Hardly fahbulous, dahling

Carnival Cabaret is heavy on flash but slim on substance

Rated 2.0

I needed some fabulous entertainment to soothe my jangled nerves. And fabulous entertainment is exactly what The Horizon Casino Resort’s Carnival Cabaret promised.

Carnival Cabaret is actually two shows disguised as one. The first show is James “Gypsy” Haake (Troop Beverly Hills, Married … with Children) as the mistress of ceremonies interacting with the audience, introducing the divas and doing stand-up comedy in some of the best outfits this side of Elizabeth Taylor.

The other part involves the divas themselves. On the Saturday night we saw Caberet, there were men dressed as Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, Marilyn Monroe, Dolly Parton, Cher, Reba McEntire and Celine Dion, performing the stars’ greatest hits.

Haake started out excellently, accusing a birthday boy in the audience of looking up his dress and delivering rapid-fire jokes in a voice that, at times, sounded delightfully like the bastard child of Richard Pryor and Cheech Marin. However, as the show progressed and Haake moved into a practiced routine, the jokes began to fall a little flatter. An extended rant about the difficulties of being a man in pantyhose killed some comedic momentum.

Toward the end of the show, Haake tried to return to audience interaction. But something that had been present earlier in the show was lacking—discomfort. At the beginning, much of the impromptu humor had involved Haake feeding off audience members who seemed uncomfortable with a 70-year-old great-grandfather in a sequined ball gown. By the end, the discomfort had gone, and so had most of Haake’s fodder.

Between Haake’s sets, it was the divas’ time to shine, which they did—but with mixed success. The performers seemed to fall into two categories: those focused on interacting with the audience and those focused on accurately depicting the actual superstars. The interactors looked fabulous, but the lip-synching was inconsistent. The depictors had the lip-synching down, but were so engrossed in their performances that the audience was all but forgotten. The costumes, however, were excellent, and watching one performer transform from Cher circa “If I Could Turn Back Time” to Cher circa “Believe” in less than a minute was pretty cool.

Carnival Cabaret touts itself as Lake Tahoe’s longest running show, and it is easy to see how this PG-13 brand of gender-bending entertainment can flourish on the steady diet of tourists its venue provides. But the show is, essentially, a one-trick pony. The musical numbers are like a live version of Madame Toussad’s Wax Museum; once you get over being impressed by how much the performers look like famous people, there is little real substance.

Although the divas do not offer any interpretation or social commentary, I did leave with a burning question. If a young, normal-looking man can transform himself into a dead ringer for Cher, then what does Cher look like without her makeup? Do not over-think this; it could cause nightmares.

The music is pure adult contemporary soft rock, which for me was reminiscent of riding to school with my friend’s mother, whose radio was always tuned to Lite Rock 105. That’s hardly my soundtrack for partying down. However, I did notice that most audience members were 20 or so years older than I (in their mid-40s and up), so I may have just been in the wrong demographic.

Carnival Cabaret is short, barely an hour long. Aside from the costuming and makeup, it’s not a terribly ambitious show. However, its three-year running time and frequent sellouts confirm that, for many, a little fabulosity goes a long way.