A Little Bit of Vegas by Offspring Productions
Quickly glancing at the title and image of this show — as well as witnessing two previews — did not convey to me what I find to be the most critical marketing hook: that this is a period piece.
(And, of course, it’s the first line in the show description: “It’s 1958.” I would not have guessed that, after sitting through the show — I would have placed it a decade or three earlier — they reference flappers, and I recognized a few of the tunes as 1930s jazz numbers.)
So the plot itself isn’t all that interesting — an astonishingly, jaw-droppingly naive woman becomes a Las Vegas showgirl at a seedy venue, and is somehow shocked at the fact that this requires some heavy doses of moral compromise on her part. Likewise, the characters are stock characters, not painted with a great degree of psychological depth — there’s the wacky gay stereotype, the catty infighting behind the scenes, et cetera. This is not a great detriment to the piece, because this isn’t really *about* either narrative or character — this is largely about evoking place and time.
So…how successful is that? I’d say middling — the script is written in that early-film style, with the extremely heightened dialogue characteristic of the plays and movies of the period. The actors are fairly hit-and-miss with their ability to engage with it.
(This ties, tangentially, into the developing fascination I’ve been having with the evolution of acting styles through the years — my favorite example is to compare the original Star Wars movies with the prequels. The originals are convincing, because they have a body of actors who are prepare to deliver their lines with broad strokes — Harrison Ford is utterly convincing uttering utterly absurd dialogue — as opposed to, say, Hayden Christiansen, who is a competent actor, but laughably miscast, attempting to apply whatever tortured, introspective version of The Method he uses to space opera. Likewise with this show — naturalistic delivery comes off as unconvincing to me with much of the dialogue, and it’s only a portion of the cast that can fully commit to hitting the heightened style of the text.)
Likewise, the songs were hit-and-miss for me — taking place in a musical venue, many of the songs were diegetic (which I enjoyed), but the ones that weren’t came off as fairly bizarre to me. There’s an art to introducing music in musicals, so that they seem to emerge naturally from dialogue, without being jarring, and many of these songs (skillfully performed as they were) — boy, did they jar the hell out of me.
The accompaniment consisted of a synthesizer and a trap set. I was seated — pretty much right next to them, I’ll grant — and consequently they drowned out some of the lyrics for me. I have mixed feelings about synth accompaniment, and they remain mixed — sometimes I wasn’t conscious of it at all, at others it sounded — synthetic and cheesy. (Not that I have a better solution — a larger band would be impractical.)
The dances fared better. They weren’t perfectly executed, but they weren’t intended to be. In fact, there was actually a good level of subtlety, in watching how the backstage rivalries played out onstage — subtle enough that you could blink and miss them. The girls were easy on the eyes, which also goes a long way for me. Moreover, not just generically pretty — but the fact that we got to know who they were made them more compelling, both physically and sexually.
I was most impressed with their exploitation of the space — they really used every corner of the black-box, and the staging was quite skillful in arranging action throughout the area, sustaining a sense of bustling activity. This was likely aided by the ludicrously fucking huge size of the cast. Seriously, I feel like some sort of medal needs to be awarded to the director, for their sheer technical ability to track that amount of movement.
Which is why it’s a little disappointing to conclude that there just wasn’t much here to hook me, particularly in light of the amount of talent inhabiting the stage — certainly I have no particular objection to having spent an hour in their company, but the fact that I spent most of my time ticking off a laundry list in my head of missed notes suggests that I wasn’t ever able to fully engage in the world they were trying to build. There’s an impressive amount of moving parts here, but they never quite come together in service of the show.