Written by Robert Niles
Published: June 3, 2004 at 9:35 PM
Two tickets to Sunday's Prince concert at the Mandalay Bay provided my most recent excuse for a drive up I-15. My sister graciously agreed to fly out from Orlando and watch the kids for two nights while Laurie and I got away. So I booked two nights at the Hard Rock Hotel and we started counting the days until our departure.
Because of the kids, Laurie and I chose driving instead of flying. Why would it matter, since they weren't joining us? Because driving meant we'd be guaranteed four hours alone, each way, with no one around to interrupt us. Maybe we'd get lucky and hit traffic, too.
No such luck. Only a quick stop for gyros at the Mad Greek delayed our Sunday afternoon arrival. We pulled up to the Hard Rock to find the hard body crowd packing the lobby for the hotel's “Rehab” pool party. As the check-in clerk presented us with the coveted red wristbands that would get us past the two-hour line, I cracked to Laurie that we ought to pick up a few bucks scalping the things. Because, despite our recent progress in yoga, neither of us is ready to go on display at the Hard Rock pool yet.
Room keys in hand, bouncers cleared our way past the pool party line as we tried not to stare too directly at the abundant work of L.A.'s finest plastic surgeons. So began our first ongoing game of the trip: 'Are They Real or Fake?' (Followed after midnight by the second game: 'Is She Amateur or Professional?')
Hey, themed entertainment doesn't have to be kid-friendly. Next example: the Hard Rock's Mexican restaurant, the suggestively named Pink Taco. Music is not the only theme at the Hard Rock, as the restaurant's various slogans made clear. (“If you don't eat the Pink Taco, your best friend will.”) While we waited for our table, Laurie left me alone in the bar to visit the restroom, only to come storming back a moment later. She jerked her head toward a gaggle of post-sorority women as our waitress led us to a table.
“They were definitely giving you the vibe.”
“What vibe?” I replied.
“The vibe that women give a guy they are about to hit on.”
“No way. I didn't get that.”
“That's because you've been married for 12 years, and therefore now a clueless idiot when it comes to that sort of thing.”
Okay, I made that last line up. Laurie's far more diplomatic when she explains why I'm an idiot.
After dinner, we drove to the Mandalay Bay for the concert. Free CDs of Prince's latest, “Musicology,” for all ticket holders eased the pain of the admission price. A little. But Prince took the rest away. The man's no mere pop star. As he exclaimed, “I only hang out with *real* musicians. There ain't no lip-synchin' allowed on *this* stage.”
Take that, Madonna (who was playing her own show at the MGM the same night). Prince and his nine-piece combo delivered fat horns, soaring guitars and piercing keyboards for nearly two hours, running through hits from the old school (“Controversy” and “DMSR”) through most of the “Purple Rain” soundtrack and onto more recent tracks from “Musicology.” For the middle act of the show, Prince gave the band a break and soloed with acoustic guitar.
Laurie runs a site for violinists, and I cover theme parks. But both sites are united by our readers' common passion for entertainment. Prince demonstrated the power of live music to a wildly appreciative audience, a lesson I wish more theme parks would learn.
Music elevates theme parks from the carnival midway. It establishes and amplifies mood, advancing narratives and enhancing their emotional pull. Imagine Disney's Haunted Mansion without its “Grim, Grinning Ghosts.” Think back to how much more exciting Space Mountain became when Disneyland added a Dick Dale guitar riff to its coaster in the dark.
Music also drives the themes of Las Vegas. Classic and alternative rock, punk and reggae infuse the Hard Rock Hotel's casino floor. Monday night, Laurie and I caught “Mamma Mia!” at the Mandalay Bay Theater, a Broadway-style musical built around the songs of ABBA. Up and down the Strip, music defines the character of Vegas' nightclubs, casinos and stage shows, from the industrial beats of Blue Man Group to the New Age inspirations of Cirque du Soleil's Mystere.
But the mere presence of music does not guarantee a great show. Score and story must work together to advance a common theme. I still can't get used to walking into the old casino at Caesar's and hearing Coldplay. Where's Dino and Frank? And who needs to hear Six Flags' commercial music every 30 minutes when visiting one of their parks?
Such misfires aside, our weekend in Vegas allowed us a welcomed chance to submerge ourselves in the joys of music-driven themed entertainment. It reminded me of how theme parks too often stumble when they ignore or rush the score that ought to be a part of every great themed attraction.
MORE RANDOM THOUGHTS:
Coming next week: A trip to SeaWorld San Diego and a review of Journey to Atlantis.