In the Las Vegas show ecosphere, the grand spectaculars on the Strip justifiably draw lots of attention. After all, Strip entertainment juggernaut Cirque du Soleil’s six beautiful shows and celebrity music residencies at Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts’ showrooms draw massive crowds to the city - especially on weekends. But some of Vegas’ more intimate shows, featuring incredible talents that have honed their craft over decades, deserve notice. Here are three of my current favorites, all available for less than $50/ticket, including taxes and fees.
Purple Reign (The Tropicana)
If you missed seeing the musical genius Prince perform before his untimely death, the next best option is in Vegas, because Jason Tenner’s tribute in “Purple Reign” is a spot-on version of Prince, down to the outfits, the sound, the look - and the attitude. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming as Tenner blasted his way through Prince’s greatest hits, including “Little Red Corvette,” “1999,” “When Doves Cry” and, of course, “Purple Rain.” And “The Artist’s” devotees will also appreciate interludes featuring authentic-sounding and looking tribute acts of Prince’s contemporaries and frequent collaborators, Morris Day and the Time (with Jerome, of course) and the lovely Apollonia Kotero.
Tenner has been honing his tribute for so long (about 25 years) that he could sleepwalk through the act - but he doesn’t. I’ve seen him in multiple performances, and everyone is robust, musically spot-on, and touching, aided by a tight, talented band. Purple Reign plays at 9:30 p.m. on Wed. - Sat. at the Tropicana Las Vegas. Tickets from $38 incl. taxes/fees.
Banachek’s Mind Games Live (The STRAT Hotel, Casino & Tower)
While there are other impressive mentalist and mind-reading acts in Las Vegas, none have the gravitas of Banachek. With decades of experience, he has fooled scientists, exposed well-known psychics and televangelists as frauds, and performed death-defying illusions. Those talents are now all rolled up and brought to bear in Banachek’s Mind Games Live at The STRAT.
Blindfolded with duct tape, coins, and a stainless steel mask, Banachek reveals numbers on a dollar bill. Then he asks the entire audience to think of any playing card - prior to revealing the cards held by four, unrelated spectators. An amazing bit features Banachek revealing audience members’ thoughts, like the age of their first kiss, their favorite school teacher’s name, or the last four digits of their driver’s license. But his “Touches” routine, where blindfolded volunteers swear that they feel him touching their shoulder - when we can clearly see that no touch has occurred - kept me up all night in a vain attempt to figure out how it was accomplished.
In effect, Banachek’s greatest trick is playing games with our minds - using his mind. With some exceptions, Banachek’s Mind Games plays at 5:00 p.m. (except Tuesdays) at The STRAT. Tickets from $43 incl. taxes/fees.
Hypnosis Unleashed (Four Queens Hotel & Casino)
Hypnosis remains one of the mind’s greatest mysteries. After all, there’s no explanation for exactly how it works on our brains, only the realization that it does. Although every hypnosis show I’ve seen left an impression on me, Kevin Lepine’s version, Hypnosis Unleashed at downtown Las Vegas’ Four Queens, rises near the top in my mind. Part of this show’s appeal is the intimate showroom, where every attendee is only a few feet away from the stage, but most of the credit obviously goes to Lepine himself.
Featuring an uncanny ability to narrow down his volunteer corps to just those most obviously prone to suggestion, Lepine then puts his willing charges through a hilarious sequence of acts, performances, and crazy actions that elicit howls from the audience. And as they fall deeper and deeper “asleep,” Lepine’s volunteers are more easily coaxed into performing acts that often overlap with safe but seemingly impossible-to-believe stunts. Ultimately, though, we do believe them, because those of us in the audience - not under hypnotic suggestion, alas - can’t possibly fathom any other explanation. Hypnosis Unleashed plays on Tuesday through Saturday. at 9:00 p.m. at The Four Queens (age 18 and over recommended). Tickets from $35 incl. taxes/fees