TVD Live: ‘Purple Reign: The Prince Tribute Show’ and ‘All Shook Up: A Tribute to the King,’ Las Vegas, 6/26 and 7/3

Rising like a shimmering fever dream in the middle of the desert, Las Vegas has always been about fakery.

Magicians and impersonators continue to be top draws in showrooms, the best of them mystifying the tourist flocks. Casinos are constructed to emulate ersatz pyramids, Roman coliseums, Parisian skylines, and the whole of New York City. Inside them, you are led to believe you might actually win at the tables.

So as Vegas lumbers to reopen with the rest of the country (though its pandemic numbers and deaths are currently worst in the nation) it is the tribute artist fill-ins who largely fill the musical bill in showrooms.

They currently include a fake Rat Pack,  three different fake Motown revues, a generic Queens of Rock show, and a couple of Michael Jackson recreations. There is a rock revue of questionable taste, 27 – A Musical Adventure, impersonating rock stars who died at age 27, from Jimi, Janis, and Jim to Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain. There’s an Australian Bee Gees (though the originals were Aussies too, right?) and the long-running smorgasbord of subterfuge, Legends in Concert.

There’s one show dedicated entirely to Elvis and two for Prince. One of the latter is Purple Reign: The Prince Tribute Show which has been performing around Vegas long before its subject died in 2016. Its star Jason Tenner has been putting on the purple costume for 25 years and generally stays in the realm Prince created in his 1984 film—down to giving a big chunk of the hour long show to Morris Day and the Time. Nothing wrong with that. Prince wrote and produced most of that music as well, their appearance and cavorting allows Tenner to go off and do costume changes.

Adding shimmying dancing girls is probably a law for every show on the Vegas strip so a couple of them gyrate here. Add a singer and they become Vanity 6 (paying tribute to yet another singer gone before her time; Vanity died in 2016 at 57).

Tenner himself strikes quite a figure on the busily-lit stage, standing in the fog for the dramatic “dearly beloved” intro to “Let’s Go Crazy.” And while he and the band don’t actually go crazy, they crank the volume for a show that is so crunching, it generally skips the ballads and softer nuances of Prince’s career. (That part, presumably, is covered in the competing Prince show in Vegas, “Purple Piano: A Celebration of Prince,” performed by Marshall Charloff at the Alexis Park All Suite Resort.)

Tenner wields a guitar on the opener, but generally leaves all that to his guitarist and musical director as he concentrates on vocals and dance spins (and when one of those spins ends in the splits, I imagine you have to concentrate).

Prince himself had a six month Vegas residency at the Rio from 2006 to 2007 that I regret not seeing, but I imagine it wasn’t like this at all. By then, he presented a lot of new songs, putting his hits, if he played them at all, into quickly-shifting medleys. But the shows were open to surprise, special guests, and long jamming.

No such thing in the current Vegas, where timing is precise, hits from “When Doves Cry” to “1999” are required and shows are usually over in an hour. It’s unquestionably great to hear the music once more, even if one doesn’t fall for the fallacy of an actual Prince on stage (Tenner, his hair up in a headband, doesn’t really look that much like him; he’s bigger in stature than the diminutive Minnesotan). But the music is enough for the crowd to seem satisfied when the Tropicana show is over.

Elvis Presley’s first foray into Vegas was a famous flop in 1956; a Rat Pack-attuned audience didn’t cotton to this kid’s wild take on music. That all changed 15 years later when he revitalized his career—and in many ways the city—with his flashy comeback—a two-shows-a night, seven-days-a-week grind that went on for more than 600 performances through 1976.

That flash—and that jumpsuit, topped by a red lei from his Hawaii broadcast—is the emphasis in All Shook Up: A Tribute to the King, playing in a small showroom in the Miracle Mile Shops—an actual mall at Planet Hollywood.

Travis Allen is the star, and his well-honed Presley style comes from decades of Vegas performances. He appears to have come to the role more from the dance moves and the hip action than the voice, though to be fair, it’s tough to replicate the exact tone and timbre of the King. The wiggle and the hair combine to be convincing enough.

With the tidy trio behind him (augmented at times by tracks of unseen strings, horns or singers) he begins by fairly swinging through the ’50s hits, relying on the same jokes Elvis used in town, subbing the throwaway line “You have made my life a wreck” in place of “You have made my life complete” in “Love Me Tender” and chuckling about it like it was the first time instead of the millionth. Likewise his interaction with the audience was likely similar each night, picking out a woman in the audience and asking if she were Priscilla, and then calling her by his wife’s name the rest of the show. There is a buoyancy and lift to the show due entirely to the material—it’s great to hear live Elvis music without a faulty imitation getting in the way.

During a break in the middle of the show the announcer returns with his own act, fronting the band to impersonate a variety of Las Vegas legends—incredibly dated ones that’d get laughs a half century ago, aping Wayne Newton to Tom Jones and Neil Diamond. But the exuberant personality of the host only made the star seem a bit more bland when he returned—in full Vegas jumpsuit regalia.

Allen broke the illusion once when he said we were all there to celebrate the King, and followed with “An American Trilogy,” which would normally be expected on a Fourth of July weekend, but still sounded a little tone-deaf to current social concerns by starting with its lines from “Dixie.”

Allen had a blueprint of how to pace his show from Elvis’ long and successful Vegas concerts, adding a bit of “Polk Salad Annie” and the faster version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to wind up the show. It didn’t take much for him to return for an encore with a tune that was emblematic of the entire experience: “Viva Las Vegas.”

Even by an impersonator in a town that itself impersonates, it works.

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