2007 was a very good year for Terry Fator. He went from having single digit audiences witness his singing ventriloquist act at tiny fairs to clinching the win and accompanying million dollar prize on Season 2 of America's Got Talent. And then things really started looking up for Terry. After performing for 3 nights to a sold out crowd at the Las Vegas Hilton, he signed a $1.5 million contract with the Hilton to perform multiple shows a month in 2008. After the Hilton contract expired, he signed an impressive $100 million five year contract with The Mirage in Las Vegas with an option to extend it for another five years making his stint potentially worth more than $200 million. Not surprisingly, this amounts to one of the largest entertainment deals in the history of Las Vegas. If you want to know what all the fuss is about and how a singing ventriloquist could be one of the most sought after performers in Las Vegas, then read on.
This DVD presentation of Terry's live show at The Mirage in Las Vegas was recorded over the nights of February 28 and March 1, 2009. Over the course of approximately 70 minutes, he employed 7 puppets and 1 audience member to bring together a night of ventriloquism, vocal impressions and humor. If anybody has any doubts as to what 'singing ventriloquist' means, Terry not only throws his voice to his puppets but he is also able to make them sing songs in what amount to spot-on impressions of the original artists. Since the major appeal of his show consists of these singing ventriloquistic impressions, one could almost view the show as a concert with humorous interludes. Going with that approach, here is the 'set list' for the songs performed by Terry and his puppets:
Before the show started in earnest, there was a small introduction which consisted of Terry rounding up his puppets as they were lounging by the pool and getting massages so that they could get ready for their performance. It was a short segment but served well as an introduction to a few of the personalities we would be encountering later in the show. From there, the show launched with a cold open of Terry entering the stage with Emma, a sweet cabbage-patchy female puppet who proceeded to channel Etta James during a performance of 'At Last'. This was an excellent performance to start the show with because it was designed to silence any doubters in the audience. Once you see Terry, who is very much a white male, pull off a completely convincing Etta James impression ventriloquially, you begin to understand the depth of his skill and are curious to see what else he can pull off.
After Emma, Terry brought out Winston the Impersonating Turtle, who seemed to be an audience favorite, possibly due to his past appearances on America's Got Talent. Winston performed renditions of 'Crying' by Roy Orbison and 'Stayin' Alive' by the Bee Gees which were extremely lively and fun. Unfortunately they also caused Terry to peak fairly early in my opinion. His other puppets included Walter the yodeling cowboy, Maynard the stuttering bumpkin, Julius the soul singer, Duggie the stoner and Vikki the cougar (not the animal). These 5 puppets had vastly different personalities and were effective to varying degrees. This was especially apparent in the humorous banter they shared with Terry. Just to be clear, none of the humor in the writing reached for anything beyond cheesy, obvious jokes or risqué double entendres (sample: "I do Tae Bo three times a day. He's my pool boy.") When the material is that pedestrian, there is greater pressure on Terry and his characters to sell them and unfortunately not all of them were up to the task. Walter and Julius were harmless enough but Duggie came off as a weak imitation of Mike Myers' Wayne Campbell character. Maynard was alternately frustrating while Vikki crossed the line into full blown annoyance.
Besides the weak writing between songs, Terry made a few other choices during the show that ranged from puzzling to downright embarrassing. Twice during the show, he sang without puppets. First he performed a Bee Gees song with all the expected vocal tics intact. Later he performed a Michael Buble song in honor of the military personnel in his audience. Both the songs were well-performed like every other song in the show but they do bring up the question: What do you call a ventriloquist who doesn't use a puppet? I believe Terry would like you to answer, "An Entertainer" but I don't think it's that simple. Since Terry built his reputation as a singing ventriloquist, there is a certain suspension of disbelief required on the part of the audience for the act to be truly successful. When Terry sings without a puppet, he effectively breaks the fourth wall and the suspension of my disbelief along with it. On a far stranger note, in an extremely ill-advised move, Terry presented his impression of Michael Jackson. Unfortunately he didn't use a puppet to do so. He actually showed up on stage in a red 'Thriller' jacket wearing a massive wig and a silver glove. This would be bad enough but why stop there, when he could do a little moonwalk, a few crotch-grabs and toss a fake baby in a blanket to his assistant. After all that, he didn't even perform a song by Michael Jackson. The only upside to this segment was that Terry in his ridiculous wig finally let me know what Ricky Gervais would look like if he chose to dress up as Weird Al Yankovic for Halloween.
Fortunately Terry saved two of the stronger bits for the close of the show. His audience participation segment involved turning an audience member into a human puppet using a mask. It turned out to be a slice of creepy fun. In a layered display of ventriloquism, the finale involved Terry doing his impression of Louis Armstrong while dueting with Winston the Turtle who did his impression of Kermit the Frog. Think about that for just a second and remind yourself that all the voices in fact belong to Terry. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the design of the stage itself. In typical Vegas style, the stage looked like it belonged to a futuristic game show with neon lights and a massive semi-circular array of high definition screens along the perimeter which displayed background images throughout the show. For the purpose of recording this show, 10 cameras were employed including 2 Steadicams. This provided a variety of long shots, close ups and sweeping crane shots which injected the illusion of motion into what is a fairly static show.