At a Glance
What is it?
A hip-hop dance crew featuring members who wear masks and head to toe clothing.
Where is it?
In a small theater at MGM Grand.
Is it worth the cost?
If you’re a fan of dance, this is one of the only good options in town.
Why should I see this show?
Because you love “America’s Best Dance Crew.”
What else do I need to know?
If you came back to take part in the “Harlem Shake” audience participation bit, you’re going to be disappointed.
What’s the bottom line?
The new show has lost some of the magic but there’s still enough good dance here to recommend it.
As shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” move from buzzworthy mega-hits to comfortable middle-America television viewing, so too have JabbaWockeeZ made a move, both geographically and tonally. After a run of shows at the MGM Grand they started a residency in the big theater at Monte Carlo and since then have moved on to Luxor and now back to MGM Grand with their new production, Jreamz.
As a bit of background, the hip-hop dance troupe got their big break on another televised dance competition, “America’s Best Dance Crew” on MTV. Their gimmick was what set them apart – all of the dancers are covered from head to toe, including masks – but it was their talent in the street dancing style that allowed them to take the title.
Their original show in Vegas was a celebration of all forms of dance told through a hip-hop lens and it had a definite populist appeal that allowed it to reach beyond the B-Boy crowd that follows their every move. The production at Luxor had lots of crowd-pleasing moments as well, with a color pastiche of left brain vs. right brain exercises mixed with audience participation no-brainers to “Gangham Style” and “Harlem Shake.”
This one has a more challenging concept in a lot of ways. On the surface it’s about a dancer pulled into a dream world who hip-hops his way through a series of obstacles. Or something like that. There are no words so what it all really means is up to interpretation. But regardless, it’s darker in tone and less colorful in execution – and I mean that literally.
Where previous shows have been all technicolor blasts, this one is mainly monochrome. Plain white walls are covered with video projections of rooms, outdoor scenes, or random graphics that are mostly rendered in black and white. The few times color is introduced, it feels muted and is quickly replaced by shades of grey again.
The crew of guys (are they guys? who knows?) specializes in street dancing from across the spectrum of hip-hop, pop and lock, and B-boy. Some of what they do is as ingenious and exciting as it always has been, for instance a piece involving the video game “Street Fighter” moves the action of the game into the real world with body movements and puppetry. But the rest of it is just variations on the same kinds of moves done over and over and often not with the kind of skill that I expect from a trained dance crew. One of the keys to this type of dance is the hard-hitting, exacting precision in which it is executed. Too many times the dancers were not quite in sync with one another and that’s so unlike the JabbaWockeeZ that it was a bit jarring. In most of the numbers, the two leads were fantastic and the rest of the crew was just okay.
Sadly, even the more original parts of Jreamz – a human version of the 80s electronic game “Simon” for instance – don’t hit the kinds of soaring heights their previous shows did. Bring back the stroll through dance’s greatest hits starting with a hip-hop homage to Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain” and blasting through James Brown and ’70s funk, and 80’s rap styles. That was as close to genius as you can get in a Las Vegas show.
Having said that, their masked shtick is fun and often funny. The crew’s blank-expression face coverings evokes a dancing version of the Blue Man Group especially when they are doing audience participation skits. Warning: if you are a pretty woman and you see them coming your way just go with it and try to have fun.
The first time I saw JabbaWockeeZ I had low expectations and was blown away. This time I had high expectations and was let down, but I still think this is the best purely dance-focused show in Las Vegas.