A showmanship Strip search: Viva Lloyd Webber!

SOMETIMES IT TAKES AN ARTIST awhile to find his or her niche. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s detractors often have said his music is too pop, that his shows are one-dimensional and overly reliant on spectacle. But seeing “Starlight Express” at the Las Vegas Hilton, you realize that all these years, Lloyd Webber only thought he was writing West End/Broadway musicals. In fact, he was creating Vegas revues.

Las Vegas shows rely on a word that’s not used much these days: showmanship. Vulgar, excessive, outrageous? Sometimes. But they deliver the goods, and Hollywood and Broadway could learn a lesson. You want to see a show? In Vegas, you’ll get a SHOW.

In “Starlight,” the love story between Rusty and Pearl has all the depth, complexity and shadings of the one between the Phantom and Christine — i.e., not much. But here it doesn’t matter, since he’s a steam engine and she’s an observation car.

Apparently the show takes place on “race night” on a little kid’s toy train set, with each actor representing a different train car or engine. It’s not easy to follow the plot, if there is one, but who cares? This is a fun show ($ 39.50 for adults, $ 25 kids) with a good score and terrific performers, who sing, dance, twirl, tap and do somersaults, lifts and high kicks — all on roller skates. No kidding, THIS is talent. Can Glenn Close do any of this? It’s doubtful, although the pace would sure pick up on “Sunset Boulevard” if all her descents and ascents on that damn staircase were done on roller skates.

Bally’s “Jubilee!” ($ 40 per person) is in its 13th year of offering spectacle-interspersed-with-specialty-acts. The show kicks off with its cast of 80 performing a medley of medleys: the minstrel medley segues into a bunch of love songs, then into an Elvis salute, which leads, naturally, to a salute to silent movies (a “Perils of Pauline” takeoff in which Pauline loses more clothes with each peril).

And this is only the first 15 minutes.

Then in front of the curtain appear Men in Design, three musclemen who do handstands on each other’s heads to the music of “Last of the Mohicans.”

Then it’s more spectacle, with a retelling of Samson & Delilah. While the topless temple dancers cavort, the unwelcome Samson arrives (with the chorus lip-synching to the prerecorded dialogue: “Samson! Samson! He’s here, that pest!”), followed by a woman singing a prophetic song (“Love can make you blind/Or blow your mind”).

DELILAH AND SAMSON DANCE A TOPLESS pas de deux, then she cuts his hair, then a lot of topless men and women do a frenzied dance, lip synching: “Chain him! Chain him! Blind him! Blind him!” Then they hook him to the pillars and Samson pulls them down and the whole set blows smoke and flashes lights as the temple crumbles, and the whole set sinks. Yes, sinks.

The curtain rises again and, in a series of fast set changes, the chorus is on a dock, lip-synching to a song about how fun it’ll be on the Titanic, then we’re at the Captain’s Ball, where a dozen women do a dance in lingerie, then a drunken woman wanders into the boiler room and seduces the stokers, but the ship hits an iceberg and an enormous replica of the Titanic sinks. Yes, sinks.

Then three gauchos appear in front of the curtain and attempt some “Where-you-from?” comedy, and do tricks with flaming bolos.

Then there are more medleys: salutes to Cole Porter, Johann Strauss and the Gershwins (with blacks in the chorus solo dancing to “It Ain’t Necessarily So”), then a group of “heaven” songs (featuring a topless angel with sequined halo and wings); then 30, count ’em 30, girls appear, exposing 60, count ’em, 60 breasts, in a tribute to Flo Ziegfeld, which is briefly interrupted by a tape recording of Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow.” And the whole show sinks. Yes, sinks. But ya gotta admit, this is showmanship.

However, if you’re speaking of that elusive term, Siegfried & Roy’s stupendous show at the Mirage is the ultimate Vegas attraction, the stage equivalent of “Jurassic Park,” but better (at least this doesn’t have Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum impersonating scientists).

How much would you pay to see a show in which two big, glittering orbs slowly descend to the stage and shoot jet flames, after which Siegfried and Roy appear and float over the stage, followed by a procession of illusions like Siegfried locking Roy in some medieval torture device, with a woman, then a leopard, bursting out of his stomach?

There’s a wicked queen or something, whom S&R transform into a white tiger — don’t ask how, even Reel Life doesn’t know — but then she changes back again and turns herself into a 25-foot dragon who burns and eats them, but Roy reappears flying over the audience, and Siegfried pops up in the center of the theater, high-fiving audience members as he runs back on stage.

NOW how much would you pay?

BUT WAIT, that’s not all. Siegfried and Roy show home movies, then a blue Rolls Royce drives onstage, from which three 16-month-old white tigers emerge.

Even the offhanded interludes here would be THE big number in any other show, like the 40 dancers doing an excellent turn to Michael Jackson’s specially recorded song “Mind Is the Magic,” with lines about “white tigers stalking your mind.”

After about 90 minutes, the cast takes their curtain call. But, wait, there’s more. Roy enters on an elephant and Siegfried makes the two disappear before your eyes. The chorus starts a gospel number, singing “Bring him back!” at which point, on a raised platform, the elephant reappears — and several more surprises ensue.

NOW how much would you pay? Don’t forget, the price also includes two drinks and a $ 10 souvenir program. All this can be yours for $ 66. Oh, come on, for a show like this, that’s a bargain. Yes, it seems like a lot, but consider: It’s $ 65 to see Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard,” and she doesn’t even turn into anything. Or skate. Or go topless. Or do handstands. (She doesn’t even always hit the notes.) That woman has no sense of showmanship.

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