Jabbawockeez: JREAMZ (Las Vegas)
Hip-hop meets miming in one of Vegas’ highest energy shows.
Hip-dop dance crew the Jabbawockeez first thrust themselves into the spotlight as competitors on the second season of NBC’s America’s Got Talent, the reality TV talent competition that boasts a million dollar prize and the chance to headline a Las Vegas show.
After making it to the Las Vegas callbacks round of the competition, the Jabbawockeez — one of just 70 acts remaining in contention — were eliminated. (The season would ultimately be won by singing ventriloquist comedian Terry Fator, who maintains a residency at The Mirage).
Winners of the debut season of America’s Best Dance Crew in 2008, the Jabbawockeez went on to appear in film and television with performances on So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Disney Channel’s Shake It Up and the theatrical dance movie Step Up 2: The Streets.
Their name (a spin on the Jabberwock, the nonsensical creature at the heart of “Alice in Wonderland” author Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” poem) and unmistakable motif — expressionless white masks and cartoon-like white gloves — gained more and more recognizability as they toured with New Kids on the Block and Jesse McCartney, even backing up superstar Taylor Swift during her performance at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards.
Original Jabbawockeez member Phil Tayag (aka Swaggerboy, or SB), also the Jabbawockeez CEO, has choreographed for Bruno Mars — it’s Tayag who’s responsible for those swanky dance moves in Mark Ronson and Mars’ hit “Uptown Funk” music video. (You’re probably familiar; the music video has more than 2.2 billion hits on YouTube).
In 2010, the Jabbawockeez became Vegas headliners with their show MÜS.I.C at the Monte Carlo. It was succeeded by PRiSM at the Luxor, which gave way to JREAMZ — their current production — at the MGM Grand.
Combining freestyle dance, breakdancing, popping, b-boying and their own “Beat-Kune-Do” (a riff on martial arts legend Bruce Lee’s “Jeet Kune Do”), the Jabbawockeez dance to a multi-generational compilation of tracks that include Big Sean’s “I Know,” Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance” and Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).”
The show, which lasts about 75 minutes, incorporates dance with a strong sense of humor that — like the Jabbawockeez’s music taste — plays to all demographics. There’s childish Nickelodeon-esque humor, a little Tex Avery-inspired slapstick, the risqué jokes tossed in for the 18+ crowd (it’s Vegas), some nonverbal, physically expressive comedy — think Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin of the silent movies of old. (The crew are, after all, mutes while on stage). While they’re busting moves on stage and pulling off the tirelessly-rehearsed techniques of their routine, the Jabbawockeez pull off something else: they’ve produced the rare Vegas show that manages to be simultaneously kid-friendly while avoiding the alienation of older audience members.
Incorporating dynamic dance with skits — be wary, audience members, you could be abducted from your seat, used as the straight man onstage and have even more fun — JREAMZ has a healthy infusion of audience involvement to accompany the kinetic and electric movement on stage.
Similar to a Cirque du Soleil show, don’t expect much of a story — there’s a framing narrative device centered around “PJ,” whose dreary, zombie-like reality is interrupted when, like Alice in Alice in Wonderland, he’s dropped into a dream (or Jream) world — a story that uses video, projection and even text to help express the themes (primarily: just because you live, doesn’t mean you’re alive; live a life instead of simply existing). Stories in Las Vegas shows are supplemental, not required, and the effort to tell a story is appreciated, even if ultimately unnecessary: we’re there to have some laughs and be awed by some truly impressive dance tricks, and that’s exactly what we get.
No one pays much mind to a weak or ambiguous story when a talent-driven show is firing on all cylinders — as JREAMZ often does. There’s a thirty second head spin accompanied by Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” followed by the Jabbawockeez encouraging the audience to dance along to Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae),” segueing into breakdancing to Mark Ronson’s “Feel Right.” Included is an inventive take on the classic arcade game Street Fighter, where the Jabbawockeez do battle behind a translucent projection screen that helps bring the video game to life.
If there’s one drawback to JREAMZ, it’s how the show has been allocated to a small-sized theater — a theater that lacks raised seating, save for a select row of back seats. This can, at times, make for an obstructed view, especially when the Jabbawockeez are removed from the stage and moving freely throughout the room. Like most shows, higher-priced seats are better than others — but a lot of the seating is on the same level (so to speak), and the venue, and the show as a whole, would really benefit from seating tailor made to avoid the issue of blocked sight-lines.
That’s not enough to bring down JREAMZ, an outstandingly fun Vegas production. Propelled by infectious energy from the Jabbawockeez, JREAMZ is among the most entertaining shows in Vegas and comes highly recommended. Jabbawockeez JREAMZ performs Sundays and Mondays at 7 p.m., and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. (dark Tuesdays and Wednesdays) at the MGM Grand. Tickets start at $49.99. Buy tickets here or call the box office at 702.531.3826.