The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB), and may also bring “Violet: The Musical” at the Monroe Forum Theatre (FB) (I’m just waiting for them to show up on Goldstar). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB). The last weekend of May brings “Entropy” at Theatre of Note (FB) on Saturday, and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. June looks to be exhausting with the bounty that the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) brings (note that all Fringe dates are holds; ticketing doesn’t open until 5/1). June starts with a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), followed by Clybourne Park (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawks on Sunday. The second weekend of June brings Max and Elsa. No Music. No Children. (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Wombat Man (HFF) at Underground Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Marry Me a Little (HFF) by Good People Theatre (FB) at the Lillian Theatre (FB) on Sunday. The craziness continues into the third weekend of June, with Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Merely Players (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Sunday (and possibly “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, depending on Hottix availability, although July 4th weekend is more likely). The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and possibly Matilda. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is open, although it might bring “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) (depending on their schedule and Goldstar). July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August may bring “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.