Buzz News Chicago: Theatre and Concert Reviews

zarkana-jugglingCirque du Soleil has innovated the circus as we once knew it and has transformed it into something that has become so more visual, musical and exciting than ever could have been imagined. While some Cirque shows are set to a particular theme such as the music of the Beatles or Michael Jackson or perhaps an epic Asian battle or even a water spectacular, Zarkana is different than most as it focuses on three ring circus acts that we grew up with, likely beneath a large tent.

Zarkana is performed center strip at Las Vegas’ Aria Resort and Casino inside a massive, and very beautiful theatre. Prior to the show, some of the 70-plus cast members from around the world are sprinkled throughout the venue interacting with people searching for their seats setting an exciting tone for what is about to come.

Each circus act brings out another gigantic set and bevy of creative costumes that are full of imagination with colors and movement that transcend the audience to another world for ninety minutes. Bringing to the forefront such fantastically traditional circus feats such as walking the high-wire, balancing acts, death-defying flying trapeze stunts and mind-boggling juggling, Cirque intensifies the experience of each with hypnotic music, amazing visuals and often incorporates its rich Vaudevillian humor.

Oohs and aahs are heard across the auditorium as acrobats fly overhead, performing maneuvers that can only be found in one’s deepest imaginings. Dream like motions are brilliantly blended with dangerous stunts that sometimes will have one on the end of their seat. An ingenious cast of characters are as colorful as they are funny. Zarkana is a show that can appeal to just about anyone’s sense of adventure.

Of the many acts performed, the Wheel of Death was probably one that caused the most amazement. The "wheel" is actually a largespace framebeam with hooped tracks at either end, within which the performers can stand. As the performers run around on either the inside or outside of the hoops, the whole apparatus rotates. The performers also perform balancing skills with the wheel in a stationary position. As the device spins faster and faster the stunts become more intense. Another stand out act was the Cyr Wheel. This is where acrobats rolled around the stage within large hoops while performing all kinds of mind-blowing tricks.

Each act was remarkable in its own right and opened one new world of imagination after the next. Whether an eight-year-old kid or a seventy-five year-old kid, Zarkana is certainly a sight to be seen and an experience you will not soon forget.

A Las Vegas show not to be missed, Zarkana has two performances each evening (7pm and 9:30pm) Friday through Tuesday. Tickets currently run between $69-$180 and can be purchased at 855.ZARKANA or by visiting 

Published in Theatre Reviews

One could only picture what would have happened should four of the greatest rock and roll pioneers ever stepped foot in the same studio at the same time. And just imagine if the above referenced were Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Well, one winter afternoon in December of 1956, that’s exactly what occurred when these four music trendsetters met unexpectedly at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Though no one really knows all the details of what happened during that meeting, most are quite certain a jam session like no other took place, later earning the four the nickname “The Million Dollar Quartet”.

MillionDollarQuartet-lasvegasCurrently playing at Harrah’s Showroom at Harrah’s Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and at the Apollo Theatre in Chicago, Million Dollar Quartet brilliantly takes its audience into the Sun Records studio where it combines theatre with a truly entertaining rock and roll show. Filled with jaw-dropping singing and instrumental feats, Million Dollar Quartet in fact conveys the excitement of mid-1950’s rock music while at the same time providing viewers with a good feel for the time period itself. Let’s focus on the Las Vegas production, which is certainly on par with Chicago’s.

Million Dollar Quartet does not require elaborate set changes, taking place entirely in a recording studio (Sun) converted from an auto parts store. The show makes its mark as one of the hottest shows on stage thanks to its amazing musical performances, well-defined characters and a storyline that perfectly delivers the enthralled, but forceful supposition of “What could have been?” The story also points to the importance of Sun Records and their impact on the music world, mainly owner Sam Phillips (superbly played by Marc D. Donovan) and his ability to recognize and shape the talent of each recording artist, by having them reach inside themselves.

What contributes greatly in making Million Dollar Quartet so special is the incredible cast they managed to assemble. Not only does the Las Vegas cast deliver the personality traits and behaviors of each, including Jerry Lee Lewis’ dancing eyebrows and Elvis’ sneers and unique body language, but it is each actor’s ability to convincingly sing as their character along with their musicianship that takes this show to a much higher altitude.

At times, Martin Kaye literally makes the audience forget they are not watching the real Jerry Lee Lewis with his maniacal piano playing intertwined with the showmanship that helped the rockin’ pianist become famous. Robert Britton Lyon’s sizzling guitar licks and strong vocals makes a highly believable Carl Perkins, while Benjamin D. Hale nails Johnny Cash with spot on singing and his ability to capture his live qualities. Justin Shandor who first stuns the crowd with his accurate rendition of “That’s All Right” and then later seals the deal with a classic performance of “Hound Dog” plays Elvis Presley. The cast is rounded out by studio session players Fluke (Mark Ferratt) and Jay Perkins (Josh Jones) who are a show worth watching in their own right, and Felice Garcia plays Elvis’ Girlfriend Dyanne that joins in the jam session with a couple songs of her own including an inspired version of “Fever”.

Million Dollar Quartet starts off with a bang with “Blue Suede Shoes” and then continues to highlight memorable songs from each performer including “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Who Do You Love”, “Great Balls of Fire”, “Peace in the Valley” and many more. A good mix of concert and theatre, the show is heartfelt, entertaining and will be sure to leave a lasting impression, not to mention have many go searching through their record collection when they get home. This is definitely a show you want to check in while in Las Vegas that embodies rock n’ roll fun throughout and ends on a high note with its dynamic ending as a big Las Vegas show should.

Million Dollar Quartet is currently playing at Harrah’s Showroom in Las Vegas, the Apollo Theatre in Chicago and is also touring nationally. For more information visit

Published in Theatre Reviews
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 00:00

Trent Carlini Brings The King to Life

When you think of Las Vegas many things come to mind – gambling, bright lights, monstrous hotels and casinos to which one can easily get lost, glamorous showgirls, dry heated air, the Bellagio fountain, The Rat Pack, Bugsy Segal and Seigfried and Roy. But maybe the largest association one has with Vegas is none other than the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley himself. After flopping in Las Vegas during the 1950s (they just weren’t ready for rock n’ roll), Elvis returned with a vengeance in the late 1960s and had several highly successful years as a residency and touring act until his death on August 16th, 1977.

Since the King’s passing there have probably been more Elvis impersonators than one can count, and though most may go unnoticed, Trent Carlini does not. Formerly known as the Las Vegas Hilton where Elvis performed with regularity, Carlini currently performs an amazingly inspired tribute at what is now called Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino. Known as one of the best Elvis impersonators in the business, Carlini does not disappoint.

Set in the Shimmer Cabaret, a 350-seat theatre, fans are treated to a very intimate Elvis experience that is a true celebration of Elvis’ life and music. Trent Carlini packs an accurate, and highly entertaining, musical chronology into his 75-minute show that starts with Presley’s earliest hits like “Blue Suede Shoes” and keeps on rolling through the 1970s. Touching on the movie years, we hear classics like “Rock-A-Hula”, “G.I. Blues”, and of course “Viva Las Vegas”, before Carlini appears in that famous leather suit for some ’68 Comeback Special action. Carlini also dons Elvis’ legendary white suit for an emotionally stirring rendition of “If I Can Dream”.

“The King starring Trent Carlini” gives audience members a taste of Elvis Presley’s music in a way many thought could not be done. Carlini’s vocal ability to sound like Presley is haunting, his likeness almost uncanny at times, his movements right on and he even captures some of the late legend’s renowned charm whether it be in joking with the crowd or letting off a simple impish grin. Band members play along with Carlini but are not exposed until a few songs in, adding another dimension to the show. Expect a good amount of audience participation, as Carlini prods the crowd to sing along on occasion (or on their own!), invites the ladies to step up to the stage for a kiss, personally greets a good amount of the crowd during “Love Me Tender” and later passes out scarves to the adoring women in true King fashion.  

With each period of Elvis’ life, Carlini sports the proper attire from Presley’s Lansky collection to his well-known jumpsuits (complete with karate demonstrations). We get a little history lesson along the way though the main focus is on the music, as it should be in a tribute show. Pumping out the Elvis faves like “Hound Dog”, “Jailhouse Rock” (one of Carlini’s self-proclaimed top choices), “Burning Love”, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “The Wonder of You”, fans leave the theater feeling as though they got their full dose of Elvis-mania. The show concludes on an apropos note with Carlini’s powerful version of “American Trilogy” that really gets the goose bumps going. Carlini hits the song’s final note with precision and might – a note that so many other tribute artists substitute with a lower octave.

There is a huge variety of shows to see in Las Vegas, but this is one that should be on your must see list, Elvis fan or not. It is a show for all ages and one that anyone who likes to rock can enjoy. “The King starring Trent Carlini” is completely entertaining and thoroughly engaging. Trent is one of the best in the business and what better place than to relive, or get a taste of, the musical performance of Elvis Presley.

“Thank you. Thank you very much.”   

Published in Theatre Reviews

....a few minutes in, Human Nature welcomed us to the 'party'.  Their shiny shoes and bow tie look indicated to me to get ready for a class act!  From Sidney, Australia, these four men who referred to themselves as ordinary guys, proved within minutes to be 'extra ordinary'.  With a love for music and dance as teens they performed as a barber shop quartet, but soon shifted to Motown, loving the beat and soul of such groups as the Temptations.  Motown was birthed in the United States in the late 50's, but soon reached the ears of Mike, Andrew, Phil and Toby lighting a fire that never quit.

During the performance the highs and lows of harmony was done beautifully.  Music and rhythm aside, just watching four handsome men, suited up, brought class into the house and heightened the crowd with anticipation.  "Shop Around" brought back memories for me, and when "Stop in the Name of Love" filled the room it took you back in time when young people would escape into the fun of music.  This show was family friendly, but it wasn't a surprise to see the seats filled with older folks who related so much with the Motown sound.

Mike, Andrew, Phil and Toby have been together musically for twenty-five years.  The lead singer Mike, who initiated this 'dream' said it all began with "I'll Be There".  Their relationship with Smokey Robinson is genuine and productive in honoring Motown, and Human Nature is continuing to keep the heart and soul of Motown alive.  The energy level these guys had, the 'moves' and quality singing certainly is worth checking out.  Each performer is gifted, but the four together were amazingly entertaining. There was just the right mix of performance and audience participation to really keep the fun going.  Backed up by the Hollas Band Las Vegas, Human Nature brought home a sound that brought history back to life!  It just couldn't have been better!

Smokey Robinson’s Human Nature: The Motown Show is currently playing at The Sands Showroom inside Las Vegas’ glitzy Venetian Hotel and Casino. With hits from the Four Tops, The Supremes, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder you’ll find this show to be one of Vegas’ most fun and inspirational.

Published in Theatre Reviews

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