Monday, November 05, 2018

America's Got Talent: Live!

Jill and I are in Las Vegas for a "mini-moon" (we plan to do a real honeymoon in a few months). The big "event' of the trip was seeing the "America's Got Talent: Live!" show, featuring Season 13 winner Shin Lim as well as several of the more popular runners-up: Courtney Hadwin, Vicki Barbolak, Samuel Comroe, and Duo Transcend.

You know what time it is? Review time! And if you stick it out to the end (or, you know, scroll down), you'll get a bonus review of the Hell's Kitchen restaurant at Caesar's.

Shin Lim

I had never watched AGT before, and the only reason I watched this season was because Shin Lim (whom I'd seen on Penn & Teller Fool Us -- watch these two sets!) was competing. I was rooted for him for the whole competition, and he won! This was very well deserved -- speaking as someone who enjoys magic acts but is by no means an aficionado, Shin Lim is a transcendent talent.

The main takeaway from seeing him live is that he really needs his own theater. Close-up card magic is, by its nature, difficult to translate to a live performance in a big auditorium (especially when you're, like us, sitting in the very back row). The theater had big screens behind him, but the camera work was iffy and so it didn't really capture the magic beyond what you could get from watching him at home.

Again: the moral of this story isn't that I was disappointed. He's still got a jaw-dropping act, and he has a truly fantastic stage presence. The moral is that Shin Lim is so amazing, and so much fun to watch, that he needs a team and resources dedicated to really making his work translate in front of a big live audience. I think he can do it, and I think he can be a legitimate draw once he gets it.

Duo Transcend

The best thing about this husband-wife trapeze act was that it was set to a rendition of Britney Spears' "Toxic" that sounds like it should be in a Batman movie. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it isn't -- it's a great remix that hits all my musical buttons. The act itself is good, albeit (haha) not transcendent. As a supporting act, it works really well, but I'm not sure I see a whole show around it. They attempt to stretch a bit with a routine on roller skates, which is well-executed but when you think about it is just a land version of pairs figure skating.

The couple is extremely sensual, in a good way, and I think (again, I don't mean this as an insult!) it would actually fit in really well in Cirque du Soleil's "Zumanity."

Also, the husband-half of the duo has a ridiculously -- I mean ridiculously -- muscular upper-body. He looks like a cartoon. I can't fathom it.

Vicki Barbolak and Samuel Comroe

Barbolak's comedic style isn't really mine, but that's okay. There's definitely an audience for what she does (the guy sitting next to me, who was rocking the thickest Missouri accent I've heard since my clerkship days, was definitely all-in for her), and that's what counts. I kind of find her a bit gimmicky. The "trailer nasty" catch-phrase is just that -- a catch-phrase -- and it's less an organic part of the routine than something shoved in for its own sake. Jill did observe, fairly, that Barbolak's brand of comedy almost certainly is raunchier than really permissible at a family show like AGT Live, so she was probably a bit hamstrung.

Samuel Comroe was, from my measure, the performer who shined brightest beyond expectations. I liked him on the show, but his set was just really, really funny. He's confident and has a unique style, and the way he works in his Tourette's into the routine is clever without feeling like its a crutch. Obviously, as compared to Shin or Duo Transcend, he's benefited by the fact that he doesn't need any special space to perform in. Overall, I found the production values for the entire Vegas show to be "adequate", at best, but that's neither here nor there for a stand-up comic.

Courtney Hadwin

Watching Courtney Hadwin is like watch a high school baseball player who clearly has the goods, but also isn't quite there yet. There's no question she has some impressive pipes. And she has a style (Jill compared it to Janis Joplin) that -- if not entirely original, is at the very least due for a revival. The talent is indisputable.

That said, there's still plenty of work to be done (and plenty of time to do it -- she's only 14! She relies a little too much on the "Yee-oww!" scream -- it's distinctive, yes, but it gets repetitive. The dancing is basic -- it looks like she's recently got a choreographer and has mastered a few moves which she returns to over and over (then again, maybe it's deliberate?).

In short, she's an awkward teenager. And that's fine! She's super-charming (her "regular" demeanor is such a far cry from her singing persona that just listening to her describe her next song is an act in itself(she was also adorably weird trying to do the group bow -- you know, where the cast joins and hands and bows as one? She kept trying to grab Shin's elbow -- it doesn't work if you do that, Courtney!). And she literally signed off each set by saying -- very quickly -- "Thank you, bye!" and just running off.

So there's a lot of room for growth, but a lot of potential grow. It'll be interesting to see what happens.

Hell's Kitchen

After AGT, we decamped for Caesar's to visit the new Hell's Kitchen restaurant (which happens to be the grand prize for this season of HK). I was actually happy that they didn't lean into the theme too much -- I was worried that there would be a whole scene of yelling at the chefs and vitriol and abuse which is fine on the show but actually doesn't make for a pleasant dining experience. But there was none of that: other than having a "red" and "blue" kitchen (which I'm 99% sure was only cosmetic anyway), the Hell's Kitchen aspect of the show was basically one of aesthetics. And aesthetically, the restaurant looked very nice.

In terms of food, the menu is similar-ish to the upscale GR Steak at the Paris, albeit cheaper. I ordered a caesar sald, a filet, and Jill and I shared a potato puree as a side and a sticky toffee pudding for dessert -- basically would I would have gotten at GR Steak.

The caesar was fantastic -- arguably better than the one at HK's more prestigious cousin. The steak was cooked perfectly (I've never had a less-than-perfectly cooked steak at a Gordon Ramsey restaurant), but the grilled preparation wasn't my favorite -- I tend to think grill marks on a filet don't go well with the delicate flavor of the meat. The potatoes were good, though nothing to write home about. The sticky toffee pudding was, as always, outstanding (they did substitute a different ice cream for the brown butter, and that felt like a downward move).

Overall, it was a good experience, but I don't think it will replace GR Steak in our rotation. That said, it is noticeably cheaper, and as a non-bank-breaking substitute it certainly works well.

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