By Bobbie Katz
What happens when you combine a legendary choreographer with every red-blooded man’s sweetest dream? No, you don’t get visions of sugarplums dancing in your head but rather a FANTASY twirling in front of your very eyes in the form of sensuous dancers, live music, and steamy vignettes, nightly in the intimate Atrium Showroom at Luxor.
Produced by Anita Mann, who has been honored by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences as one of America’s top five contemporary choreographers (she is also the recipient of six Emmy nominations and two Emmys), FANTASY is currently celebrating its 11th anniversary at the hotel.. In honor of that milestone, the show recently welcomed new numbers and some new dancers. However, just this week it was announced that the show’s powerhouse vocalist, Lorena Peril, will be ending her run in the fall to star as “Sandy”: in the global tour of Grease. She will be accompanied by her husband, Ray Jon, who will play the role of “Vince Fontaine.”
“Although we are sad to see Lorena go, she always will be a part of our FANTASY family,” says Mann. “We love her and are happy she has the wonderful opportunity to travel the world and perform with her husband.”
With the process of making final selections to fill the show’s coveted headlining singing role underway, the announcement about the new headliner will be made in the coming months. The dynamic Peril will continue to take centerstage alongside the bevy of dancers in FASTASY who were named “Best Showgirls” in the Las Vegas Review-Journal 2012 “Best of Las Vegas” poll. All told, FANTASY has shaped itself into one of Las Vegas’ leading topless shows.
“I always try to keep the show fresh by continually redoing it,” says Mann, noting that FANTASY has a lot of repeat business. “I think that every day is the first day of this show. It’s important to keep up with what’s going on with the times and to keep the show user-friendly. We like the audience to meet the girls so we have a free meet-and-greet after each performance at which people can bring their cameras or cell phones and take pictures with the cast.. Our formula for success is making the audience number one and ensuring that they get the most for their money. Our object is to please them. The girls do a great job in FANTASY -- no one phones it in.”
Mann explains that the show, which she initially put together in six weeks for the Luxor, is a constant evolvement and that there is a rehearsal once a week at which she always takes dance notes. She feels that every show has to be better than the show before and she takes advantage of the opportunity of having another day to fix what might have gone wrong the day before.
“When we first opened, there were less adult shows,” she recalls. “Now we have to compete against bigger shows, such as PEEPSHOW. But I’m excited to be part of the Las Vegas entertainment scene and excited that FANTASY has been renewed for another year -- I’m really proud of this show and I owe so much to the cast. The girls sincerely love dancing and coming to work and they truly love the audience. Lorena Peril is so special and so professional. And the Atrium Showroom makes for a more intimate experience in which we can break the fourth wall and talk to the audience and be up close and personal with them. Plus, the cast is beautiful, both inside and out.”
Mann, who choreographed the Minsky revue that was so much a part of Las Vegas’ golden past, has always felt that showgirls were a beautiful part of that history. She acknowledges, however, that there is fine line between art and lewdness when doing an adult revue and that not crossing that line is a matter of taste.
“I always ask myself, what would my mother expect?” she expresses. “What would make her and others upset? Where do you stop? My upbringing was very conservative – I’m from the Midwest and I’m actually kind of straight-laced. I would never ask the cast to do anything that makes them uncomfortable. I want to make sure that they’re happy; they’re concerned with doing their best job. I’m not going to go with the trend; I’m going to stick with what’s acceptable to the talent. Content is king and I’m proud of the fact that this show is fun and entertaining. I won’t ever embarrass myself or the girls.
“When I choreographed Solid Gold on TV, I pushed the envelope,” she adds. “I remember getting letters from some people stating, ‘You’re going to burn in hell.’ The costumes were sexy for the 80s. But the girls danced beautifully. Everything was body movement and dancers’ bodies have to show or you can’t see those movements.”
All the numbers in FANTASY were the concept of Mann in conjunction with award-winning choreographer Cris Judd, Gustavo Vargas from Canada’s So You Think You Can Dance, and Tiger Martina. FANTASY contains music from a variety of genres, including pop, rock, country, and Latin. Providing comic relief is Sean E. Cooper, who does right-on impressions of pop cultures most popular personalities, including James Brown, Tina Turner, and Michael Jackson.
Another unique factor is that Mann doesn’t ask the girls their ages and cites that she doesn’t care how old they are as long as they are dancing and not faking it and they feel good about themselves. Unless there is a problem backstage, she doesn’t change the cast. In 11 years, there have only been four lead singers.
However, although she says that she has always been happy watching FANTASY, Mann still wants to change some numbers. Sometimes, she relates, she’ll hear a song and just have to choreograph a number to it.
“I’m a ridiculous perfectionist,” she laughs. “It’s not a matter of not being happy with the show; it’s a matter of I can improve it. When I make a change, I can tell immediately if it’s going to work. I know before putting something on stage or TV if it’s going to work – that’s my job and it’s why I have a job. But I think my taste is very normal and that I have the same sensibilities as a lot of other people and I like what they like. I dream up numbers for FANTASY all the time and am always open to new things. Ideas come from everything.”
To sleep. perchance to dream...