Get Sweaty for Christmas with 98 Degrees


Steamy pop group’s holiday tour schedules final show for Vegas fans…

As popular boy bands of the 90’s segued into nostalgic “pop groups”, most of them have disbanded or faded into obscurity. Not the hotties of 98 Degrees. As part of the primary 90’s 4-pack (along with N’Sync, Backstreet Boys and NKOTB), 98 Degrees built a ravenous and extremely loyal fan base.  Of those groups, only 98D continues to record great new albums and fill arenas. They also manage to stay relevant in an ever-changing musical landscape.

98 Degrees Christmas

While New Kids and Backstreet have shown love to Vegas from time to time, it’s 98 Degrees that shares a special bond with Sin City. For that you can thank group founder Jeff Timmons, who calls Las Vegas home.

98 Degrees Christmas

A frequent guest at local functions and on Vegas TV talk shows, the ultra-sexy and ridiculously-fit Timmons is also the chesty front man for Men of the Strip. That’s the male revue which took on a vastly-inferior Magic Mike Live and is currently touring the U.S. and Canada.

98 Degrees Christmas

98 Degrees Christmas

  Timmons delivered Christmas in July with Men of the Strip at Hard Rock…                

But before I get more drool on my keyboard, let’s return to the matter at hand….Christmas! Yes, the four-part harmonies and soulful voices of 98 Degrees are back for their second collection of holiday treasures.

98 Degrees Christmas

Has it really been eighteen years since this album hit the shelves?                   

The first, This Christmas, was a certified-platinum hit at the peak of their popularity. Brimming with seasonal standards and three new songs, the album was released on the Motown label in 1999. Fans have been clamoring for a follow-up ever since…and for them, Santa came early this year.

 

98 Degrees Christmas

Better hair and clothing, same soulful harmonies…                 

Let It Snow debuted on October 20th and the boys gentlemen have been quite busy supporting their new album. They launched another nationwide tour along with TV appearances and a glorious performance during last week’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

98 Degrees Christmas

Ever trendy, the guys made sure that Let It Snow will be released on the retro-hip vinyl format (yes, actual freaking VINYL!) on December 1st. Click here to order the LP via Amazon.com. It’ll be great addition to my own collection of treasured holiday records gathered through the years. That postman better be on time….I have plans to get mine autographed.

98 Degrees Christmas

It’s amazing that 98D‘s four members  – Timmons, Justin Jeffre and brothers Nick and Drew Lachey – managed to find time to record a new collection this summer. With Jeff’s Men of the Strip launch in July (read my review here), Nick’s successful stint on Dancing With the Stars, the brothers’ super-popular Lachey’s Sports Bar in Cincinnati and Jeffre’s political activities….well, the logistics must have been staggering.

This isn’t the first time that 98D found themselves riding a new wave of popularity. In 2013 they released 2.0, their first studio album since 2000. They followed that with The Package Tour, a multi-group effort with Boyz II Men and NKOTB.

Now they’re back for phase three and closing out 2017 with a final stop in Las Vegas. 98 Degrees at Christmas will sleigh-ride into the area on Saturday December 23. Star of the Desert Arena in Primm Nevada will host the final performance of the tour. This awesome venue is a short drive south of Las Vegas and a world away from the madness.

The 6,500-seat arena is located at Buffalo Bill’s Hotel Casino in Primm. If you’re concerned about leaving the city limits for an evening, don’t be. Primm Valley Casino Resorts has three hotels serving the venue with hundreds of newly-renovated rooms. Rates start at $59 plus taxes/fees for the night of the event.

98 Degrees Christmas

So why not venture beyond the Strip for a different kind of fun? Turn up the heat and get sweaty on the eve of Christmas Eve with the guys of 98 Degrees. I hope to see you there.

“98 Degrees at Christmas” performs Saturday December 23rd at 8 pm. Tickets start at $20 plus taxes/fees up to a $149 VIP experience with meet/greet. Click here to order.  

Photos: Sammasseur, 98 Degrees via Facebook, Jeff Timmons via Facebook, Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Anne Martinez Can’t Slow Down To Be “The Next Big Thing”


Meet a talent who’s equally at home in Gatsby’s world and Alice’s Wonderland…

Some performers set their sights on Las Vegas and dream of one day ruling the stage. Anne Martinez must have missed that memo about “someday”. You see, she came to Sin City four years ago and immediately began her Vegas reign.

Anne Martinez

You may not know Anne Martinez by name, but chances are that you’ve seen her perform at least once..and heard her glorious voice rattling the rafters. From Luxor‘s sexy Fantasy to Steve Wynn’s classy ShowStoppers. Dripping with blood at Zombie Burlesque or adorned with dazzling jewels in BAZ – A Musical Mash-up. There’s seemingly nothing that Anne cannot do.

Anne Martinez

Anne and her husband John Martinez came to Vegas in 2013. John’s expertise in rigging and scuba diving made him a perfect fit for Cirque du Soleil‘s water production “O”. While hubby was getting his feet wet at Bellagio, Anne was putting her own skills into play on various stages…while simultaneously working with a team of gifted colleagues to establish her own production company. BBR, like Anne, quickly made a name for itself with the genre-bending Alice: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy (more on that in a bit).

Anne Martinez

Despite her short time in the city, Anne dove headfirst into a wide variety of gigs, charitable functions and community events. Belting out hits at House of Blues Music Forward Foundation, joining Mondays Dark to benefit AFAN, singing the National Anthem during March Madness, saluting Amy Winehouse at Brooklyn Bowl‘s The Setlist late-night concert series…the list truly is endless.

Earning a BFA in acting no doubt explains Anne’s ability to step into a wide variety of song styles and characters, but her Masters of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Practice (aka show creation) is how Alice: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy sprang to life. Taking the darker elements of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland” and weaving them into a hard-rocking opera set in a retro-futuristic sci-fi world, Alice is sheer brilliance. Even Tim Burton didn’t try something so audacious for his interpretation.

Anne Martinez

Anne credits a great deal of Alice‘s success to other ambitious young artists like Jeffrey DeBarathyAdolfo BarretoLora KelseyAshley FullerClaudia MitriaApril Leopardi and co-director Ryan Kelsey. Having such a gifted ensemble almost guaranteed a show unlike anything Vegas had ever seen.

Naturally, Martinez wanted to see her baby become a resident production. Having outgrown its early days at Hard Rock Hotel‘s VinylAlice quickly became the must-see monthly event at Brooklyn Bowl…for locals and tourists alike. Even when the show was on hiatus last summer, she re-assembled the cast for a one-off at Las Vegas Pride.

Since then, Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Casino has become the permanent home for Alice. One Monday each month, the cast gathers for another epic performance. Their next show date is November 13th with guest performance by Cirque du Soleil artist Michelle DiTerlizzi as the Red Queen.

Anne Martinez

Compounding the challenge of short preparation time was the fact that her predecessors have gone on to major high-profile productions. Returning BAZ star Ruby Lewis finished her Daisy run at Light before the titular role in Broadway’s Paramour. Last fall, Joanna Alexis Jones left Palazzo Theater‘s production for the NBC broadcast of Hairspray Live. Her abrupt departure required Martinez to step into the star-making character.

Despite being an understudy for only a few short weeks, Anne’s version of Daisy was nothing short of breathtaking. She subsequently took on the lead role of “Satine”, made famous by Nicole Kidman in the film Moulin Rouge:

As if her schedule wasn’t already busy enough, Anne currently does double-duty as one half of the duo HEART in Stratosphere’s World’s Greatest Rock Show. She literally finishes her BAZ performance at Palazzo and high-tails it down the Strip to roar onstage and belt out high-powered anthems like this:

Before a performance of BAZ, I sat down with this dynamo outside of the Palazzo Theater to talk about her background, her inspirations, and of course, plans for her future in Las Vegas.

When asked what it felt like to join For The Record‘s innovative, genre-busting, star-making troupe, the Rochester NY native had this to say:

I think For the Record is a brilliant company that has only just begun on their road to amazing success! They have a keen sense of entertainment and are completely fearless in their journey of storytelling. It’s incredible to be a part of and magical to watch.

Despite the difficulties that entertainment productions aced in Sin City during 2016 (over 30 closures), Anne is optimistic that quality shows will continue to thrive on Las Vegas stages:
I think Vegas is an ever-changing amoeba that will always take us by surprise. As artists, we are always working toward entertaining our patrons and how exactly to do that. Experimentation is the key to growing as an artist and as a business. Keeping an open mind and trying new things will allow projects to grow and flourish. As new generations come forward, we can (hopefully) create entertainment that they will enjoy!
When asked how challenging it was to join an established cast then quickly step into a central role, Anne seemed grateful and confident at the same time:
My primary talent is willingness to learn. Everything can always be improved as a performer…but you have to be willing to jump. I love music with meaning. Listening to QUEEN and the BEATLES as a child really informed the sense of using music to speak…to color…to paint with your musicality….to speak your truth or to find the truth in others.

Martinez confided that coming down from the show each night is a bit difficult. The emotional energy required to take on a production like BAZ is also evident in her personal life and passions:

I love NSPCA. I have rescue cats myself and it breaks my heart to think they were hurt in the past. Adopting a pet or donating to NSPCA can save so many lives of innocent animals. I also have a yearly holiday show for Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth. There are so many teens and children in need of protection, education and opportunity.
 Anne Martinez
Every year, pianist Kenny Davidsen and I gather numerous vocalists in Las Vegas who donate their talents for a night of music. Our next one is December 19th at Tuscany Resort. It’s so important to remember that everyone deserves a chance.

The morning after the recent shooting tragedy in Vegas, Anne and husband John were the first people I saw on social media delivering food, water and assistance to first responders operating out of the Las Vegas Convention Center. They were broadcasting live via Facebook and urging people to come down and do the same.

Later that month, she and her fellow castmates formed “Team BAZ” for last month’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the largest such event dedicated to fighting that dreaded disease.

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Just this past Sunday (November 5th), Anne appeared with many other entertainers at Venetian Hotel for the Vegas Cares Benefit Concert to support both victims of and first responders to the tragedy.

It’s clear that Anne Martinez has truly found happiness in the city she calls home. Her love for its people is as strong as the passion she delivers in her performances. I look forward to many more hours of enjoying this boundless talent in darkened theaters throughout Las Vegas.

BAZ – A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesday through Saturday at 7pm at Palazzo Theater. Tickets start at $65 and can be ordered by clicking here

World’s Greatest Rock Show performs Tuesday through Sunday at 9pm at Stratosphere. Tickets tickets start at $73 and are available here.

ALICE: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy performs one Monday each month at Rocks Lounge inside Red Rock Resort. Tickets are $25 and can be ordered here.

This article previously appeared elsewhere in another version. It has been updated with new information.

Photos:  Jake Klein, Patrick Rivera, Elaine Wilkinson, Richard Brusky, Bill Hiltz, BBR and Anne Martinez via Facebook. Videos by Sammasseur

Hiding In Plain Sight: Gabe Ginsberg, The Invisible Man


Sin City’s own BMOC (Big Man of Cameras) is everywhere…but he doesn’t want you to see him…

Gabe Ginsberg

There are certain people that we tend to bump into a lot, no matter what we’re doing or where we are. Sometimes we don’t even know those folks, but after several run-ins, there comes a point of “Hey, how are ya?”. Then friendship quite often ensues.

Gabe Ginsberg is one of those guys. While covering events for VegasChatter (and that other site), I’d frequently see him on the media scaffolds, snapping red-carpet shots for Getty Images. Clad in black from head to toe and carrying large amounts of gear on his imposing frame, Gabe still managed to blend into the background. He is quiet, efficient, completely inconspicuous…and delightfully intriguing.

There seems to be a certain culture among show-business photographers. Simultaneously friends and competitors, these guys kid around, gossip about happenings in the city and sometimes talk shit about one another. But not Gabe Ginsberg…he loves everyone and they all love him.

Gabe Ginsberg

Hanging with The Man at the annual Mike Hammer Celeb Go-Kart fundraiser…              

After rubbing shoulders a time or two, Gabe and I started chatting online and in person. His self-deprecating humor was infectious. He’d also tease me for being a “celebrity” while calling himself a “poor working schmuck”. You see, I’ve been in the unique situation of standing next to him with my camera AND being a guest at events he was covering. Funny how my face never made it to People Magazine.

Gabe Ginsberg

Yes, Gabe Ginsberg’s photos make it to People. And Billboard, MSN, CBS All Access, Us Weekly, Forbes, USA Today, Men’s Health, Huffington Post and many other print and online outlets. His lenses have captured the likenesses of Miley Cyrus, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Drake, the Kardashian beasts (bills won’t pay themselves), Ben Affleck, John Cena, Ricky Martin, Floyd Mayweather and countless others.

Gabe Ginsberg

Gabe (left) in action at John Carpenter’s Halloween concert at Hard Rock Hotel…

Always respectful of celebrities and their space, Gabe is anything but an aggressive paparazzi type. This family man is an avid lover of nature, animals and glorious landscapes. His compassion for Las Vegas came through gorgeously in his coverage of the recent shooting tragedy. But let’s stick to things of beauty.

Gabe Ginsberg

Despite his worldwide coverage, Ginsberg is a favorite at local events and charity functions. He covers movie premieres, fundraisers, show openings, concerts and sporting events, too.

Gabe Ginsberg

Earlier this year, Gabe kept busy by shooting menu items for restaurants hopping aboard the UberEATS delivery service. And on the personal side, his skills guarantee you’ll get amazing portraits, family photos and Christmas Cards (now is the time to schedule your session, folks).

What I love most about Gabe, aside from his cuddly demeanor, is his twisted sense of humor. Scouring every corner of Las Vegas during a typical day, Ginsberg encounters a wide array of bizarre situations…and he writes about them regularly on his Facebook page.

His “Dumbass of the Day” series never fails to crack me up. It’s biting, hysterical and brutally honest – even when he points the finger towards himself:

Gabe Ginsberg

So wherever you may be in Las Vegas, keep on the lookout for the amazing Man In Black, Gabe Ginsberg. Despite his efforts to remain anonymous, he’ll be easy to spot. Just look for the crowd of celebrities clamoring to get their photos taken with HIM!

Gabe Ginsberg

Gabe Ginsberg is available for many types of freelance work. You can learn more or contact him by clicking here

Photos: Gabe Ginsberg via Facebook, Sammasseur

 

 

Alex O’Connor – Sin City Superman


Getting to know the hardest-working bartender in Las Vegas…

Much like the beacon atop the Luxor, the lights and excitement of Las Vegas are known to draw the ambitious and hopeful. There are limitless opportunities for a person with skill, drive, and personality to make a name for themselves. That’s what brought mixologist Alex O’Connor here four years ago. And this Sin City Superman has never slowed down.

AlexLV1

I first met Alex O’Connor three summers ago under the misters at O’Shea’s Casino outdoor bar. Despite the stifling heat, the handsome bodybuilder was all smiles and charisma, serving out cold beers with a healthy dose of anecdotes and advice for Vegas newbies. It was his multi-tasking abilities and respectful attitude toward the customers that made me sit up and take note…not that a six-foot-three behemoth is likely to go unnoticed.

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Jump ahead to last winter, and I spot Alex behind the bar at Share, a now-shuttered gay nightclub on Wynn Road. Clad only in boxer briefs and a smile (sigh….), he was once more gathering crowds while serving drinks in a fast-and-furious fashion. That’s exactly what makes Alex O’Connor the happiest – heightening the customer’s experience however possible.

Alex O'Connor

It turns out that Alex works in LOTS of places on and around the Strip. In addition to O’Shea’s, he’s been on the payroll for Drai’s Beachclub /Nightclub, the Center Bar at Hard Rock HotelJewel Nightclub at Aria Resort, the pool bar at Treasure Island and private functions on the side.

With a schedule like that, it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could get proper sleep, let alone keep up a physique like his.

“During the week I try for at least 3-4 hours.  On the weekends, I’m lucky to get an hour nap here or there between doubles.  I pretty much plan my days around my work schedules and going to the gym as well. I love to put my headphones on and hit the LVAC. My size is dictated by my work schedule. If I have leftover time, rarely, I leave it for errands”.

When I asked Alex how he got to be so disciplined, he told me it was self-taught. Family difficulties motivated him to move out on his own while he was a junior in high school. He worked full time and supported himself in his North Haven Connecticut hometown while still going to high school. But he’d already been working at a country club since the age of thirteen, a job he kept and expanded on for several years.

Alex O'Connor

Alex’s first experiences behind the bar were as a bar-back, helping keep things stocked and neat. Eventually, he became a full-fledged bartender and attributes his organizational skills as a secret to fast service. He likes to arrive far in advance of a shift, making sure everything is “just right” and where he wants it.

Alex says that some bars are much more stringent than others when it comes to monitoring the less-significant health code requirements, like the positioning of the ice scoop or keeping a bottle opener in the back pocket. While he recognized the importance of health department regulations, some are harder to adjust to…and it tends to be the minor ones that slow down his ability to keep the drinks flowing:

“We’re charging premium prices in the places I work. The customers deserve premium service to go along with it. It’s my job to give them what they want with a minimum of wait time…so they can get back to having fun”.

Nobody wants to give or receive slow service but think back to the number of times you’ve stood at the bar, seemingly ignored and passed over time and time again. Sure, it happens inadvertently, but Alex has some tips:

“Having your order and money ready will get the quickest service.  Especially in the high volume venues, this is imperative. I like to make what the customer will enjoy.  If they don’t know, I ask what spirit they enjoy and go from there. Generous tipping doesn’t hurt, either”.

Lightning-fast service is what got Alex hired for his first gig at Hard Rock Hotel’s infamous Rehab Pool Parties. He sent in an audition video of himself, rapidly slinging drinks during a peak period, to Rehab’s manager. One fortuitous plane flight later and O’Connor was trading a longtime gig in New Haven for the Las Vegas party scene. He enjoys working at all types of establishments, including LGBTQ clubs like Gotham Citi in New Haven and the former Krave of Vegas.

“I’ve worked in gay clubs for over ten years. I love the busy seasons, whether it be the holidays or convention time.  The busier the better”.

Alex O'Connor

With his name currently on at least three payrolls, Alex doesn’t get back home to Connecticut very often. But when he does, he picks up shifts at his old stomping grounds in New Haven. He literally works seven days a week, 365 days a year, making this young man the hardest-working bartender in Las Vegas. He clearly loves what he does and refuses to slow his pace.

When asked what form of Kryptonite can bring down this Sin City Superman, Alex quipped “Stealing my protein bars will ruin my day.”

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This article previously appeared in a different form on another website.

Photos: Sammasseur, Alex O’Connor

Pride, Prejudice and a “Pitchfork”


Choreographer Glenn Douglas Packard redefines coming-out dramas with a genre-bending slasher film…

People who run on creative energy frequently have a passion project tucked away deep inside their mind. It lives there, growing and taking shape until it finally breaks free and becomes reality. For Emmy-nominated dance man Glenn Douglas Packard, that secret desire has been the creation of his own horror epic.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Glenn and I first connected in the cyber-world a few years back when a mutual friend posted a review of a movie thriller. As my longtime Florida buddy (who also happens to be named Glenn) and I were discussing the merits and shortcomings of the film, Packard chimed in…and I was like “Hey…aren’t you the guy from Men of the Strip?”.

Being a fan of MOTS frontman Jeff Timmons (98 Degrees), I’d had the good fortune to pen numerous Vegas Chatter articles about the show. Packard and crew had just wrapped up their splashy showcase at Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues and it seemed surreal that we were now debating slasher films from far-flung corners of the country.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Packard, Timmons and Foland at Men of the Strip rehearsal…             

Fast forward to summer 2017, and once again I’m in Las Vegas, shadowing Timmons, show financier “Money” Mike Foland and Packard for a relaunch of Men of the Strip. One evening after rehearsals, Glenn and I (along with his associate and right-hand man David Mayorga) headed over to LGBTQ locals’ gem The Garage for cocktails…and to discuss how they turned Packard’s imagination into a silver-screen reality.

Pitchfork was created in the spirit of 70’s and 80’s franchises that, like their titular villains, refuse to stay dead. But the film’s tagline “Every Generation Has Its Monster” cuts a bit deeper. In our era of political turmoil, where LGBTQ citizens view the White House with concern and suspicion, one might ask who the true monster is.

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At the home of main character “Hunter”, that answer is even more complex. Returning to his family’s sprawling rural dairy farm and estate, Hunter is about to face a stern father who recently learned of his son’s homosexuality. Hunter’s not coming back alone though, as his art-school classmates have packed into a van for the weekend to throw him a coming-out party of sorts.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Sexual dynamics are front and center in most slasher films. Those barn-loft trysts and back-seat hookups inevitably lead to a bloody demise. In Pitchfork, sex and sexual subtext permeate nearly every sequence, especially as the story reaches its outrageous climax.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

It’s no accident that Pitchfork‘s maniac is a muscular, shirtless man…abs and pecs on display as he slices his way through the cast of characters. Under other circumstances he might be considered hot…in a kinky kind of way. But there’s the issue of a farm tool in place of his left hand. That’s one detail you’d probably leave out of your Grindr profile.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Both Hunter and “Pitch” have daddy issues and highly involved mothers. Each views himself as an outsider, desiring acceptance from his respective family. How they deal with being different, the way they were raised…and how they turn out as adults…offer a strong metaphor for “growing up gay” in today’s volatile and ever-changing society.

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When dreaming up the concept for Pitchfork, it’s unlikely that Packard envisioned he’d one day be acting as its producer, director, casting supervisor and choreographer, too. Yes…choreographer. Would you seriously expect a bunch of vacationing art students to NOT have a barn dance on their gay buddy’s farm?

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Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Did someone say “Barn Dance”?                         

Despite this being his directorial debut, Packard fills Pitchfork with plenty of style and memorable imagery. The camera swoops in and around each scene, accentuated with glorious aerial shots and starkly-lit night sequences by cinematographer/editor Rey Gutierrez. It boggles the mind that the film was recorded with a single camera in 21 days on the director’s own family farm.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

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                  Men of the Strip’s Keith Webb gets a sticky facial…                                              

Like most passion projects, family and friends offered their time and energy to make Pitchfork a reality. Dancer Keith Webb, who also worked with Packard on Men of the Strip, amps up the cast’s hunk quotient as an ill-fated jock.

Plenty of Sin City DNA infuses the heart and soul of Pitchfork. Vegas resident Mayorga from Zombie Burlesque and Men of the Strip served as Assistant Director. Darryl F. Gariglio of Grand Adventures Tours Las Vegas was its Executive Producer/writer. Chris Arrendondo, who creates the eerie creatures and characters for Circus Circus Fright Dome, did the stunning make-up work.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Packard and David Mayorga (back row) clown around with the cast….                         

During filming, Packard revealed a rather moving detail in the film’s making-of documentary: the lair where “Pitch” brings his victims is the actual shack that the director retreated to when he was bullied as a child.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Growing up as a gay person, especially in a rural community, can leave scars that never disappear. In Packard’s case, he used his own safe haven as a symbol for the damage that society can inflict on a developing psyche. His courage to face those memories and channel them into something positive is echoed in a soul-baring “It Gets Better” video from 2010.

Packard told me in our conversations that the effort that went into filming Pitchfork was crazy and intense, yet everyone seemed to have a great time. One would assume that the cast of eager young actors found it cool to be in a horror movie.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Since its release, Pitchfork has won accolades and awards throughout the horror-film universe. Now that Halloween season has arrived it’s finding a new legion of fans, especially within the LGBTQ community.

Glenn continues to promote the film via conventions and screenings. And there’s even a new comic-book novelization by actor/artist Andrew Dawe-collins (“Pa Hollister” in the film) that you can check out here.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Any worthwhile slasher entry teases a sequel, even when the killer seems to be dead and dismembered. In Pitchfork, the unpredictable left-field denouement will leave you gasping…and clamoring for more. Luckily, Glenn told me that ideas for Pitchfork 2 and 3 are already swirling in his semi-twisted mind.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

That’s great news for chiller-thriller fans, because every generation needs its monster-movie king. Like John Carpenter and Wes Craven before him, Glenn Douglas Packard is on his way to becoming the next Master of Horror.

Pitchfork is available on a Special Edition Blu Ray/DVD and streaming services like REVRY, YouTube Movies and Amazon Prime.

Photos: Pitchfork, David Mayorga

Ranking Male Revues from a Gay P.O.V.


In this era of inclusion, how welcome are men at various male stripper shows?

Back in 1985, John Travolta played a Rolling Stone reporter in the semi-fictional drama Perfect. Assigned to cover the singles scene in Los Angeles, Travolta finds himself attending a male revue (save the jokes for later). Interestingly, he is forced to watch the proceedings from behind a screen. According to Laraine Newman’s character, men are forbidden from attending the show (a thinly-disguised Chippendales).

Male revues

Male revues

That was 35 years ago. These days, you’re as likely to see men in the audience as on the stage. I can say that from experience, as these shows are one of my favorite things to do when in Sin City. And they’re an absolute balls-to-the-wall blast!

While I attend as an openly gay man, not every guy in the audience is homosexual. It’s worth pointing out that women of all persuasions have been attending topless revues for decades, and that has always been acceptable.

As we gravitate towards an era of full inclusion, the lines of sexuality have blurred. But that doesn’t mean that men will get the same level of welcome and interactivity at each and every show. Many readers have asked me to recommend guy-friendly male revues, based on my personal experiences. Please note that this article in no way reflects the sexuality of the performers appearing in their respective shows.

So here they are, rated on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest.

MAGIC MIKE LIVE – 1 out of 5

Male revues

The stand-and-model troupe at Magic Mike Live disappoints on all counts…                

A stillborn offspring of Channing Tatum’s film franchise, Magic Mike Live really isn’t recommended for anyone. It’s a difficult slog to sit through and already my choice for the worst new show of 2017. The guys remain clothed for much of the running time, which is somewhat of a blessing in disguise (see below). Worse yet, a screeching female host makes the production nearly unbearable by squawking post-menopausal life lessons throughout.

Male revues

 It’s a bumpy road to Magic Mike Live. Don’t take it…         

Public relations insiders have told me that the team at Magic Mike Live has shown little interest in marketing to the lucrative gay demographic. There’s very little reason for me to doubt that, especially after on my own experience.

Men hoping to get a lap dance or a round of onstage excitement will leave feeling disappointed…and out of lots of cash. Drinks and tickets are quite expensive. On the upside, cocktail servers are attentive (not to mention especially attractive) and save the evening from being a total loss.

THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER – 2 out of 5

Male revues

Thunder From Down Under doesn’t rank high on the list for guys…             

The long-running Aussie revue Thunder from Down Under at Excalibur allows men to attend (as do they all), but don’t expect to get more than a fist-bump from the dancers as they work their way through the audience. The rough-and-tumble men of the Outback are dripping with testosterone, but only seem interested in sharing it with the ladies.

Straight men will find the atmosphere completely “non-threatening”. Don’t expect to see guys brought up onstage for any audience participation segments, either. But they CAN purchase a group shot after the show.

Said one former member of the troupe “Guys don’t go to ‘hen shows’ where we come from. We just aren’t used to that.”

Chippendales – 4.5 out of 5

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Chippendales is shy of getting a perfect score, but an absolute favorite…            

The grand master of all male revues, Chippendales still packs them in and keeps up with the times. There is a moderate amount of interactivity with guys during audience numbers and plenty of shout-outs to gay members celebrating birthdays and such. I’ve even seen a guy celebrating his 21st brought onstage for a free calendar.

Straight guys should find this one well within their comfort zone. It’s kind of like hanging out with the bros…and single straight men should have a good time in the Flirt Lounge before and after the performance, chatting it up with the female attendees.

What keeps Chippendales from achieving a perfect five-star rating is that, after attending dozens of times, I’ve yet to see a man brought onstage for any regular segments. If you’ve witnessed otherwise, be sure to hit me up in the comments.

I’m giving Chipps an extra half star since the production is a huge public supporter of gay fans. They’ve even featured an openly-gay host or two. Gentlemen are welcome to purchase group photos with the cast, and you can chat with the guys one-on-one after the final performance of each evening.

Aussie Heat – 5 out of 5

Male revues

This upstart group takes on the big boys…and wins top honors. Not to be confused with Thunder from Down Under, the Aussie Heat show is a no-holds-barred fest of boy-flesh for men and women equally. Held in the intimate second-level V Theater 2 at Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops, Aussie Heat fills the space with abs, biceps, butts and pecs. No audience member is ignored, and that’s the case from beginning to end.

Men are regularly selected for an onstage lap dance contest where three participants are blindfolded. They’re then asked to identify a particular dancer based on other senses…including taste and touch!

The Aussie boys spend plenty of time in the audience, often draping themselves across laps and inviting you to lick, fondle, rub and squeeze. Every dancer is an equal-opportunity flirt, besides being classically-trained performers in their own right. So this one is only recommended for open-minded straight men with a sense of adventure…and fun.

I’ve written two previous articles regarding the willingness of Aussie Heat to entertain male audiences. They’ve even gone so far as to have their nightly after-party once a week in a short-lived gay venue nearby.

Pre-show VIP experiences allow you to meet and photograph the guys in the prep room while they stretch and pump up their muscles. Photos with the cast are available for purchase after the show (proceeds go to Opportunity Village, a local charity), which can be as naughty as you want.

Men Of The Strip – 5 out of 5

Male revues

I debated whether to include Men of the Strip in these rankings, as the production is currently on hiatus. What started as a planned residency ended up as a 6-night stint in Vegas with a possible tour on the way. But since there’s a chance of it returning with a regular schedule, I’m listing MOTS here with the others.

Male revues

And Men of the Strip is certainly worthy of a gay male audience. Emcees address both genders in the audience with equal enthusiasm while lap dances and interaction are guy-friendly (cash tipping is allowed). Straight guys might be squirming in their chairs, but won’t mind hanging out with the worked-up ladies at the bar afterward.

MOTS ranks right up there with Aussie Heat in bringing guys onto the stage and into the action. If you want to see what I mean, check out the clip above from a performance at Hard Rock Cafe. Be aware that it’s not safe for work.

Black Magic Live aka Vivica’s Black Magic – Rating to be determined

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This one is a toughie, compounded by the fact that I haven’t actually seen it…or spoken to anyone who has. This all-black male revue, currently playing at Ron Decar Events Center after a stint at Tommy Wind Theater, gained notoriety when actress Vivica A. Fox angered members of the LGBTQ community in a radio interview suggesting that gays weren’t welcome to attend. She later apologized.

Fox and the show’s executive producer Jean-Claude LaMarre have entered a legal battle over the issue:

“As a result of Fox’s defamatory social media campaign, LaMarre’s customers canceled ‘Black Magic Live’ tickets and demanded refunds at shows” the suit states. VARIETY 6/5/17

It remains unclear at this point whether Fox is still affiliated with the production, as the official website refers to the show with two titles, one conspicuously removing Vivica’s name. A very well-known member of the media, who was previously in a Vegas male revue, wrote to me directly with this information:

The owners are actually very gay friendly. I know some of the cast too. Sweet guys. All very gay friendly as well. I’d hate to see them get shot down before ever given a chance.

If you’ve seen Black Magic, please leave your impressions in the comments or drop me a line directly.

Next up, I’ll visit Kings of Hustler and Men of Sapphire, two male-centric offshoots of popular female stripper clubs. I’ll examine their guy-guest policies and what to expect when attending.

Photos by Sammasseur, VivicasBlackMagic.com

 

 

 

 

 

Puttin’ On The Ritz at BAZ BOOT CAMP


Yours truly has a “Performer for a Day” experience at the signature Palazzo production…

Baz Boot Camp

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy.

They say he wandered very far
Very far over land and sea.

A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise, was he.

Those dreamy lyrics from 1947’s classic NATURE BOY open the stunning BAZ: Star Crossed Love inside Palazzo Theater. And for one immersive day, they also described this author’s experience inside the world of Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby. Well, minus the “very wise” part, perhaps.

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BAZ: Star Crossed Love is a very unique piece of live entertainment. It has the distinction of being my choice for “Best New Show” in both 2015 and 2016. How? By moving from Mandalay Bay’s LIGHT Nightclub and being relaunched after a major reworking. While essentially the same production at heart, BAZ was fine-tuned to maximize the benefits of a custom-designed venue inside Palazzo Resort.

Baz Boot Camp

With the full support of Sands Corporation, BAZ went from “the little show that could” to an amazing word-of-mouth success. To celebrate their triumphant one-year anniversary (in the intensely competitive Vegas show-scape, no less), a handful of recognizable media celebrities were invited to attend an afternoon “boot camp”. They were welcomed to step into the shoes of BAZ cast members and perform a number from the show in front of a live audience.

Baz Boot Camp

Invitees included Barrett Foa (Eric Beale on NCIS Los Angeles), Andrew Freund (Fox Network’s Dish Nation), Las Vegas Review Journal columnist John KatsilometesMorning Blend host Jennifer Jean Snyder…and a certain small-time BAZ-loving Oregonian blogger. How I ended up being included in a group of such talented and distinguished individuals is anybody’s guess…but I wasn’t about to jeopardize the invitation by questioning it.

Upon receiving the email, it took me all of ten minutes to stop jumping up and down, clear my schedule and book a flight to Las Vegas. In no time, our group was seated in the auditorium and receiving a round of greetings from Keith Salwoski, Executive Director of Public Relations and Blair Farrington, the Show Manager.

Baz Boot Camp

On our laps were folders detailing the Boot Camp itinerary, along with statistics about the show. Introductions were made all around, then we headed to the stage for dance lessons with BAZ‘s ballroom champions Savannah Cross and Marcquet Hill.

The next sixty or so minutes were perhaps the most invigorating, exhausting, humbling and memorable since my skydive this past February. Surrounded by cast members Ron Remke, Broadway star Ruby Lewis and Anne Martinez (Alice: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy), our stalwart band of boot-campers received expert instruction on how to kick, swoop, heel-toe-heel-toe and drop-drop-drop.

Baz Boot Camp

During all the excitement and sweat, it became clear that one member of our novice group was lagging behind….and it was me. While the others seemed to have varying degrees of showbiz experience, “Sammasseur” brought little to the stage besides laughter and enthusiasm.

Baz Boot Camp

Shaun Burgess of Vegas.com (white shirt) gets tips from cast member Ron Remke             

Baz Boot Camp

                      Johnny Kats and I go through the paces…and kicks…

To their stylish womp-womp-womps I countered with my Franken-stomps. Their high kicks were my wobbly half-kicks. At one point my left shoe even went flying through the air. While trying hard to look like Gary Cooper, I’d somehow stumbled into the tap dance scene from a certain Mel Brooks film.

Baz Boot Camp

Photographers and a videographer recorded the action as Savannah and Marcquet added more steps to the sequence. Ron Remke kept my spirits high with high-fives and “You’ve got this!” encouragement. I marveled at the ease with which his body swooped and swayed through the mechanics of the steps…just like everyone else around me.

Baz Boot Camp

Baz Boot Camp

Jennifer, Savannah and Melinda Sheckells show the cameras what they’ve got.

Soon we were putting the sequence to music and running through the entire scene…from an opening one-legged kneel to the final thrust of our arms. This time, we sang along with the dancing (take that, Britney!). After a brief rest (not brief enough, gasp gasp) it was behind the stage and downstairs to the actual dressing rooms used by the cast.

Once there, a small army of make-up artists and hair stylists gave us the theatrical flair that help make the already-stunning BAZ performers one of the most attractive casts on the Strip. My face was covered in a sweat-proof foundation and my eyebrows were darkened and thickened.

Baz Boot Camp

Baz Boot Camp

While in the chairs, the other guests and I were given on-camera interviews to share our initial impressions. The most common response drew attention to how difficult the dancing was. No matter what level of proficiency they’d brought to the boot camp, it was clear that our troupe had gained a greater respect for the craft of live performance.

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    NCIS Los Angeles actor Barrett Foa is used to being in the make-up chair…

Baz Boot Camp

             Andrew Freund records a clip for his Dish Nation TV series…

After donning our tuxes and dresses, it was back to the stage for a round of individual and group portraits before our actual performance. Dynamic Michael Shulman (of ShulmanSays.com) acted as emcee and welcomed our audience – guests, friends and execs/team members of various departments within the Venetian/Palazzo family.

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   Ruby Lewis returned to BAZ last week after a triumphant lead on Broadway…

The whirlwind afternoon had come to its biggest moment – a production number carried out by professional performers with the Boot Camp troupe on an actual Las Vegas stage. To call this a “pinch me” moment would be too mild…and it seemed to be over before it actually began.

Baz Boot Camp

Baz Boot Camp

Standing out there on an elevated extension of the stage, my arms outstretched with applause all around me, this total novice and dedicated fan understood the drive that brings talented individuals to Sin City stages. A lifetime of lessons, joy, pain, sacrifice, tears and ambition to perfect their art culminates in that one moment…and there’s nothing like it in the world.

Clips from the One-Year Anniversary Performance of BAZ

Returning to the dressing room, the guys and I laughed about how fun the afternoon had been, but the experience was far from over. From there, the group headed over to Venetian’s The Dorsey to sample various libations created by famed mixologist Sam Ross for their new summer cocktail menu.

Then we slid next door for an outrageously delicious array of small plates and entrees at Chica, the new Latin eatery by celeb chef Lorena Garcia. Perhaps it was the round of cocktails at Chica that gave us our second wind, but Barett Fao, Andrew Freund and I decided to grab a taxi and head down the Strip for another song-and-dance show. It was a long, exhilarating, exhausting and unforgettable day.

The next morning I grabbed my laptop to learn that reviews were pouring in for our BAZ Boot Camp performance. For once, the tables were turned…and the critic was receiving critique. Much like the day before, everyone was extremely kind:

Savannah Cross (BAZ Boot Camp instructor/performer) – Killed it!!

Blair Farrington (BAZ show manager) – Sam… you added a lot of personality to the BAZ Boot Camp performance! Welcome to the team!

Shane Scheel (creator of BAZ) – Thank you Sam Novak for your unwavering support of BAZ Star Crossed Love.

Bill Evans (BAZ emcee/performer) – You look good Sam!!!

Lisa Sundseth (VegasUnfiltered reader) – You are a STAR ⭐️!!

Nikki Ann Medaugh (VegasUnfiltered reader) – Dapper, very dapper. Who knew you could look so good wearing all of those pesky clothes?

Private Message: “Sam – you looked hot hot hot in BAZ CAMP!”

Private message from a cast member: “Sam!!! Ah Thank YOU so much for your incredible energy and presence!! Today was so incredibly enjoyable and was a reminder of why I love this this art form so much. All the love!”

Private message from a cast member – “Sam! You were fantastic and I’m so glad you had fun! Thank you for being so supportive of us!”

Rising from the bed of my Palazzo suite (which they’d kindly arranged for me), I noticed how sore my legs were from the previous day. It was a warm reminder of the incredible effort that performers give forth to keep us entertained.

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With cast member Ron Remke and Jennifer Jean Snyder of ABC’s Morning Blend

As I went through the rest of that day, I kept thinking about how generous everyone at Palazzo and BAZ had been. They are a tightly-knit group, brought together for one purpose and working together to make BAZ the best show on the Strip…a genuine labor of love.

It was an honor to be a part of BAZ Boot Camp – and I think I made a few friends along the way.

The greatest thing
You’ll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved
In return….

                                                                             – lyrics from NATURE BOY

Baz Boot Camp

Photos: [Sammasseur, BAZ Boot Camp at Palazzo, 20th Century Fox]