"All Filler! No Killer!" That could be the tagline for V: The Ultimate Variety Show at the eponymous V Theater. But even at V's steep ticket price, that wouldn't be entirely fair. However, unless "postmodern" magician Jason Byrne is the evening's closer, V might be accurately described as 75 minutes of foreplay without a climax.
What passed for a closing act on this occasion was "TV Guy" Joe Trammel, a frenetic, break-dancing mime who does determinedly "goofy" shtick to the accompaniment of movie and TV themes. Trammel gradually strips down to his skivvies, which - given some of the well-toned bodies on display in V - is not an entirely wise choice. If you pine for the heyday of Phyllis Diller or Ruth Buzzi, then Trammel might be your cup of Ex-Lax. However, the funniest gag, which involved William Hung's "She Bangs," was laughable solely on account of the infamously bad song itself. It'd have gotten a roar even if Trammel had been nowhere in sight.
Not that Trammel doesn't work hard. Even Carrot Top might envy the welter of props he deploys. Some of his bits don't synch up, though. A Michael Meyers Halloween mask accompanied by the theme from Psycho? WTF? An obligatory, perfunctory Elvis imitation? Do we need another of those? And someone should tell Trammel that, per his Jackson 5 number, minstrel shows are so 19th century.
V is positioned as a tribute to the vaudeville-derived acts that spelled the great Vegas headliners of yore. An introductory film posits that these supporting performers often outshone the stars with whom they shared the bill and implies you could be seeing the next Siegfried & Roy this very night!
Well ... probably not. But Trammel's was the last and least of an otherwise solid series of acts, punctuated by the percussive pounding of a drummer suspended from the theater's rafters. (Shades of bygone Stomp Out Loud.) For instance, there is Iouri & Nikolai: bare-chested Russian acrobats in lurid velvet pants. Even their costumes can't upstage their balancing feats, some of which truly provoke disbelief.
From nearby Ukraine comes Tamara, a rhythmic gymnast. Her fast-moving routine borders on contortionism and climaxes with Tamara spinning four hoops simultaneously by dint of four different body parts.
Speaking of bodies, the women in the audience certainly took note of Aerial Expression, a pair of shirtless, well-muscled acrobats who delight in spinning and swinging out over the audience. With several hundred pounds of airborne agility swooping just over one's head, enjoyment of Aerial Expression is mixed with not a slight amount of fear. Still, given the skill of the various athletes on display, one has to wonder such circus-ready performers haven't found a permanent home at one of the innumerable Cirque du Soleil spectacles.
The aesthetic of V, by contrast, is what emcee Wally Eastwood describes as "Cirque du I'm broke" (not that you'd know it from the ticket price). The show is at its nerviest when opening act the Crazy Gauchos takes the stage. These guys used to steal the show at Jubilee!, and they certainly know how to warm up an audience. Their shtick alternates majestic drumming -- with choreographed lighting effects (the V stage looks like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise repurposed as a gay bar) -- and lowbrow humor.
The Gauchos' patter is replete with shameless jokes about Latino stereotypes and illegal immigration - although other cultures come in for the occasional pot-shot, too. Their easy banter takes the edge off some dangerous-looking rope tricks and the duo has a good balance between an older, worldlier wise-ass type and his younger sidekick, who in his manic demeanor suggests a Hispanic Jack Black.
Holding the evening together is comedian/juggler Eastwood. He starts out in near-desperation mode, trying too hard for laughs. (His grin occasionally suggests a terrified rictus.) But, hard-working entertainer that he is, he soon has the audience on his side, winning spectators over with jokes about his heritage - a Mexico-Dixie mix. "I'm like a Mexican redneck," he says. "A hick-Spanic."
The high-velocity twirling of billiard pins with which Eastwood opens the show would do as a finale for many an artist. But that's nothing when you can juggle ping-pong balls with your tongue, firing them roof-high in speedy succession. You don't see that every day.
Eastwood's not infallible and the occasional gag goes awry, but it's difficult to begrudge his determination to amuse. His big finish is to play a Yamaha electric keyboard with tennis balls. With the machine set to "guitar," he bounces out "Smoke on the Water." Switching to synthesizer mode, he runs off a quick medley that ends with "Disturbia," then winds everything up with a jacked-up rendition of Beethoven's "Für Elise."
Beethoven with balls. Now maybe there's a marketing slogan V - The Ultimate Variety show can get behind.
V - The Ultimate Variety Show
7 & 8:30 p.m., Sun.-Sat.
Miracle Mile Shops
3663 Las Vegas Blvd. South
$66, $77 & $82.50