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BWW Interview: Ross Mollison And Petra Massey of ATOMIC SALOON at Atomic Saloon Theatre

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SpiegelWorld gives Vegas audiences a chance to laugh again.

BWW Interview: Ross Mollison And Petra Massey of ATOMIC SALOON at Atomic Saloon Theatre Though it's still unclear if life will ever return to pre-COVID normal, the world of theatre and the art of entrancing audiences in song, dance, and delights are rising like a Phoenix from the ashes of 18 months of inertia, hospitalization and devastated loved ones. Broadway has turned back on its floodlights, the movie theaters once again are popping and buttering their corn, and in Vegas, the wild, funny, and adventurous casino shows have pressed their costumes, tuned their instruments, and brought audiences back, SAFELY, to their long-vacant theatres.

Spiegelworld, from the extravagant mind of Ross Mollison, has, for over a decade, been the bawdy, inebriated neighbor to Cirque du Soleil, featuring many acrobatic, magical feats, as seen on the Cirque stage, but with a demented slant. Absinthe arrived in Vegas and parked in the front lot of Caesars Palace like a mental patient escapee uncle in a camper van where it has delighted audiences since 2011. Opium, a spaced-out Odyssey, broke in at The Cosmopolitan, with a mix of sex and circus set pieces within a wacked-out spaceship. The crew broke out the whisky, shotguns, and showgirls of the old wild west for Atomic Saloon at Venetian's Grand Canal in 2019.

"A number of people said you should do a show there," Mollison said. "...What if we approach this more as show-meets-nightclub-meets-fantastic bar. Why not feature incredible comedy with a cocktail program and champagne list." That cocktail menu includes libations with the titillating names "Prairie Pomm Companion", "Where There's Smoke", "Outlaw's Old Fashioned", "Painted Lady and "Boozy's Bramble".

Spiegelworld often workshopped their concepts in other cities. For Atomic Saloon, they brought it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. "Creating a show in Edinburgh for Las Vegas was just incredible. It was an enormous hit there," Mollison said. "People come to the festival with the same sensibilities [as in Vegas] seeking something ridiculously fun. It was a great opportunity for us to get it ready." After the success at Edinburgh, the cowboys and madams transferred to Vegas. It was a "hit straight out of the box," Mollison said. "People just loved it."

Atomic Saloon tells the story of Boozy Skunkton (played by Petra Massey), proprietress of a saloon/brothel "and the difficulties she has with her day-to-day saloon life, with employees who misbehave, and dealing with the local criminal element [as well as] her love affair with the local mayor," Mollison said. "The whole story is told through acrobatics and comedy. It's tongue-in-cheek. It doesn't make much sense at all...and is hilariously fun. The artists we have are the best in the world. We have beautiful, talented, sexy artists. We have a number of different pole acts, a fantastic hand-balance act. There are quite a few aerial acts which is amazing since the space is only 24 feet high, a lot lower than Absinthe. The intensity of having a two-story venue overlooking all these aerial acts is really exciting." The raucous show features country western favorites by Glen Campbell, sharing space with modern hits by Britney Spears with some '80s hair rock (by Bon Jovi) and androgenous new wave (by Army of Lovers) sprinkled in.

Massey, a past colleague and friend of Atomic Saloon's director, Calvin McCrystal, was told McCrystal would "like [me] to play alongside a bevy of beauties," Massey said. "He told me, 'I would love you to play the ugly old hag in the show. Would you be interested?'" Massey jokes that, "You'll need a lot of makeup to make me look like an ugly old hag/cow."

Massey and her family decided to take the leap and sign with SpiegelWorld, moving across the pond, as well as an additional 2500 miles, to Las Vegas.

From the stage Massey sees the production as "wilder than the wildest of wild west. It's got a nugget of a story that warms you to all characters, which is very rare for a circus show," Massey said. "You invest in the characters. There are only 14 in cast so it's a sweet, boutique show. You think you know where the show is going to go and then they go left and take a curve ball."

"The venue is exquisite," Massey said. "It the best venue in Las Vegas, a hidden away jewel of a place. You come into this place and already you're amazed by drinks and venue and staff. So, you feel going on a journey. Then the show starts... [which is] fun and electric and exciting and unpredictable."

The evening showcases "Extreme skill, not only acrobatic, but comedic as well," Massey said. "The way Calvin McCrystal has crafted show means that the audience have a full experience. They're not just seeing a circus show. There's a big element of the theatrics as well."

For everyone in Vegas and the world at large, the party ended quickly and deadly. In early 2020, the planet evolved into a pandemic ghostland, with people isolating indoors or fighting to survive in hospital beds. Atomic Saloon, along with every other production, closed its swinging saloon doors.

Mollison saw all his creative ventures crumble. "It was distressing," he said. "There were signs posted that we would be closed for two weeks, but it took well over a year."

Even once they had permission to reopen, "We had artists overseas trying to get back," Mollison said. "Visas are very difficult. Some visa offices are totally closed. We just had to wait and work through it."

Once recovering its cast and crew, or replacements for those unable to currently return, Atomic Saloon unraveled all the new mandates in place - "All employees must be vaccinated," Mollison said. "Audiences must all be masked. We had to separate the stage from the audience. We used to have audience members up on the stage," which is not allowed anymore due to COVID. "I can't wait for the intensity of having audience up on the stage again."

For Massey, she isolated back in England with her family and just waited. "I don't think I realized how much I missed the stage," Massey said. "I was in a state of frayed nerves. I didn't even know if I was going to be a performer again. It was touch and go. Until I was actually on stage, I refused to let my heart feel safe that we were going to perform again."

But thankfully, she and many of the theatre world were able to return to the life that fueled them. "During dress rehearsal, this was one of the biggest buzzes that I've ever had in my entire life going back on stage again and that was just the dress rehearsal," Massey said. "I was like a bullet. It was such a high. I was just so emotional, amazed that I could be lucky enough to be performing again in live entertainment in a show that I love, with people I love, and a crew I love. There were fireworks going off in my head, in my body, in my voice, in my eyes."

"I think COVID, through all the bad and good things, brought our company [and the entire Spiegelworld family] together in a way that probably would take years," Massey said. "We were all stranded in this island called Las Vegas, all of us in vulnerable positions, all of us looking out for each other and watching each other's backs. I got to spend this time with an extremely artistic bunch of weirdos. What a great place to be stranded."

For Mollison and Spiegelworld, new worlds are already opening up. Caesar's Palace just struck a deal with Spiegelworld to create three new permanent shows in their Vegas, Atlantic City, and New Orleans locations, which includes DiscoShow at the soon to be built SpiegelWorld Glitterloft at the LINQ hotel in 2022.

Atomic Saloon has already reopened at the Venetian Grand Canal. Tickets for Atomic Saloon, as well as Opium and Absinthe, are available at spiegelworld.com.

Photo Credit: Erik Kabik


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