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Staying Power: The longest running shows in Vegas

There is no shortage of distractions in Vegas. Amid the glitz and neon lights that glow in the desert, everything is competing for your attention.

Shows, gambling, music, food and booze — it’s a feast for the senses. And that’s perhaps what makes staying power all the more impressive in this place. It’s no surprise that the longest running shows in Vegas are also some of the most successful (and entertaining).

While it’s certainly not easy to compete in the entertainment capital of the world, some of these long-running shows are still drawing big crowds three decades on. There is surely something to be said for the tried and true. Here, they’re holding their own in a field of shiny and new.

Penn and Teller

Is there a duo more associated with Vegas? Likely not. Or perhaps you’re among those who hadn’t even heard of them before you set foot in the sand?

Either way, if you end up at their show and bring high expectations that involve knives, guns, fire-eating, cows and showgirls, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. The show is billed as an “outrageous blending of magic and comedy” and one that “skewers traditional hat-and-rabbit magic tricks with provocative, hilarious and often amazing results.”

At this point, it’s all seamless. Penn Jillette and Teller have performed together since 1975 and debuted in Sin City in 1993. They’ve been performing at the Rio since 2001, making them the longest-running headliners to play in the same Las Vegas hotel.

They’ve also been on Broadway and taken their show on the road.

All that aside, Christina Bird of Winnipeg admits her husband had to talk her into seeing their show.

“I’ve always had a serious dislike for magicians,” she laughs.

“They’re the grifters of the entertainment world — they make a living from being deceitful.”

However, it seems the duo, who have come to be known as the “Bad Boys of Magic” for supposedly revealing the secrets to their tricks, managed to work a little on Bird as well.

“It ended up being one of our favourite shows — very entertaining,” she says. ”It was all about showing us the trick and why it works. They completely exposed themselves. They are so smart and funny, and they totally won me over.”

She also thought the venue was fabulous, with an awesome seating set up and lovely reception area for the intermission.

If you’re the talkative type, you’re also in luck, as Penn and Teller are known to be fans of their fans. After each show, you can usually find them outside for a meet-and-greet, which is included with every ticket.

By all accounts, it seems they’ve found their happy place.

“The joke’s always been you go to Vegas to die,” Penn told Vegas Player magazine. “Hopefully we’ll die in the office here, not soon though. But when it’s all over, I want to die at the Rio.”

Penn & Teller, one of Las Vegas' longest running shows and also one of the most successful.
Photo supplied by mrymerry (Flickr)

More information on the show can be found here.

Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère

You generally can’t toss a poker chip here without landing on another must-see show but make no mistake, it’s Cirque du Soleil that rules the strip. As one of Las Vegas’ longest running, and best shows to boot, Cirque du Soleil is on everyone’s must-see list.

The world-renowned Montreal-based troupe has redesigned everything related to the traditional circus and has six different shows exclusive to Las Vegas.

To the delight of many animal lovers, you won’t find any elephants here that have to perform. What you will find are gorgeous costumes, theatrical performances and insane acrobatics that will leave you breathless.

Mystère was the first permanent Cirque production in town, and it has been taking to the big tent since 1993.

Of course, the draw is the stunts that Cirque has come to be known for, with some Broadway-borrowed ideas and Charlie Chaplin comedy and gags that are thrown in for good measure. This show is all about the lighter side of life, but what leaves many talking well after the curtain comes down at Treasure Island is a thrilling trapeze act that sees performers in action for about six straight minutes.

“This world is a jaunty, music-stuffed adventure bright with colour, athleticism and bubbly buddies,” says Cirque’s website description of the show.

“Inside the imagination is a playful place to be.” Fred Baggs of Labrador City would agree with that assessment. “We went into Mystère not knowing what to expect, but we were blown away. It was pure entertainment, comedy, action, and of course amazing acrobatics,” he says. “It engaged the audience and held our attention from start to finish.”

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘O’

Don’t let the short name fool you. This show is all about big stunts and a big wow factor.

Cirque calls this an “aquatic masterpiece” which plays out in, on and above a 1.5 million gallon swimming pool at the Bellagio, featuring divers, synchronized swimmers and world-class acrobats performing on one of the world’s first and largest underwater stage systems. The stage itself is a technological marvel.

The name ‘O’ draws on the phonetic pronunciation of the French word for water — eau. That’s a theme that runs through this smooth and fluid production, “weaving a tapestry of artistry, surrealism and theatrical romance.

This timeless production has been riding a wave of whimsical wonderment since 1998 and shows no sign of losing momentum anytime soon.

For Kirsten Smith and her wife, this was their third Cirque show, so they thought they knew what to expect.

“We went into it thinking it would be fun,” says the Dunrobin, Ontario woman.

“But it was jaw-dropping and breathtaking from the moment it started until the moment it ended. I don’t think I closed my mouth the entire time. It was so spectacular.”

From the mesmerizing and sweeping skims of the surface and disappearing to the depths, Smith says her mind remains blown to this day.

“It was a long time ago, but it’s still one of the most spectacular stage shows I’ve ever seen. Every person who is planning a trip to Vegas, I tell them to go see ‘O’.”

Cirque du Soleil, one of Las Vegas' longest running shows and also one of the most memorable.
Photo supplied by Jun Seita (Flickr)

You can find more information about all that Cirque has on offer here.

Tournament of Kings

Since 1990, this popular dinner show has served up many a rowdy, royal and interactive feast at the Excalibur.

Fist-pounding, booing and hollering are on the menu of this jousting battle adapted from the tale of King Arthur. The raucous crowd is divided up, with each group getting to cheer for their king.

In an online review, well-known American blogger Perez Hilton said he loved the grandeur of it all and how involved the audience was. Although he was there with his young son, it made him feel like a kid again.

“It was so much more than what I expected! It wasn’t just dinner theatre with horses! It was a very large cast! Intricate riding! Difficult swordsmanship! Tons of thrilling fire and pyrotechnics! Magic is real at this show and strong!”

And then there’s the food — a three-course dinner, including game hen, biscuits, broccoli and dragon’s blood (tomato soup).

“You eat with your hands, so you get the feeling of being pretty Medieval,” according to Vancouver food blogger Dee de los Santos.

The food is tasty and the large drinks served in mugs by maidens make for good value as well.

While you don’t have to eat to watch the show, “It’s not much of a price difference, so you might as well pay for dinner,” de los Santos

And as one guide notes: Eat, drink and get rowdy. You’re in Vegas, after all!

Legends in Concert

Last but certainly not least, there is Legends in Concert, the longest-running show in Las Vegas that’s also regularly voted the best tribute show in town.

Now in its 35th year, Legends debuted an all-new residency at the Tropicana in February 2019. It’s the latest home for a show that’s seen its share of the strip over the years, having debuted at Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino in 1983 for what was supposed to be a limited six-week engagement, and later moving to the Flamingo in 2013.

Known as the pioneer of live tribute shows, the multifaceted gem continues to evolve its collection of live tribute artists, each bringing powerhouse vocals. Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Sting and Michael Jackson are among the legends that have been part of this production. Performers not only look like the stars they portray but also use their own natural voices to pay homage to their iconic music counterparts. Over the years, it’s entertained more than 35 million fans from around the globe.

Some of the stars have even been known to drop by to see themselves being portrayed. Shania Twain and Kenney Rogers have been there, and Michael Jackson was spotted in a booth at the Imperial in 1998.

Among the current roster of tribute artists are Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston and Frank Sinatra. And this being Vegas, rest assured there are special effects, theatrical sets and beautiful costumes, as well as back-up singers and dancers who bring the performances to life.

Refund Management Services recommends Legends in Concert as one of the best, and longest running shows, in Las Vegas.
Photo Credit: Denise Truscello

“For years, I’ve been reticent to write about so-called tribute impersonator shows. I’ve never thought of them as bonafide entertainment. Call me a snob, but it’s never been my cup of tea,” Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame wrote in 2015.

“My attitude changed completely, though, when I saw the all-new Legends in Concert. I was genuinely surprised. (It was a) night of thoroughly enjoyable entertainment.”

If you never got to see some of your favourites before they passed, this is the next best thing. Look-alike and sound-alike? Works for us.

You can find more information here.

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