Typical Vegas pre-show exchange:
Husband: “What would you like to see tonight, honeybunch?”
Wife: “Maybe something with a real-life ex-mobster; an opera-singing godfather; gyrating guys in tighty-whities; sizzling women in dice-shaped bras jitterbugging to electropop; a Castro assassination plot; Marilyn Monroe and JFK; a Cosa Nostra blood oath; the Sands Copa Room; Howard Hughes; and a biblical verse from the Book of Ezekiel. … Oh, and Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj singing “Bang, bang, into the room, I know ya want it.”
Got’cha covered, folks.
All of it and more is mega-crammed into the Plaza hotel-casino’s new dizzying, dazzling music-and-dance-drenched creation, A Mob Story (sure, why not — let’s call it a “mobsical”). Creator/director Jeff Kutash is the power behind A Mob Story, building on a resume that boasts his 20-year Vegas hit Splash — the Strip’s first water show — and a reputation for bringing repeat business to town.
With a production billed as “A Saga of Forefathers and Godfathers” and “The Story of How the Mob Made Vegas and How Vegas Took Down the Mob,” this latest Kutash entry is an eye-and-ear-popper — a fizzy cocktail of lavish costuming (dig the starburst-style zoot suits!) and roaring choreography that could set your senses ablaze.
Anchoring this genre-busting Vegas newbie is the storytelling charm of ex-underworld kingpin-turned-reformed producer/lecturer Michael Franzese — once a caporegime of New York’s Colombo crime family, which cost him eight years in prison, three of them in “the hole” of solitary confinement.
“Don’t cry for me, people, I deserved it. I was a criminal,” he says.
Regaling us with mob lore laced with humor, Franzese reveals tales of his father, New York underboss Sonny Franzese, who would show up at his childhood baseball games (at which point the umpire never called a strike on the wiseguy’s kid); weighs in on TV/movie mob portrayals (The Sopranos, Goodfellas); waxes poetic about his wife, whose love carved the path for him to abandon the unsavory life; and emphasizes that the show is not designed to canonize criminals.
“We’re not here to glorify the mob life. But if you’re a mobster and you die of old age and you die free, you’ve really accomplished something,” he says about his escape to the right side of the law, his sincerity about his lifestyle conversion landing as absolutely authentic.
Sharing duties with Franzese as a kind of Cosa Nostra tour guide is Marcel Forestieri, portraying an engaging version of real-life mob figure Johnny Roselli. “Wanna hear a joke?” he asks. “How many mobsters does it take to push a snitch down a flight of stairs? None — he fell.”
Highlights of Vegas’ underworld underpinnings are sprinkled throughout (with a musical nod to its Cuban connections), from its infamous Vegas heyday (referencing figures such as Bugsy Siegel, Tony “The Ant” Spilotro and Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal) through its fading influence when hotels shifted into corporate hands.
Yet A Mob Story is really a multimedia fever dream.
Bursts of audio and video elements abound (mug shots of Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky are projected onto side-stage walls). Archival footage pushes the story forward. First-person reminiscences add immediacy, as does audience interaction. And an eclectic recorded soundtrack (including hip-hop, swing, pop and dance music) helps the show bust free of the standard period-piece musical limitations you might otherwise expect. (“Maneater” accompanies a sensual dance sequence about Bugsy sweetie Virginia Hill.)
All of it punctuates high-octane production numbers with a cast of 25 exuberant dancers. Even the famous Kefauver Hearings are treated to song-and-dance touches. And in a highlight that is both comic and stirring, Joey Spinella as a roly-poly, mama-adoring godfather launches into an impressive rendition of the aria “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s Turnadot.
Should all this seem like a big, bawdy grab-bag of wow poured over your senses, well, just wait for the towel-dropping dudes thrusting in their tighty-whities. Why? Well, go and see, lest you wind up permanently snoozing with the fishes.