In Vegas, 'Absinthe' makes the funny bone throb

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Voki Kalfayan, who portrays the producer known as "The Gazillionaire," provides plenty of laughs in 'Absinthe,' which is currently running at Las Vegas' Caesars Palace.

For the first time in many years, I did not spend every evening in a casino theater during a just-completed trip to Las Vegas.

In the past, I’ve spent hours watching such high-profile, big-ticket presentations as the original Vegas version of Blue Man Group at Luxor (before the program’s many national tours), “O,” the incredibly staged, water-borne Cirque du Soleil offering at Bellagio, “We Will Rock You,” the less-than-successful book musical based on the Queen catalog and, best of all, “Love,” Cirque du Soleil’s mind-blowing tribute to The Beatles that is still running at Mirage.

But while Vegas as a whole seems to be rebounding from the Great Recession, its show biz scene isn’t nearly as glittering and adventurous as it was say, a half-decade ago.

As such, on this visit, I only saw two resident productions, Penn & Teller at Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, and “Absinthe,” which is being presented at Caesars Palace. Both are absolute must-see productions if you happen to find yourself in the southern Nevada desert anytime soon.

Because this was about the umpteenth time I’d seen Penn & Teller, “Absinthe” will take priority here.

Truth be told, I didn’t expect very much from this (relatively) modestly budgeted exercise that is conducted inside a tent situated in Caesars' front yard between the Vegas Strip and the sprawling casino-hotel complex. That’s because it is billed as an adults-only, Cirque-style show. The late Dennis Gomes brought a similar concept to Resorts Atlantic City during the summer of 2011. It turned out to be pretty much of a dud, as it was neither particularly sexy nor particularly interesting, performance-wise.

Those low expectations made “Absinthe” (named, for reasons unclear, after the ultra-potent liquor) even more of a delight.

The format is straightforward: A series of standard-issue Cirque-style novelty acts (e.g. high-wire walkers, a strength-and-balancing act) are broken up by comedy bits performed—individually and in tandem—by a man and a woman. And herein are the program’s greatest strengths.

The man, who is identified to the audience as the show’s “producer” known as “The Gazillionaire” (real name: Voki Kalfayan) and the woman (ID’d as Penny Pibbets) serve up routines that are vulgar, coarse and crude (those easily offended by foul language should go see a magic show instead). They are also insanely hilarious. And when the two comics team for “The Caesarean Ballet,” a masterpiece of good, old-fashioned slapstick, the result is true comic gold.

Kalfayan is the first amongthese two equals, what with his sleazy, greasy demeanor and growling delivery (his verbal jabs at the specialty acts are especially satisfying). But Pibbett’s out-of-control nymphomaniac persona certainly hits all the right notes, never more so than during her demented (and X-rated) sock puppet telling of a fairy tale.

Not that the featured performers are slouches. Especially noteworthy are Maxim Popazov, who successfully scales—and balances precipititiously upon-- a “mountain” of chairs, and Duo Vector, which is certainly the most impressive strength-and-balancing act I’ve ever seen. But ultimately, it’s the raunchy laughs that make “Absinthe” so entertaining.

Someone from the Huffington Post wrote this about “Absinthe:” “If you see one show in your entire life, make it ‘Absinthe.’” Well, that is just plain asinine--"Absinthe" is a hoot-and-a-half, but it ain't that good.. This makes much more sense:

If you see one Vegas show this year, you certainly can't go wrong with "Absinthe.”

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Still the best

As for Penn & Teller’s long-running show at Rio, suffice it to say the comedy-magic duo remains my favorite, all-time show business act.

From the first time I saw them in 1979 on the fifth floor of the Walnut Street Theater (as part of a trio called the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society), I have never been less than amazed, astounded and thoroughly entertained by the team that somehow can debunk the concept of “magic” even while performing astonishing illusions.

Whether they are offering seemingly impossible feats of mind-reading and transformation (as when a “plant” from the audience somehow turns into Philly native Teller in the blink of an eye) or simple slight-of-hand, P&T never fail to knock it out of the park.

And even if you happened to see them during their May visit to Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, you are sure to witness some unfamiliar bits.

That Rio’s 1,500-seat Penn & Teller Theater is as nice a gaming hall venue as I’ve ever seen only enhances the one-of-a-kind-experience that is a Penn & Teller show.

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‘Sweat’ bet

Atlantic City is usually a place where the emphasis is on abusing one’s health, not promoting it. But this weekend, fitness is in the spotlight as Caesars Atlantic City stages the three-day “Sweat AC” festival, which begins Friday.

The program is a virtual orgy of good health, featuring a slew of top trainers, coaches and motivational speakers, all of whom are intent on keeping you alive and kicking.

Among the “health nuts” (you are old if you remember when that phrase was in vogue) on hand will be TV regular Jillian Michaels, Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga founder Sadie Nardini and Judo expert (and two-time Olympic bronze medalist) Jimmy Pedro.

For the full lowdown on Sweat AC, go to

Pantano spins at Valley Forge

Local Radio icon Bob Pantano, whose “Saturday Night Dance Party” has been heard on the airwaves since, oh, 1886 or so (well, 1977. anyway), has a new Wednesday night address: Valley Forge Casino-Resort. You can join him there every week from 6 to 11 p.m.

Because of Valley Forge’s gaming license requirements, if you want to boogie along to the records Pantano spins, you’ll have to pay the required $10 admission fee (or spend at least that much at one of the complex’s hotels, stores or restaurants) to join in the fun at the gaming hall’s Center Bar.

Taj steakery opening set

Atlantic City’s newest carnivorium, Robert’s Steakhouse of New York, has finally announced an (approximate) opening date.

The steaks and chops will begin sizzling on the grills sometime in mid-October, according to a press release. Located on the main concourse opposite the casino floor, Robert’s will seat about 200 within its 8,000-square-foot confines when it opens with a six-night-a-week operating schedule.

Robert’s is the first phase of a two-step project that also includes the yet-to-be-determined debut of Scores, AyCee’s first “gentlemen’s club” located under a gambling den roof.