Saturday, March 30, 2024

See It Through: The Best Stuff Happens After Intermission

As I mentioned in “Just Give It a Minute,” I was recently in Las Vegas for two back-to-back conferences. I spent a total of two weeks there. I love Vegas.

More specifically, I love old Vegas. When I visit, I love staying in the older casinos—the ones with decades of caked-up cigarette smoke infused in the ceilings, with marquees all missing a few bulbs, and with their time on this planet coming to a close. As Vegas does, older casinos are often plowed under to make room for bigger, bolder, flashier, (and pricier) new behemoths. Aside from frugal Marty loving the price of the older places, there’s just a nostalgia there that I want to experience while I can before it’s all gone. One night, while I was there, I took in some shows with a double feature at the MGM Grand: David Copperfield followed by KÀ by Cirque du Soleil.

Let’s talk about the amazing David Copperfield first. I admit, my hopes were very high for this show. He’s an institution and has been performing in Vegas for decades, but I’ve never gone to see his show. I saw Criss Angel years ago at the Luxor and was completely blown away by the energy and sheer enormity and mind-blowingness of his illusions. I remember sitting toward the front in an aisle seat and Criss came up the aisle, gave me a high-five, and then stopped right next to me. In a puff of smoke, he disappeared and, at the very same moment, reappeared in the back of the theater and walked back down the aisle to where he was just standing. It was him both times, I promise. I can’t figure it out. It broke my brain and I loved it so, so much. And so, I had similar expectations for David Copperfield because, after all, in the ‘80s and ‘90s when I was obsessed with magic, David Copperfield was the be-all, end-all, top-of-his-game illusionist to follow.

But, it turns out, 67-year-old David Copperfield does not have the energy, vim, and vigor that he did in 1990 when we all watched him on live TV going over Niagara Falls tied to a raft and then emerging a few seconds later dangling from a helicopter. Today’s David Copperfield has clearly been doing the same scripted show for decades and has every line memorized so tightly that he mumbled through them without emotion or enunciation, leaving the audience confused and strained to try to figure out what he’s doing or saying. And today’s David Copperfield somehow hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s not OK to make constant jokes about race and gender. It was quite the let-down.

However, that being said, today’s David Copperfield is still quite the talented illusionist. While the first half of the show was not very exciting, a little past midway through he somehow made a gigantic UFO appear in the theater, hover and spin over our heads, and then disappear. It was amazing! And, in the finale, predictable as it was, a gigantic animatronic dinosaur skeleton appeared on stage and roared at everyone to close out the show. So, yes, David Copperfield’s show was worth it. I’m glad I went. I saw a legend, even if I couldn’t really follow what he was saying as he whipped through the script without much energy. It was a Monday night, after all, but still for a magic show it could definitely have used some more magic.

KÀ, however, was full of magic. Not illusion in the traditional sense of magic, but magic as in actual stage magic—that thing that live theater brings when the cast is energized, hungry, and full of life and it just electrifies the whole theater. KÀ was indeed completely magical; I’d expect nothing less from a Cirque du Soleil show, as every one I’ve ever attended has been completely magical. But, it turns out, not everyone felt the same…

Less than halfway through the show, the couple sitting next to me at KÀ—a smelly, loud-talking, heavily-drinking pair who weren’t doing much show watching but rather doing a lot of getting up and down and in and out and under-their-beer-breath commenting—got up and left. They just left! Right during the amazing baton act that had the rest of us in the theater glued to the talent while the enormous giant rotating stage lifted up in the background and reset for the next act. And as soon as the couple next to me left, aerialists dropped down from the ceiling all across the theater over our heads for a suspended dance that took my breath away, followed by multiple wheels of death, a completely vertical fight scene on a climbing wall, and pyrotechnics that made me check to make sure my eyebrows were still intact afterwards. I don’t know why that couple left, but clearly they weren’t the type to trust that the second half would be better than the first.

Often, the best stuff happens after intermission. Sometimes we have to sit through the first half, having faith that the second half will be better. And sometimes the first half is pretty great too! Sometimes, even though we may be disappointed in one person or a group of people who seem to have lost their spark and their magic, we need to remember that the main production is still worth the ticket price and that that giant UFO that comes down over our heads without warning will make it all worthwhile. Sometimes we have to understand that this baton act, as amazing as it is, is nothing compared to what’s going to follow it, so we need to stay in our seats and see it through. There’s always a roar waiting at the finale.

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