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There’s a new show on The Strip and it’s one that I wholeheartedly and sincerely recommend you go see. It’s called MUS.I.C. (read: “Muse I See”) and stars a group called “Jabbawockeez.” Anyone born before 1980 will need a “crash course” of sorts to figure out what it’s all about. If you were born closer to this decade, maybe all you’ll need is a refresher course – remember the eighties? Rap? MC Hammer? Breakdancing? Well these are Jabbawockeez’s roots, except apparently, as I was very kindly corrected, it goes by the term “b-boying” or “breaking,” so there’s a hipster lesson for you.
Although, in Jabbawockeez’s case, co-founder Phil Tayag says otherwise, “It’s definitely incorporated, you know the breakdancing and there’s many different styles of hip-hop,” adding “Our show is like a big fusion of a lot of different styles – that’s why we don’t call it anything, because there’s really nothing quite like it.”
I saw the show not expecting much in the way of entertainment, figuring that I would be subjected to an hour or so of “dancing men wearing white gloves and masks,” but was pleasantly surprised to realize that I actually enjoyed it. Yes, of course, dance is central to the production, but as Tayag puts it, “I would say that our show is definitely not just a dance show. There’s a message, it’s a full-production show, kinda “movie-esque;” there’s a story to it.” Such as the title, “MUS.I.C” which was explained towards the end of the show, as “The beauty of life is the muse I see to create…”
Whatever the case may be, the group certainly has a large following. Established in 2003, the dance crew is the brainchild of the “3 Musky” (Joe Larot, Kevin Brewer and Phil Tayag), whose goal was to showcase freestyle dance. Although their roots go way back – “I’ve been in the same dance group with Kevin and Joe since I was 14,” says Tayag. Citing group names like Kaboom Squad and Mind Tricks, it wasn’t until the trio were introduced to Chris Gatdula, Rynan Paguio, Jeff “Phi” Nguyen and Ben Chung “B-Tek,” unofficially, the four remaining members of the group – that Jabbawockeez was born.
They got their first taste of national exposure in 2006 on “America’s Got Talent,” but their biggest break was winning the MTV hip-hop reality series, “Randy Jackson Presents America’s Best Dance Crew” in March 2008. From then on, it became a round of television appearances on shows like “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Live with Regis and Kelly,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “The Jimmy Fallon Show” and a whole lot more. All this new-found fame got them a ‘touring gig’ – as the opening act for New Kids On The Block. And then, Vegas. Initially set as a 20-day run in May of last year, the show was such a sell-out success that extra dates for June and August were added. And even then, that wasn’t enough. In late October last year, The Jabbawockeez finally found a new “semi-permanent” home at the Monte Carlo. Tayag says that they’re contracted to run till May of this year, but judging from the crowd the night I saw the show, the Monte Carlo would be crazy not to extend Jabbawockeez’s run. In the few years that I’ve been to that theater, for various shows, I had never, ever, seen it packed to capacity, as with the Jabbawockeez.
Even before the show starts, the “crew” gets the audience going. They have a bit of a “pre-show,” with one Jabbawockeez combing the audience for some one-on-one interaction and participation. Then it starts and what a joyride it is. Like everyone else, I have some favorite numbers and my opinion seems to jive with the rest of the audience. Tayag shares that the show is a work in progress, and that the group constantly (if not daily) tweaks the material. “We take notes and we figure out what it is that we want to refine. If we find that people like this certain part, we’ll milk it.” Certain segments are already prone to “ad-libbing” and impromptu performances – and as Tayag says, most times when a Jabbawockeez performs solo, then you can pretty much bet that segment is “off the cuff,” or “freestyle” in hip-hop speak. From what I hear, my favorite number – what I call “The Matrix Spoof,” seems to be everyone’s favorite as well. I never laughed so hard.
In fact, I can probably rattle-off a few other segments, though I realize I run the risk of sounding like a raving Jabbawockeez fan. Another hilarious segment (which doesn’t involve dancing) is their homage to the Vegas entertainment scene – where some of the city’s iconic performers – such as Elvis, a showgirl and even (wink, wink) ‘a Blue Man’ – are given a “Jabbawockeez makeover.” So, ‘Elvis’ comes out in his trademark bejeweled jumpsuit, albeit donning a white mask and gloves; though perhaps the “cheekiest” bit is the ‘Blue Man,’ in his all-black turtleneck and pants, only this time, the white mask is painted blue. ‘Carrot Top’ comes a close second. And while the ‘jokes’ in this show are less cerebral than Blue Man Group, the visual gags, although leaning towards the ‘slapstick,’ and a collection of ‘spoofs,’ still hit the spot, every time. I also liked the number they called “Greatest Hits” (or something to that effect) – featuring songs from Bell Biv DeVoe (Poison), Vanilla Ice (Ice, Ice Baby), Sir Mix-A-Lot (I like Big Butts) and more – because it took me back to my high school years. The crew’s take on Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” is a riot. I don’t doubt that they can exploit this number to their advantage (and laughs) for a long time.
These compliments don’t come close to what I think is the group’s greatest feat – that in a span of a few months, they’ve managed to transform the energy and vibe at the Monte Carlo, and accomplished what decades of shows past in that same theater couldn’t do – fill the seats and get the audience on their feet. And in the spirit of hip-hop, let me just say that MUS.I.C. is “da bomb.”
-Rachel M. Sugay
Jabbawockeez, Monte Carlo Hotel. Show times are 9:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday; 7:30 p.m., Sunday-Monday. Tickets are $49, $59 and $79, to purchase, call 702-730-7160.