"Muscle Musical" - that's the only-in-Japan idiom by which Matsuri goes in its country of origin. It may also be the first Strip revue that belongs on the sports pages rather than the Arts section. Producer/director Ushio Higuchi has apparently made something of a tradition in contemporary Japan with a genre fusion called "sports variety."
In one of his last official acts as viceroy of Imperial Palace, Don Marrandino has brought in a revue that's not only appropriate to the casino's Oriental theme, it also breaks with the Vegas tradition of hewing to the safest possible course. Happily, unlike that cross-cultural train wreck, Raw Talent Live, newcomer Matsuri is fraught with neither pretension nor incompetence.
It may even prove a good fit for a town that's receptive to Cirque du Soleil-type entertainment but has tired of Cirque itself. Matsuri is like the fun, athletic parts of a Cirque show but without the pseudo-intellectual "meaningfulness" and nonsense-spewing clowns to which the French-Canadian troupe is tiresomely addicted.
True, there's a sliver of narrative in Matsuri, so thin as to be invisible to anyone who doesn't spring for the souvenir program: Something about a geisha (Ayuri Iisaku) who sends a panda (TenBA) and dove (Hiroyo Shimada) on an unspecified quest. That's as much "story" as there is and one is probably better off ignoring it.
After all, to paraphrase Hamlet, play is the thing. Matsuri is a succession of strenuous set pieces, easily the most purely energetic show in town. Its seemingly inexhaustible box of tricks includes dance, gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, baton twirling, mime, sleight of hand, ring tossing, jump-rope, acrobatics, trapeze artistry, taiko drumming, dancing dragons and even a touch of Noh theatre, as well as some audience-participation chants. (It's difficult to get the audience up and moving in the cramped Imperial Palace showroom, as Human Nature has discovered.) Not to worry; Martial arts are present, too, in the form of a karate class that takes on some comically homoerotic overtones.
The setting is rarely anything more than some imitation shoji (those paper-thin walls of which Japanese houses were once built) overlaid with elaborate projections. But with a tsunami of movement onstage, few are going to be dwelling upon the backdrop. The 19-member cast seems at least double that number, although the lone scene-stealer is Shimada. In a show whose profusion of Japanese elements nontheless bears a faint aftertaste of circus enthusiast Federico Fellini, it is apt that she possesses more than a passing resemblance to Giulietta Masina as the chalk-faced Gelsomina in Fellini's La Strada.
One of the most tiresomely overused phrases of our day is "high energy." In Matsuri, it ceases to be a cliché and takes on real meaning. True, the demanding routines become visibly ragged toward the end of the show, as understandable fatigue sets into the cast. Still, gym class was never this much fun and if Matsuri doesn't make you want to get into shape, nothing will.
4 p.m., Wed.-Mon.; 8 p.m., Fri. only
3535 Las Vegas Blvd. South
$54.99 & $65.99