Incoming text from … who?
“Hi, it’s Cuddles the Showgirl. Can U help me? Meet me @ the Big Heart outside Container Park (707 Fremont St) @ 11 a.m. Saturday. Don’t be late sweetie.”
Well, OK, honey-bunny.
So begins—18 hours before it actually begins—a contender for Las Vegas’ strangest entertainment experience.
We gather—six women, five men comprised of eight tourists, a couple of locals and this tag-along reporter—on an unseasonably mild Saturday at the “Big Heart” statue in the park in Fremont East.
We are the clueless crew for a bizarre brew called Alibi Las Vegas.
In a word … well, there’s no single word for it. Rather, it’s a cocktail of walking theater, Downtown sightseeing, improvisational comedy, a bite to eat, a bit to drink and a clue-driven, group-teamwork-solving interactive crime mystery. Eight times every Saturday.
Plus the mime who screams—one of six actor/guides (including an ex-Playboy Playmate—seriously) to whom we are handed off every 20 minutes or so at different locales over 2 hours.
Don’t confuse it with Las Vegas: The Game, a more elaborate and expensive Strip-centered series of planned scenarios to “prank” friends. Alibi’s inspiration is New York’s Accomplice, its multiheaded premise playing out through the streets of Greenwich Village.
“There’s nothing else like it,” says Ivan Phillips, Alibi’s producer, who launched Alibi in November. “I saw [Accomplice] in New York and thought it was a really cool experience and would be cool in Vegas. But it’s a completely original plot with typical Vegas characters.”
Everything else? Atypical. “When Cuddles approaches you, she doesn’t say, ‘Tickets please, here’s the line, the show starts in five minutes,’” Phillips says. “It’s immersive from the moment you get the text to the moment it finishes. It makes it more real.”
Striding toward us, hips swiveling like a clock pendulum, is Cuddles (Sarah Jessica Rhodes). She must be. Even in Vegas, few pedestrians sashay around in a pink cape, beaded bra, headdress and blue-spangled vest, hands sheathed in elegant gloves.
Bubbly enough to be bottled as Champagne, Cuddles learns our names and leads us away, half-prancing, half-kick-stepping down Seventh Street and up Carson Avenue. On the 1-to-10 meter, Cuddles’ energy is set at 11, chattering breathlessly, pointing out what she claims is the first trash can in Las Vegas history, and giggling, “I was voted most likely to be important!”
She asks us to name musical genres to sing to. We dare her to blend ’70s pop and rap. She segues from “Dancing Queen” to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme. People laugh. Strangers bond. Cuddles drapes her feather boa over one man. His wife jokes that she always suspected he was transgender.
First stop: Carson Kitchen on Sixth Street, bellying up to an outdoor table for soft drinks and suds, washing down doughnut holes. Our photo is snapped, beer bottles and ginger-ale cans aloft in a toast. Cuddles passes out one-sheet fake newspapers. Headlines include: “Las Vegas to build all-nude gambling casino” (if only) with a picture of naked people, private bits shielded by gaming tables; and “Las Vegas studies show that alcohol is the #1 cause of marriage” (likely true in this city).
Another reads, “Record-breaking heist at casino—mastermind strikes again.” That launches us on our mystery, as Cuddles enthuses that the “mastermind” promised to get her a Strip gig if she can enlist our aid in a little caper. Cuddles hands us a videocassette containing a clue suggesting where to go next—then leaves, clock-pendulum hips swaying away.
“It’s intricate—I came up with the plot, Ivan came up with the puzzles,” says improv comedian/actor Matt Donnelly (of the Ogden’s Bucket Show and Matt & Mattingly’s Ice Cream Social podcast with Paul Mattingly), who directed Alibi Las Vegas.
“We wanted this to be a very Downtown type of show, for people to know it’s very different from what’s typically offered in Vegas. Not going into a casino was important to us. You take a lot of breaks, a lot of stuff happens indoors. We can shorten the walking in the summer months.”
Alibi, he says, parallels a change in visitors’ entertainment habits, with more young people choosing the informality of clubs over the formality of slickly produced shows.
“People want to be the stars of their own show, their own vacation, they want to go home with a lot of stories,” Donnelly says. “I really like the shift of the audience watching the show to the audience being integral to the plot of the show.”
Discovering a clue behind the restaurant, we untangle its cryptic lingo, turn onto Las Vegas Boulevard and toward the Fremont Street Experience. Schmoozing for a half-hour now, we’ve taken up Cuddles’ slack, making our own merriment. Stopping near a lighted pink flamingo across from the International Eatery, we find another clue pointing us toward a strange mime (Brent Mukai).
True, they’re all strange, but this practitioner of silence is yelling, challenging us to join his shtick. He’s talking up the proverbial blue streak, everyone’s talking back—and crowds form on both sides of the Experience. Per Donnelly’s plan, we are the show.
When the mime high-fives me, I do it, rather than fake-do it. Oops. We’re back to miming. He yells—but kinda nicely.
Meanwhile, a numeric code to snap open a case containing another clue isn’t coming easily. We need to refer to a previous clue. Finally, with subtle prompts from the mime who knows there’s a ticking clock for this segment, we break it. We bid adieu to the mime. With words.
En route to the next stop, I notice we’re shy one married couple—they’ve ducked into a gift shop. We backtrack to fetch them. We’re a unit now, playing and working together. Eleven for all, and all for 11.
“We get groups stopping to do their own mini-bar crawl on Fremont Street—they’ll do shots at the Four Queens, then walk over to Golden Nugget—but there’s a buffer built in because the groups are 45 minutes apart,” producer Phillips says.
“Some people are about the scavenger hunt. They don’t give a damn about interacting with actors or the food or drink, they just want to solve the puzzle. Others don’t care about the clues, they just want to walk around and joke with the actors. You get groups where they’re loud and asking questions, busting the balls of the actors. Then you have groups with six shy Japanese tourists. That’s a completely different show.”
Scanning a map from that case we cracked open—with odd illustrations as directions—we arrive at Pizza Rock on Third Street. There, a shady-looking gent in a black hat and black shirt, striking a slightly sinister pose is, ’natch, the mastermind (Dennis DeVilbiss). Ushered inside, we’re served pizza and drinks as he explains the complex caper, including hushed mentions of an “inside man.” Stopping only when waitresses hover—when he pretends he’s making a time-share presentation—he sprinkles instructions with casual banter over slices (with meatballs on the side).
Among the chitchat: He briefly dated Cuddles. I’m jealous.
When we’re down to the pizza crusts, he handcuffs a mysterious briefcase containing certain “goods” (remember the “heist” headline?) to one of our posse, and we’re sent off with a photo album. Pictures mark locations leading to a jewelry/pawn store (not the famous TV one), just off Fremont Street. “Goods” are exchanged. Handcuffs—much to one person’s relief—are uncuffed.
Emerging from behind the counter is a furtive fellow (Tommy Todd) who leads a paranoid trek through Neonopolis to lose “our tail,” even warning us to suspect one another. Given vintage Vegas visitor guides, we’re told to locate an Elvis impersonator ad, wherein lies the clue to our next destination—the Gold Spike Hotel—and a very odd Elvis.
“We love handcuffing the briefcase to someone; we want people to hold stuff and do stuff, we don’t want it to be a spectator show,” says Donnelly, who was challenged by directing a show that won’t sit still.
“It was like directing six one-person shows that lead to one another. You have to find performers comfortable generating a lot of material over 20-minute spans. Rather than try to prepare them for every possible scenario, you give them a sense of the character. I would walk the streets with them, and just point out opportunities [for interaction].”
We meet Elvis (James White)—an unconventional approximation of The King, to say the least. After treating us to bar drinks, he herds us toward the “VIP Lounge”—the size of a big walk-in closet—filled with Elvis album covers and Elvis for Dummies. Grabbing a microphone, he asks for requests. We reel off classic titles. He sings: “I like big butts and I cannot lie.” The gag: Elvis knows no Elvis songs.
Here, the conspiracy climaxes. Enter the mastermind’s “inside man,” who is … an inside woman (Corinna Jones—Playboy Playmate of the Year for 1992). A “cop” barges in. Crime-scene tape is hung. On a monitor, a fake newscast crime story flashes a photo of a suspicious bunch, beer bottles and ginger-ale cans held aloft.
Whatever else Alibi offers, one thing it doesn’t is a legal aid lawyer. Fortunately, everything ends before the arraignment.
Alibi Las Vegas has been a unique two-plus hours of walking, kibitzing, eating, drinking, laughing and brain-teasing. Customer feedback? One suggestion:
Can I get Cuddles’ number?
ALIBI LAS VEGAS
Saturdays; shows begin at 11 a.m. in groups of up to 10 people per group; new groups leave every 45 minutes, the last group departing at 4:15 p.m.; Container Park, 707 Fremont St.; $65 for adults, $29 for children 12 and under (includes food and drink); 702-786-0577; AlibiTheShow.com.