Rumblings, Ruminations, and Retrospectives

Musings from the mind of the Beast.

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Vegas: Day 1

So, after a pair of $6 tickets to ride part of the Strip from the airport to our hotel, we arrive at the front door of the MGM Grand. On the outside, it’s really big. And really green. On the inside, it’s rather spectacular at first look.

The main lobby floor is covered in shiny white marble, streaked with black. On the left, is the MGM Grand & Company Store, where they look to take even more of your gambling money away with merchandise sales. On the right, the hotel’s business services area, check in area (which behind that is a GIGANTIC set of TV’s advertising upcoming events at the hotel), and the concierge service.

Directly in front of you, though, is the centerpiece of the hotel. A huge golden statue of Metro, the MGM Grand Lion, the namesake of the first “M” in MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Tall and regal, overlooking the lobby, he also looks like he could tear your head off in an instant.

Well, he IS a lion.

Nice kitty.

So we proceed to go check in, and we meet Ann, a young woman who’s clearly at the end of her rope, but she manages to pull it together for us, and even cracks a smile and a laugh as she assigns us a room on the 23rd floor, overlooking the Strip. Awesome. We finish check in, and wave goodbye to Metro for fear he’d eat us, and head for the elevators to our room.

The moment you pass Metro and the hotel lobby, you’re walking IMMEDIATELY into the casino. We’ll also find that this is a common theme amongst all the hotels we’ll visit. Brilliant, really. Make everyone pass through the casino to get *anywhere* in the hotel. Might make a few extra hundred bucks that way. But the slot machines don’t get us THIS time, and we head off to the elevators to head to our room.

Express elevator! WOOHOO!

We get to our room, and it’s pretty nice. The bathroom is almost the size of our bedroom at home, king sized bed, television, high-speed internet ($14.95 per day!!) and a fantastic view overlooking the strip. We can see the Stratosphere, Bellagio, Planet Hollywood, New York New York, among other places (great photo ops!), and we just kick back for a few minutes and rest after all the travel. Unpack a few things, get somewhat organized, and take a breath.

Downstairs we go, and we step back out into the casino. This part of the casino is just the basic stuff; low end slots, small minimum blackjack, roulette, that kind of thing. The REAL action is down the hall, where the Poker Room, areas with high end tables, and a whole special WING dedicated to the high-rollers.

Staying away from there!

We look around, and see the KA Theater, home to Cirque du Soleil’s production of – you guessed it – “KA”. We booked tickets to the show tonight, so we head over to pick up our tickets, which must be picked up at least two hours before show time. The whole side of the wing is devoted to KA – merchandise store, ticket area, and of course, the absolutely ginormous theater.

By the time we’ve checked in, rested, gotten organized, and walked around a bit, it’s 5 Vegas time, but our stomachs are still on Winnipeg time, so we decide to find somewhere to eat. Right in front of us is Wolfgang Puck’s Bar and Grill, so we figure it’s perfect. Eat, then straight behind us is the KA theater. Not far to go. Plus, we’ve seen Wolfgang on TV lots, on Craig Ferguson, Dave Letterman, and Ellen, and we’ve always wanted to try his food. Win all around!

Wolfgang Puck’s is a wide open area. Well, it’s gated off to physically separate it from the casino, but the layout is wide open. It’s very nice for a bar and grill type place, and we’re seated, and start looking over the menu. THEY’VE GOT CRAB CAKES! We’ve always wanted to try crab cakes, so we order those up as an appetizer, Stephanie orders a gourmet burger, and I get some kind of gourmet pepperoni pizza.

Ok. I know what you’re thinking. You’re in Vegas. You’re at Wolfgang freaking Puck’s and you ordered a burger and pizza? Well, first off, this place serves bar food, so it’s about par for the course, and let me tell you something else… if you ever ATE this burger and pizza… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Drinks and crab cakes come out, and one thing I didn’t realize is that the crab cakes come out on a little bed of guacamole.

I HATE guacamole.

Great. This is gonna SUCK.

But, I try it anyway.

I almost fell out of my ever-loving chair. It was THAT good. These particular crab cakes were in patty form, seasoned, and on the guacamole, and all of a sudden, I didn’t even care about guacamole.

So Steph and I DEMOLISH the crab cakes, and have some drinks, waiting for our entrees, and finally, this gigantic burger with thin cut and obviously seasoned fries comes out, along with my pepperoni and cheese pizza, and folks, you might think this was JUST a burger, or JUST a pizza, but if you believe that, then I’ve got quality real estate in Siberia for sale with a fantastic view, AND your taste buds have been SORELY lacking.

Not only lacking, but now they’re REALLY jealous.

Hands down, the absolute BEST I’ve ever had, and if you think I almost fell out of my chair after eating the crab cakes, then this time my jaw went through the table in between bites.

Amazing. Along with great service, and we were duly impressed. Not that expensive, either.

But if we thought we were impressed after that, then our minds were about to be BLOWN.

It was time to go to KA.

Now, if you know me at all, you might think that my early perception of Cirque du Soleil might not be all that favorable. I’ve come around a lot lately, with shows like So You Think You Can Dance, but I thought CDS was going to be a bunch of artsy folks floating around the stage for a couple hours. That, I can take in small doses, but contemporary type dance has never been my bag, baby.

Was I about to get rocked.

I don’t know how big this theater is. Square feet wise, it’s monstrous. On the MGM Grand map, they say that Studio 54 is 20,000 square feet, but if you look at the size of Studio 54, and then look at the size of KA, you’d think you could easily fit 10-15 Studio 54’s into the space of the KA theater. It’s HUGE.

You walk into the theater, and you’d think the place is like an Ewok village. Even the ushers are dressed as part of the show. Remember the little fuzzy guys from Return of the Jedi? Well, THIS village is filled with tribal folk.

Huge, muscular, tribal folk. That go to war.

You look around the theater, and the main stage area in front of you isn’t really a stage yet. It’s a giant pit. It’s a giant pit that shoots out fire at irregular intervals. And it’s HOT, especially when you’re only a few rows back like we were. All around you on the sides of the theater are these tree-like things that lead up to enclosed platforms, and these platforms exist on multiple levels. The theater is surrounded by them. Before the show even starts, the tribal folk come onto these platforms, and start yelling at each other in some tribal-speak we don’t understand. They break out in laughter. They seem to insult each other. They pound on drums. Then, these groups of two guys are hooked up on some kind of pulley system, and they’re leaping STORIES through the air from platform level to platform level, supporting and pulling each other on this pulley system. Crazy.

Some facts about KA, before I forget:

  • 80 artists from around the world perform the show twice per day, 5 days per week and about 50 weeks per year
  • Over 100 crew members are working for the show in 8 or more technical and artist support departments
  • The music is played live, by human-beings, every time, only about 2 minutes of pre-recorded audio is used throughout the whole performance
  • The total number of cast and crew for the show is about 266 people
  • The production cost for KA were higher than the combined cost of all Broadway productions that were released in the same year as KA
  • The custom build venue for the show inside the MGM has 1,951 seats
  • Every seat is equipped with its own loud speakers for optimal sound experience
  • The main stage of KA is called a "Gantry" made of 2 decks, one that can slide forward and backward and the other one which can be rotated and moved 360 degrees
  • The main deck is 25×50 feet (8×16 meters) in diameter, weighs 300,000 lbs, which is more than a fully booked, loaded and gassed-up average-size jet airliner
  • Fully erected to its maximum height, artists perform their act 100 ft in the air!

Keep all that in mind!

So the story of KA is that everyone travels through life with the Egyptian concept of the ‘ka’ – their spiritual double, and this double leads them from one life through to the next. There are the Imperial twins that are about to embark on their own journey with their own ka’s. Along the way, the twins confront characters and events representing the opposing forces of good and evil. Before their world comes under attack and collapses around them, the twins receive a magical talisman for protection. As the plot unfolds, danger lies in wait for them at every turn and along the way, surviving ocean storms, meeting fantastic creatures and conquering evil opponents, and are finally reunited at the end of the show.

Along the way, the performers do amazing things, and so does the set. The main style of dance is capoeira, an ancient tribal style of dance developed by Brazilian slaves who were planning to rebel, but hid their fighting training inside the dance so as not to be discovered getting ready for rebellion.

Enough babbling. I can’t really do this performance justice in words. The costumes, set design (and engineering), props, makeup… EVERYTHING is just astounding. It’s amazing.

At the start of the show, a couple people come out and do a little demonstration, prepping us for what’s about to happen. They see a guy in the crowd with his cell phone on, so they come and grab him – and his phone – and TOSS the phone into the gigantic fire pit. The guys isn’t so happy, so they toss HIM into the big fire pit!

The guy was obviously a plant, but it was great nonetheless.

Out rotates this the gantry I posted about above.

The stage is first a giant rowboat, as the twins and their group embark on their journey, but then the WHOLE THING rotates and is replaced by another stage, where folks on this main stage get into this whole group number, where this one amazing guy is flipping and flying all over the place, while everyone else is twirling and throwing batons, and not only that, but they are KICKING the batons through the air back and forth in PERFECT synchronization. Just nuts. Archers are shooting LIVE arrows across the stage from the aforementioned platforms, and one woman is shot in the ASS. Another guy takes one in the chest, there’s fire everywhere, everyone mourns, and the story of the war begins.

I’m not going to tell you the whole thing, cause I’d be typing here for HOURS, and you don’t have that much time to read everything, but this is WICKED. There’s all kinds of group numbers. The stage is rotated out and replaced by a duplicate that’s turned into a BEACH, where folks are dressed as crabs and starfish and they interact with the characters. The whole platform ROTATES FORWARD ON IT’S END, and all of a sudden, it’s 100 feet from top to bottom, and at the end of the scene, all the sand pours off the deck, and at the top of the deck, one group of warriors is rotating on top of the deck as well. A second group of warriors try to climb 100 ft up from the bottom, but they’re met by posts that come poking out of the deck, that are like mock arrows being shot from the platform, knocking them off into the pit below! One valiant warrior manages to get all the way to the top, avoiding the big poles, but he’s finally knocked off, and he DROPS 100 ft PLUS into the pit below!

A HUGE dragon flies across the stage, with this woman hanging on for dear life, but she’s finally dropped into the pit from WAY above the stage!

There’s a great individual number where these two folks, one man, one woman, come out and do this high-flying number where the guy is swinging on a rope, and he’s doing all kinds of movements on the rope, and the woman joins him, and together, they’re doing all kinds of flippy stuff, amazing lifts, and crazy swinging drops and stunts that boggle me.

Transition into this scene where this angry looking dude is absolutely SHREDDING on a double guitar, setting the scene for this EPIC piece where there’s this huge set of double wheels rotating through the air. Picture five gigantic hamster wheels, but they’re orbiting around a central point. There’s two guys trapped in different wheels, but they escape, and pull off some of most death-defying stuff I’ve seen in a long time, running along on the OUTSIDE of the wheels while they’re orbiting, and leaping (ok, DROPPING) from one wheel to the next, and rotating through again. Simply amazing.

Cue up the deck rotated from top to bottom, so we have a 100ft vertical platform, and two groups of warriors locked in battle, performing some of the best wire harness work this side of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. These folks are FLYING up and down the platform, using weapons, martial arts, and other crazy stuff in this battle. Finally, good triumphs over evil, and the twins are reunited to continue on their journey.

As I said, there’s so much awesome in this, that I can’t ever hope to describe it. I will instead point you to this video to have a look on your own:

 

Here I was, thinking it was going to suck, and I was treated to one of the most awesome things I have ever seen in my life. Thanks Steph, for insisting we go see this.

By the end of the show, it’s about 9 Vegas time, 11 Winnipeg time, so we’ve been up for 19 hours, been through a lot of travel, a big meal, and a great show, and done it all on only two hours of sleep after a 20 hour day before that. So we go back to the hotel room and crash for the day.

I’d say that Vegas: Day 1 was a rousing success.

Next: Vegas: Day 2!