Vegas Day 2: Fake Starbucks and Real Blue Men

blueman Day Two of Vegas started with a dip in the outdoor pool. It was busy and crowded, but almost nobody was actually swimming – mostly they just stood around, drinks in hand, showing off their skimpily-clad physiques. I still managed to do a couple of tentative laps though. Still searching for good coffee, wi-fi, and a place to go over some wedding details, we met up at the Starbucks next door in the mall. There, we learned the dark secret of the Treasure Island Starbucks we’d been patronizing: they’re a franchise, run by the hotel, and not a proper Starbucks at all! That explained the odd things we’d noticed: they didn’t brew any dark roast (!), they didn’t take Starbucks cards, had no wi-fi (naturally; it would undercut the hotel’s pricy version), and worst of all, they were more than double the price. Bah and good riddance to them, said I. (The next morning I got some symbolic revenge, however – tacking up a hand-crafted sign at their entrance listing their flaws and urging readers to go to the other one instead. I doubt it was up long, but it gave me at least momentary satisfaction.) So we met at Fashion Center Mall for some real coffee and a run-through of some details of the wedding logistics. Now we got back on The Deuce and headed for the South Strip, where more spectacular casino resorts – and more eye-popping sights – awaited. Like Luxor, an immense, dark glass pyramid on the outside, but a lofty Egyptian themed space inside, giant stone Pharaohs and all. About 15 minutes of ogling the interor was enough (the Titanic and Body Worlds exhibits being just too pricy to tempt us) so we moved on from ancient Egypt to the Big Apple: “New York, New York” was our next stop. Outside it was the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building; inside, the theme was Coney Island, complete with Nathan’s Hot Dogs and soft, salty pretzels (yum!). But my one goal here was to ride the roller coaster. It looked like a real screamer – maybe not as nerve-wracking as the one that shoots you over the edge of a tower, but pulse-pounding enough. It was a good ride – the first two plunges were great dizzying stomach churners, complete with a 360-degree roll, although the remaining 2/3 was more anticlimactic dips. That was enough excitement for a while so we returned to the hotel, rested up and then met the gang for dinner (a high-end and pricy though admittedly delicious Italian place) and then the highlight of the evening: Blue Man Group. It’s funny – BMG is so familiar, yet I had no idea what their act was actually like. Were they some kind of arty, abstract visual spectacle a la Cirque de Soleil? I’m happy to report that they’re not. What they are is hilarious! They’re at heart just three playful clowns in the most classic tradition. True, they embellish things with pulsing music, sophisticated visuals, and surprising moments of stagecraft. There’s also a lot of bizarre and wonderful instruments, from drums that splah coloured paint to a trombone-style percussion device made of sliding PVC pipe sections. But at the heart of it all are simple, playful comedic interactions between the three mute figures, the kind where the mere turn of a head in reaction elicits a torrent of laughter. Between that and the musical component that ran through the show, I was reminded of the monkey trio on the old Ernie Kovacs show. Another classic clowning moment came when the pounding music suddenly turned off and everything went black. Two Blue Men with flashlights discovered the third by the “power switch”, sneaking himself a bowl of cereal! Although they look otherworldly in their black jumpsuits and shiny blue heads, much of the comedy is very down-to-earth, and the silence of the trio is offset by projected text and recorded voiceovers. Plus there’s lots of audience interaction – the highlight of which came when a grandmotherly woman was brought on stage for a bizarre sort of dinner party involving candles blown out with fire extinguishers, images in a painting being vacuumed right off their background, and an elaborate meal involving Twinkies. The woman’s reactions, alternately savvy, sympathetic and surprised, were priceless. The show ended with rolls of paper cascading unexpectedly down onto the back rows and being passed forward to the stage, under stop-motion strobe lights. It was an exhilarating ending to a whimsical and laughter-filled 90 minutes, and helped make Blue Man Group one of the highlights of the entire weekend.

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