Beyond casinos and restaurants, if there’s one thing Las Vegas has in spades it’s shows.
On any given night there are well over 100 Las Vegas shows to choose from, so it’s no wonder picking one can be a daunting task.
And like anything, of course, they’re not all created equal.
Nor are they all easy to find.
While you can’t help but know some Las Vegas shows exist, given the stories-tall billboards that line the strip promoting them and the ads that jump off the pages of every travel brochure — we’re looking at you Penn and Teller — others are hidden away far from the bright lights and receive no promotion at all.
That doesn’t mean they’re not worth seeing, however.
In fact, in our experience that’s often where you’ll find the gems.
Las Vegas Show #1: Zombie Burlesque
Zombies and burlesque — they’re not exactly a peanut butter and jam kind of pairing, but this being Vegas, the unusual and expected is prone to going out the window.
That said, Dan Strasbourg was skeptical.
“I’m not really into zombies. And I’m definitely not into burlesque,” he says.
But before leaving Toronto for Sin City, a co-worker told him he had to see the show. So, with his 16-year-old son (“I’m not your typical dad,” he laughs) and two lesbian friends from Texas in tow, they decided to give this Las Vegas show a whirl.
Because where else are you going to see sexy zombies on stage?
Tucked away at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort, Club Z is inside the V Theater. It looks much like a movie theater from the outside and seats about 150.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Strasbourg says. “I was a little bit surprised at how small the theater was. And I was nervous when I realized there was audience participation. But I figured we were safe because we were fairly far back. I do not like being the centre of attention.”
He needn’t have worried.
Dubbed the most hilarious “undead” Las Vegas comedy musical, the show is set in the 1950s, at the height of the atomic era. Although zombies have taken over the world, people have reached a truce with them so that all can live in peace. That’s accomplished by feeding the zombies our worst prisoners. All is well until the supply of prisoners dries up — that’s when the drama begins. The zombies are hungry and all involved need to figure out how they’re going to be fed.
It involves great acting, dancing, stand-up — and the occasional jello shot — but the cast gets the job done.
“I thought that I would have to understand how zombies work and all of that, but it’s really not about that. It was more about people being funny and making me laugh than me having to figure out the ins and outs of the zombie world,” Strasbourg says.
“It was a little bit raunchy, with the crude humour of a drag show, but it wasn’t offensive or over the top.”
It was the cheapest Las Vegas show his group saw and by far their favourite of the trip.
“I came back ranting and raving about how great it was. It was hilarious.”
For tickets and more information, visit www.zombieburlesqueshow.com.
Las Vegas Show #2: All Shook Up
Some people have been going to Vegas for years without ever seeing an Elvis show.
This seems odd — and wrong — given how inextricably linked the legend is with Vegas.
All Shook Up can fix that for you.
As the only all-Elvis show on the strip with a live band to boot, you’re not going to get any closer to the King than this.
And lucky for you, it’s hard to find a bad review.
It features a great variety of favourites from the 1950s through to the 1970s sung by young and old Elvis, complete with the small nuances other impersonators often miss.
You could be forgiven for thinking this really IS Elvis.
This Las Vegas show also runs in the quirky V Theater at Planet Hollywood. With just a handful of rows, there’s no bad seat in the house. Even at the very back you’re only about 10 ft. from the stage, so you’re bound to feel part of the show as Elvis sings, bumps, grinds and sweats to please the crowd. You can even take photos.
The show runs about 80 minutes and makes for an affordable night out. It’s not slick, but it might just be the most intimate and personable event of your trip. Even if you’re not an Elvis fan, you’ll be shook up and won over by this one.
You can find ticket information here. It’s general admission, but you can upgrade for a VIP seat to get closer to the stage.
Las Vegas Show #3: Absinthe
Physically, this Las Vegas show is hard to miss. It’s parked in a tent in front of Caesar’s Palace. But the glitz and polish of the casino gets checked at the canvas door.
The chairs aren’t the best and the lighting is weird, so this show doesn’t give the best first impression. Stick with it, however, and you’ll be rewarded.
We think Wikipedia sums this one up best: “Inspired by the absinthe-drenched cabarets of late 19th century Europe, Absinthe is an adult-themed cocktail of wild acrobatics, burlesque and vaudeville for a 21st century audience.”
With a full bar on offer during the show and sexy artists who perform breath-taking physical feats and seductive teases, this one is definitely not G-rated.
“If you’re not prepared for nudity and swearing, you might be shocked,” says Bernard Bird of Goose Bay, Labrador.
But you can’t say you weren’t warned. The Las Vegas show is hosted by the self-proclaimed “filthy rich and just plain filthy” Gazillionaire who has this show to entertain himself. He makes it clear out of the gate what you’re in for — and gives the prudes in the crowd a chance to leave. Some do and he taunts them loudly their whole way out.
In this tent, guests are as much a part of this show as the cast. Needless to say, nothing is sacred. Any race, any political stripe is all fair game fodder to be made fun of.
“I have a sick sense of humour, so it’s right up my alley, but terribly inappropriate,” Bird says with a laugh. “It’s the most inappropriate thing you’re going to see. It’s nuts. I thought I was going to die laughing in the first 10 minutes. And I figured I was going to be sore for days.”
He adds: “Absinthe was everything and then some. It blew my mind. It alone is worth a trip to Vegas. I’ve sent so many people to see it.”
You can find tickets here.
Las Vegas Show #4: Beatleshow Orchestra
You won’t find any lip-syncing at this Las Vegas show.
And you won’t find a more authentic Beatles concert experience in Vegas.
Although it’s been more than a few years since the lads from Britain took to the stage together, Beatleshow Orchestra may just leave you thinking they’re back performing again.
From Beatlemania all the way up to the White Album, the hits are all here. Even so, Sarah Cunningham of Toronto wasn’t expecting much, despite being a Beatles fan. The tickets were part of a package she’d purchased at Costco.
“We were just hoping it wouldn’t suck,” she admits.
And it didn’t. She and her husband danced and sang along to every song. They liked the Las Vegas show so much, they went back again on the same trip.
“It was the only thing we did twice in Vegas.”
She made sure she was a part of the show the second time around.
“I knew they were going to ask for volunteers, so I was ready. When they asked ‘who’s the biggest fan?’ I was jumping up and down, shouting.”
Before long she was on stage, tambourine in hand.
“It was pretty exciting,” Cunningham says. “And I’m sure for the seniors they usually pick, it’d also be pretty exciting.”
Of course this isn’t the only Beatles show on the strip. Cirque du Soleil has re-produced and re-imagined the band’s music in the hit long-running show Love at the Mirage. The similarities end at the music, however.
There are no acrobatics or interpretative performances in this Las Vegas show. There’s not even a story. The focus is on bringing the music to life, weaving songs together with audience participation, banter and anecdotes.
“I’m sure it’s a great show, but…,” Cunningham says of Love.
But she was happy to have discovered this take on the music.
“Beatleshow Orchestra … It was just good fun. You’re in Vegas, you may have a slight buzz on, you want to hear songs you know. You won’t lose money going to this show.”
Tickets? You can find them here.
Las Vegas Show #5: Xavier Mortimer’s Magical Dream
Although it may not be the easiest Las Vegas show name to remember, the show itself is absolutely unforgettable.
That was Scott Roeben’s take away.
He runs the blog Vital Vegas and says generally, he’s hard to impress.
“That’s my calling card…how much I hate everything,” he laughs of the many mediocre shows Sin City has on offer.
This magical dream, however, left him searching for enough superlatives.
“I loved this show. It’s one of those things where I think it benefits from being completely unexpected,” Roeben says.
The show is running in a little theatre and there’s not a lot of production.
“There’s no marketing, no hype around it at all. There’s not even any word of mouth — good or bad.”
He walked in with zero expectations.
“It blows you away that it’s of the quality it is,” Roeben says. “It’s talent-based, not bells and whistles.”
Variety shows aren’t usually a one-man show. But this Cirque du Soleil-style show is. Xavier Mortimer previously performed in Cirque’s theatrical and acrobatic circus shows in Vegas.
Between floating balls, levitation and juggling, this show, made up of 20 vignettes, has it all. Mortimer even makes mentalism look easy.
“He has a certain sensibility,” Roeben says. “It’s just this really surreal feeling when you’re within it. Things are happening that are so good you don’t even realize how good they are. He’s so skilled.”
And yet, he has no idea how it’s surviving, as it’s not being promoted at all.
“That’s part of the allure of it for me. It really hasn’t gotten any attention, but it’s good quality,” Roeben says.
It’s also a good counterpoint to huge magic shows like Criss Angel and David Copperfield.
“This is different in that it’s not all magic. It’s slight of hand. That’s what I was really struck by. He’s doing stuff things that no one else is doing, which is remarkable given how many shows there are in Vegas.”
Tickets? Find them here.
For all shows, you can often find half price tickets for mid-tier shows at Tix4Tonight, which has several locations on the Strip.