Culinary Superstars – Dora Pane: Careers, Fine Dining and “La Famiglia”


In the concluding segment of my series, Fresco Italiano’s General Manager brings the invaluable warmth of family gatherings to her restaurant guests…

Last month I introduced you to a pair of genuine Italians who have brought true authenticity to dining at Westgate Las Vegas. And while I focused on dynamic Chef Paola Bugli in that previous piece, it was with the promise that next time we’d get to know Fresco Italiano‘s general manager Dora Festa Pane.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

It seems fitting that “Festa” is part of this lovely lady’s name. After all, the Italian derivation of “festival” is the sensation you’ll have when dining at this authentic eatery. Each meal is meant to be an experience, something that Ms. Dora (as I like to call her) promises to every guest.

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In order to deliver on that commitment, the native of Naples dined at Fresco Italiano to see what it was like…and determine if she could put her own personal imprint onto the already-successful restaurant.

I came at the end of last year to eat, check things out and see what it was like. I didn’t introduce myself to the server or tell anyone that I was considering a position here. It’s better to just observe, analyze and think about what could be improved.

Honestly, I wasn’t completely happy. When this is your career, you find yourself analyzing so many things. Fresco Italiano is a beautiful place and there were many things to love. But their way of serving the guests could have been carried out much better.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

It’s easy to be a restaurant critic in today’s world of online user reviews, but Ms. Dora was honing her craft (and what makes a restaurant successful) long before Yelp! came along. Years of experience in high-profile establishments throughout the Vegas valley established her as an expert at her profession. So when that evening at Fresco Italiano didn’t quite meet her exacting standards, she accepted an invitation to make it her own.

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It may surprise you that a manager would be so candid about their own place of employment, but Ms. Dora is no-nonsense and outspoken. Fluent in several languages, she’s a colorful conversationalist who speaks from the heart. Her exposure to a myriad of cultures and atmospheres warrants your trust in her abilities.

As soon as I came in, I needed to learn about my crew…as a group and as individuals. It’s tough to do that when a place is already established. You need to be sweet AND sour. There were things to fix, but I didn’t come here to change people. Only to make them better.

When operating a restaurant, Ms. Dora does so with a mixture of passion and skill from the perspective of an actual owner. You might say that operating restaurants is in Dora’s blood. Her father had his own passion for great dining service and was a longtime maître d’ in her hometown of Naples before becoming a food critic. Although he passed away at a relatively young age, Dora credits him with much of her professionalism and knowledge. 

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

After high school, she earned degrees in both Education and Psychology from Italy’s Cristo Re Magistral Institute. That unique combination might not be the norm for a career in restaurant management, but she feels it’s given her distinct advantages in this field.

I’m a teacher here at the restaurant…and psychology helps me with my work, too. It’s much easier to teach children because adults tend to resist. Everyone has something that holds them back. It could be their pride, birth sign, background life…whatever. My job is to overcome that.

When I came here in secret, my server clearly had something holding him back. Now that we’ve worked together, he’s the best server in the entire restaurant.

As we spoke in the darkened lounge a little before opening time, Ms. Dora happened to notice a few people standing at the entrance. Excusing herself, she greeted the group and invited them to have some wine at the bar until actual service began.

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“My bartender will probably get angry with me for doing his job” she winked as we resumed our conversation. That small moment of courtesy spoke mountains about Ms. Dora’s character. A lesser host would have simply asked them to return at the proper time. But this professional knows that a good impression lasts a lifetime.

It’s no wonder that Dora Pane has been involved with many wonderful Las Vegas restaurants in the valley. She’s been in the Vegas area for twenty-one years and dove headfirst into the big leagues by starting at MGM Grand.

Ms. Dora eyes lit up as she excitedly shared her history throughout Sin City. While moonlighting at dance clubs, she quickly rose from working as a food server to managing family-owned food shops. That was followed by a position as assistant manager at Terrazza at Caesars Palace. Overlooking the glorious Garden of the Gods, Terrazza was a fine-casual Italian restaurant located in the spot now occupied by Rao’s Las Vegas.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

Remaining within the Caesars family, Ms. Dora opened Voga, a modern Italian venue at nearby Flamingo Casino Resort. Seen above with her epicurean team, she proudly described ten years with Caesars corporation, which also included a stint at Steakhouse 46 (inside Flamingo). Sadly, it all came to a close when the company began doing huge cuts.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

What followed was a vast array of life experiences – running Robert De Niro’s Tuscan-themed AGO at Hard Rock Hotel (“that place was too classy for Hard Rock”), collaborating with Todd Moreau at both Hard Rock and Sunset Station (“we tend to follow each other”) and achieving new career standards at ALLEGRO of Wynn/Encore.

Things didn’t go as well as I would have liked at ALLEGRO. The hours were very bad. I had a young child at the time and no extended family here. Money isn’t everything when your children need you. So I left ALLEGRO after exactly one year.

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Yearning more of an atmosphere and schedule suited for a working mother, Ms. Dora settled in wonderfully at Venetian‘s Trattoria Reggiano (locals flock to the Downtown Summerlin’s flagship location). Spearheaded by Fifth Avenue Restaurant Group, Trattoria Reggiano brought her into a powerhouse that operates over forty establishments….and full circle with their involvement at Flamingo, Venetian and MGM Grand.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

After high school, eldest daughter Daniela graduated from University of Nevada, Las Vegas and moved to Naples. Son Gio has followed in the footsteps of his mother and grandfather by joining the staff at legendary Vegas Italian eatery Battista’s Hole in the Wall.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

And with youngest daughter Alessandra now grown into a lovely young lady, mother Dora has seized another opportunity to make an impact on the ever-changing Sin City dining scene.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

Perhaps the importance of family is why Ms. Pane agreed to spearhead the staff at Fresco Italiano. As I’ve said many times in this column, Westgate exemplifies the principles of dedication, service and commitment to guests that Las Vegas was founded on.

It’s a philosophy that hearkens back to the days of Mob-run Vegas, when the guests were all that mattered (well, maybe a few other things, too…). With the recent downturn in stock values and profits for Caesars and MGM Resorts properties, the current business model for Las Vegas has been put under intense scrutiny. Westgate was already ahead of the curve on a customer-based ideology that’s sorely in need of a city-wide renaissance.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

                     Sharing the Fresco Italiano family experience with my own…

It’s true that attractions, restaurants and even entire resorts come and go in this city. But the priceless importance of its people will remain. What makes any organization work, at its core, is the dedication and camaraderie of its team.

Ms. Dora Pane understands this. With her in the driver’s seat and Chef Paola Bugli in charge of the kitchen, a journey through the Tuscan landscape via Fresco Italiano is one you’ll want to repeat over and over again. Finisci di mangiare!

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

Fresco Italiano is open for dinner 365 days a year at 5 pm – lunch hours vary by date. For more information or to place reservations call 702.732.5276.

Photos: Sammasseur, Dora Festa Pane, Westgate Las Vegas, Cyber-reef.com

 

 

 

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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