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November 28, 2014

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Jabbawockeez shift into higher gear with ‘Prism’ at Luxor

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Sam Morris

The costume for Jabbawockeez character Nonsense is on display during a preview for their new show Prism at the Luxor Wednesday, May 1, 2013.

New Jabbawockeez Show

Jabbawockeez dancer Phil Tayag and others go through a segment during a preview for their new show Prism at the Luxor Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Jabbawockeez cast member Joe “Punkee” Larot tools around in a black Mazda 3. This car is the vehicular manifestation of a Jabbawockeez — quick, nimble and economical. It is a fast and fun ride.

But what about the durability of this little powerhouse? How many miles can we expect out of Jabbawockeez?

The Luxor and the eight-member troupe are zooming along on a winding road to find that answer. This weekend, Jabbawockeez have opened what is to be a six-year run at a new theater build for their new show, “Prism,” on the hotel’s second level (find scheduling and ticket info here). Amble past the food court and you will find it, next to a new Jabbawockeez gift shop and bar. Jabbawockeez’s neighboring venue is Atrium Showroom, home of Carrot Top’s nightly comedy production and the late-night, adult revue “Fantasy.” Across the way are the static attractions “Bodies” and “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.”

It’s a busy entertainment center, with Jabbawockeez’s new 830-seat theater the largest venue in the collection (in a coy twist, the space used for genuine human dance motion was once used for the resort’s motion-simulator ride). The room is similar in its design to what is now Sands Showroom at The Venetian, home to Human Nature, with spongy theater seats, the closest of which cozily abut the stage.

These masked dancers are indeed right up in your face. The theater is equipped with a crisp sound system to bring home the wide array of music styles the troupe promises in “Prism.”

The show promises to be Jabbowockeez’s most expansive yet, borrowing from the character Willy Wonka — but donned in a black-and-white costume — and, in other scenes, flashing all colors of the spectrum. Jabbawockeez are using the full prism, hence the show’s title, and leaving no music genre untouched in an effort to appeal to all tastes. There has even been a long-running joke in the cast about a lingering effort to sample from Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.”

During a recent rehearsal and subsequent theater unveiling Friday morning, the Wonka character and a dance segment evoking the classic tune from the film, “Pure Imagination,” were shown for the first time. The idea is to add depth and range to the troupe whose artistic sensibility seemed at once from the streets and out of this world when they won “America’s Best Dance Crew” in Season 1 on MTV five years ago.

A series of national TV appearances resulted for a group previously known mostly on YouTube. In spring 2010, Jabbawockeez were booked for a limited engagement at MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theater.

To many who pay attention to Strip entertainment, it seemed as something of a bold move. This was not exactly the type of act, born out of a garage, to play in the theater usually occupied by David Copperfield. But the troupe did impressive business in that run and by the fall had been recruited by then Monte Carlo President Anton Nikodemus to take over the old Lance Burton Theater at Monte Carlo for the show “MUS.I.C.”

The move by Blue Man Group from The Venetian to the Monte Carlo gave Jabbawockeez a chance to retool their show to play at Luxor, which is the original Las Vegas home of Blue Man Group, as it happens.

The cast knows that filling 830 seats eight times a week requires a high measure of artistic outreach.

“We want to be seen as something approachable, accessible, like Disney-type characters,” cast member Kevin “K.B.” Brewer, inhabitant of the Wonka character, says. “We have learned in the past, through magical pictures and sounds, that we can appeal to ages 5 to 80. There is a universal language to what we do onstage.”

The changes are all those colors, adapted by individual members of the troupe, and some design work on those recognizable masks. The individuality of the Jabbawockeez’s dancer, specializing in mime and acrobatics and inducing laughter without talking, will play out in “Prism.”

“We have to know that we need to reach people who maybe haven’t heard of us, who don’t know exactly what to expect,” Brewer says. “When we first started in Vegas, it was just about playing the shows at MGM Grand. We weren’t thinking too far beyond that. Now, there is more of a permanence to what we do.”

Jabbawockeez are uniformly and consistently childlike in their approach to their craft. They left the finer points of the theater design to directors and choreographers Napoleon and Tabitha D’Umo and members of MGM Resorts' design team. What they liked, they kept.

And they understand that, childlike as they are, their physical condition is a commodity. They don’t drop to the floor and spin just for fun nearly as much as they did a decade ago. Proper care is required to keep Jabbawockeez running at high performance.

“We’re older now, and we don’t bounce back as easily as we used to,” Brewer says, then points at his body. “This is my business.”

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

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