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October 2, 2014

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Wranglers’ ‘Midnight Circus’ is where slapshots meet slapstick

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Local rock band The Roxy Gunn Project belts out a tune during a stoppage in play between the Wranglers and the Idaho Steelheads as part of the additional entertainment of the “Midnight Circus” early Monday morning.

Midnight Circus

Contortionist Otgo Waller takes to the ice Sunday night at Launch slideshow »

A wild condor!

A wild wrangler!

It was an inspired event, and not only because it drew Las Vegas Wranglers owner Gary Jacobs, a violinist for Celine Dion and Pantera founder Vinnie Paul to the same suite.

We speak of course of the “Midnight Circus” hockey game and performance at Orleans Arena on Sunday night/Monday morning. The visiting Idaho Steelheads (or as they are known at Orleans Arena, the hated Idaho Steelheads) hung on for a 3-2 victory, preventing the Wranglers from winning their 10th game in a row.

But the event was a marketing triumph for Wranglers President Billy Johnson. About 4,000 fans turned out and were treated to a raucous onerous hockey/entertainment experience.

Between the first and second periods, former Rough Cutt and Quiet Riot vocalist Paul Shortino sang “Love Hurts” to the aerial artistry of Johnson’s wife, Erica Vanlee, and Francesca Izzo. Backing him was the violinist already noted, Jean Sebastian of the Celine orchestra at the Colosseum. The requisite midnight contortion act was performed by ex-“O” cast member Otgo Waller (“Waller! She’s my sister!”).

The Roxy Mann Project rock outfit performed hockey-tailored songs between periods and in breaks in the action, and the clowning comedy team of Joshua Zehner and David DeDera also injected some shtick into the late-night showcase. The duo took to the ice between the second and third periods and were summarily pelted by a torrent of orange, foam-rubber pucks during the Chuck-A-Puck promotion, which nonetheless came off refreshingly free of injuries.

The night opened with a ceremonial “puck drop” by an actual wild wrangler, who scrambled from the center of the rink and was chased down by his “handler” near the visitors’ bench. This was the ultimate inside joke, playing off a similarly marred puck drop when the Wranglers played at the Bakersfield Condors on Feb. 9. During that ECHL crucial, an actual condor named Victoria was presented by Las Vegas “Birdman” Joe Krathwohl during the national anthem and, well, behaved as most wild birds would when displayed in front of a few thousand people: It became nervous, agitated and quickly escaped Krathwohl’s clutches.

The handler fell hard to the ice, breaking two ribs, and the bird ambled to the home team’s bench where it (to use the parlance of wildlife sanctuaries) freaked out everyone in its path.

The embedded clip of the regretful flight of fancy was played on “Anderson Cooper 360” last week. The number of YouTube views has surpassed 1 million, which should surprise nobody who actually watches the scene. It is terrific theater.

In response to the condor episode, Johnson summoned “Blue Man Group” cast members Lyle Blaker and Marc Roberts to play the wild wrangler and handler, respectively. As Roberts gave chase to Blaker, the visitors from Boise (and almost everyone else in the arena, for that matter) were fairly stupefied as to what was being staged. One executive remarked to Johnson that no one was laughing, to which Johnson replied, “Well, I’m laughing!”

The YouTube clip of the “wild wrangler” episode has drawn, at this moment, 28 views. But if you knew the backstory, it was priceless, like most of the promotions the Wranglers let loose at Orleans Arena.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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