Sky Villas Part 3: The Verona


Photographer Greg C concludes his photo essay on Westgate’s Sky Villas…

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In the world of casino hosts, the most coveted type of client is the “whale“. These super-high-rollers are enticed into visiting and remaining loyal by being showered with lavish treatment and perks. Usage of limousines and private jets, shopping excursions, star-studded parties…and of course, lodging in the hotel’s most palatial Sky Villas. All are intended to keep that high-roller on the property long enough to bet (and ideally to lose) large sums of money, and hopefully, to return in the future for more high-stakes wagering.

Sky Villas are rarely seen by the general public, and even more rarely are photographers allowed access to the degree that Greg C has been at Westgate Las Vegas. Today’s tour of the Verona Suite concludes his trilogy of photo sessions (take a look at the previous two here and here).

With any luck, we’ll be able to turn this collection into an ongoing series, one that gives our readers unparalleled access to those dreamy suites that adorn the clouds over Sin City. But for now, enjoy the Verona Sky Villa, courtesy of the staff and management at Westgate.

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“My first impression was like stepping into a palace of Old World splendor…a blend of Italian Renaissance and Roman Glory. They say that you come to Vegas to party and see the sights — the room is just to sleep and shower (and, you know). Well, not so here. The Suite itself is an adventure. You could make a vacation out of it”. – Greg C.

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The city of Verona in northern Italy is known for its art, architecture and spirit of romance. After all, William Shakespeare placed his titular characters in Verona for Romeo and Juliet. Once a colony of Rome, Verona is rich with statues, arches, domed ceilings, pillars and artistic motifs. True to its namesake, the Verona Suite at Westgate is ornate and overflowing with gorgeous detail and accents.

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The Verona was the first of the three to be built (completed December 1994) and is the largest at 15,400 square feet. If you were a fan of the Robin Leach series “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, you might recognize the three-bedroom Verona, which was once featured on that popular show.

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Filmmakers used the Verona Suite as a stand-in for Liberace’s residence in the 2013 biopic Behind The Candelabra.

“The piano is a nice touch. If you’re a piano player, you have another reason to “stay home” in your suite. Talk about a nice ambiance to practice”.

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“Those statues! The one staring back at you with imperious Roman hauteur….the demure young beauty protecting her modesty in the garden”.

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“Yep…another awesome bedroom “suite within a suite”. And, of course, TV in bed…just what a vacationing Roman senator would require in the 21st century”.

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“Relax by the fireplace AND soak in the tub at the same time”.

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New hotels in Las Vegas have become somewhat clinical, almost office-like complexes. Their suites are tech-heavy and massive, yet could easily be found in any other city. It’s nice to know that glossy, lavish places like the Verona Suite still exist in Vegas and are treated with reverence today. They’re living reminders of a time that represented the true spirit of Sin City.

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You can learn more about these accommodations on the Westgate Las Vegas reservation website. They are rarely seen by the general public and are usually reserved for their top-tier guests. Nine other themed “specialty suites” are also available…if you feel like living large and have the wallet to back it up. Click here to explore them.

There’s always room at the top. Don’t let them tell you that there is not. – Singer Adam Ant

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Photos: Greg C.

Sky Villas Part 2: The Versailles


“Themes may be a bygone era in Vegas as a whole, but they live on atop Westgate” – Greg C.

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Wordless sighs…that’s a typical reaction to the trio of Sky Villas that sit atop the Westgate Las Vegas tower. Resting like a crown atop the existing 29 floors, they are brimming with opulence and European style. Ornate, sprawling, and bordering on gaudy, the TuscanyVersailles and Verona Sky Suites are the epitome of Las Vegas excess.

Photographer Greg C. returned for the second day of shooting at Westgate (part one is here) in 2016Having been up there myself, I can assure you that very few things can prepare you for the extravagance…but a fancy-schmancy elevator embellished with artwork, mirrors, and a padded throne…er, bench, certainly helps.

“This suite was called the “Conrad” until recently……IMO the switch to “Versailles” was a good one– the old name was at odds with the classy “Verona” and “Tuscany”…. Conrad sounded a bit too “Joe 6-pack” to my ears…. wonder how they ever picked it.” – Greg C.

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Stepping through the rotunda and into the Versailles Suite, one might expect a choir of angels to be singing overhead. This three-bedroom accommodation spreads out over 12,600 square feet.

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High-rollers with concern for personal safety (and privacy) can bring their own “goons” to man the elevator rotunda’s security station. Bodyguards aren’t included in the villa’s rental rates, which start at $6,000.00 per night…and a three-night minimum.

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Impressive columns, hand-carved furniture, domed ceilings and plenty of genuine gold accents over a peaches-and-cream palette make it easy for you to pretend that you’re in a French castle.

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“Versailles does have plenty of decadent appeals. I could easily picture Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette living here if they got yanked into the 21st century. I almost expected to see servants in powdered wigs and pantaloons walking around in the suite…..those wall-sized paintings (and ceilings) really emphasize the theme.” – Greg C.

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After a workout in the private exercise facility, guests can relax at an intimate dipping pool situated within the grand courtyard.

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The two-story Versailles Suite has three bedrooms that can be accessed by a spiral staircase that rises 30 feet….or a dedicated elevator that is hidden behind an inconspicuous door.

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Luxury abounds in the multiple bedrooms, with mural-covered walls and floor-to-ceiling windows.

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This particular bedroom not only has the modern touch of a flat screen television at the foot of the bed, but also a terrace that opens onto this magnificent view.

Turnberry Place

“That open balcony – talk about the ultimate place to watch a sunset. You have a panoramic view of the Strip and mountains up there…a better view than many places, as Westgate is set back away from the Strip and allows you to really catch in the sights.” – Greg C.

View atop Westgate

“The upper-level balcony is well-concealed. You have to move back the drapes at one end of the windows to reveal the catches where the window swings out to allow access to the open deck. You can look down on the private pool area.” –  Greg C.

Deck area

Pool looking down from deck

What happens in Vegas might stay here, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be witnessed by somebody with a well-positioned telescope.

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Guests won’t have to go far to relax in a marble whirlpool bath, which also comes with a view.

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It may seem strange to use the word “small” in reference to the Versailles Suite, but it is the smallest sky villa at Westgate. The massive three-bedroom Verona Suite tops out at 15,400 square feet and will be featured in the final segment of this series.

If you happen to be a high roller in WOW Rewards Program and have scored access to any of the Westgate Villas or Specialty Suites, send me your photos and you might see them here. In the meantime, I’ll be sitting at the penny slots…playing small and dreaming of living large.

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Photos: Greg C.

 

Sky Villas That Will Blow You Away


Photographer Greg C. unveils Westgate’s legendary 30th floor sky suites…

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As the sun went down on the final days of Riviera, it’s unofficial title of “the Last Grand Old Dame of Vegas” quietly drifted eastward across Paradise Road. There, another vintage edifice continues to evolve and change while embracing its historic past. The more we explore its various facets and offerings, the more photographer Greg C. and I continue to be enamored by Westgate Las Vegas.

Westgate Las Vegas Resort began life as the International Hotel Casino back in 1969 and it rightfully took its place as one of the premiere destinations in the city. Elvis Presley was associated with the property much like Riviera and Sahara shared the Rat Pack. These days, while SLS Las Vegas has scraped away any significant remnants of the SaharaWestgate salutes its history with a bigger-than-life statue of Elvis right in the heart of the lobby.

As Greg puts it, “I have to admit I really like how the place looks and feels. It has the nostalgia of the 20th century blended with the hustle of the 21st. Kind of like Caesars on the Strip, they have managed to keep the place going without getting stale and musty”.

While roaming the property on my own, I noticed the care in the details with which the resort had changed over the logos from “Hilton” and “LVH” (Westgate’s other former names) to the current one. It was evident in the ones laid into the marble flooring, etched into door glass and positioned on directional signs…as if they had been there all along. Brass accents, gold-toned trim, and glass chandeliers had been lovingly restored and polished, too, giving a vibe of “old Vegas” that still looked somehow contemporary.

My three-night stay a while back included a sleepover in the massive and ornate Hollywood Suite, which was stunning. So much so that I requested that our resident photographer Greg C have the opportunity to visit and shoot more of the upper levels. Well, it took awhile for things to come together, but now I have plenty of Greg’s photos to share with you.

One of Westgate’s representatives was kind enough to take Greg on a tour in 2016. Their first stop was the four-bedroom Tuscany Suite.

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As Greg describes it: “The Tuscany is one of three Sky Villas built on the top level (30th floor), this one atop the east wing. Its decor dates back to the Hilton era. When you go up by elevator, you step out into a rotunda with three doors, one for (each of) the three high roller suites”.

“The Tuscany is the second largest of the villas at 14,500 square feet. It was opened in 1995, and some of the space that it occupies had once been a penthouse that Elvis stayed in back in the 1970’s. It was vastly enlarged in the 90’s”.

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The pool view is an interior view as it is completely surrounded by the suite”. Greg C.

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You can learn more about these accommodations on the Westgate Las Vegas reservation website. They are rarely seen by the general public and are usually reserved for their top-tier guests. Nine other themed “specialty suites” are also available…if you feel like living large and have the wallet to back it up. Click here to explore them. They range from a serene Napa Valley decor to the pristine bliss of the Bahamas…and of course, that glitzy Hollywood Suite (below).

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Next up will be the Versailles Sky Suite

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Photos: Greg C., Sammasseur (Hollywood Suite)

Sexy Vegas Power Duos: Lupita and Michal Furmanczyk


Absinthe’s rippling acrobat and Golden Nugget’s model dealer make pulses races from center-Strip to the heart of Downtown….

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know that I’m obsessed with gorgeous people. From the lusciously stunning Savannah Cross to the hunky likes of Willie Gomez and Chris Hodgson, Vegas Unfiltered is unapologetic in its constant praising of the stunning people of Vegas.

But what makes them beautiful goes way beyond their physical traits. Unique architecture and world-class offerings are what may attract visitors to Las Vegas, but it’s the men and women who give it a heart and soul. Humanitarians like Noel Dahl and Eric Roy, talented chefs like Steve Young and voice-perfect singers like Anne Martinez are what really makes Sin City a very special place to visit and enjoy.

Two very different people from distant parts of the world were drawn to Las Vegas to fulfill their dreams. When their paths crossed under random circumstances it was like lightning in a bottle. The couple hasn’t been apart ever since.

Now the entire valley is an enormous, joyful playground for this pair to share their passion for Las Vegas…and each other. Ladies and gentlemen…meet Lupita and Michal Furmanczyk.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

The former Miss Lupita Ruiz comes from a small town in Veracruz, Mexico. “It’s the kind of town everyone knows each other and everything is within walking distance”, she told me. The middle of three children (an older brother and younger sister), Lupita graduated high school in El Paso, Texas then immediately whisked off to Reno Nevada to further her education.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

After a semester at University of Nevada Reno, Lupita dropped out to pursue a career in poker. “I used a fake ID to be able to gamble in the casinos because I was underage” she confided. “During my short poker career I met all the professional poker players and my best friend Jerry Buss (owner of the Lakers, who passed away from cancer). And, a number of celebrities from David Beckham to my favorite George Lopez“.

After four years in Reno, it was off to Florida to major in Valencia College‘s dental hygiene program. With her degree nearly completed, the call of Las Vegas drew her back to Nevada. “I came here for school but i didn’t really have to come here for it. I’m just impulsive and one day felt like changing the scenery”.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Although Lupita planned to finish her degree, the fates had other plans. “I missed the deadline due to my credits taking too long being transferred. Instead of skipping the semester I decided to attend their Performing Arts School”. That’s where destiny put Lupita in the path (and arms) of a towering hunk from Warsaw, Poland.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Michal Furmanczyk is also one of three children. His older brother Kamil is an engineer and sister Kasia, the eldest, is a teacher. Despite Michal’s muscular exterior, he too is an intellectual. “I graduated from the University in Poland in 2008 with a degree in psychology. My dad had wanted me to be a policeman but I had very different plans for my future, haha!”.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Somehow, that career in psychology gave way to performing astounding acrobatic feats in front of live audiences. “Many people might think that I attended some “circus school” or something associated with sports. Partially its true” he laughed “as lots of my classmates in high school were Olympic Champions”. Like his future wife, Michal followed his inner voices…and they led him to what would become a well-known big top on the Strip.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

         Michal and partner Lucas (standing) during their hand-balancing act…

“I’m the only person in the family who end up working in circus. In the winter of 2010, my partner Lucas and I were working in Munich when Spiegelworld producer Ross Mollison and artistic director Wayne Harrison’s Cheep (yes, that’s his name) saw us performing. Right afterwards they came up to us and said that they’re opening a new show in Las Vegas. Ross told us he’d like us to be a part of it…how could we refuse such a great opportunity?”

That was seven years ago. Since then, Absinthe has become the must-see breakout hit at Caesars Palace. After awhile Misha, as he’s affectionately known, wanted to broaden his formal education, this time in the world of performing arts.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

“I felt need to go back to school and learn something. At first I wanted to try a program from behind the camera but that didn’t match with my show schedule. So, I signed up for acting classes….I thought it might be helpful since I work on stage nightly. There is always something new to learn. Lupita and I were classmates and became friends right away. We met in June of 2014 and by the end of that year we were already living together”.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

The two were married in January of 2017 and has been sharing the life that so many couples dream of. They travel frequently to Hawaii (Maui is their special place) and relish outdoor activities like hiking and swimming…when they aren’t working out to keep their bodies in such impressive condition.

The couple’s dogs Romeo (a Florida pooch with his own fan page) and Coco (whose heartbroken appearance won them over at a shelter) love to frolic in the water. As Misha tells it, “Meyo (Romeo’s nickname) goes nuts when he sees the water. He used to jump over the fence at the house where we lived before, just so he could swim in the neighbor’s pool”.

The foursome sometimes take day trips to Willow Beach, Arizona so the pit bulls and their parents can frolic in the water. It’s a scenic locale that’s great for plenty of photo ops. “We both enjoy photography…Lupita in front of the camera and I like to be on both sides”.

It’s easy to see why Lupita’s career in modeling is as successful as being a model dealer at downtown’s Golden Nugget Hotel Casino. And of course having her husband behind the lens brings out the best in both of them. But that hasn’t stopped the professional photographers from making Lupita one of their favorite subjects.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Of course, a sexy young couple living in Sin City is bound to indulge in all that the Strip has to offer. Lupita and Michal enjoy dressing up for a night on the town, taking in the delicious foods (Lupita’s partial to the chicken tikki masala at TUMERIC – Taste of India on Fremont Street), great entertainment and spectacular views. Sometimes they just like to clown around together.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

SHOWSTOPPERS at Wynn/Encore was their favorite production…until the show came to a close. Now Michal is high on OPIUM at Cosmopolitan. “OPIUM’s the newest show from Spiegelworld. It’s hilarious and totally different from any other show you have seen anywhere. Totally must-see!” (look for my review in an upcoming column).

The pair currently owns two homes, a condo Downtown and another on the south end of the Strip. “I love real estate and home decor projects” Michal told me. “Lupita has a great vision and searches for inspiration online to find out what would look nice and match in our places”. His wife added “We both are artistic people so anything creative we enjoy”.

One thing this writer admires about the Furmanczyks is that they totally embrace their sex appeal. They have no hang-ups about their physical selves and don’t feel the need to hide what their hard work and dedication have created.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Says Michal “We just know who we are and we do we what we want. I don’t work out to keep my body under a t-shirt. Sometimes yes, but in general I like to wear nice fitted clothes. Many guys don’t really know their bodies and they just follow others without being conscious that they can dress nicer”.

Being an influential power couple in the City of Entertainment might be a dream come true, but both of these fine individuals have worked hard to overcome difficulties and humbler times. Michal is especially grateful for achieving respect as a performer after a personal tragedy nearly crippled him.

“In 2007, I had an accident where I broke both of my legs and completely shattered my ankles. A doctor told me that my career was over. I wasn’t able to walk for about a year. Then I started walking slowly for another year…like an old man. After that I was able to start slowly running. Now I’m proudly rocking the stage every night”.

 Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

He closed out our interview with one final thought. “We’ve got to remember to never give up and be very strong. Luckily I had great, true friends that never left my side and kept my spirits high. I’m very thankful to each person who helped me at that difficult time. And I remember very well who was there for me”.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Now that the Furmanczyks have found one another, their futures should be very bright indeed.

ABSINTHE performs Tuesday through Sunday at Caesars Palace. Show schedule is available by clicking here. VegasFool.com has discount seats available via this link
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Photos: Michal and Lupita Furmanczyk, Miguel Vazquez, Ramiro Cervantes,  Jose Karelin Gonzalez

The Many Sides of Savannah Cross


Palazzo’s infectious dancer brings razzle-dazzle to BAZ: A Musical Mash-up

Ever since its humble beginnings inside a small Los Angeles nightspot, BAZ: A Musical Mash-up has boasted a fluid cast. Performers and celebrity guests regularly step into and out of six iconic and several supporting roles. They often swap characters and lines…sometimes within the same performance, making each night a unique experience.

The genre-bending BAZ musical, a creation by LA-based For The Record, recently celebrated its 500th performance inside a custom-designed venue at Palazzo Resort. Although its tradition of rotating casts continues, one performer has been there through four different dance partners. Her name is Savannah Cross…and she’s someone you’ll want to experience on your next trip to the Strip.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah grew up in Sandy, Utah, just south of Great Salt Lake. She spent her earliest years learning to dance at several studios around her home state.

I started dancing at the age of 6.  Watching my older cousin compete is really what drew me into dance.  I remember thinking to myself, this is it, this is what I want to do.  From the time I started training at 6, I just never stopped and got even more immersed into dance.

During my first couple years of dancing, I saw the movie Center Stage and fell in love.  I loved the idea that dance was something I could make a career out of and watching this movie made it all even more real.  I also loved the work, energy and sacrifice that the dancers in the movie put into this crazy art form.

During high school, the ambitious teen traveled around the country with Hollywood Connection, a company dedicated to preparing dancers for their commercial careers. Despite her young age, Savannah performed in a variety of productions that displayed skills in hip-hop, contemporary and ballroom styles.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

After graduating from high school, the dynamic young lady enrolled at the University of Utah‘s College of Fine Arts. While there, Savannah was member of their Performing Dance Company, which gave her the opportunity to work with several famed choreographers. As a result of her hard work and the enormous potential she displayed, Savannah received the prestigious Dizzy Feet Foundation Scholarship for her 2014-2015 year.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

While less ambitious college students were spending their summers sipping margaritas on Mexican beaches, Ms. Cross was in Leeds, England, receiving intensive training at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. And somewhere in those college years she managed to become a finalist on Paula Abdul‘s Live To Dance and appeared in a music video for singer Shaun Barrowes.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Modern Dance, Savannah became an instructor at Utah’s Elite Academy, a unique dance studio that teaches children as young as preschool age.  There she inspired other up-and-coming dancers and shared the knowledge she’d gained from an already extensive background.

Aside from dancing, I have really found a passion in teaching.  I started teaching dance when I was 18 and instantly fell in love. I was so lucky to have such incredible and diverse teachers growing up and because of this I felt very informed when I first started teaching.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

It was obvious that the girl from a small town in Utah was destined to accomplish great things. With the unending support of her loving mom…and her father as a faithful companion/escort to countless auditions, Savannah’s determination would soon pay off.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

I have the most amazing support system and especially wouldn’t be where I am today without my mom and dad. They sacrificed so much to let me follow my dreams.  Every vacation we ever took as a family was always for dance.  A large part of me sticking with this art that can be so hard and grueling is because of those two.  They never gave up on me and every second of everyday, they believed in me.

I have one sibling, a 12 year old sister named Dylann.  She is now starting to dance and train heavily and it makes my heart so happy.  Watching her flourish makes me want to be the absolute best version of myself each day.

As with so many other promising artists, Savannah Cross decided to try her luck in New York City. Although she had success there, a turn of luck would lead her to the bright lights and neon of the Las Vegas Strip.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

The innovative Los Angeles-based cabaret troupe For The Record Live was catching on like wildfire. Their musical interpretations of the film works from directors  Quentin Tarantino and John Hughes were drawing raves…and crowds. Their biggest hit so far was For the Record: BAZ, built around the scenes and music of avante-garde Aussie filmmaker Baz Luhrmann.

The production, interweaving love stories from Luhrmann’s contemporary re-imaginings of The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet was given a short stint at Mandalay Bay’s LIGHT Nightclub. Plagued by problems with the venue and its relationship with Cirque du Soleil, BAZ closed prematurely…but refused to die.

In 2016, Palazzo Resort announced a relaunch of the newly-named BAZ: Star Crossed Love. Cirque was now out of the picture and Venetian/Palazzo pledged full support of the acclaimed musical. This latest version of the long-evolving production would open with a mostly-new cast, a reworking of songs and scenes and a custom theater designed to showcase its cabaret-style roots.

What would eventually become my 2017 Best Production Show in Las Vegas was about to gain a brand-new ballroom star. This time, Savannah would be required to sing, act and play characters in addition to swirling around the stage. Here’s how she became a part of BAZ…in her own words:

I really never imagined I would be a part of a show like BAZ. Before I joined the cast, I was dancing for two contemporary companies in New York and I really thought that was my path. When I initially joined the show, I was somewhat hesitant having to sing and act, but now have come to realize that I have such a passion for the two. I do strongly believe that my background in dance and immense training that I did all over the world and in different styles, informed and directed me as a strong actor.  

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

My initial start into the show was such a whirlwind! I received a phone call from a fellow dancer/friend who I hadn’t heard from in years. She started the conversation totally casual, and a few minutes into the conversation asked me if I would be interested in BAZ. I fell in love with the structure of the show and the incredible talent she described to me. Within days, I got a phone call that I was chosen for the role of Fran! I felt so incredibility lucky to be cast in the show without For the Record and the management team ever seeing me in person.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Everything happened so quickly, with only 3 days to learn the entire show, I became the first new cast member to come into BAZ. I instantly knew that I was meant to be here doing this amazing show. As of now, Scorsese: American Crime Requiem (based on the mafia films of Martin Scorcese) is the only other For the Record show I have seen, but it absolutely blew me away!!! I saw the show in Los Angeles with some others members of BAZ and I sat there thinking to myself, how lucky am I to be part of such an insanely talented family.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

I have now had four different partners in the show and I will say that I have really been lucky with each boy. Two of the four partners are also from Utah and we actually grew up dancing together, which made the transition pretty simple. But I will say that there is an emotional toll when a partner leaves.

You end up building such a connection and relationship with each other in which you fully trust each other. I do think that it often feels like a “break up” to some extent and can take a minute to rebuild an entirely new connection with someone else.

Being able to build a connection between herself and others is definitely one of Savannah’s gifts. Whether it’s with her fellow performers, the people in the audience or her own students, Miss Cross is magnetic, energetic and completely mesmerizing.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

This writer was fortunate enough to have once been Savannah’s student…for a day. As a member of the media, I was invited to participate in BAZ Boot Camp last summer, an event that allowed members of the press to live a day as a performer at the Palazzo Theater.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

  Savannah (center, rear) keeps a watchful eye on yours truly during rehearsal…

Despite my having two left feet and a pair of wobbly legs, Savannah and her dance partner Marcquet Hill rallied and turned us into dancers in a few short hours. Savannah’s positive reinforcement and patience were especially memorable.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Fortunately, the next round of students Savannah and cast mate Patrick Ortiz shared the BAZ experience with were fledgling local youth performers. During the past two years, the show’s team has partnered with Positively Arts Foundation to provide mentorship, collaboration and inspiration for students intent on pursuing a career in performance.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

The cast of BAZ also put on the Positively Arts Holiday Spectacular at the Palazzo Theater last December. Featuring more than sixty Positively Arts students, the show brought performances of seasonal songs like “Silent Night,” “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” “This Christmas,” “Carol of the Bells” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” to the stage with all proceeds benefiting the Foundation. For Savannah, teaching and performing on the same stage is something she will no doubt always relish:

I think its beyond amazing that I get to share something I love so dearly with others and help them find their own passion within the art.  Watching my students grow is the most inspiring and informative lesson for myself.

Now that BAZ: A Musical Mash-up has surpasseded the 500th-performance mark and is about to celebrate its two-year anniversary on the Strip, it’s clear that something special is going on inside the Palazzo Theater. With people like Savannah Cross to teach, inspire and entertain, here’s hoping that she and the cast of BAZ reach for the stars with five hundred more…and beyond.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

BAZ: A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 pm. Tickets start at $64 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here. VegasFool is currently offering discounted seats starting at $39(plus taxes/fees). Access that offer by clicking here.

Photos: Whitney Lauren Photography, Richard Brusky, Post Productions Photography, Marc Reynolds, Abe Larmas Photography, Erik Kabik, KTNV Morning Blend, Sands Corp.

After The Fall – “Le Reve” Acrobat Ryan Lyons

Chronicling the pain, suffering and risks that Vegas acrobats endure to entertain you.


Last weekend, former Le Reve performer Yann Arnaud suffered a fatal fall while performing in Cirque du Soleil’s VOLTA in Tampa. Fellow Le Reve acrobat Ryan Lyons suffered a shockingly similar accident during a live performance at Wynn Las Vegas several years ago.

Since this article was published on another site in August of 2015, Lyons has gotten married and relocated to Australia. He now works, among other things, as an aerial choreographer for singer Pink. What follows is a reprint of how the article originally appeared.

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Ryan Lyons is a “generalist” in Le Reve – The Dream.  Five nights a week he flips, flies, dances and dives for thousands of people. He has done so ever since the show opened more than ten years ago. While he considers his experience at Wynn Las Vegas to be a dream come true, for a short while it became something much darker.

Le Reve

One evening during the finale, Lyons suffered a traumatic injury that echoes the one that occurred at MGM Grand/Cirque du Soleil’s KA. Performer Sarah Guyard-Guillot, who also fell during the final sequence, died as a result of her injuries.  That production was shut down for nearly weeks as safety protocols were re-examined. It reopened with a greatly altered finale (which has since been restored).

Ryan Lyons was much luckier than Guyard-Guillot.  After a hospital stay and physical rehabilitation, he returned to Le Reve for another five years.  Complications, pain, and the occasional surgery became a way of life, and he still deals with the physical and psychological aftermath of that accident.

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Now in his eleventh year with Le Reve, Lyons has reached the “What next?” phase of his career.  It’s a question that all performers must face when their bodies are maxed out but the soul still yearns to perform. As he ponders his options, Lyons has begun sharing his journey in a personal blog, which he calls “The Anchors Project”.  In it, he hopes to motivate, inspire creativity and ultimately help others to find what their personal anchors are.

Here are a few excerpts from “The Anchors Project”:

“The finale act comes around, and I jump onto my porters to set up my second trick of (the) act.  As they are launching me into the air, my left foot slips and everything just crumbles from there.  In mid-air, I only hope to have enough rotation that I don’t land head first upside down.  I end up landing back on the dry stage, taking all the force to my face and chest…and slide unconscious into the water.   

I wake up on a spinal board with several athletic trainers and rescue personnel around me.  I learn that I have shattered my nose, fractured some ribs and have multiple contusions to my lungs.”

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You might think the life of a Vegas performer is all glitz and glam.  It’s not bad by any means. We get paid to do what we love, and it often doesn’t feel like a job.  What people don’t realize is how short-lived our career is (I certainly didn’t). They don’t see the ugly side of the job, fighting for contracts, pushing through each show with an ache here and an ache there.  

The “show must go on” mentality of the corporate setting, or the fear of losing your next contract.  We dance and flip around on stage, but we often struggle to “play the game” as we try to find a balance that will keep our passion alive. It is often truly the passion to perform that keeps us going.

Le Reve

Plagued by injuries, overuse of our bodies and sometimes not feeling valued for the risk we take with each performance, you are challenged to make decisions on what is important to you.

What is important to me now, as I reflect on this journey, is my health and well being. I often joke to my friends and say “I want to be able to walk when I’m 40!”. 

I’ve learned that even despite many setbacks, I was still able to live my dream.  That my strength and courage helped me move past my injuries and the obstacles that were placed in front of me.  That my tenacity to keep going, always gets me to where I want to go. I now find myself motivating others to share their passion and to reach beyond their wildest dreams.

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You can read more about Ryan Lyons by visiting his website The Anchors Project.

Photos: Ryan Lyons, Sammasseur

Moving To Vegas: Expectation vs. Reality


A guest author shares his year of living in Sin City…the great and not-so-great…

Tommy Gun came to the United States to perform in the Aussie Heat male revue. Having lived the Sin City life before returning to his native Australia, he now reflects on his experiences and if they met his preconceived notions of Las Vegas.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

                       Tommy (far left) with the cast of Aussie Heat…

We all have expectations. Let’s be honest. We all carry preconceived ideas about new experiences and sometimes they turn out fantastic. Sometimes it just really sucks. G’day everyone, my name is Tommy. I’m from sunny Australia and I lived and worked in Las Vegas for one year. I did as much as I could and experienced everything with an open mind.

“A little bit of everything” I said to myself, because after all it is Vegas, and you have to go ALL IN. When my working VISA was finalized for the USA, I couldn’t have been more excited. My initial thoughts of Las Vegas were fast food everywhere, casinos, flashing lights, millionaires on every corner, HOT weather and nothing to do but drink and gamble.

Boy, was I in for a surprise! Luckily for me, I worked as a dancer for the Aussie Heat show (then known as Aussie Hunks) inside Planet Hollywood Casino. I was blessed with the opportunity to meet many incredible people and experience the ‘real’ Las Vegas.

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       The luxury apartment complex I shared with other members of the cast…

The Food – 

Expectations:

My first thought was I would find it hard to eat healthy. I was concerned there would be junk food everywhere I looked, and eating out would mainly consist of burgers, chips, burritos and everything that is delicious yet naughty. I didn’t think I would find much cultural variety of food to be honest.

Reality:

Wow! What can I say? I’ve never been so wrong. Vegas had a little bit of something for everybody. If you dig deep enough and talk to the right people, you can find food gems!
I was able to eat healthy and also indulge in the naughty foods too.

I’m a “cheap and cheerful” kind of guy. I like good deals, delicious food and generous servings. Nothing too fancy, just a ‘good feed’ is what I love. So for me it was the 24/7 diners that really take the cake. I’m going to mention two of my personal favorites.

Ellis Island – Village Pub Casino Cafe
Just a five-minute walk off the strip, you will find a small casino that frequents the locals. It’s charming yet excessively noisy. The cafe has some of the best food deals you can get. I ordered the ‘NY steak and eggs’ special at least 4 times a week. It only cost $5.99 at the time (11 pm-11 am) and is an ‘off the menu’ deal that only locals know about. Thank me later!

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                          Ellis Island NY Steak and Eggs special is only $5.99

Silver Sevens Casino – Sterling Spoon Cafe
It’s not the most popular casino, but the cafe sure gives you a great deal on the prime rib. Service was okay. Atmosphere? Not that amazing. Do I care? Absolutely not! Like I said, guys, I just enjoy good, satisfying grub, and you can’t go past Silver Sevens with a happy appetite. Try the prime rib meal for only $9.99. It’s great value with good portions. Not the best rib you will ever eat, nor will it be the worst. It’s just a great bargain.

I’ll quickly mention a few other absolute winners you can find:

Holstein’s Shakes and Buns – for the best thick shake in Vegas (and I’ve tried many). Creamy, cold and smooth silky texture just melts in your mouth.

Samba Latte – If you’re a coffee lover like myself and enjoy a good latte, then there is no competition to this world famous cafe located just outside the Monte Carlo Casino. Expensive but worth it. (Editor’s note – Samba Latte is currently closed due to ongoing renovations at Monte Carlo/Park MGM)

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

The stylish interior of ‘Samba Latte’ adds to the hipster vibe of this successful cafe.

Quality of Life

Expectations:

The Millionaires’ Playground is what Vegas is portrayed to be in films. Flashing lights, glamorous girls, limousines, pool parties and lavish lifestyles. I expected to see a well-structured city with a stable economy and plenty of employment for everyone. Since it’s the world’s playground with millions of dollars flowing in and out every year, I thought the everyday locals would have a relatively comfortable income.

Reality:

I was shocked to see how the majority of Las Vegas people were living. Let me share with you a few stories of my experiences. Before our show moved to Planet Hollywood, we were based in the D Hotel Casino on Downtown’s Fremont St. On this particular day, we all had a few hours of free time before the show started so we decided to go work out at the gym.

Upon arrival we discovered the gym was closed for some unknown reason. A bunch of Aussie blokes being our optimistic selves, made the decision to venture by foot into North Las Vegas suburbs to find a playground in which we could do pull ups, calisthenics, etc.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

Walking through the suburbia streets, I have never felt so unsafe. We must have stuck out like sore thumbs because we got stares everywhere we went. The neighborhood looked like a scene from Boyz n the Hood. Broken windows boarded up, cracked roofs, rubbish in the front yard, old beaten-down cars, neglected lawns and doors barely hanging on by the hinges.

We found a park and exercised for about 30 minutes before a bunch of ‘gang-banging’-looking kids appeared from the shadows near the basketball court. It looked as though we might have intruded on their ‘turf’. It was at that point we all decided it was a good time to leave, and I’m glad we did because it certainly wasn’t a place we felt welcome.

The day we went for a photo shoot at a studio located near the Stratosphere Casino, I was stupid enough not to pack lunch with me. So during our lunch break I was forced to walk to the casino for a meal. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The houses around and just off the famous Las Vegas Strip were absolute dumps!

Not only was suburbia a shocking sight for us to see, but the poverty extends right next to the tourist hub. Every now and then I would walk past a house that was literally falling apart, yet the car in the driveway would be a brand new Ford F-350 (or something similar) with shiny new rims and tinted windows. If that isn’t a clear signal that a drug dealer lives there, then I don’t know what is.

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This apartment complex located right behind the LINQ Casino was on my walk to work every day. We all called it the “Kitchen Tiles Complex” because of the terrible exterior design.

Things To Do – 

Expectations:

To be honest, I didn’t think there would be much to do In Las Vegas besides drink, gamble and watch the odd Cirque show. My expectations didn’t really extend past there. I set the bar low, and I was genuinely worried I would be bored quickly because I’m not a drinker nor a gambler.

Reality:

I can happily say that I was never once bored during my whole year working in Las Vegas. That’s not an exaggeration…I literally always had things to do. Maybe It was in part due to me being in a show and surrounded by people in the entertainment
industry.

I personally think Vegas has a plethora of activities and entertaining things to do regardless. In my one year as a resident, Vegas surprised and invigorated me enough that I still miss the city to this day. We all know casinos have all kinds of entertainment, ranging from theater shows and shopping to themed bars. But there is a lot to be said about other parts of Vegas besides the obvious.

Brooklyn Bowl –

As a group of dancers, one of our favorite pastimes would be seeing live music at the Brooklyn Bowl. This modern venue which hosts live music, bowling, beer and food is the ultimate night out for those who want a little bit of everything. What I enjoyed most about this venue is the variety of music they had. On a Wednesday you might
see a soul band, Thursday a punk rock band, then on Friday a hip-hop artist. I found myself checking their website every week to see who was playing.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

Lake Mead –

Sometime it’s nice to get out of the city for a little bit, and with the beautiful crystal clear Lake Mead only a thirty-minute drive from Las Vegas you can’t go wrong. Wake-boarding was my activity of choice, and when the average summer temperature can reach
104 F, there nothing better than the feeling of fresh cool water on your skin.

Sometimes the pool parties just won’t cut it, especially when you’re not in the mood to deal with drunk obnoxious people and overpriced drinks. There are also a host of other water activities to choose from and the scenic backdrop of the desert mountains just tops off the real American-style landscape you expect to see as a foreigner.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

A picture I took at Drai’s Beach Club, and a still from a video of my fiancé wake boarding at Lake Mead. Which do you prefer? Personally, I will take Lake Mead any day

ATV Tours –

As you can see, I’m a lover of extreme activities and outdoors adventures. So it’s no surprise I’m also advocating these super-fun ATV tours in the Las Vegas desert. Seriously, what better way to see the incredible Nevada landscape AND experience an adrenaline-rushing activity?

The more I Googled “things to do in Vegas” the more I found! I couldn’t have been happier with the variety of entertainment options for all kinds of people. So much for “only drinking and gambling”. It turns out Las Vegas has so much more to offer. If all you do is sit at slot machines when you’re in town, then you’re doing it wrong! You need to start living life!

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                    My fiancé and I on an ATV tour in the Vegas Desert.

The Grand Canyon –

I feel compelled to finish off my outdoor activity rant by advocating the incredible and vast Grand Canyon in Arizona. Yes, it’s nowhere near Las Vegas, and it’s not even in Nevada, but it’s something you HAVE to see! Words can’t describe how amazing this mile-deep geological wonder is.

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If you decide to go, see it either when the sun rises or the sun sets. It’s simply a magical experience when the light captures all the crevasses and ridges of the canyon as the sun moves across the horizon.

The drive to the Skywalk is only roughly two hours. The entrance to the National Park where you can test yourself with a day trek is only a four-hour drive. If you don’t like to drive, there are many helicopter companies that offer tours over the Canyon at affordable prices.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

                      Taking in the beauty of Grand Canyon national park.

The People

Expectations:

Having not known much about Las Vegas, I expected to see mostly white people…overweight and very loud. Why? Because in my experiences with Americans in Australia, that’s usually what I saw. It was more of a subconscious expectation and not something that I premeditated.

Reality:

Much can be said about people anywhere in the world. There is good and bad everywhere you look. I would like to talk about one aspect of the Las Vegas people that genuinely surprised me. The variety was astonishing.

There were people from all walks of life. I discovered that Las Vegas not only had white people, but also a huge Latino population, African Americans, Asians, Europeans and even Islanders. I may seem naive to you, but I did not expect this magnitude of cultural variety. Las Vegas seems to to bring people from all over the world, and I think if you live here long enough you are blessed to see, meet and talk to many people with all different views on life.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

Being part of the Aussie Heat show’s cast, I had to opportunity to mingle with the audience after the show and get photos etc. The thing I enjoyed most about this was meeting the people from all over America. I was learning about people from North Carolina to Oregon. From all different backgrounds, religions and cultures, I learned that America is such a diverse place.

I believe many people in Australia fall into the trap of generalizing the people in California as ‘all of America’ because that’s usually all we see from Hollywood films. The truth is, the people from Texas to New York couldn’t be any more different!

Casinos

Expectations:

Having seen films such as The Hangover, Ocean’s Eleven and What Happens in Vegas, once again I had the Hollywood perspective of casinos. I expected lavish lights, cocktail waitresses, fancy interiors and the lure of the ‘High Roller’ lifestyle.

Reality:

I have mixed emotions here. There are some things I love, and some things I hate about the main attraction to Las Vegas tourists. Yes, the films were pretty, accurate in my opinion. The casinos really are an adult’s playground with a little bit of something for everyone, but there are definite drawbacks.

I simply couldn’t get enough of the Cirque du Soleil shows. Simply amazing…jaw dropping. I clapped until my hands hurt. If I had enough expendable income I would have seen every Cirque show, but alas I could only see two – Zumanity and . Tickets are expensive, but when you witness the amazing performances and life-threatening stunts, you understand why.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

              Backstage with the cast of KÂ. I’m at the back, trust me!

Most casinos boast successful shows, millions in revenue from gambling and shopping, amazing decor and nightclubs packed to the brim. You would think these places make a killing, and they do! However with all the millions of dollars in revenue, there are certain casinos that charge for parking! Say what?

At this point do you really need to suck every single cent out of your loyal (sometimes gambling-addicted) customers? I think it’s sad. And I would think if parking was free (like it is in most places), your customers would appreciate it and return more often (resulting in better profit over the long term).

With that aside, I LOVE the attention to detail in the aesthetics of both the interior and exterior of the buildings, with special mention to Venetian, Caesars Palace, Bellagio and New York NY. They represent the intended themes perfectly. Having personally traveled to Venice, Rome, Lake Bellagio in Italy and New York City, I can safely say that the decor did each location justice. I didn’t feel as though they were a cheap rip-off, but more of a homage to the intended locations.

 

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

                             The fabulous New York NY casino exterior… 

However, once inside, my spirit became a little dampened by the people occupying it. I feel as though Las Vegas, while fun for adults, should not be a place to bring your children on holiday if you are gambling. Let’s be honest here, most parents coming here are spending lots of time on the casino floor.

Imagine taking your beloved dog to the beach, but instead of letting him swim and run around playfully in the waves, you keep him on a leash and sit on the walkway chair texting on your phone. Bringing your kids to Vegas is just as bad.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

     The ‘Pitbull’ concert I attended at Planet Hollywood – he did an amazing job!

I’m glad I chose to work for one year in Las Vegas, It’s been one of the best choices I have ever made. All in all, Vegas really surprised me and taught me lessons I would never have learned otherwise.

If you haven’t been to Las Vegas yet, you simply must go at least once. It’s a city full of surprises.

Tommy Gun has returned to his native Australia and now operates his own entertainment company – Gold Coast Male Strippers. You can visit his website for more information, pictures and videos. 

Photos: Tommy Gun