The SAHARA Is Back – But Is It Too Late?


The iconic hotel gets yet another chance after the SLS debacle…

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The Sahara Hotel was one of the first casino resorts I stayed at when the Vegas love affair began. This was back in 2005, just when the landmark property was about to plummet to its lowest depths. Once a legendary destination, Sahara had become a place of despair. That being said, it still had its purpose as a value destination for those on a budget.

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In 2007, Sam Nazarian and Stockbridge Real Estate Group purchased the Sahara…and quickly ran it into the ground. My final stay in the summer of 2009 was so awful that I vowed it would be my last. Exposed electrical wiring, broken lamps, cigarette burns in the carpeting and furniture, golf ball-sized hole in the shower stall, broken bed frame, filthy casino restrooms….well, you get the idea.

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Nazarian locked the Sahara’s doors on May 16th, 2011, taping up a handwritten sign as his final farewell. To those of us who knew what he’d done to the place, this served more as a threat than a beacon of hope:

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When the property’s liquidation sale was announced, I flew in from Oregon to attend. We bargain-hunters and nostalgia-seekers were escorted onto the property in controlled groups, required to listen to a presentation before being unleashed to go exploring. Our guide told us that the hotel would eventually be re-opening under the name “SLS”. The fellow next to me said “S.O.S.? What kind of name is that for a hotel?”. If he only knew how prescient his question was…

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SLS Las Vegas opened three years and three months later. I was one of the first guests to check in on opening day….and just about everything went awry. No elevators in the parking garage, malfunctioning elevators in the hotel towers, being assigned a room that was already occupied, problems with the TV and more. Of course, all of these things were growing pains and could be easily forgiven for a newly-opened establishment.

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What couldn’t be overlooked was that the concept of turning a rundown north-Strip relic into an expensive knockoff of a Los Angeles hit was a fool’s errand. Nazarian and team had entertained the idea that LA residents would come to Vegas to experience what they already had at home. They packed the SLS with not one but SEVEN Hollywood-based Fred Segal shops, taking up every retail outlet within the resort. Within a year, they were all gone.

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Some things vanished even quicker that the Segal stores. An excellent new second-floor buffet was shuttered after only three months. LA-based Griddle Cafe lasted an entire five months before pulling out. Foxtail Nightclub was quickly shut down and LIFE Nightclub was gutted/converted into The Foundation Room (allowing for Foxtail’s pool club to reopen at night).

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The musical chairs within the building were shuffled as frequently as the execs in the boardroom. SLS Las Vegas was, without a doubt, a resounding flop from every perspective. All because it tried to be something it wasn’t and deliver something the city never needed.

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What Sahara really needed was another chance to be the Sahara again. Refreshed, revitalized, reborn as “The New Sahara”, perhaps….but NOT re-branded into an expensive luxury destination built on a rickety old foundation. The little nods to Sahara’s past had been peppered into the SLS decor, but this was essentially lip service to people like me…those who continue to embrace Sin City’s past.

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But the Sahara’s soul had been ripped out along with the theme, camels and that unforgettable neon porte cochere. It was replaced by bare concrete and a nearly-colorless, white/grey/black palette with bare ceilings, exposed duct work and a bar that looked like a boardroom full of monkeys. An artistic representation of reality, perhaps?

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Last week’s announcement that current owners Meruelo Group would be restoring the Sahara name was met with great fanfare (Scott Roeben’s VitalVegas.com readers knew quite awhile ago that this was in the works). It’s the hottest topic on Vegas message boards, Facebook pages and blogs like mine right now, so there’s interest in the old property after all.

Mostly everyone seems to like what’s been happening at the old/new Sahara. Meruelo has re-acquired a tower that had been taken over by W Hotels. They’ve restored full in-house operations and are putting a reported $100 million or more into additional renovations, much of them to address the despised flaws in the SLS room redesigns. Even the Casbar Lounge is back in a modern incarnation!

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             Sahara owner Alex Meruelo and wife Liset and name-reveal gala…

The company’s founder Alex Meruelo had this to say last week about the property’s future:

The SAHARA played an important role in the evolution of the destination. And, we are now responsible for shaping a new narrative. We are writing the next chapter in the city’s evolution, for the love of Vegas.
We are committed to delivering an intimate, unexpected and memorable visit for our guests. We want people who stay with us to say, ‘My God what an experience!’ because experience leads to memories. And, that’s what we want to create, memories and experiences you won’t forget.
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                                               Casbar Lounge then…
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                           …and now…(photo by Scott Roeben, Vital Vegas)
You can watch a video of the announcement by clicking here. The press release went on to say:
Alex Meruelo’s debut comes at a time when there are few sole proprietors left along the Las Vegas Strip. As a life-long entrepreneur with a track record of business success, Meruelo expressed his commitment to continual improvement and investment in SAHARA Las Vegas ensuring the resort remains both timeless yet modern so that guests will want to return time and time again.

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So yes, there’s plenty to be excited about The Sahara’s return. All signs point towards things being done correctly this time. But is it too late to matter? That depends on the final product and where it fits into the 2019 market.

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    World Tower room at SLS. Super-boring, oddly arranged, claustrophobic…

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                               New color scheme on current Story Tower room…

I have no problem in admitting that, just because of the name, I’m much more inclined to book or recommend a hotel called “Sahara” than “SLS”. After all, there is a major road and several current businesses in the area that are named after it. Sahara IS Vegas…it evokes the desert, a rich history and promises of an experience that “SLS” (that nonsensical clump of letters) never could.

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Many of us have complained about the removal of themes from Strip resorts. Then we lost our cool when office-bland City Center bleached out any hope of their restoration in the future. So if Sahara dares to restore its past Moroccan motif, even just a little, we owe it to Meruelo Group to support their audacity and daring.

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It’s reassuring to know that the new owners have already done a great job of returning Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort to relevancy. They’ve wisely appealed to a variety of guests from the frugal to the elite, managing to modernize that hotel/casino while acknowledging its rich 41-year history. That’s exactly what The Sahara needed to do all along.

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There are plenty of reasons to give the new Sahara a try. Resorts World and The Strat are drawing much-needed attention to those few blocks of the Strip. Sahara has its own monorail station, tying with Westgate for the most accessible of any stop on the line. Vital Vegas broke the news that foodie-favorite Bazaar Meats will remain and get expanded. He also reported they’re gaining an established resident production (the nauseating-yet-inexplicably-popular Magic Mike Live) that is sure to draw traffic back into the resort.

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So let’s hope that Meruelo Group continues their current audacious path for The Sahara. They’ve been running reduced booking rates, “No Resort Fee” and “Half-off Resort Fee” specials since taking over, have maintained free parking, attracted a variety of hip comedians and made the casino layout more appealing.

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With the right mixture of value, service and dining/entertainment/gaming offerings, The Sahara could become a standout destination that the current Las Vegas is sorely lacking…a fun affordable Sin City resort worth returning to over and over.

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Sahara fans are invited to witness its rebirth and transformation via a newly-launched website. Follow the excitement and sign up for updates by clicking here

Photos: Sam Novak, Greg C., SLS/Sahara, Vital Vegas, KVVU-TV, Pinterest, The Publicity Lab, Denise Truscello

 

 

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‘Potted Potter’ Casts a Laughing Spell on Vegas


Bally’s rapid-fire Hogwarts spoof is a silly, irreverent treat…

The quaint Windows Showroom at Bally’s Hotel Casino has been home to a number of successful productions, from The Bronx Wanderers to legendary Wayne Newton. Even 50 Shades: The Parody enjoyed a long, healthy run in the second-level space.

Now the quirky venue is hosting another laugh-filled movie spoof, this time without the riding crops and blindfolds. Experience a phantasmic adventure filled with magic wands, dark arts and fearsome dragons at ‘Potted Potter – The Unauthorized Harry Potter Experience’, a face-paced and humorous retelling of the wizarding-world saga.

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‘Potted Potter’ was created by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, sharp-witted BBC actor/writers who clearly love the source material. They’re also the stars of the production, which has toured through the United States and the rest of the world. Clarkson and Turner themselves came here to launch the Vegas residency, acting out all the characters in the two-man comedy. They’ll be here only a short while before passing the torch to a new Sin City cast.

Nobody can skewer pop culture like the British (think Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Little Britain and the films of Simon Pegg). The students and faculty of JK Rowling’s beloved Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry prove to be perfect targets for this style of humor. Using just a few silly props and lots of audience participation, Daniel and Jefferson plunder and pillage the entire seven-book epic (and dozens of characters) in only seventy minutes.

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Children will have an especially good time at the all-ages ‘Potted Potter’. During a media event that this writer attended last week, an adorable five-year-old girl with amazing improvisational skills was welcomed onstage for a magic-wand battle. Her deadpan responses and gestures matched anything that the professional cast could dish out. It was truly a priceless moment, one of many sure to follow in the open-ended run.

Click here to continue reading….

Drag and Drop the Mic for ‘FAAABULOUS! The Show’


New production dares to break the cardinal rule of the genre….

There are those who say that Britney Spears’ residency at Planet Hollywood was essentially a large-scale drag show. Outrageous costumes. Sexy back-up dancers. A heavily made-up performer who mimed her way through songs while sashaying around the stage, lip-syncing to the lyrics. Check-check-check.

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Being a naysayer of Spears and her own wooden, detached performances, I’ve found it more entertaining to enjoy the talents of Britney impersonators. Becoming someone other than yourself….now that’s real talent. Vegas favorites like Derrick Barry (America’s Got Talent, DIVAS) and Katie Murdock (Blond Invasion, Legends In Concert) take that artistry even higher by physically embodying the star while having angelic singing voices of their own.

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The art of drag is at an all-time high in our culture, especially here in Sin City. Senor Frog’s Drag Brunch at Treasure Island continues to pack in the crowd. Stars-N-Stilettos has arrived to take them on and Hamburger Mary’s has shifted its focus from beef to duct tape. Ester Goldberg gave it a go at SLS and Frank Marino’s DIVAS has been circling from above, rumored for a comeback at Hooters Casino (oh, the jokes we could make with that one).

The one common element for all of these productions is that drag artists rarely do any actual singing. Lip-syncing is the norm for this type of entertainment, hence the references to Britney. But that’s about to change with the debut of FAAABULOUS! The Show. This limited-run production will be the only singing/dancing/comedy drag show in Las Vegas…and they hope it finds a permanent home.

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FAAABULOUS! The Show is a labor of love. It’s created by two heavy-hitters with lengthy show-biz pedigrees. Christopher Kenney is best known to audiences as “Edie“, hostess of ZUMANITY by Cirque du Soleil. Writer/performer Jamie Morris is currently starring in the eye-opening Puppetry of the Penis at Erotic Heritage Museum and created new material for ZUMANITY’s 2015 refresh.

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Together, this partnership of boundless talent has captured the essence of drag and infused it with the vocal and comedic skills of five artists, each possessing their own impressive accomplishments:

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              Bella T. Ross, Dusty Muffin, Junebug, San San and Vita Summers…

BELLA T. ROSS is the creation of Josh Ross, a Los Angeles native and a Debbie Allen Dance Academy graduate who has been performing professionally for 15 years. Some of his credits include The Disney Channel’s “Suite Life of Zack&Cody,” Donn Arden’s “Jubilee!,” Tokyo Disney’s “Mystic Rhythms,” “Chicago The Musical” aboard The Allure of the Sea, “Cats The Musical” at Tuacahn Center for the Arts, “The Grinch Live!” at Universal Studios Hollywood, and “A Las Vegas Christmas” at The Linq Las Vegas.
DUSTY MUFFIN is the creation of C. Lash who is music supervisor/director and arranger for FAAABULOUS. He also created arrangements and direction for BAZ – Star Crossed Love (Palazzo), Scorsese: An American Crime Requiem (The Wallis), Tarantino (The Wallis) and Love Actually: Live (The Wallis). He was also the resident musical director and guest faculty member for UNLV’s Theatre Department.
JUNEBUG is the creation of Brooks Braselman, a Leo who enjoys thunder storms and keeping secrets. After majoring in musical theater at Boston’s Emerson College Brooks moved back to his home town of New Orleans. It was here he first squeezed his enormous head under a wig as Chicklet in “Psycho Beach Party” (Big Easy Award nomination). Since then Brooks has played a gaggle of lovely “ladies” including Christina Crawford in “Mommie Queerest (LA Weekly Award nomination), Natalie Green in “The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode,” Clarice startling in “The Silence Of The Clams,” Agnes Gooch in “Auntie Mame”, Velma Cruther in “Shut Up Sweet Charlotte!” He can currently be seen as Brock Hutchinson, along side John Malkovich, in the film “Supercon”, currently streaming on Amazon Prime!
SANDRA SANTIGOLD (“San San”) is the creation of Justin Rodriguez, a native of Queens, N.Y. who has called Las Vegas home for over 25 years. Credits include the National Tour of “RENT” (Angel), emcee/host of “Island Heat” at the Treasure Island Resort and Casino, multiple roles in “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding” at Bally’s Las Vegas; and even survived the short lived “Spoofical: The Musical” at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. He is currently the front man for  “Extreme Live”, a brand new immersive music experience at the Linq Las Vegas.
VITA SUMMERS is the creation of Ashton Shawver who played the role of Suzanne Sugarbaker in “Re-Designing Women” in Dallas (world premier), San Diego, Ft. Lauderdale and off-Broadway in New York. As Vita, Ashton has won several titles in the drag world including Texas All-American Goddess at Large and Miss Fire Island her first summer performing at the popular LGBTQ enclave. Vita also performed alongside Katy Perry on Saturday Night Live. A native of Texas who now lives and works in Ft Lauderdale, Vita is excited to be making her Las Vegas stage debut!
“No lip-synching. No impersonations. The cast of “Faaabulous! The Show” – Vita Summers, Bella Ross, Sandra Santigold, Dusty Muffin and JuneBug – are true triple threats. They sing, they dance, and they are damn funny! Kenney and Morris want to take drag to the next level and they believe this is the show that Las Vegas needs right now”.
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FAABULOUS! The Show will make its debut at Ron Decar Events Center (1201 South Las Vegas Boulevard near The STRAT). Performance dates are June 26th, 28th and 29th at 7pm  with a matinee performance on June 30th at 5pm. Doors open 90 minutes prior to showtime for optional dinner.
Tickets are $29 (including taxes/fees) and can be ordered by clicking this link.

 

 

Lost Vegas – Remembering Mermaids Casino


A look back on a Fremont Street favorite that’s gone forever…

Lately, downtown enthusiasts have been crowing about Circa, the under-construction hotel casino that’s rising above Fremont Street Experience. They’re thrilled at the prospect of something shiny, new and modern. But for some of us, “Old Vegas” has lost as much as it’s gaining. Maybe even more…

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Back when I first started visiting Vegas, it was a must-do to leave the Strip for downtown at least once. We’d hop on the double-decker Deuce bus to take in the grit and grunge of Fremont Street casinos. That four-block stretch had everything you could want. Loose slots, looser clothing, a multi-screen Galaxy Cinema, crazy characters and cheap drinks.

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                                                                    August 2008

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The 24-hour Original Coffee Shop in Binion’s basement was another must. I always had fun introducing friends to Alicia, the server that made every visit a special one. Alicia had a knack for handling our rowdy behavior and bad jokes while slinging a few of her own. And she served their signature chili (“with about an inch of grease”) with a great big smile. That bowl of oily goodness was a great way to start sobering up after an hour or two at the legendary Mermaid’s Casino.

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                                           Alicia is still part of the Binion’s family…

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Mermaids began life as the Silver Palace Casino back in 1956. The first two-level club in Vegas, it also boasted the very first escalator in southern Nevada. That escalator took visitors to a lower-level restaurant. Fans of the movie Pay It Forward may remember Helen Hunt’s character as a blue-haired waitress in Mermaid’s fictitious basement nightclub.

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Silver Palace underwent many name changes, from Carousel to Gambler’s Hall of Fame to Sundance West and Sassy Sally’s. In 1980 the building became Mermaid’s Casino and remained so until its closure on June 27th, 2016.

These days, Binion’s Coffee Shop is gone and so is Mermaids Casino. That colorful dump was the most bang you could get for your buck in the entire city…an absolute blast. You knew you were in for a good time the moment you headed for the entrance. Two ladies in absurdly-loud costumes would converge on you and your group, drape Mardi Gras beads over your heads and hand you tickets to their hourly slot-pull drawing.

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Once inside, you’d be swarmed by cocktail servers, one of whom would take half of that ticket and your cocktail order. They’d often remember your order from previous visits, would suggest a slot machine that was “running hot” and find you at your chosen game when that cocktail was ready. They’d usually hand you more entries for the slot pull, too. The generosity here was off the hook.

 

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Wandering through the small casino, you couldn’t escape the distinctive odors of Las Vegas excess…years of cigarette smoke, french fries, 99-cent hot dogs and of course the famous Deep-Fried Twinkies. There was often a lengthy line to the snack bar for those revoltingly-delicious delicacies. Plopped onto a paper plate and coated with a thick dust of powdered sugar and chocolate sprinkles, Deep-Fried Twinkies were to Mermaids what 99-cent shrimp cocktails were to Golden Gate‘s deli bar (both of which are long gone, too).

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Off to one side of Mermaid’s slots-only gaming floor was a full-service bar that specialized in 99-cent frozen daiquiris. Much like sister location La Bayou (right across the sidewalk), you could purchase monster-sized varieties to take on your stroll to various other Fremont properties.

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La Bayou, despite similarities in theme and offerings, lacked that intangible something that made Mermaids such a blast. Then again, La Bayou didn’t have Gabriella and Ling Ling, the two superstars of Mermaids. Always smiling, rapid-fire on the drink refills and genuinely happy to see you. these wonderful women were nearly always mentioned by guests on TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews. They were that awesome.

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Both Mermaids and La Bayou closed in 2016. They, along with the Glitter Gulch Gentlemen’s Club, were flattened to make way for progress. The owners of Circa Hotel Casino promise nods to Mermaids and other landmarks that they took away from us. But we’ve heard that before (see the disappointing current iteration of O’Shea’s Casino on the Strip for reference).

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These days I rarely go to Fremont Street despite so-called improvements. Visitation there continues to rise and the once-forgotten eastern extension has been revitalized with hip new restaurants and clubs. But for some of us, Fremont Street is now a sad imitation of its former self. And those dusty Deep-Fried Twinkies that are poised for a comeback will never taste the same.

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Photos: Sam Novak, Vital Vegas, UNLV Archives, Fremont Street Experience/La Bayou/Mermaids via Facebook

 

 

 

 

‘Celestia’ Comes to Earth By Way of the Vegas Strip


New astral-themed production opens at the STRAT…

Anticipation’s been as high as the massive tent erected on its behalf. An announced January premiere came and went, as did competing tent show Fuerza Bruta. But after many delays and hoopla galore, CELESTIA has finally come to Earth…and landed on the Las Vegas Strip.

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CELESTIA is the first large-scale entertainment offering under the STRAT’s new ownership and name. As the iconic hotel casino continues its evolution from Stratosphere into a decidedly more hip and relevant offering, CELESTIA has become an inadvertent keystone of their new image and business model. Naturally, a lot hinges on its success.

Last week’s official premiere was flashy and epic in scope. Celebrities like BMX pro Ricardo Laguna and entertainers from all over the city enjoyed signature cocktails and delicious bites at a pre-show reception. Then guests grabbed boxes of popcorn before heading into the main tent.

The cavernous performance space, which is beautifully landscaped on the exterior, looks even larger thanks to colorful motion projections of the cosmos. Stars twinkle in every direction and colorful astral bodies spin and glow. The stage is arranged proscenium-style, an unusual departure from the typical circus-in-the-round.

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But CELESTIA is more than the traditional three-ring spectaculars of your childhood memories. As a live band pumps out the arresting opening number, a large international cast appears from all directions. Still more plunge downward from unseen platforms, filling the air and stage with wonder.

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A threadbare premise follows central character “Celestia”, a star who’s taken the physical form of a young woman. Hoping to learn about artistry and human emotions, Celestia journeys through our world accompanied by a pair of comical sidekicks. Of course, this story line is just an excuse to present a variety of colorful and jaw-dropping acts.

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The fledgling production is beautifully mounted with snappy pacing, memorable costumes and a very attractive athletic cast. Contortionists, aerial artists, archers and knife-throwing wizards fill every square foot of the wide, neon-lit stage. Performers run through the aisles and leap onto platforms scattered throughout the audience, making for great photo-ops along the way (the show is flash-free picture-friendly).

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Fans of The Greatest Showman will enjoy seeing Russian Bar athletes The Sandou Trio. America’s Got Talent finalists Sergey and Sascha bring their stunning head-to-head balancing act to Vegas crowds as well. A spectacular sequence on the Wheel of Death will have you alternately hiding your eyes and raising your voice with cheers. Mounted of a massive scale, this finale rivals anything Cirque du Soleil can offer.

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Speaking of Cirque, you may wonder where CELESTIA fits into an already crowded entertainment landscape. Click here to continue reading… 

Photos: CELESTIA, Sam Novak

 

 

 

 

WAYNE SKIVINGTON OF ‘ZUMANITY’ TALKS FATHER-SON BONDING, VEGAS-STYLE


Cirque du Soleil performer and young son inspire others through fitness…

Click HERE to read this article via BestOfVegas.com…

Raising a child in any large city can be a challenge. You want to be a great role model, provide for your children yet still make their formative years memorable, fun and happy. Now imagine being a single father in “Sin City”…and you’re a performer working late nights in an adult-themed production. That’s the reality of ZUMANITY heartthrob Wayne Skivington.

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Skivington was born in a British Military Hospital in Germany. He began formal gymnastics instruction at the age of four and his natural talents were quickly recognized. When his family returned to Great Britain in 1994, Wayne performed in many exhibitions. While representing the nation at an international competition in Palm Springs, his troupe stopped in Las Vegas, visited Treasure Island’s Mystere….and Wayne’s love affair with Cirque du Soleil began.

Mesmerized by the renowned Alexis Brothers’ balancing act, Wayne sent his show reel to Cirque du Soleil along with an employment application. In 2008, as he was about to turn twenty-one, the handsome athlete was invited to join the Montreal-based entertainment company.Screenshot 2019-06-10 at 1.02.12 PM.png

To his surprise, Wayne was hired for their Las Vegas division and placed him in Mystere, the very show that had inspired him to apply. Accepting the position required leaving his sports coaching/conditioning studies at University of Leeds, but it’s a decision that Wayne has never regretted.

After his stint at MYSTERE, Skivington became the coach for Criss Angel BeLIEve and joined the cast onstage as a fellow performer. Now thirty-one, he’s a fitness coach at Rebound Vigour during the day and ZUMANITY’s sexy Scotsman at night. His sensual acrobatic routine raises temperatures ten times each week at New York NY Hotel Casino.

Fatherhood has taken Skivington’s personal life to greater heights than a trapeze. Six-year-old son Rowan shares Wayne’s blonde hair and gift for gymnastics and acrobatics. The two have become a worldwide sensation thanks to a series of father/son workout videos that Wayne shared on social media platforms.

 

                                      Photos: Marco Poker via IP FIT Facebook page…

Being a single parent with two jobs, I don’t have a great deal of spare time. So, my son is always with me. It was by sheer fluke that one day whilst videoing, like most parents do, I realized my son was copying me working out. He loves attempting to do what daddy does!

Wayne stresses that his time with Rowan isn’t what he considers to be a formal exercise regime. He saves that for personal training sessions, garage and gym workouts…and of course, rehearsals at the theater with show partner Katerina. When Rowan and his dad do their amazing feats, it’s just father-and-son fun.

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I think my videos have become popular because I am including my son in my active lifestyle, demonstrating the possibilities that lie with the greatest tool we own… our bodies! They can also see the trust my son has in me and the confidence I am building in him, all achieved through bonding during our playtime.

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There’s no question that raising a little one in a city-wide adult playground poses its own challenges. Wayne has the unique added complexity of being in a production meant for mature eyes only. But this son of a military officer grew up quickly on a worldwide stage. He’s gained a lifetime of practical experience that most parents would never have exposure to.

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Now Wayne is sharing his knowledge and perspectives by bringing fitness to families. He’s created a program called IP FIT FUN, which combines time-management principals with exercises that utilize your most valuable equipment – your own body.

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IP FIT FUN helps parents teach basic fundamentals of movement (to their children) through interaction and bonding. (They learn) to work out at home using body-weight exercises. Kids just soak up everything they see and realize anything is possible with a little dedication.

I want to encourage people to be a good role model, live a healthier lifestyle whilst having fun with the family, enriching relationships and memories that will last a lifetime.

As for the possibility of a father-son acrobatics act? Only time will tell if Rowan follows his dad’s footsteps into acrobatics and performance. But for now, he’s off to an amazing start. And his father will be there every step of the way.

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                “You are my motivation, my inspiration and my drive! I do it all for you”…

                                                                                           – Wayne Skivington

Pics courtesy Wayne Skivington social media, individual photographers credited there…

 

 

Must-Visit Vegas: Q & A with Golden Tiki’s Branden Powers


It’s Disneyland for grownups at Chinatown’s throwback lounge…

Tucked away in charming Las Vegas Chinatown is a magical little place. Fairly hidden between a jewelry store and a Korean BBQ restaurant, the quaint little storefront is deceptively unobtrusive. But one step inside the heavy wooden doors leads you to a world of wonders. Welcome, explorers, to The Golden Tiki.

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Under a fiber-optic sky replete with shooting stars, a three-sided long bar serves visitors a vast array of specialty cocktails from a delightfully-endearing line-up. Bamboo, palm fronds and trickling water enhance the Caribbean-inspired stylings. Behind a team of costumed bartenders, video loops from vintage films will make you feel like you’ve embarked on a three-hour tour of the islands.

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Explore a little further into the dimly-lit corners, behind the giant seashell and beyond the cave-like private booths. There you’ll discover a stunning collection of curiosities, memorabilia…and a cabinet filled with the shrunken heads of numerous Vegas celebrities.

There’s never a cover charge at The Golden Tiki. Nightly live bands fill the air with frivolity like a Don Ho Tribute Happy Hour. Humorous themed events like Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving Dinner have fans returning time after time.

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   Powers (right) presenting the late Robin Leach with his own “shrunken head”…

How Branden Powers‘ salute to kitschy Vegas came to be is a story unto itself. He was more than willing to share the journey in a recent interview:

When did you first come up with the concept for Golden Tiki and how long did it take from inspiration until opening day?

One day in 1992 I stumbled upon a wonderful tiki paradise inside Islands Restaurant and Lounge at the old Hanalei Hotel in Mission Valley San Diego (now home to the yearly Tiki Oasis gathering). I immediately fell in love and began to promote two weekly events under the name “Taboo” and my production company Cocktail Nation. I had thousands of people each week, all dressed to the nines with aloha shirts, Fez hats, smoking jackets and cocktail dresses.

The events, some of the first in America, were instant hits. One day I’m called in for a meeting. I enter to the remnants of what was once paradise to find that all of the priceless artifacts were removed, the walls painted white and the fish that had been there for forty years gone! My heart sank.

Three years ago I was approached by Jeff Fine, Joe Cain and Seth Schorr. They owned a bar that needed help. I wasn’t even thinking tiki. That part of my life died in the 90’s. I was wanting to call it Madame Wongs and make it a punk rock bar. Jeff said “How about tiki?” I thought it was a brilliant idea but only if I could build it the right way.

It needed to have multiple layers and a strong back story. I wanted an “adult Disneyland”, so I hired a team of hardworking Tiki tradesmen and we went to work nonstop. Sixty days later we opened our doors to a packed house and a broken air conditioner.

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It was a success but not without the blood, sweat and tears of many GM’s, bartenders and servers who helped mold The Golden Tiki into what was recently awarded The Best Bar in all of Las Vegas. I owe all of them and my patient wonderful partners a debt of gratitude.

We’re celebrating our 3-year anniversary August 26th but we really opened in June 2015. Once we opened we’ve never closed. There are no locks on our doors.

Have you always been a collector of the curiosities that you proudly display there?

I have been. My love is collecting street art, outsider art. A few years ago I gave away over 100 pieces of art on the streets of Las Vegas in what was a city side scavenger hunt. I’m also a huge record collector, but I mostly collect interesting people. I have the most awesome group of friends.

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Did you deliberately model the atmosphere and service to replicate “old Vegas”?

Yes. I have been coming to Vegas since I was a kid in the 70’s. I loved that era. My star-filled ceiling at The Golden Tiki was inspired by my love for Benihana and their ceiling at the former Las Vegas Hilton (now Westgate).

I moved here in 1999 and was saddened that so many icons were shutting down only to be replaced by soulless glass boxes that looked like airports. Our company’s goal is to open many themed environments that bring back the early Vegas visionary magic of Jay Sarno and Steve Wynn.

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I am the creator and managing partner of The Golden Tiki. I have three partners in this venture (Jeff Fine, Seth Schorr and Joe Cain) and our main parent company is High Horse, which we’re changing to Food Fight Inc. 

Tell us about the specialty cocktails that make up your drink menu?

We’re very proud to announce that we just brought on an award-winning USBG mixologist Adam Rains who will be taking our cocktail program to the next level. We want to compete on the world stage. Adam is assembling a team to do just that.

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Do you have a personal other favorite Tiki lounge, past or present

My heart will always be with the Islands Restaurant and Lounge. My giant clam waterfalls are an homage to that tiki bar. I honestly appreciate all tiki bars. I’m a lover of escapism. People try and pit Frankie’s Tiki Room against us but honestly I love them.

We’re two different experiences. They call us Disneyland and that’s okay by me. I think they’re small and dive-y but that’s equally as awesome. Their drinks are great and people should definitely explore them. Why limit yourself or the good times and adventures you can have?

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Who would be your dream celebrity to present with their own shrunken head?

If I could present anyone alive or dead. It would have been….

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The Golden Tiki is located at 3939 Spring Mountain Road in Chinatown. It never closes. For more information call 702-222-3196.

All photos courtesy of The Golden Tiki