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It’s masks up, tops down as Strip show ‘X Country’ returns

Updated October 25, 2020 - 2:52 pm

John Bizarre peered into the darkness, beyond the 25-foot “Entertainment Moat,” in the general direction of an audience.

“I know people are out there,” the veteran comic said, shading his eyes from the stage lights. “I see all these people in masks. It’s like working in a hospital.”

Well, it is a place where Vegas entertainment can feel better. The scene was in fact Harrah’s Cabaret, the adult revue “X Country,” which owns the distinction of being the first ticketed production to return to a Strip hotel-casino since the March 18 pandemic shutdown. “Zombie Burlesque” and “Vegas! The Show” were the last to perform, pre-shutdown, on St. Patrick’s Day.

As the show’s comic performer, Bizarre joked that the topless show really was a super-spreader event. The 80-seat capacity crowd loved that. This was largely locals and drive-in audience. When Bizarre asked if anyone was from visiting from out of the country, a woman called back, “Yes!”

“From where?” Bizarre asked. “Oregon!” the woman answered. “What!” Bizarre called out.

Instinctively, the comedian started to walk from the stage to the woman before halting, saying, “Wait, I can’t do that.”

Elsewhere, there were a few couples from such outposts as Oklahoma and Southern California and a small bachelorette party from Colorado.

The night also drew some Vegas entertainment hierarchy. Producers Matt and Angela Stabile, and Caesars Entertainment execs Jason Gastwirth and Damian Costa (both in Caesars-branded masks) attended what amounted to a landmark moment in the city’s entertainment history.

Costa has been immortalized in the show, as a framed photo portrait was placed on a makeup table next to the show’s shower scene.

“It was a great start, a sold-out audience that was receptive,” Angela Stabile said. “We are glad and grateful Caesars chose us to be the first to open. It’s a great first step.” Matt Stabile tossed out the show’s unofficial pandemic reopening message, “Masks up, tops down.”

It took some work to get there. The Harrah’s venue is usually the “X Country” home saloon, but the room was set up with a new, socially distant seating pattern. The chasm between the stage and first row of seats was wide enough to drive the show’s old Ford pickup truck through.

The dancers wore clear-plastic masks decorated with rhinestones, which were pulled off (along with their tops) for solo numbers. Though part of the stage costumes, the masks were also CDC-approved before the dancers even worked with them.

“It was harder at first, with the masks, and we had a a couple of rehearsals with them just to learn to breathe in them without suffocating,” cast member Shelby Jordan said. “But as soon as I was onstage I forgot I was wearing it. When we were dancing, it was like we had no PPE at all.”

The dancers have been permitted to perform numbers close to one another, not six feet apart, and such signature numbers as the two-woman bed scene is intact. Except, you know, for the masks.

Caesars Entertainment, trumpeting the fact that it is the first Strip resort company to return ticketed production shows to the stage during pandemic reopening. “Absinthe” returns for the company at Caesars Palace on Tuesday, Piff The Magic Dragon reopens at Flamingo Showroom on Wednesday and Tape Face is back at Harrah’s Showroom on Nov. 11.

Gastwirth said the company was proud to be at the front of the return of live entertainment on the Strip.

“Live entertainment has been missed as part of the Vegas experience, and that couldn’t have been seen any more clearly than by the excitement of the audience and performers,” Gastwirth said. “We applaud Stabile Productions, working collaboratively with our entertainment team, for their commitment to making this a success under the current guidelines.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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