Sunday, July 10, 2005

Stuff I found on a old zip disk #2:
the Siegfried and Roy edition

A few years back, I went to Las Vegas with a delegation of Russki (and other Eurasia-ski) computer guys. We went to walk the exhibit halls at Comdex Fall - then the ultimate IT geek's wet dream trade show. A vapid, obnoxious colleague came with us, and she was dying to see Siegfried and Roy. On a what-the-hell whim, I went with her one evening. I wrote up a bit on our adventures in magic, which a few of y'all have seen before. The days of SARMOTI are now over, and, having found this on that old zip disk, I figured it was time to resurrect my tribute to the patron saints of Vegas. Keep in mind, this was written well before "the little tiger problem."

For those of you unfamiliar with my overpriced night at the Mirage, may I present...

A Little Reich Music

It’s 1:15 in the morning on the Vegas Strip. Do you know where your money is?

In my case, $101.50 is now in the hands of two chiseled Aryan fashion victims named Siegfried and Roy. I should have played blackjack. Maybe the drinks would have been less watered down.

Of course, it could be that I’m just horribly jaded. The majority of the audience packed into the well-chilled auditorium at the Mirage (“See Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden! Visit our fabulous rain forest!”) seemed genuinely captivated. My perky co-worker, the one who convinced me to plop down all my per diem on this ticket, was utterly thrilled. (Mind you, though, this is the same woman who, in the cab on the way over, read the marquee for the Maxim casino and said, “Oooh, look! Maxim! That’s a palindrome! I LOVE palindromes!”)

Maybe the $0.50 in the ticket price was for the red, glittery heart sticker attached to my face. It was placed there by the masked, black-robed Minion o’Roy (it just sounds right) who silently skulked through the audience, a dark, foreboding figure armed with rolls of cuddly tiger and warm heart stickers that seemed to have more in common with Smurfs on Ice than the dark magical arts. Perky co-worker and I were stickered upon arrival at our cabaret table, which was already filled with cranky Italian tourists who had already stolen our copies of the glossy souvenir programs from our seats.

Finally, one dour tourist snaked a hand into a large shopping bag and disdainfully offered us a program to share. Although I let Perky keep ours, I should have held on to it for the humor value. Along with hilarious philosophical statements from Siegfried, the booklet features pictures of the campy duo with an odd variety of celebrities, from Michael Jackson and other fashion-impairment support-group buddies like Bill Cosby and Robin Williams, to, rather perversely, the Pope.

The boys would like to think of themselves as heirs apparent to Liberace, but they fall short on all counts. Liberace had genuine presence. He had style – albeit the bizarrely flashy style of The Man Who Would Be Queen. He could carry off a hot pink feathered and diamond-encrusted cape like no other man (or woman, for that matter.) Liberace captivated audiences with his talent, and then charmed them with his self-deprecating humor and conspiratorial asides. (And, for god’s sake – how could he play so brilliantly with his hands weighed down with so much gold???)

Siegfried and Roy, on the other hand, rely on smoke and mirrors – literally – to make an impression. A public service announcement as the house lights dim informs the audience that the mist filling the room is harmless theatrical smoke. Harmless? Perhaps. But that doesn’t stop it from smelling like shit. I think I’m still coughing up the “harmless theatrical smoke.” I found myself sucking down my two complimentary cocktails – gin and tonics, where the gin was clearly added with an eyedropper – before the first dancer hit the stage.

No magic occurs for the first twenty minutes of the show (unless you count the empty spot in your wallet.) Instead you are treated with some of the lamest choreography this side of the all-paraplegic staging of Cats. There are butterflies, vaguely Turkic people, an evil queen (no, no - not Siegfried) and music that makes Yanni look like a fucking genius. You hear “Seeeeeeegfreeeeeed! Royeeeeeeee!” whispered through the music all evening, plus the odd word “SARMOTI” which is the acronym for Siegfried And Roy – Masters Of The Impossible. (Personally, I think of them as the Masters of the Craptastic, but that’s merely my opinion.) There’s a mechanical dragon, several women cut in two or three pieces (these guys really like table saws), and enough ass to keep the eyes of the straight men in the audience on the stage.

Das dynamische Duo have at least five or six costume changes in the course of two hours, with each ensemble more laughable than the last. Most of the outfits make them look like rejects from a Renaissance faire or extras from that awful ‘80’s film version of The Pirates of Penzance. There are capes and scepters and things best left in a big, locked closet. When Siegfried makes his awkward attempt at rapport with the audience, he’s dressed like a Hong Kong lounge singer, in a black silk karate robe, with a red, tasseled sash. All of Roy’s costumes feature gargantuan codpieces that suggest parts of his anatomy must drag on the ground when he’s naked.

Actually, all the male dancers have overstuffed codpieces, too. Perhaps Roy had that written into his contract. “Ja, all ze men MAHST have enormous packages or I vill not perform, ja?” Most of the male hoofers are buff and tall, with long, unkempt wigs and blue-grey body paint – they look like Pict-ish Klingon warriors in parachute pants, and they seem oddly matched with the petite women who resemble extras from Pat Benetar videos, circa 1984. There are a lot of jackboots in this show, including the red and gold numbers worn by the SARMOTI Creepy Roman Legion puppet dancers.

That’s the best description I can offer. Really.

Imagine five thong-wearing women, clad with chest plates, helmets and the boots of a Roman soldier, each shouldering a scaffolding of puppetry that multiplies her into a pyramid of ghost centurians. I suppose the effect was pretty cool, from a technical design perspective. I imagine for most of the guys in the audience, the thongs were the attention-grabbers, but I was more taken with the whole Roman Empire thing. It played well into some of Siegfried’s more disturbing chit-chat with the audience.

While the union grunts set up a big cat tableau beyond a black drape, Siegfried whips a microphone out from one billowing pantleg and addresses the audience just like Bill Murray’s old SNL lounge singer. “Vere you from? Visconsin, ja? Oh, zats very nice. Und you? New York, ja? Dats a great place! Ja ja ja…” Finally, Siegfried settles on an obvious audience plant, supposedly a timid middle-aged woman from Omaha named Betty. He invites her up on stage for a ridiculous old-school rope trick, where she focuses so much on the rope, she misses the tiger sitting behind her on a platform. The audience howls, and Siegfried beams. “Betty” is baffled. He finishes up by presenting Betty with a rose and stuffed tiger and toasts her with a glass of champagne.

With a flourish, Siegfried turns to the audience. “Are zere any Germans here tonight?” he asks, scanning the crowd. Scattered applause and some hoots elicit a smile on Siggi’s tight-skinned face. “Ja?” He says, raising his glass. “Ein Prosit zum deutschen Heimat!” A toast to the German homeland! “Ja,” Siegfried smiles. “Ve Germans are everyvere. Ve are taking over ze vorld again!” It’s amazing how empty a large room seems when there is only the sound of random uncomfortable laughter to fill it. Recognizing a potential public relations faux pas, Siegfried quickly says, “Well, ha ha, on vith ze show!” and skedaddles backstage. I kept expecting the next trick to be accompanied by the strains of an electronic version of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.”

Rumor has long had it that one of the boys sleeps with the tigers. Clearly, that’s Roy. He seems to have a special rapport with them. He does all the big cat tricks, all of which basically boil down to “box is empty/has scantily clad woman in it/has badly dressed German in it – then poof! – box has bored-looking white tiger in it.” Then Roy runs off the stage with a leashed tiger, to the sound of wild applause. Roy also rides on stage on the back of a 40-ton elephant at one point. This particular evening, the elephant chose to drip urine across the stage as he ran past us. All I could think was, “If one of the dancers slips in elephant pee, is that covered by workman’s comp?”

Of course, with the torrent of cash flowing through the box office, one would hope the dancers have decent benefits. I did the mental math on this. The specially-built theater seats 1,504 people. The boys do 500 shows a year @ $101.50 a head… that’s an annual income of $76,328,000 for Siegfried, Roy, and the Love Is A Battlefield Dancers. That’s a fuckload of Tiger Chow. Hell, I’d wear pirate shirts and spandex for a piece of that. Tell me where to sign away my eternal soul.

When the lights come up, the theater is filled with the sounds of Michael Jackson, singing a song he wrote especially for the boys. Yeah, that’s a surprise. I wonder how many times Michael has asked to “adopt” one of the white tigers. Grudgingly, I have to admit, the illusions were good. I couldn’t figure them out and I was a mere five feet from some of them. I appreciate the boys’ work for wildlife preservation (and I admire their own skin preservation – I have to find out what moisturizer they use!) And Roy does have an engaging smile under his double-processed Flock of Seagulls haircut – it’s strangely fun to watch a 56-year-old German guy in designer tights swing around on rope above the audience like some aging EuroFag Peter Pan. But at a mere 7 or 8 tricks in a two-hour gig, that comes out to about $15 a trick. If I measure the show, though, in unintentional humor, I got more than my money’s worth. And it’s hard to hide belly laughs from the people sitting with you.

In virtually every hotel, gas station, and convenience store in Vegas there are free booklets advertising all the shows in town. I took one to the airport, just to entertain me while I waited to board the cattlecar to DC. Flipping through, I found an old picture of Siegfried and Roy, clad in silver jumpsuits, as they looked when they first hit Vegas in 1983. Siegfried looked shark-ish even then, but Roy looked like Doug Henning’s evil European twin, sporting a ‘fro and a Village People mustache. I have to admit, today’s Ren Faire gear is an improvement over the Far Out Space Nuts look. According to the blurb with the picture, Siegfried and Roy have just signed a lifetime contract at the Mirage, where they will continue pocketing the cash of the gullible and easily-amused for decades to come. More power to them, I guess. They really grabbed the American dream. They’re rich enough to ignore the people who laugh at them (including me.) They only work 4 hours a day, 250 days a year. And nobody fucks with men who sleep with tigers.


Siegfried and Roy: the before time.

3 comments:

suze said...

"maxim. ...that's a palindrome..." dear god, i almost spit water on my screen i was laughing so hard!!!

Merujo said...

Isn't that the best? You should have seen the look on my face when she said it. God, that was a beautiful moment.

Anonymous said...

Smoke & Mirrors, baby... that review was painful and hilarious at the same time; cranky Italians, giant cod pieces and peeing elephants - what more could you want or need?

Thankfully, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" ~ LOL!

Well, until someone blogs it, and then it becomes a cautionary tale about what NOT to spend one's money on!

Too funny!

SJL