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


New astral-themed production opens at the STRAT…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: CELESTIA, Sam Novak

 

 

 

 

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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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Click here to continue reading via BestOfVegas.com…

 

 

 

 

 

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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“Donny and Marie” Turn It Up To Eleven


Famed duo hits new heights for final year of Flamingo residency….

Donny Osmond loves making jokes. Even when the gag seems to go over the audience’s head, he still keeps chuckling. “Did you get that one?” he asked, referencing This Is Spinal Tap‘s famous “up to eleven” quote. “I think you were one of the few who did” he laughed as we spoke after a recent performance of Donny and Marie Show at Flamingo Hotel Casino.

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The beloved brother and sister of the famed Osmond clan have indeed turned up the dial to maximum setting. Not only is their revamped show better than ever, but the Utah natives are about to wrap up an amazing eleven years on the Strip. “You know, we were only supposed to be here for six weeks. And now we’re in our eleventh year” Donny exclaimed. “Can you believe it?”

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While other nostalgia-based Vegas productions have had mixed success of late, Donny and Marie continue to pack the house, perhaps now more than ever. Derrick Boyce, one of the production’s award-winning dancers, is excited about their continued success. “I was in the casino before showtime and was stunned at the long line stretching around the corner. We’re sold out on a Tuesday night. It’s amazing!”.

“Amazing” is also the perfect word to describe the show itself. A perfect blend of their original hits and chart-toppers by other artists, Donny and Marie leave everyone wanting more. While their legacy is certainly the catalyst in attracting longtime fans, it’s the charisma of the two leads combined with their fantastic voices, dance skills and production numbers that lure in audiences of all ages.

Opening with a high-energy medley of Black Eyed Peas “I’ve Got A Feeling” and B-52’s “Love Shack”, the siblings thrill the crowd with non-stop banter and good-natured rivalry. Despite the passage of more than four decades, it feels like you’ve stepped into a live taping of their beloved 70’s TV variety show.

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After that raucous opener, the Osmonds stroll down memory lane with their successful individual careers. Marie makes a visit to Broadway, then slips on a pair of cowgirl boots for country favorites. Duo Des Fleurs (from the French opera Lakme) is a beautiful sequence in which Marie performs a duet with herself via special effects. The segment closes with Music Is Medicine (from the album of the same name). That release features a collaboration with Olivia Newton-John and benefits Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, which Marie helped to establish in 1983.

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There’s definitely no opera or country when brother Donny takes over the stage. He unleashes serious rock and roll amidst hardcore pyrotechnics for Crazy Horses and Soldier of Love. The former heartthrob boasts about his recent Dancing With the Stars and The Masked Singer successes, revisits those teen idol days with Puppy Love and reunites with the legendary Osmond Brothers (via video) for Love Me For A Reason.

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Fuerza Bruta Is a Sin City Game Changer



Spectacular production poised to redefine entertainment on the Strip….

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Every decade or so, a show comes along that changes the face of Las Vegas entertainment. First Mystere brought Montreal’s Cirque du Soleil to the desert. Then Celine Dion’s record-breaking Coliseum residency paved the way for other top-tier headliners. The last truly innovative production we’ve seen is Absinthe, the bawdy acrobatic tribute to burlesque. That is until Fuerza Bruta arrived on the scene. And this high-energy production is one phantasmagorical thrill you won’t want to miss.

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Like Absinthe, Fuerza Bruta is located in a tent outside of a major casino (in this case, Excalibur). That’s about the only thing these two productions have in common. You’ll know you’re in for something unusual when you step inside the entrance and receive a short briefing by a staffer. He or she will explain that you’ll be required to stand during the entire performance and follow crew instructions to move as set pieces and cast members move through and around the performance space.

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Once inside, you’ll notice that the cavernous area is entirely black and dimly-lit, except for a neon sign displaying the show’s title. The anticipation will be palpable as you try to decide where to congregate and which direction to focus your attention. But don’t waste your time wondering, as you and the rest of the audience literally ARE the stage 360-degree, 3-dimensional.

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Once the lights go down and the cast appears, you’ll be swept away into the most immersive production the city has going. Wind, rain, sound effects, lasers, flying objects, moving sets, live musicians, singers and special effects on an epic scale combine to   envelope you in a way that Las Vegas has never seen.

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Well, that last statement isn’t entirely true. A previous incarnation, entitled De La Guarda, ran for about a year at Rio Hotel Casino. Somewhat ahead of its time back in 2001, the current version is exactly what Las Vegas needs. Not only does it avoid the “sameness” of most new roll-outs, Fuerza Bruta raises the bar for every show in the city.

Trying to describe Fuerza Bruta is a bit of a challenge. There’s no story line or discernible theme. What the Argentinian production does offer is an onslaught of imagery, mind-boggling segments and a daring assault on the senses. The music is fantastic, the cast is extremely attractive and the atmosphere evokes a secret rave.

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How long has it been since you attended a show and your jaw literally dropped? That’s sure to happen when the audience is surrounded by a massive mylar wall that begins to rotate like a horizontal hamster wheel. Performers jog along this enormous silver road,  suspended at a right angle and reaching out to the audience below.

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If you’ve been fascinated by the aqua-stages at “O” and “Le Reve”, wait until you see what Fuerza Bruta does. A transparent swimming pool appears from high above, slides over the audience and descends until you can reach out and touch it. Cast members swim, flip and swoosh through water that’s lit from above, creating a swirling collage of colors and patterns.

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A favorite sequence involves a white-suited young man on a stroll that suddenly turns into a soaking windstorm. He encounters flying furniture, a spinning room and breakaway walls that sail through the air….all while never losing his rhythm to the techno beat. A truly avante-garde sequence that’ll have you cheering, dancing…and perhaps scratching your head.

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