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Does Dancing With The Stars Cha-Cha The Tropicana Out Of the Doldrums?

April 16, 2012 at 1:38 PM | by | Comment (1)

Will the tango and foxtrot provide the necessary kick to revitalize the Tropicana? First night reaction to Dancing With The Stars: Live in Las Vegas suggests a winner. If you like the ABC TV show, you'll probably love this production. If you are no fan (and maybe you're being dragged to see it against your will), sit back and wait for Carson Kressley. That really might be enough to make your night. Seriously.

The TV version of Dancing With The Stars pairs novice famous folks with professional dancers to compete against each other. A weekly knock-out competition to determine the best team. There's none of that here. No contest. Just dance, dance, dance. Everyone's a winner.

The Stars component is comprised of former contestants, Kressley, Joey Fatone, Kyle Massey, Sabrina Bryan and Tia Carrere. If you are regular viewer, you'll recognize them. This writer only knew Kressley, Tia and Joey. It's a generational thing. Paired with them are the pros, Lacey Schwimmer and Dmitry Chaplin, who may have the bigger fan base. They might be the bigger celebrities. After 14 seasons the potential audience is proven and out there. Now they get to experience a three-dimensional souvenir of the show. The audience that religiously DVRs each episode, just needs to be brought to the South Strip.

Without the trials of competition and learning new material, the celebrities have had time to finesse and specialize. Sure, they're not as fluid as their counterparts, but they've got enough of the moves. It adds a quasi-everyman quality to the staging. With determination and hard work you, too, can do the paso doble. The addition of a paid multi-hour training schedule also helps. Thematically, there's an Elvis number, 50s diner number, Saturday Night Fever... you know what to expect. Like TV, with much better lighting and not too overbearing video displays.

The structure alternates between video introductions, the stars performing, banter from Fatone and Kressley, and larger production routines by the notably attractive “Las Vegas Troupe." Think a mix of Jubilee!, Viva Elvis, and the bigger variety dance productions you've seen on The Strip. Plus more dramatic versions of the dances you're equally familiar with.

The set is minimal, but makes sense. Two stairways and a large video display in the middle. Two video screens either side of the stage run clip compilations and introductions from two of the TV judges, Len Goodman, the mean one, and Bruno Toniol, the exuberant one. Third judge, Carrie Ann Inaba, only merits a clip compilation and she doesn't appear on camera.

The set works well. So does the video. And it's a very well-oiled machine. Maybe a little too scripted. When Fatone chides Kressley for running off-script, his delivery feels forced. But Kressley, towing the line or just riffing, is the natural one. Who'd have known he was born to M.C. from a stage. Camp, swishy and flamboyant. He's damn funny, goofy and totally self-aware of the role he's playing and he knows it isn't Hamlet. When he's on, he lifts the show to another level. Literally. A running gag floats him above the stage. A lot. If Dancing closes, another Vegas show should immediately make room and sign him up. Awards shows should pick him up. Really. It's a star-turn. Who knew?

The logo on the souvenir t-shirt says, CHOOSE DANCE, a blatant twist of the George Michael/Wham! CHOOSE LIFE garb of the 80s. If you got that reference, you won't feel alone in the audience. As the Tropicana consciously taps into the Baby Boomer market, it knows who it's pitching to.

There were fewer "clap you hands" join-in moments than we suspected. Only one quick get-up and dance encouragement, but there was a lot of seated grooving in the audience. All the music is pre-recorded and most tracks will be familiar to you. And, that's a key point. No surprises here. It's hokey and often obvious, but always good-spirited.

We said there's no contest, but it looks like they intend to have a bit of interplay with the audience and bring a couple of folks up onstage to learn how to pop a few moves. You get to vote on the best amateur. On opening night they dragged up Tom Bergeron and pro-dancer Tony Dovolani. Fans went crazy. However, both these fan favorites are only marginally featured in the video segments. You won't seem them in the live show. (In the lobby, we saw Begeron at a distance and wondered why Anthony Bourdain had showed up. Clearly we're not the target audience.)

For the Tropicana it's a clever and needed fit. The audience will be decidedly broad. Youngsters will love it. The up-beat nature of the show turns out a happy, fun and energized crowd right into the casino. And maybe, if they want to dance, they'll soon have Bagatelle right in the space where they held the after party. That night ended like an episode of Fame with the dancers on the table tops.

It's a strenuous show for the non-professionals and the box office does warn that performers are subject to change. It will be interesting to see if other celebrities are moved in-and-out of the roster. They've designated a three-month run and chatter and it was evident they are confident in the appeal of the show. Quietly they admit they are unsure of drawing an audience. Which is a shame as the hardcore fans of Dancing should be ecstatic about what they'll see on this stage.

Dancing With the Stars: Live in Las Vegas is scheduled to run through July 7 at the Tropicana Theater.
Show Times: Mon, Wed & Thurs at 8 p.m., Friday 9 p.m. and Sat & Sun at 2 p.m. & 8 p.m.
Tickets range from $40 to $89.

[Photos: Ethan Miller/Getty Images for AEG Live/VegasChatter]

[Disclosure: VegasChatter attended the opening night of DWTS on a media invite]

7.1 Update: Dancing with the stars has been extended at the Tropicana through August 5, 2012.

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I am not afraid to say that I watch the show, though, wouldn't term myself a "fan." The strength of the Trop's show, I would assume, really lies in finding the perfect mix of featured dancers and celebs.

I love Carson and would see him in a second, but not with the rest of this cast. Have Carson with Donny Osmond, Derek Hough, Gilles Marini, Nicole Scherezinger, Cheryl Burke, Mel B or Mya, and then we'd be talking. I would think that the Trop won't be able to access the big guns, though.

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