Sammasseur reviews Paul Zerdin: Mouthing Off
Hit the road, Terry Fator. There’s a new…and better…puppet man in town.
Performers who work with puppets and marionettes face a unique conundrum in Las Vegas. Audiences here might perceive them as childish entertainment, but if they spice things up with adult material, parents who bring kids could easily be offended (too bad, Mom and Dad…it’s V.E.G.A.S…).
That’s the situation that America’s Got Talent winner Terry Fator faced when he transitioned his family-friendly act from television to a high-profile residency at The Mirage. Having seen his show in numerous iterations through the years, I can honestly say that Terry never found the proper balance.
Fator’s characters and jokes are all over the place, running the gamut from racially and sexually offensive (gay cliche “Barry Fabulous” was inexcusable) to condescending and eye-rollingly idiotic. Factor in Fator’s tabloid-style personal life (that’s been played out right on the Mirage stage), several ugly lawsuits, a bizarre song about a dead boy, an out-of-place salute to the Armed Forces…and the fact that he doesn’t even conceal his lip movements anymore. Well, it all makes for a queasy (and expensive) mess worth avoiding.
Several other ventriloquists have graced Vegas stages in recent years with varying degrees of success, from Jeff Dunham to Ronn Lucas. Now the most recent AGT champion, Paul Zerdin, is hoping to win over the Strip with his handsome looks, a trunk filled with puppets, and a hefty dose of British wit. Paul Zerdin: Mouthing Off is the name of his new residency at Planet Hollywood Resort.
Although I didn’t follow Zerdin’s path on AGT, I’d heard that Ronn Lucas publicly accused Zerdin of cribbing props and humor from his own act and those of other ventriloquists (are behind-the-scenes scandals a requirement in this field?). True or not, I entered Mouthing Off with an open mind (not easy to do after the Fator debacle), vowing to review the show solely on what Zerdin brought to the stage.
And I must say, I was truly entertained by this new production. What sets Zerdin apart from other ventriloquists is that his creations aren’t over-the-top caricatures. They’re relatable beings that seem almost flesh-and-blood. That certainly enhances the illusion that the characters are doing their own talking.
There are three primary puppets that make up Mouthing Off — big-eared and wide-eyed “Baby”, precocious young fella “Sam” (ahem) and crotchety old “Albert”. Each character is fully realized in well-rounded acts, allowing for their individual personalities to shine through.
As I was new to Zerdin, his characters were also unfamiliar. Discovering them was part of the charm, so I won’t spoil things with in-depth details….just a few highlights:
Baby is a real charmer…alternately inquisitive, sarcastic, demanding and fearful, much like a real child. At one point, Baby unexpectedly develops hiccups, which is an impressive feat for Zerdin to carry off, especially while voicing two halves of a conversation. But what charmed me were Baby’s reactions (“what’s happening?”, “I don’t like it”, “Make it stop!”) that made the moment so endearing…and very very funny.
Sam‘s moment in the spotlight is a duet with Zerdin’s gorgeous assistant, Robin, who has a lovely set of vocal cords. It’s a delightful sequence, especially since Sam’s “right-hand man” leaves the stage beforehand. We’ll chalk the magic up to electronic wizardry and not the Dark Arts.
Elderly curmudgeon Albert makes his entrance to the stage by way of the outhouse…and heads for the usual hard-of-hearing and bathroom jokes. Those predictable moments give way to a giddy sequence where Albert pulls out a “Paul Zerdin” doll to demonstrate his own voice-throwing talents. It’s uproarious.
The final segment is one that even I’d seen before – a tried and true bit of audience participation with specialty masks that also wraps up Fator’s show. Variations of this skit can be seen in Recycled Percussion, V – The Ultimate Variety Show and a few others around the Strip. Once again, the less you know, the better.
Along the way, there are several references to Zerdin’s desire to become the next Daniel Craig. That running joke culminates in a grand finale where Zerdin gets to live out his Bond fantasy, complete with fog and lighting effects, a “Bond Girl”….and his puppet characters zipping around the stage in miniature cars.
Unfortunately, that clever climax also drove home the realization that the entirety of Mouthing Off could use a little extra pizzazz. For a high-profile gig in a sizable auditorium, it’s staged pretty simply…and the look is relatively stark. I’m not suggesting over-the-top production values like Fator uses (a full band AND a back-flipping DJ for a puppet show are a bit extreme), but some increased Vegas glitz wouldn’t hurt.
Still, Paul Zerdin: Mouthing Off is a worthy addition to the Planet Hollywood entertainment line-up.
Paul Zerdin: Mouthing Off performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7 pm in the Planet Hollywood Showroom, located above the casino floor. Tickets start at $50 plus taxes/fees and can be ordered here. Travelzoo.com is currently running an offer for 40% off, good through November 27.