The blank checks were surely the draw for such theater veterans as David Mitchell, who designed the production; Natasha Katz, who did the lighting and effects; and Theoni V. Aldredge, responsible for the hundreds of costumes.

The blank checks were surely the draw for such theater veterans as David Mitchell, who designed the production; Natasha Katz, who did the lighting and effects; and Theoni V. Aldredge, responsible for the hundreds of costumes.

Moving through time from King Arthur’s court to H.G. Wells’ future, “EFX” offered the designers the opportunity to make use of every bit of technological gimcrackery imaginable, from immense set pieces that appear and disappear in a smoky instant, to 3-D film imagery tipped off by the special glasses that cometucked into the program.

For all that sound and fury, however, Crawford’s rare vocal talents are overwhelmed and ultimately squandered in the service of what is, from start to finish, a musical mediocrity. “EFX” has no story to tell, and no plot; the main character Crawford plays is the “EFX! Master,” who first appears as a giant, Oz-like head floating in space, then as a glorified emcee perched precariously on a disc that careens back and forth as he implores the audience to enter “a magical world where the rules do not apply,””a temple of dreams,” etc.

The exhortation to re-experience the power of the imagination is as old as showbiz and as banal as Barney — and, of course, it rings completely false in a show that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination.

After some introductory numbers, Crawford appears in a series of vignettes that have him playing, consecutively, Merlin, P.T. Barnum, Houdini and Wells.

There is an unintentionally hilarious ballet — the first of several — that finds an ensemble with wildly varied levels of skill performing exactly the kind of Meyerbeer dance interlude that Andrew Lloyd Webber sent up in “Phantom.” When the evil Morgana (Tina Walsh) transforms herself into a giant, fire-breathing dragon, Merlin transforms himself into an even bigger fire-breathing dragon, such is the ingenuity in evidence as far as plot development goes.

The Barnum segment is also haunted by Crawford’s past; he starred in the West End stand of the Cy Coleman circus-set musical “Barnum,” which also featured designs by Mitchell and Aldredge.

Next comes a seance to conjure the spirit of the recently deceased Houdini in order to provide a love duet with his mourning widow, Bess (Walsh). Then pull out the 3-D glasses for the Wells sequence, in which Crawford is installed in a time machine that takes us back to the Battle with the Morlocks and forward into the future.

Each scene is self-contained. There’s no unifying theme or story to speak of, a stunning miscalculation for a show with such legitimate-theater aspirations. The effects are indisputably first-rate, but while the scale is gargantuan, similar displays can be had cheaper elsewhere in town.

Here, the assault on the senses is unrelenting for nearly the entire 90 -minute duration, and there’s never any emotional payoff, despite the gallant efforts of the star.

For all the characters he plays, none has any life; there’s about as much human interaction taking place inside the theater as there is at the slot machines outside it. Even the music is canned.

Of course, these are the objections of a theater-oriented critic. The success or failure of “EFX” will depend largely on the expectations of the audience it attracts. Those searching for a Las Vegas variety revue to compete with other spectaculars around town may be satisfied, though “EFX” is both sexless — unforgivable in these environs — and heartless.

Efx

(MGM Grand Theater, Las Vegas; 1,800 seats; $ 65.50 top)

Production

An MGM Grand presentation, in association with Jeremiah Harris/Harris Production Services, of a musical in one act created by Gary Goddard, Tony Christopher and the Landmark Entertainment Group, with

Creative

Music, musical production and musical direction by Don Grady; music and lyrics by Goddard and Christopher; additional music by Ted King and Jeff Krashin; additional lyrics by Doug Brayfield, Andy Belling, Marty Panzer and B.A. Robertson; additional dialogue by Bruce Vilanch and additional material by Michael Crawford; director, Scott Faris; co-directed and choreographed by Anthony van Laast; sets, David Mitchell; costumes, Theoni V. Aldredge; lighting and special lighting effects, Natasha Katz; sound, Jonathan Deans; illusions, David Mendoza; media, Diana C. Davis; film, Bruce Schluter; music performed by Sinfonia of London; production supervisor, Roy C. Sears Jr., design consultant, Duke Durfee. Executive producer, Richard Sturm. Opened March 22, 1995; reviewed March 25. Running time: 1 hour, 30 min.

Cast

Cast: Michael Crawford (EFX! Master/Merlin/P.T. Barnum, Houdini, H.G. Wells), Tina Walsh (Morgana/Bess Houdini), Jeffrey Polk (Master of Magic), Kevin Koelbl (Master of Spirits/Vladimir), Rick Stockwell (Master of Time), Stewart Daylida (Master of Laughter), Lisa Geist (Arthur), etc. Never was a show so aptly named as "EFX," the spectacular created by a phalanx of Broadway talent as a Las Vegas showcase for Michael Crawford, the original star of "The Phantom of the Opera." While Crawford is the headliner, it's the eye-filling, ear-splitting, brain-bending special effects that will generate word of mouth on this show. As the gamblers' paradise increasingly targets family visitors, the hotels and casinos are engaged in a game of one-upsmanship that the MGM Grand has raised to a staggering level with this $ 40 million production, every cent of which is in evidence on and around a stage about three times wider than its New York counterparts.
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