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THE MOVABLE BUFFET

Palms pirates 'Midsummer Night's Dream' for a party

Guests had to spend lots of pieces of eight or look like a dream to get in.

August 23, 2009|Richard Abowitz

"The lunatic, the lover, and the poet

Are of imagination all compact:

One sees more devils than vast hell can hold."

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Neither Shakespeare nor Sir Peter Brook probably imagined the staging of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" like the setup at the Palms pool a week ago Saturday, which had been redone into a pirate's ship with skulls and plunder and sexy, red-dressed pirate babes everywhere.

The bar at the center, where O.J. Simpson allegedly planned his recent crimes, was transformed from one angle into a castle and another into a sort of ship's helm. Small problem: There isn't a single pirate in the play.

This was solved by adding a subtitle -- "A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Pirate's Guilty Pleasure." So the focus fell far more on the lover than the lunatic or poet.

For example, a sexy woman at the pool entrance writhing with a live snake wrapped around her greeted entering guests as she stood in front of a giant faux crystal ball with lightning and images crackling inside it and a fog machine rendering a thick cloud of smoke around guests' feet up to their ankles. Nearby, another gorgeous woman sat raving with her head in a guillotine.

The "A Midsummer Night's Dream" party originated at the Playboy Mansion in L.A., where it continues to be an invitation-only event. The Vegas franchise expanded three years ago to the Playboy Club with the usual Vegas version of exclusivity. You either have to have cash or be a hot woman.

On a dullish late summer weekend, tickets started at $200. But to get a cabana or table, the pool party equivalent of a bottle service at a nightclub, $2,000 was the low-end price. And to get the best real estate meant being willing to pony up $10,000 for your cabana. What makes one cabana better than another? Mostly, people know it is the most expensive.

The slightly dressed were chosen by virtue of a Darwinian selection process, according to David Gutierrez, marketing manager, at N9NE Group, which owns and operates many of the night life and dining offerings at Palms: "We created a website and you fill out a registration sheet and upload a photo. And we take the most beautiful women and offer them complimentary access."

Gutierrez said this party is the most time-consuming part of his job each year. Yet he sees more here than a successful franchise based on the Playboy brand: a new model for fancy partying in Vegas, one that he hopes replaces the faltering celebrity hosts with spectacle. "Unlike other parties in Vegas, this has nothing to do with celebrities," he said. "It is about production values and the transformation of the pool."

Organizers estimated that about 2,500 people came to the pool party, an impressive turnout for an event with such a high ticket price and no star power amid a recession.

Genevieve Cleary, creative consultant for N9NE Group, was tasked with creating the spectacle to entertain the guests. She was aided by virtue of an open bar and a script that included 71 performers with skills as varied as sword fighting and juggling. The party even had a plot of sorts.

"We invented the story from scratch. We wanted to keep what 'Midsummer' was really about, which is sexuality," she explains. "We tried to bring girls who can act and dance and interact with the audience. The story is we are this village that is falling apart. There are peasants, villagers, guards and preachers. There are also mermaids and other magical animals and a lot of interaction with the partygoers."

But that was only the first three hours. The real action developed at midnight in the back of the pool, which was transformed into an area of sandy cages and skeletons. And like a Vegas take on Shakespeare, this tale seems meant to infuriate every women's studies professor on Earth. "In the back of the village there is this dungeon with what I call women animals trapped in cages. The reason why the village gets attacked by pirates is those creatures are the most sexual and sensual creatures alive, and the pirates want to take possession of them," Cleary said.

After hours of open bar, when it all went down, no one seemed too worried about the coherence of the plot. And it was certainly more exciting than paying to see Paris Hilton dance in the VIP section.

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Summer of Love 2

Back in the day, the real Woodstock generation did not play Vegas much. But there was Byron Bordeaux playing a set dressed as Jimi Hendrix last week at the Fremont Street Experience. The downtown tourist mall hired him as part of its tribute to the much-celebrated Woodstock festival of 1969.

After his set, a Grateful Dead cover band took over the stage, leaving the dressing room reeking of pot. Bordeaux could not stand the aroma and stood outside a makeshift tent behind the stage where other tribute bands celebrated the Woodstock spirit.

For five years, Bordeaux has made a living impersonating Hendrix in Vegas. "I was in California. A guy came down from Vegas. He wanted to put me in a show as Hendrix. I thought impersonators were garbage. Then he told me how much it paid, and I decided it was OK if we used the term 'tribute artist.' "

As the Dead cover band offered up "Alabama Getaway" (a song not even written until years after Woodstock), Bordeaux chuckled at the ironies involved in his earning a living re-creating an original talent like Jimi Hendrix for the entertainment of tourists at a huge collection of casinos linked by a lighted canopy that puns off the band's name of the guitarist and singer he imitates. "Jimi is never going to die," he said.

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