Imagine a classic 1970s television variety show, now overlay a hyper-stylized, completely modern, live and in-the-round entertainment spectacle, and you begin to describe the Eldorado’s new holiday show, “The Unbelievables.”
“The concept is we’re taking the greatest acts in entertainment, throughout the whole world, and bringing them together in one show,” “The Unbelievables” Creative Producer Simon Painter said.
The multi-million-dollar holiday extravaganza opened Nov. 21 and runs through New Year’s Eve at the Eldorado’s Eldorado Theatre.
Christmas variety show
The high-energy Christmas show features live music, aerial trapeze, dancers, NBC’s hit entertainment competition show America’s Got Talent finalists Sara and Hero, magicians, contortionists, comedians, and singers performing both original music and beloved Christmas carols.
“I guess you could say it’s something like ‘America’s Got Talent,’ but on steroids,” Painter said. “It’s basically a Christmas family variety show with some of the best acts in the world.”
The Eldorado Theatre underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation for the show. The venue is now decked out for the holidays, and has been reconfigured to accommodate the in-the-round production, complete with up-close, VIP “champagne seating.”
The host and master of ceremonies for “The Unbelievables” is English magician and comedian Paul Dabek, whose cheeky humor and dazzling illusions are perfectly suited to corralling the diverse, fast-moving show, Painter said. Dabek is one of the UK’s top entertainers, and has performed on six continents, from venues in London’s East End to headlining Las Vegas showroom The Magic Circle, which was founded in 1905 and is the United Kingdom’s premier magical society, named Dabek its Young Magician of the Year in 2003. He won the same award from the world’s largest magic organization, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, based in Saint Charles, Missouri.
What will you see?
One of the show stealers is Sara and Hero, an animal act that is part tricks and part seeming human/animal mind-meld.
“What an incredible reaction they get,” Painter said. “It’s an act a lot of people can relate to, because a lot of people have dogs, and they know how hard it is to get them to do anything — to lie down or roll over — and, I mean, she gets her dog to do some amazing things.”
Sara and Hero were finalists on “America’s Got Talent,” have appeared on CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman,” as well as at multiple live shows, and have won several agility titles.
“The Unbelievables” cast also includes spritely but powerful Cirque du Soliel-trained contortionist Jordan McKnight. McKnight — all 5-foot-1 and 88 pounds of her — is a rarity in that she can perform all five of the genre’s disciplines: dislocation, twisting, hand balancing and front- and back-bending. Currently based in Las Vegas, McKnight has won numerous awards at international circus festivals.
South African star Shaun Jacobs composed all the show’s music, and he performs the score live, playing guitar, singing and using loop pedals and samples. Jacobs is a 2014 winner of a South African Music Award for best adult contemporary album. He’s accompanied by accomplished backup singer Nava Morris, who’s worked with Mariah Carey and Natasha Bedingfield.
“Between her and Shaun, we have an amazing live ensemble,” Painter said.
Young German sleight-of-hand magician Sebastian Nicolas brings classic magic artistry to the show. Specializing in manipulation, his dexterity and innovation has won him multiple magic awards, including the Mandrake d’Or and World Vice Champion.
“He really has an amazing manipulation act,” Painter said. “It’s just stunning.”
One of the show’s most unusual acts is the award-winning Chinese dancers Deng Lin and Miao Changwei.
“She balances on point, on her partner’s head, and does a pirouette,” Painter said. “It’s just incredible.”
Celebrate the magic
“Christmas is all about celebrating the magic of the season,” Painter said, “and what this does is take this amazing, international cast, and bring everything together in the round. It’s very fast paced, the acts are all amazing, and it’s also very funny.”
The diversity of the show is really a tip of the hat to both the stage and television variety shows of the past, and an appreciation of the all the different types of entertainment it touches on.
The young, international cast is so diverse, and the pace so fast, it’s a wonder it holds together so well.
“It’s a bit like producing a circus: you take the most amazing acts in the world, and then you put them in a setting that gives the audience the best possible experience. It’s a thoroughly entertaining holiday spectacle.”
Another production of “The Unbelievables” also opened this month at Australia’s Sydney Opera House. Is is one of 12 shows The Works Entertainment — the Los Angeles-based company created by Painter and his partner, Executive Producer Tim Lawson — are currently mounting worldwide. The company has produced shows in more than 30 countries and 300 cities, including “The Illusionists,” “Le Noir” and “Circus 1903.”
Reno, though, is a special place, Painter said, adding that he hopes the show becomes a holiday institution.
“The idea is we’re going to do this every year at the Eldorado,” he said. “And hats off to the Eldorado for completely refurbishing the room. The room is really decorated beautifully. We are hoping this is going to become a big family tradition at Christmas, to go see ‘The Unbelievables’ in Reno. It’ll be our big Christmas celebration, and every year we will bring in new, amazing acts and refresh the show.”
The Unbelievables runs through Dec. 31 at the Eldorado Theatre. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5:30 and 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $19.95-$59.95 and are available at eldoradoreno.com, 800-879-8879 and at the box office at 345 N. Virginia St.