Stretching the limits of entertainment at The Act
By Matt Kelemen
Photography by Christopher DeVargas
Camera assistant: Raen Badua
Makeup by Sarah Barker
Styling by Olwen Zarlengo
Many people preconceive Las Vegas as either a city-size pleasuredome where anything is possible, or something more akin to Dante’s Inferno. The reality between those two extremes can be much different for the first-time visitor, but after expectations are adjusted to accommodate attainable levels of debauchery, there is still one place on the Strip that serves as a steam valve for repressed, decadent desires. Inside The Shoppes at The Palazzo, an unassuming third-level entrance can be seen from the ground floor, with “The Act” spelled out simply above the doors. Stairs lead further up to the final entrance of The Act, where preconceived expectations of entertainment can be met, and possibly exceeded.
There is still a journey to make before arriving in proprietor Simon Hammerstein’s version of the Garden of Earthly Delights. Winding, wallpapered passages enhance the feeling that one world is being left behind for another, with a bar and a store selling flamboyant hats (among other things) providing points of interest along the way. The increasing volume of The Act’s mix of electronic dance music indicates the right direction, until the hallway opens into a handsomely decorated oblong room with a central dance platform and a stage at the far end. No DJ is in sight.
Within an hour of opening, the room is full of people drawn by word of mouth about the scene inside. Fog machines contribute to the ambience, as do sensually dressed dancers and acrobats above the main room’s bar. The dancers selectively pull female patrons onto the platform, and before long they are on the stage as well. But not for long, as the announcement is made, the mood changes and the platform is taken over by sirens encircling male prey before attention is drawn to the stage. The curtain is pulled back for the first of several acts of the evening, which may be sensual, magical, whimsical, shocking or perverted depending on the point of view.
More than likely, it will be entertaining for anyone who enters The Act. In all likelihood, they came to the nightclub based on the reputation of its Manhattan predecessor, The Box. Hammerstein—the grandson of Oscar Hammerstein, the Broadway musical legend—opened that venue several years ago and has made it one of the most notorious in the city, where the audience is made to feel part of the atmosphere and the limits of risqué entertainment are stretched to the breaking point. The idea was to always walk the edge, but never fall off, a philosophy that Hammerstein eventually traded in for a healthier lifestyle of hiking and tennis.
But Hammerstein’s phantasmagoric, modern-day vaudevillian vision lives on. On a recent night, the first entertainer leaned burlesque, a dancing, Grace Jones-looking figure whose gender morphed as clothing was removed. Some people closed their eyes and ducked down behind tables, some stood on banquettes to scream ecstatically. But by the time the curtain closed and guests resumed dancing onstage to music that was decidedly more intense than a few minutes earlier, everybody had got The Act. And nobody was leaving.