Affably old-school and jarringly contemporary. And a head-scratcher, still.
Such is the conundrum—at least for me—of undeniably talented ventriloquist Terry Fator, whose routines recall the acts slotted between plate-spinners and juggling unicyclists on The Ed Sullivan Show, but peppered with references to pubic hair and Kardashian sexual proclivities.
Discomfort over provocative ventriloquism feels downright quaint in the era of Jeff Dunham’s post-9/11 dummy, Achmed the Dead Terrorist, and even Fator’s “gay puppet,” Berry Fabulous (not in his current production). Shock quips popping out of a dummy’s pie-hole is the whole point of the fun.
So why do ribald moments in Fator’s show—refreshed to celebrate his fifth anniversary at The Mirage—strike me as if Edgar Bergen’s Mortimer Snerd riffed on the joys of cocaine or Shari Lewis’ Lamb Chop cracked a cunnilingus joke? Must be that Opie-esque demeanor of Fator—one of the most likable fellas on a Vegas stage—that makes him seem like Sinbad trying to go Chris Rock on us.
Corniness plus irreverence is a tricky combo that requires an element of irony—a self-aware recognition of the act’s innate absurdity—to pull off. Only in one brilliant bit does Fator accomplish that, otherwise uncomfortably straddling the two for a tonally schizophrenic show.
Pop-culture savvy? Enough gags about Kardashians, Britney’s lip-syncing, Justin Bieber’s juvenile boorishness, Instagram, Obama birther-ism, compulsive texting—and his Emma Taylor puppet, a 12-year-old girl, imitating Adele singing “Skyfall”—renew his credentials. Even a one-liner about the Ellen DeGeneres-hosted Oscar-cast lets us know Fator is ultra-up to date.
Overall, this show sticks to the Fator formula—playing to the middle with a cast of fairly fun puppets locked into fairly standard repartee. With a loose framing device—his lead puppet, Winston, the impersonating turtle, leaves him to chase a Hollywood career —Fator brings on puppets to audition as replacements. As video gags chronicle Winston’s quixotic journey—including taped bits by Shawn Tempesta and Dao Vu of local TV talk-fest Morning Blend—we get the Fator parade: Wrex the crash-test dummy (pretty funny); soul singer Julius (not so much); stoner Dougie Scott Walker (funny, then progressively un-funnier); country singer Walter T. Airedale (dull); and vixen Vikki the Cougar (clichéd—and provider of the pubic hair joke).
Only once, with Maynard, the Elvis impersonator dummy, does Fator reach an inspired level, going positively meta as Maynard claims he can do the show without the headliner whose hand is up his wooden ass—and who leaves the stage so Maynard can try. Sublime—and a reminder of how fairly formulaic the rest of the material remains.
Signature sentimental moments arrive when Fator sings his spiritually tinged “Horses in Heaven” and his “Heroes” tribute to soldiers, firefighters, police and EMS first-responders. Though proceeds from sales of the recorded versions are donated to charity, his announcement of it reads as somewhat self-congratulatory.
Leaving the Terry Fator Theatre, I felt mildly entertained yet vaguely unfulfilled by this show—a head-scratcher, still.
Got an entertainment tip? Email Steve.Bornfeld@VegasSeven.com.