Went to Las Vegas to see Don Rickles at the Orleans Casino, where we also stayed. Don was incredible. At age 88 he did a 2 hour show that killed. He used two large screens on either side of the stage where he showed some historic moments from his career. There was even a segment where Frank Sinatra was a guest host for the Tonight Show. Funny, funny stuff! He used the short video segments as a rest break. After his serious illness and 7 surgeries for necrotizing fasciitis he does his act sitting down and stands up just a few times.
He had a full orchestra and sang a couple of funny numbers, including his signature tune, “I’m a Nice Guy!” The act was the best of everything Las Vegas used to be – Pomp, pageantry and unbridled laughter and entertainment. Would that the entire city had that attitude, but more on that later. Don Rickles was amazing. One guy sitting in front of an orchestra held the audience spellbound. We had great seats and the tickets were $115.00 each.
Next night we decided to go see Penn and Teller. I have always liked them. I’ve been a fan since they used to perform on the streets of Philadelphia back in the 1970’s as part of The Asparagus Valley Cultural Society.
Our tickets were $105.50 each, again for excellent seats. There was a jazz duo that played for an hour before the show. However, there was no music during the performance. The Las Vegas Musician’s Union will not allow casinos to use recorded music in their shows and I guess the Rio Hotel didn’t want to spring for a live orchestra. Sad because some of the illusions would have been enhanced by a musical background.
Their magic was excellent but I got the impression that after 14 years at the Rio (they built the theater for them), they are tired. Penn, the narrator of the act, seemed to be phoning it in some times. Their finale illusion, “Magic Bullet” was their version of the classic bullet catching trick where the performer catches a bullet in his teeth after it is fired from a gun. It’s the most dangerous illusion in magic and many performers have been killed while performing it.
Their performance was flawless. But again, it seemed to me like Penn didn’t have any energy as he narrated the act. You and your partner shoot live ammunition at each other, happens everyday, no big deal.
While Penn claimed that they didn’t use “stooges” from the audience, I saw at least 2 illusions where there was a definite plant in the audience. I know a magician is supposed to “lie,” but that seemed a bit hypocritical.
To their credit, Penn and Teller ran into the lobby at the end of the performance and stayed until everyone took a selfie and/or shook their hands. Nice touch but I could have used a lot more enthusiasm and some music during the act.
Las Vegas itself is pretty tacky these days. No one was hitting any jackpots at the slots in the Orleans or Rio. I heard from a cab driver that Las Vegas now has the lowest rate of casino winners in the nation, even lower than Native American casinos that have always had extremely low win percentages. Every cab driver we had freely expressed their hatred of what the city has become.
The big apparel show called “Magic” was in town. The wait in the taxi line at the airport was 3 hours. That’s 3 hours of standing in the Las Vegas summer heat waiting for a cab. I got a limo, no waiting. Cab drivers told us that the apparel people were horrible tippers and no one wanted to pick them up.
Most visitors to the city looked kind of dirty and shabby. I wore a suit and tie to the shows and was in the minority in a sea of tee shirts and shorts. WTF kind of man wears denim cutoffs? But the new suit I bought for the occasion did get us really nice treatment at the Don Rickles show. We were given free drink tickets. No such luck at Penn and Teller where we paid $37.00 for 2 mixed drinks and a bottle of water.
Every taxi we used was too small. Who the f**k thought using a Toyota Prius as a taxicab was a good idea? One of ours didn’t have brakes and when another cab came too close to us, our driver swerved toward him saying, “Go on, hit me, hit me. I’ll get a new car!” We came within an inch (it was on my side) of colliding. Luckily we arrived at our destination without further incident.
Unless I have a damn good reason, I will not be returning to Las Vegas in my lifetime. Don Rickles will soon retire and we’ll be left with overpaid, underwhelming performers like Brittany Spears and Rat Pack impersonators. Hello Branson! (Just kidding.)