ICONIC Rips Off The Roof (and lots of shirts) This Weekend


Highly-anticipated nightclub promises a much-needed boost to the Las Vegas LGBTQ party scene….

It’s been a long time since Sin City’s had a major new gay nightclub. Aside from a handful of neighborhood-style bars like The Garage and Flex Cocktail Lounge, the only large-scale nightclub for the LGBTQ crowd has been Piranha Nightclub on Paradise Road (near the airport). But all that is about to change this weekend with the arrival of ICONIC Nightclub.

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ICONIC’s location on S. Wynn Road might prove tricky for the tourist trade, but locals will have no problem rediscovering the once-popular SHARE venue. Plenty of money and energy have come together to make ICONIC live up to its name. Owner and former Broadway performer Adam Simmons has gathered quality talent both behind the scenes and out front to make that happen.

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              Adam Simmons is working hard to make ‘Iconic’ a hit gay destination…

Simmons published a casting call earlier this year for “smoking hot, super friendly, and amazingly fun performers”. The club will be entertainment-centric with pop-up shows, themed evenings and a monthly fundraiser. Of course, bottle service and VIP tables are available for groups desiring a more elite evening out.

 

One of the more alluring offerings is an upscale Craft Cocktail Bar that invites intimate conversation and a respite from the pulsing energy below. AVANT After-Hours invites you to party until the sun comes up. The club is able to host private events and gatherings, too.

 

Locals with Nevada ID are eligible for no-cover entry and several hosts are publishing guest-list access on their social media pages. The club officially opens on Friday July 19th at 9pm.

Iconic Nightclub is located at 4636 S. Wynn Road, close to Orleans Hotel Casino. Hours are Friday through Monday 9pm to 6am. Visit their website for more information or to make table reservations. 

Images and video courtesy of Iconic Nightclub and Adam Simmons social media….

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The SAHARA Is Back – But Is It Too Late?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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                               New color scheme on current Story Tower room…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo By Denise Truscello

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

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

 

 

‘Potted Potter’ Casts a Laughing Spell on Vegas


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dance With The Devil at SATANGO


New musical comedy in the Arts District is one Hell of a great time…

Despite my promises to do otherwise, it’s been way too long since this writer has visited a community theater performance. My last was the outstanding KRAMPUS by Majestic Repertory Theater during the 2018/2019 holiday season. It’s a good thing that dancer/choreographer Alejandro Domingo reached out to me this week and invited me to his latest production. Otherwise I might have missed the brilliantly entertaining SATANGO at downtown’s adorable Cockroach Theatre Company.

I’ll admit a certain weakness to the prospect of seeing Alejandro back in action after the abrupt closure of BAZ in 2018. Despite having kept busy since then, the abs-tastic dancer has been keeping a relatively low profile here in Sin City. Now it’s clear as to why…Domingo has created the choreography and supplies a supporting role in one of the cleverest and most wonderfully naughty new musicals in ages.

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The premise of SATANGO is delightful and delicious. Toby Allen‘s “Old Scratch” is contemplating his eternity of loneliness (Welcome To My Neighborhood, I Was Once An Angel) while fearing that he may have lost his dance grooves. You see, it’s the eve of the All-Souls Ball, a once-in-a-millenium party. On that special night, the barrier between Heaven and Hell dissolves, giving souls the opportunity to lure each other to the opposite side. How? By using tango, the “Dance of Seduction”, of course. Will Lucifer’s dancing impress the other guests…and will he find an eternal companion?

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Fortunately for Satan, a lost innocent named Sofia (played by Savannah Smith) happens to pass through the gates to his fiery lair. She also just happens to be a dance instructor from Pahrump! Using his persuasive charms (“Everyone loves Luci!”, he boasts), Satan manages to strike a deal with Sofia to give him three tango lessons. She asks for one thing in return, which she’ll reveal after the party. What ensues is an amusing and steamy tug of war between the temptations of naughtiness and the rewards of being pure.

 

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Pop-culture references and topical humor fly as fast as the nimble feet in a wild assortment of comical and sexy dance numbers. Vegas locals will enjoy a shout-out to downtown pizza favorite Evel Pie and jabs at parking fees, the High Roller observation wheel and the ill-fated Fontainebleau tower. Supported by a solid five-piece band led by Music Director Keith Thompson, the cast belts out fifteen original songs (music by Stewart D’ Arrietta, book and lyrics by Justin Fleming) that keep the plot moving at just the right pace.

 

Toby Allen absolutely shines in the lead role. Despite his towering physical presence, Allen tends to be the lowest-profile member of Venetian’s long-running Human Nature Jukebox. In SATANGO, he unleashes a maelstrom of emotions and energy coupled with a scathing slice of wit. He’s clearly great at improv, too. An opening-weekend mishap with a prop was splendidly blended into the proceedings by Allen. As luck would have it, a second occurrence of the same gaffe occurred perfectly in sync with lyrics being sung at that moment. Clearly, the Devil had an angel on his shoulder last night.

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Speaking of angels, Savannah Smith (Vegas! The Show) is sheer nirvana as “Sofia”. Whether singing the praises of Pahrump from atop a ladder (My Favorite Place To Eat) or bringing the audience to its feet with her dazzling steps, the popular singer/actress/dancer is clearly having the time of her life.

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Alejandro Domingo, Kate Farrow and Socorro Jones round out the wonderful cast. They portray Satan’s minions along with a variety of other characters including Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian and even a lusty delivery boy. And yes, Domingo doffs his shirt once more to display the legendary abs that earned him a place on my list of the hottest guys in Vegas five years ago.

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Despite the tiny size of Cockroach Theatre Company, every inch of the venue is utilized in this production. Set design and costumes are spot-on, and director Wayne Harrison (ABSINTHE) achieves a polish that belies the indie nature of this production.

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SATANGO is one dance with the Devil that you won’t want to miss. You’ll forget your humble surroundings and be immediately drawn into this den of temptation. That’s the magic of live theater, and SATANGO pulls it off with aplomb.

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Cockroach Theatre Company is located at 1025 South First Street #110 in the Arts District. SATANGO performs Friday through Sunday at 8pm through June 23rd with matinee performances at 2pm on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $35 ($20 for public servants) and can be ordered here

 

 

 

 

Postmodern Jukebox Is A Musical Time Machine

 


The group’s vintage remixes are pitch-perfect for Vegas…

You may have heard of Postmodern Jukebox, the genre-busting collective of musicians and singers. But have you actually heard them? One song into Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox Hideway, their new production at The Mirage, and you’ll become a lifelong fan.

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Postmodern Jukebox is a brilliantly entertaining concept. An ever-changing line-up of performers and songs, PMJ (as they’re affectionately known) has become a sensation thanks to the power of YouTube. Founded in Queens just eight years ago by pianist Scott Bradlee, Postmodern Jukebox takes your favorite contemporary songs, puts them into a time-machine blender and gives them a whole new spin.

Imagine hearing a familiar rap single performed in a roaring 20’s style. How about an electronica dance hit re-imagined as swing or Motown? Perhaps a country ballad doled out as a cool jazz session or a doo-wop ditty? That’s what PMJ does…and they do it oh so well.  Every song is a thrill to experience, and you’ll marvel at how well it all works.

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PMJ has been enjoying a love affair with Sin City for quite some time. Their short-term gigs around the city and in a 2016 New Year’s Eve performance at Cosmopolitan were such successes that it was only a matter of time before they landed a residency here. And why not? Las Vegas attracts music lovers of all generations and tastes, as does the group itself.

The new Hideaway stint has already been hailed by Mark Shunock (Rock of Ages, voice of Las Vegas Golden Knights) as “The best show in Las Vegas right now…period!”. Presented as an evening at an early 1900’s nightclub, Hideaway gathers the best singers, dancers and musicians you may ever see on a stage. And each performance is unique to that particular evening.

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Fans of Palazzo’s glorious BAZ: A Musical Mash-up will be thrilled by the return of its stars Nicci Claspell and Jaclyn McSpadden. Revisiting BAZ’s infectious vintage-pop fusion, Claspell delivers and cool and bouncy take on Portugal The Man’s “Feel It Still”. Dazzling Vegas local McSpadden brings down the house with a torch rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep”.

Lead vocalist/host Ariana Savalas (daughter of Kojak actor Telly Savalas) and award-winning tap dancer Aaron Turner (son of Vegas legend Earl Turner) rip up the floor with a stunning “Bad Romance”. They’re supported by an electrifying five-piece band and a hot cast of dancers that take the excitement to every corner of the club.

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Blond Invasion – The Ultimate Pop-Diva Experience


New production gathers pop’s biggest female superstars for the dream concert that never was…

Superstar headliner residencies are the biggest draw on the Strip right now. We’ve got Mariah, Janet, Gwen and more with Christina on the way (Pink and Katy Perry are rumored to be eyeing gigs as well). Can you imagine how awesome it would be if Madonna, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears somehow teamed up for the megawatt show of a lifetime? Now you can stop dreaming, because Blond Invasion is here.

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Blond Invasion is the latest show to open at V Theater inside Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops. A stunningly clever yet simple concept, Blond Invasion is a beautifully executed salute to the ladies who keep us dancing. Unlike other tribute shows you may have seen, Blond Invasion doesn’t have lip-syncing or a rotating roster of celebrity acts. It’s a live performance created especially for fans of Madonna/Britney/Gaga by people who adore them.

In the crazy world of entertainment, you never know if or when you’ll ever get the chance (or finances) to see your favorite headliner. Britney lovers were blind-sided last November when her upcoming Park MGM residency was abruptly cancelled. Things turned even more dire just this month when the troubled pop tart’s manager stated that she may never perform again.

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Britney’s devoted fan base will be thrilled when performer Katie Murdock blasts through the Planet Hollywood ceiling with uncanny live vocals and spot-on Britney moves. Flanked by an explosive male dance troupe, Katie opens with the fabulous “Circus”, followed by sensational interpretations of “Toxic”, “Womanizer” and of course, “Work B*tch”.

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At the grand opening celebration, guests literally gasped when Ms. Murdock strolled into the party…the likeness was absolutely breathtaking. I later learned that Katie has already wowed thousands through her portrayal of Spears in the record-setting Legends In Concert. With fourteen years of Britney experience and a lifetime of singing and performing, Murdock’s act alone is worth the price of admission. But she’s just one of three powerhouse performances that make Blond Invasion such a treat.

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The 90-minute production opens with Coty Alexander striking a pose to Madonna’s “Vogue”, followed by “Into The Groove”, “Papa Don’t Preach”, “Human Nature” and more. A multi-faceted artist who’s also a Legends in Concert alumnus, Alexander has thrilled with her interpretations of Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga, too.

Speaking of Gaga, prepare to be floored when Philadelphia native Christina Shaw and the boys let loose with “Bad Romance”. Clad in a blue wig and glittery spandex, Christina shows off her own real keyboard skills at a lush red piano for a ballad-style rendition of “Poker Face”.  She and the boys celebrate diversity with “Born This Way”, bring the party directly to your seat for “Just Dance” and wrap up with a fabulous round of “Applause”.

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                Christina Shaw’s Lady Gaga raises the roof with “Applause”…

Along with their individual sets, Blond Invasion‘s three stars come together for something you’ll never see anywhere else…Madonna, Britney and Lady Gaga on one stage. Together they unleash a career-spanning medley that’s a concert event like no other.

 

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ELVIS IS BACK IN VEGAS WITH ‘HEARTBREAK HOTEL IN CONCERT’


Concert-style Elvis retrospective is satisfying, solid entertainment…

Just when you thought there couldn’t be any new ways to celebrate the life and music of Elvis Presley, along comes Heartbreak Hotel In Concert. The new production at Harrah’s Las Vegas is an extravaganza of swiveling hips, legendary blues and rock-a-billy guitar hits that will have you rising from your seats with cheers.

Unlike other Elvis tribute shows, Heartbreak Hotel In Concert isn’t a typical impersonation act. Instead, its talented cast of singers and a live band present a chronological journey of The King’s career in word, song and style. A carefully-crafted set list visits his earliest church gospel days to recordings in Memphis through his army stint and Hollywood breakout, culminating in that historic record-setting residency at the International Hotel (now Westgate Las Vegas).

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Bursting onstage with “All Shook Up”, front man Eddie Clendening is an accomplished rock-a-billy powerhouse. His personal love for Presley’s music shines through with every chord of “That’s Alright”, “Baby Let’s Play House” and the title tune. Having previously portrayed the late superstar on Broadway in Million Dollar Quartet as well as touring around the world with his Blue Ribbon Boys band, Eddie knows instinctively how to channel Presley’s persona and style. Rather than mimicking Elvis, the Denver Colorado native allows the music to flow through him, infusing his vocals and body language with Presley’s signature heart and soul.

Musical director Colte Julian tickles the ivories and has a great time as Jerry Lee Lewis in a sequence saluting the Million Dollar Quartet jam sessions. Julian’s spot on, having played the wild piano man in several productions of the long-running hit based on that gathering. He’s also hysterical in a “White Pop” medley that dramatically emphasizes how daring Presley’s “black” music was perceived by listeners of the day.

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Once a two-act musical drama, Heartbreak Hotel has been re-imagined for Vegas audiences by Ivan Menchell and staged by Jeff Calhoun as a concert experience. Each performer gets their moment to recount a historic milestone and share personal reflections of The King’s songbook. Lovely singers Jackie Wiatrowski, Tymara Walker and Fana Hughes take center stage (and the keyboards) for “Handyman”, “Love Me Tender” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”. Broadway vet Geno Henderson (guitarist for B.B King and Ike Turner) captivates the audience with a soul-filled rendition of “Are You Lonesome Tonight”.

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In addition to lush costumes, precise staging and slick choreography, Heartbreak Hotel has invaluable and unprecedented access to thousands of rare photographs and video footage through Elvis Presley Enterprises.

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