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Strip hit Thunder From Down Under sheds pretense for 50 fans

Updated January 19, 2021 - 7:21 am

Before taking the stage Sunday night, Thunder From Down Under captain Alex Biffin spoke energetically of his meat pies.

These are real meat pies, as authentically Australian as the cast of Excalibur’s adult revue. Biffin, built like an Aussie rules football player and the model of the show’s marquee image at MGM Grand, has launched the business during COVID (the pies are available through The Aussie Project’s Facebook page).

“The guys need to be careful not to eat too many,” Biffen said from the Thunder dressing room at Thunderland Theater. “We’ve actually been getting good response. People love them.” Just don’t love ‘em too much, or it’s a one-way ticket to the elliptical machine.

Biffen and Thunder are serving up their entertainment main course at Thunderland, having returned Saturday night for 50 fans. Spacing is not a challenge for a venue built for 425. Making money is a different challenge, and Thunder makes the numbers work with a pre-pandemic schedule of 14 shows per week (three per night Fridays and Saturdays, two per night during the week, dark Tuesdays).

Thunder is the only production show in MGM Resorts performing. Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club is the only other ticketed show of any kind operating for the company.

Meeting the demand, all four Thunder performances sold out Saturday and Sunday, though a pair of tickets went unsold for Sundays 10 p.m. show until about two hours before showtime. Producer Adam Steck of SPI Entertainment routinely checked on that pair in the hour prior to the early show, “What is going on with these two tickets?” until they sold.

The crowd response was a classic instance of tiny-but-mighty. The women in fluorescent blue and pink wigs screamed at the stage. A bachelorette party on stage right grooved to Big & Rich’s strip-show anthem, “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy).” One member of the bachelorette party overindulged and required assistance departing the showroom, which is a Thunder hallmark.

Only during the guys’ onstage patter was the scarcity of humans noticeable. Shows that require crowd interaction, which is most shows currently running in town right now, need to have some material ready to address the obvious.

A good starting point is reminding the audience it is experiencing a unique moment in time in Las Vegas, where 50 people watch a full Strip production show. Or, pipe in some comically loud cheering between numbers, similar to how Bill Maher used an overzealous laugh track when taping “Real Time” from his backyard.

The show still leans on audience participation onstage, but anyone selected from the crowd must remain 6 feet away from the dancers. In one segment, a cast member pulls out a tape measure to ensure a safe distance before grooving and shedding atop a king-size bed.

And everyone is masked, unless talking to the audience. Emcee Scott Reading, in his second tour with the show dating to 2003, is the least-masked of the bunch.

Otherwise, the Thunder cast rendered the wide-open spaces nearly undetectable. The video screens — a signature effect in the $6 million venue — come alive with fire, lights and such textured moments as a military backdrop. (The showroom is a standing tribute to departed magician Hans Klok, whose investment helped pay for the new digs.)

The common thread among shows that have figured out how to return is bravery. The Thunder guys rehearsed for four hours as they returned from a seven-week break after Gov. Steve Sisolak initiated new public-gathering restrictions. The conditions are not ideal, but hey, the show cracks and everyone in the place is having a good time.

“Mission accomplished,” is how Steck referred to the reopening weekend. “The cast was thirsty to entertain, and the crowds were thirsty for entertainment.”

The Thunder team inherited a strange environment, but the guys own it. And when we’re out of this, meat pies for everyone.

Medley for the moment

Rock ‘n’ roll legend Bill Medley says he’s “trying to stay ahead” of symptoms after a recent bout with COVID-19. Medley was back singing in public, unbilled, at Tuscany’s Piazza lounge a couple weekends ago with Righteous Brothers partner Bucky Heard and guitarist John Wedemeyer. Goaded by Vinny Adinolfi of Bronx Wanderers, who was in the room, Medley sang “B-Flat Blues” and joined Heard on “KoKo Joe,” the classic monkey diddy from 1963.

Medley, who turned 80 in June, says he hopes he and Heard can get out and tour this summer. Their return to Harrah’s Showroom is still unclear, of course.

“I don’t think anybody knows anything, really,” said Medley, who continues to take voice lessons after surgery in May to remove a cancerous growth near his vocal chords. “I just want to get back to work, but when? Who knows? It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever been through.”

The old ‘hood

Longtime Las Vegans remember Serge’s Wigs at the Sahara Avenue entrance of Commercial Center. It was just across from John Fish Jewelers and Tiffany Cleaners, in the same block of businesses as Lotus of Siam and Cue Club. As we learned over the weekend, that building is to be the future home of Vickie’s Diner, which closed in August at the White Cross Drugs building at 1700 Las Vegas Blvd. South.

Vickie’s operated as Tiffany’s Cafe from the 1950s until 2014, when the restaurant changed hands and its name. The cafe will help re-animate, and cast some needed light, on the neighborhood.

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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