Las Vegas Show Review: “Awakening” (at the Wynn)
Las Vegas Show Review: “Awakening” (Wynn)
Awakening nearly put me to sleep. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Delusively billed as “a dazzling spectacle with new characters, costumes, choreography, and original music,” this is the over-the top production show that replaced Le Reve, the underwhelming and widely-panned aquatic-themed Cirque du Soleil forgery which inexplicably ran for 15 years (2005-2020) as the casino’s marques attraction. Now, the former Le Reve showroom has even been rebranded as the Awakening Theater.
Suggestion: Seats should come with a pillow.
Unfortunately, there’s creeping evidence Awakening could already be in serious trouble. Earlier in 2023 (mid-April) without warning, Awakening was placed on an “extended pause.” The Wynn’s surprise announcement meant more than a hundred upcoming shows had to be cancelled. Show tickets that were already purchased were granted full refunds. Behind the scenes, the casino’s crack marketing team likely fished through the faded pages of an old public relations primer desperately trying to spitball some concocted explanation that might fly with consumers and media, eventually settling on the flimsy excuse that their $150 million show needed “an extended rehearsal period.” Uh huh. Translation: The show sucked. Just say it.
Then, on June 30th, two and a half months after shuttering the Wynn showroom temporarily, the show’s rebirth debuted. Call it Awakening 2.0. Okay, so I stapled on the “2.0” part. Lots of blameless executive fingers inside the Wynn boardroom all pointing at each other before (this disaster wasn’t my idea) were now crossed and breaths were held. However, after seeing the reboot myself last night for the first time, here’s my question: If this is the revamped production, holy smokes, just how bad was the first show?
Our performance on the night of Sept. 26, 2023 in the 7 pm show begins with a few dozen dancers half-dressed in Zulu warrior costumes swinging sticks with lots of stuff hanging from them. Lots of dancing. Dancing. Dancing. Dancing.
Not jaw-dropping acrobatics. Not Cirque-type marvels. Dancing. And giant jumbo drums. Boom! Boom, boom, boom! Boom! The over/under on drum bangs is 267, juiced -120 to the OVER.
We got it. Awakening. Okay, you got us; we’re awake already.
Oiled up muscle men come out and dance around the circular stage some more. Then, one really muscular dude that looks like he could pack a G-string at Chippendale’s full of singles and fivers gives a jumbled soliloquy about good versus evil, or something or other about the history of the Baltimore Colts, I’m not sure, really. I couldn’t tell the difference or understand the story I was supposed to be following.
Then, scary puppets dressed like skeletons at Halloween popped out of the tunnels. They started dancing. More oiled up muscled super dudes waved sticks. More drums. Boom! Boom, boom, boom! Boom! Oh joy!
A few segments in, next we were introduced to “Boo” and “Bimbap.” Check that. Not sure the name was Bimbap. Maybe it was Baltimore Colts. Ahh screw it, let’s move on.
Boo is the girl. Bimbap, or whatever, is the boy. The duo presumably will be the vessels of comedy relief for the remainder of the extravaganza. Their childish dialogue mostly resembles something Barney the Dinosaur might say. Barney! That’s it. Not Bimbap. Barney. Oh wait, is that the girl or the boy?
This is excruciating.
Here’s where things get confusing I mean, REALLY confusing. The first scene was something out of Africa. The second scene was a Halloween dance routine. Then, we got slog through the comedy magic of Boo and Barney. Then, some pretty stuff falls from the ceiling, but now writing this review now just 24 hours later, I can’t remember what it was, but it sure as shit cost lots of money (especially if The Teamsters have the labor contract on this gig). Then, the whale shows up.
Yep. The whale. I think. Or, was it a Dolphin?
I’ll go with whale for $500, Alex.
Midway into the show, a giant mastodon trots out with the Zulu warriors gathered around it. Doing what? DANCING! Well, of course. More booms. And smoke. It’s like the inside of Cheech & Chong’s lowrider, sans the laughs.
This particular scene really bothered me. The mastodon looked like a an elephant fronted with long tusks, so I presume it was that prehistoric creature. I’m not a forensic orthodontist, so it’s purely a guess. But the puppet-beast gets led around the stage in thick chains towed by more oiled-up muscle men. The mastodon looked sad. PETA obviously wouldn’t approve of this. To be fair, the elephantine beast was cleverly orchestrated. It reminded me of the excellent theatrical production I saw of War Horse in London years ago, where the puppeteers move limbs from inside the animal and so it appears to be lifelike with a personality all its own. Still, those massive chains and the torture aspect of captivity bothered me. This discomfort wasn’t intentional, nor part of the (non-existent) “Awakening” plot. The scene just seemed terribly out of place and was troubling. Spoiler Alert: We never see the giant mastodon again, so in this ale of “good versus evil,” apparently evil wins this sad chapter.
More drum beats. Boom! Boom, boom, boom! Boom! The OVER gets there about 35 minutes in. Billy Walters wins again.
The remainder of the performance continues pretty much with the same confusing discombobulation. I won’t ruin the ending, but if your so inclined (foolish enough) to go see this show, skip over this next paragraph.
The show’s climax is a giant bird that lights up like a Christmas tree. The bird is pretty. It’s like a falcon. Or maybe a hawk. Come to think of it, it’s kinda’ like the Nazi eagle. I think the bird is good, though. I’m not sure. I must have dozed off and missed that key plot device that explained the meaning of the giant Christmas tree Naz bird. I admit, that I’d even put that bird in my front yard as a holiday decoration — provided it was on sale at Costco. A wild guess: The god-bird presumably represents the triumph of good, and everyone dances around it again in joyous celebration. Boo and Bimbap jabber on for what seems like eternity and then the house music plays, then a heavenly voice that sounds like Anthony Hopkins speaks from the sky (maybe it really *is* Anthony Hopkins on a recording–sure sounds like him, expect there’s no reference to either Clarice or Chianti).
The show includes one song with vocals (male voice), no female vocals (females seem woefully underrepresented in this production), an escape magic trick from a cage, lots of colorful props and lights, fire and pyrotechnics, smoke, and drums. Lots of drums. And dancing. Holy Nazi-god-bird there’s a LOT of dancing in this show. It’s like the director said, we’ve got 15 more minutes to fill. Keep dancing!
When the house lightly mercifully were turned on and the show ended, I looked at my smartphone for the time and was stunned. It seemed like two hours, but in reality Awakening clocked in at a swift 1 hour and 20 minutes. Since two mind-numbing shows per night are scheduled, there’s little time to spare ejecting the first batch of suckers to bring in the fresh marks. The show I attended was filled to about two-thirds capacity. This must be troublesome for a show that cost so much and is dishing out tickets to locals at 2 for 1 (that’s how we got our seats, which came to $75 plus the Ticketmaster “handing fees” requiring me to sell blood plasma the next three weeks).
In the 20 years I’ve lived in Las Vegas, I’ve seen about 100 shows, more of less. The worst show I ever saw was Vinnie Favorito, allegedly a stand-up comedian. This was right there in the bowels of bad entertainment near the bottom. However, Vinnie’s spot is safe, at least for now.
I’m astounded by what a mess Awakening is. Due to its association with the luxurious Wynn, the show is likely to continue for a while longer, until word of mouth inevitably kills it.
Hopefully someone will save the giant mastodon.