‘MONDAYS DARK’ CELEBRATES FIVE INCREDIBLE YEARS


It started out as a small idea…

What if off-duty Sin City performers got together once a month to put on a show…and donate all the proceeds to charity? A simple and brilliant premise indeed, and one that has grown far bigger than anyone could have ever anticipated.

Mondays Dark just celebrated five wildly successful years of giving back by holding their annual wrap-up at The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel. And just like on the night of its very first appearance, singers, comedians, dancers and magicians used their free time (many shows go dark on the slowest night of the week) to come together and raise money for a wide variety of worthy causes.

According to creator Mark Shunock, Mondays Dark was a very basic premise with the potential to do very big things. Coming from Los Angeles to take a lead role in The Venetian’s Rock of Ages, the native Canadian quickly fell in love with Sin City, and desired to do something positive for the residents of his new home.

Continue reading by clicking here.

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Vegas 2018 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst in Smaller Shows


Which one ones to rush to…and a few to steer clear of…

Earlier this week I put the spotlight on a few of the more spectacular resident productions on the Strip (read here). But for every grand-scale shows there are a dozen or more economical choices vying for your entertainment dollar. These little guys must survive without massive advertising budgets or big-name stars. The casts have to work that much harder to please their audience, often making for a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

Let’s take a look at a few of these lesser-known and more intimate shows…and sort out the gems from the lumps of coal.

MOST OUTRAGEOUS – Miss Behave Gameshow

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Sometimes you just need to do something a little crazy. And that madness is even more intoxicating when there are dozens of like-minded guys and girls taking the same trip down the rabbit hole with you.

Miss Behave Gameshow is offbeat, raunchy, free-wheeling fun from creator Amy Saunders. Accompanied by a curious fellow named Tiffany, Saunders (as Miss Behave) guides you through a game whose primary rule is “There Are No Rules”. It’s part improv, part avante-garde performance and a heaping helping of audience participation.

Miss Behave Gameshow earns every laugh in the best way possible…by being genuinely entertaining. And there’s a heartwarming philosophy at its core that will send you out into the casino with a smile on your face. For something you can’t do at home, put this one on your next Vegas “must-list”. Full review here.

Runner Up – Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man

MOST IN NEED OF A FACELIFT – Carrot Top at Luxor

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Let’s be clear right away…I’m referring to Carrot Top’s act, not his actual face. And while I adore the orange-haired comic both personally and professionally, his act has become quite stale. It’s still hysterical for those who haven’t seen it in the past, but he’s been performing the exact same jokes and gags for over a decade now.

When I first started visiting Vegas in 2006, Carrot Top at Luxor‘s Atrium Theater was a must. As the years wore on, so did the jokes. Even his props look old and dirty now. The Hooters application. Rosie O’Donnell’s buffet tray. A-Rod’s steroid-filled bat…all past their prime. We love ya dude, but give us something new. And once again, I’m not talking about your face.

BEST DOWNTOWN SHOW – Mike Hammer Comedy Magic

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Mike Hammer shares his name with a fictional detective character, but you don’t need to be a sleuth to figure out why he’s such a success. The Chicago-born multi-hyphenate is good-looking, suave, a little bit raunchy and a whole lotta funny.

You might be thinking “Great, another cheesy magic act” but Mike Hammer Comedy Magic is a lot more Don Rickles than David Copperfield. Sure, his illusions are sharp and frequently earn gasps from the audience, but it’s his jokes that you’ll remember long after you leave.

There’s a lot going on when you watch Mike Hammer. The guy is clearly at the top of his game, mixing topicality with wit, sarcasm, unforgettable facial expressions and wonderful sleight of hand. It doesn’t hurt that he’s ridiculously handsome, stylish and more fit than guys half his age, too.

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                                            Little guy. Big entertainment…

Dollar for dollar, you won’t find a better entertainment value Downtown…or anywhere else in Las Vegas. If you’re heading down to Fremont Street, be sure to start your adventure at the showroom of Four Queens. And be sure to stick around after the performance to chat (or flex) with Mike. Sometimes that’s the best part of the night.

Honorable mention – Spirit of the King (also at Four Queens)

BEST VINTAGE VEGAS VIBE – Cocktail Cabaret at Caesars Palace

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For awhile it seemed like this little treasure was gone for good, then it returned a few months ago to Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars. Nobody seems to know exactly how or why, but what matters is that Cocktail Cabaret is back.

The concept here is simple…a traditional early-evening lounge act overflowing with superb local celebs doing their finest standards and witty repartee. Backed by the wonderful Philip Fortenberry band, this foursome strolls throughout the audience, encouraging you to imbibe as they dance, sing and tell jokes.

Of the three times I’ve attended Cocktail Cabaret, lovelies Maren Wade (The Morning Blend), Niki Scalera and Eric Jordan Young (Vegas! The Show) have been constants. Guest performers include Ron Remke (BAZ), Travis Cloer (Jersey Boys), Daniel Emmet (America’s Got Talent), Shai Yammanee (Jubilee) and James D. Gish.

Whatever the line-up, the talent will be top notch and you’re certain to be entertained. Cocktail Cabaret is the type of show that put Las Vegas entertainment on the map. It’s vintage Vegas at its finest. Don’t miss it.

BIGGEST SNOOZE – Mat Franco: Magic Reinvented Nightly

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Vegas has become a bit of a sanctuary for America’s Got Talent contestants. Some hit it big (Terry Fator), others fade away quickly (Paul Zerdin). In the case of Mat Franco, there was a lot at stake.

If the gossip is to be believed, NBC put a chunk of their own bucks into renovating the Linq Hotel showroom for their latest AGT winner. The desire to solidify their brand in Vegas caused a riff between the hotel and Frank Marino’s DIVAS, which was being pushed to the side in favor of Franco. Few know it, but the long-running DIVAS was already in the crosshairs before a financial scandal slammed the door on the drag queen’s closet.

As for Magic Reinvented Nightly, nothing could be further from the truth. Good luck trying to spot something that you haven’t seen before. The production relies heavily on the star’s charisma to make it exciting. Sadly, Mat Franco is about as dull as a dead rabbit. His boyish grin is the only thing the magician has to offer, so you’re left with…..well, not much else.

Tickets to Magic Reinvented Nightly should come with a complimentary dose of No Doz.

FAVORITE TOPLESS REVUE – Chippendales/SEXXY (tie)

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In this era of equality, why should beefcake and T&A be separated into their own categories? Not at Vegas Unfiltered, where I’ll crow about the assets of Rio’s Chippendales and Westgate’s SEXXY in equal measure. Both are held in small-ish cabaret venues, feature a nice blend of traditional and cutting-edge sequences…and have a broad range of ages and ethnicities. In other words, there’s something here to curl everyone’s toes.

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Despite their naughty nature, Chippendales and SEXXY casts are quite akin to angels. Tirelessly working to raise funds and awareness for charitable causes, the topless performers of Chipps and SEXXY are as admirable as they are breathtaking. Read about Chippendales’ charity work by clicking here.

Runner Up – Zombie Burlesque

MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER – Opium at Cosmopolitan

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I hesitated to include OPIUM in the small-production category, as it really could go either way. It may have the backing of Spiegelword entertainment group….and a huge financial push courtesy of a big marketing campaign. But at its heart, OPIUM is very much a quirky little independent production.

Using a re-purposed showroom and sets from their previous flop Vegas Nocturne, the folks at Spiegelworld have fashioned a balls-to-the-wall variety show that wears its cheapness on its sleeves. Not to say that the costumes themselves aren’t fantastic, but any production whose central prop is an old Mattel Simon game…well, I’m sure you catch my drift.

Drenched in the type of naughty nastiness that you might expect to find at an underground avante garde show, Opium will do anything to make you gasp and bellow with laughter. A live band and vocalists, up-close acrobatics, a horny android and the cutest dog act you’ll ever see make Opium a great addition to the Strip. Read my full review here.

SADDEST CAREER PATH – Gordie Brown (Hooters)

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Pity poor Gordie Brown, a textbook example of a career in free-fall. The one-time Venetian headliner has been on a downward slide for over a decade. After leaving the Strip, this singer/impersonator settled in nicely at his own Golden Nugget showroom. As tickets sales continued to dwindle, Brown was shown the door. That led to a series of continually-smaller showrooms at Planet Hollywood and now the little-known Night Owl Showroom at Hooters.

It doesn’t help that Gordie’s material is as weathered and shop-worn as his voice. He tries his best, working up a messy sweat while attempting to get the most out of tired George Burns, Nicholson and DeNiro bits…all between gasps of air. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you have to identify the characters to your audience….but since they all sound the same, does it even matter?

It’s worth noting that Mr. Brown is quite a beloved member of the local community. He’s a fixture at just about every fundraiser you can mention. He’s well-respected by his colleagues and fellow performers.

But as for his career, the once-promising star on the rise is now just bargain-basement filler. Even at $24.99 via Groupon, you’ll still feel cheated. Give Gordie Brown a hard pass.

BEST LOCALS SHOW – Mondays Dark at The Space

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Mondays Dark gets its name from the fact that most ongoing shows are “dark” on Monday, the slowest day of the week in Sin City. That frees up performers to do their own thing…and many of them still long to be onstage.

With that in mind, creator Mark Shunock (Rock of Ages and the miserable Magic Mike Live) gathers his show-biz friends a couple of times a month to “put on a show”. Then they donate all the proceeds to charity. Each event is absolutely unique from the others…and so are the casts. Each December, stars and the year’s charity reps gather at The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel to celebrate their success and announce the next year’s charities.

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A humble concept has grown into one of the biggest little secrets in Las Vegas. I’ll be publishing a full article on Mondays Dark in an upcoming piece for BestOfVegas.com. But if you’re interested in learning more right now, follow this link.

Stay tuned for my next entry in 2018’s “Best of/Worst of”. Thanks for being a reader in 2018 and I hope to see you around town.

Vegas 2018 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst in Large-scale Production Shows

 


Wrapping up another event-filled year with fond memories and a little sass…

Can it really be that Santa is returning to his home base to put the elves back to work? Perhaps, but that Christmas hangover still lingers, ensuring that you didn’t dream your way through another holiday season in Vegas.

As you bring out the noisemakers and put champagne on ice for New Year’s Eve (check out my piece for tips on last-minute NYE planning), let’s look back at some of the noteworthy…and notorious…moments and madness from Las Vegas 2018. First up: the shows…

BEST NEW SHOW – Manilow: The Hits Come Home

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I’ll admit to being a bit worried when 75-year-old Barry Manilow missed his own big night at Westgate Las Vegas. The legendary singer was hospitalized on the morning of his kick-off weekend, which scuttled a massive media party and prompted singers Clint Holmes and Earl Turner to entertain the sold-out auditorium with their SOUNDTRACK show in his absence.

It turns out that my fears were unnecessary, as Manilow snapped back quickly, proving that he truly is the World’s Greatest Showman. Brimming with energy and love for his audience, Barry is everything you want in a Las Vegas event production. Check out my full review here and be sure to see Manilow: The Hits Come Home through June of 2019.

Runner-up: Soundtrack with Clint Holmes and Earl Turner, also at Westgate (now closed), OPIUM at Cosmopolitan (tie)

WORST NEW SHOW – Inferno: The Fire Spectacular 

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                                        “We need more GAS-O-LEEN!!!!!” 

There are certain entertainment venues in Sin City that seem to have a hex on them. Bad things happen, shows close way faster than they should and nothing seems to go right. Tropicana Showroom, Encore Theater at Wynn and Palazzo Theater have all gone through this period at one time or another (in Tropicana’s case, it’s as bad as ever). Now the curse seems to have landed at Paris Hotel Casino.

This was a bad year for Paris. Its troubled (and aging) Paris Theater chewed up and spit out Circus 1903 and Marilyn: The New Musical in just the first half of this year. Next came the cringe-worthy Inferno: The Fire Spectacular. Built around the supposed talents of peculiar and obscure magician Joe Labero, this upstart element-based production squandered every bit of potential in its premise and left you laughing for all the wrong reasons (“We need more gasoline. Lots and lots of GAS-O-LEEN!”). Read my full review here.

While Inferno could have been salvaged by jettisoning its star and focusing on the fire aspect (and The Fuel Girls), the show was abruptly yanked from the Paris schedule just six months in. Its cast was rudely told to hit the road during a break without the benefit of a farewell performance. Show business can be cruel.

It’s interesting to note that I Love The 90’s, the next production to enter this venue, went on an abrupt hiatus for most of December, just two months into its residency. UD Factory‘s CEO Seth Yudof assures me that there is no reason to be concerned. He swears that I Love The 90’s will return stronger than ever in January. Let’s hope his production is the one to break the Paris showroom curse. Entertainers in Sin City already have it tough enough.

Look for my review of I Love The 90’s when it returns in 2019.

MOST UNWELCOME RETURN – Mariah Carey/Britney Spears/Criss Angel (tie)

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                   A stripper, a robot and a douche bag walk into a bar…

The worst thing about Christmas is taking down the tree, packing up the lights and tossing away all that torn wrapping paper. I get that same sinking feeling every time I spot a billboard hyping the residencies of these three clowns.

Like a dried-up fruit cake that won’t go down the garbage disposer, the miserable triad of Carey, Spears and Angel continue to regurgitate up our collective pipes and spread noxious odors throughout the Vegas valley.

There’s an amazing amount of common ground among the self-proclaimed diva, robotic lip-syncer and goth faux-magician. Arrogance, fakery and distraction are the hallmarks of their supposed talents. Onstage gaffes, cancellations, accidents and savage reviews have plagued each of their productions. Yet minimally-talented blowhards continues to sell tickets and broker new residencies shortly after the last ones have been kicked into the desert.

The PR teams for each were touting their “returns” before the stench had even cleared from their previous rounds. Mariah’s somehow on her second stint at Caesars…three if you count last year’s Christmas gig. MGM Resorts wooed Britney from Planet Hollywood over to Park MGM Theater starting in February (why, exactly?). They’re probably regretting it now that advance ticket sales have been lukewarm at best.

Criss Angel’s partnership with Cirque du Soleil is finally over (they’re probably breathing a collective sigh of relief for surviving ten tumultuous and embarrassing years). He’s left Luxor biggest theater for a mezzanine-level auditorium at PHo, the same troubled theater that swallowed Frankie Moreno and Paul Zerdin just last year. Let’s hope it manages to choke down Mindfreak Live…and digest it once and for all.

Santa didn’t hand out coal this year…he gave away tickets to Mariah, Britney and Criss.

SADDEST CLOSURE – BAZ/David Goldrake’s IMAGINARIUM (tie)

It’s frustrating to see unique and talent-packed shows being overlooked for the likes of the notorious three mentioned above. And while they’re vastly different, both BAZ and IMAGINARIUM suffered similar fates.

Palazzo Hotel Casino deserves a lot of credit for backing BAZ, the daring musical mash-up built around a trio of familiar and tragic love stories. Defying simple descriptions and difficult to promote in any form of media, BAZ relied on word of mouth to put butts in seats. Those who saw it praised the innovative production and its amazing cast. In other words, it was doomed from day one.

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David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM had the unfortunate challenges of 1) coming in behind notorious child-porn illusionist Jan Rouven in the cursed Tropicana Showroom 2) sharing the same corner with high-profile magicians Criss Angel and David Copperfield, and 3) being better than Vegas audiences wanted…or deserved. The hard-working Goldrake made IMAGINARIUM far superior to anything either of his competitors currently offer. And he did it with sincerity, dignity, humility and a great deal of sexiness.

Runner-up: Soundtrack at Westgate Hotel Casino

BEST OVERALL PRODUCTION – Le Reve The Dream

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It’s nice to have my all-time show back on this list. Le Reve – The Dream had to take a backseat to BAZ for a few years. But now that the musical has closed down, nothing shines more brightly than Wynn’s signature spectacular.

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Not only is Le Reve back to the top of my list, but it’s fresher than ever. New costumes and make-up design, a fabulous re-imagined score and songs by original composer Benoit Jutras…and a revised story line all come together for an unforgettable experience. When it comes to sheer spectacle, nothing on the Strip beats Le Reve – The Dream. Read my full review here.

Be sure to check back for my next entry in 2018’s wrap-up. And best wishes for the New Year.

Thunder From Down Under: Time To Toss Out This Outback Throwback


Long-running male revue needs to desperately up its game plan…

Maybe it’s just an off-season phenomenon. Perhaps it’s the temporary venue being utilized during their theater renovation. But more likely, being covered in dust has more to do with neglect than construction debris.

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Whatever the reason, Excalibur’s THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER is a relic in need of a serious upgrade. Out of touch with the times and suffering from a complete lack of production values, this by-the-numbers slog is about as erotic as a post-Halloween jack-o-lantern that’s left sitting on the porch to rot.

Much of the blame rests squarely on the muscular shoulders of Marcus Deegan, the host of this sad little time capsule. Abrasive and short-tempered, Deegan seems to take delight in belittling rowdy audience members. That’s totally unacceptable, especially in the type of show where getting wild is typically not only welcomed but encouraged.

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           Host Marcus Deegan will put you in your place. No fun allowed…

The past two times that I’ve seen THUNDER, Deegan’s stopped the show dead in its tracks to berate rowdy women. He’s gone so far as to blatantly tell them to “Shut the f*ck up”. On one occasion, he even came out during final bows to flip his middle finger at an audience member while mouthing “F*ck you!”…and it wasn’t done with a wink.

Such obnoxious treatment of guests might be tolerable if the show itself was a must-see. Unfortunately, this isn’t 1974 and Excalibur isn’t in remote Tonopah Nevada. Contemporary visitors to Sin City have every reason to expect flashy high-tech glitz but that just ain’t happening inside this sad little showroom at The Castle.

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Despite being currently housed in an abandoned casino-side location once home to the bankrupt Lynyrd Skynryd BBQ (which itself has been collecting cobwebs behind a wall for six years) the show is virtually unchanged from its usual upstairs location. With a plain black-canvas backdrop, awkward tables that resemble balance beams and rows of uncomfortable bar stools, it’s clear that no expense has been…er, spent to elevate your experience.

As for the show itself, it’s everything that the equally awful Magic Mike Live ridicules male revues for being. Packed with rote production numbers, Thunder will have you mentally scratching off each item from the list of cliches as it plays out on a cheap plywood stage. Erotic vampires? Yep. Law enforcement and military officers? Of course. George of the Jungle and a gorilla? Unfortunately, that’s here too.

Then there is the requisite songbook that every male revue includes: “Uptown Funk”, “Save A Horse – Ride A Cowboy” and a Michael Jackson number all get spun by the DJ, along with that brain-piercing Beyonce earworm “Run The World – Girls”.  The costumes are cheap, there are no sets to speak of and props are at a bare minimum. Choreography is decent but certainly not innovative.

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As for the performers, they’re an unremarkable lot that actually seem quite bored. Going through very basic movements with a minimum of energy or attention to synchronization, the cast projects a complete absence of sincerity…and a clear lack of engagement. These guys seem more interested in their gym memberships than creating a memorable experience for the audience.

One notable exception is Chad Homan, formerly of the far superior Aussie Heat at Planet Hollywood. The youngest member of Thunder, Chad’s also the best dancer by far. Smiling from ear to ear, he spins and sails through the air in ways the other guys could only hope to pull off. He also brings inclusive energy and audience interaction from his previous gig, even hugging male audience members (apparently a no-no here).

Speaking of that matter, THUNDER flounders next-to-last on my published ranking of male revues for their treatment of men. Guys are barely acknowledged here and host Deegan even says something to the effect of “This night is for ladies only…you won’t see your guys here”. Take away from that what you will. But in this era of inclusion, saying “Ladies ladies ladies” is another example of just how dated the Outback boys really are.

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                    Free tickets abound yet the showroom is nearly empty…

Perhaps it’s rather telling that, despite the proliferation of free tickets on MyVegas (the online game that awards real prizes) and various fill-a-seat services, Thunder From Down Under was roughly 75 percent empty last night. You’d think that with the current tidal wave of cowgirls here for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the venue would have been overflowing. Instead, it resembled a dried-up lake during a severe Aussie drought.

Let’s hope that when a newly-renovated theater debuts at Excalibur, the shopworn Thunder From Down Under also unleashes a fresh new version. Until then, it’ll continue to be a great big middle finger to the audience. So save your discretionary income for genuine grade-A beef like the Chippendales. Or maybe just a bargain cut of steak at your local Outback restaurant.

If you’re going: Thunder From Down Under performs nightly at 9 pm with an additional 11 pm show on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets start at $50.95 (plus taxes/fees) and can be purchased here

Photos/video: Sam Novak, Marcus Deegan/Thunder From Down Under via Facebook 

 

KRAMPUS – A Wickedly-Engrossing Stunner


Majestic Theater’s interactive holiday thriller is the must-do event of the season…

For fans of live theater, the biggest gift of the season has already been unwrapped. It’s KRAMPUS, a one-of-a-kind experience you will never forget. Shrouded in secrecy and bathed in deliciously-shocking humor, this twisted evening of entertainment is brilliant in every detail.

Eschewing their typical stage at 1217 South Main Street, the cast of Majestic Repertory Theater welcomes you to an actual Downtown residence (the location is kept secret until the day of performance) for an evening of fun, food and drink. You’re there as guests and coworkers of Jerry Krumeich (Timothy Cummings), patriarch and host of the traditional family Christmas gathering.

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You and fellow attendees arrive just as Jerry is finishing decorations on the exterior. Inside, wife Marge (Anita Bean) is laying out a spread of cookies, eggnog and quiche, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive.

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Introductions are made, coats are hung up and everyone is invited to take a seat in the living room. A vintage record player is spinning atmospheric holiday favorites and a real fire is crackling in the fireplace. All that’s missing is….was that a knock on the door?

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What follows is the most convincing piece of interactive entertainment this writer has ever witnessed. Not one second rings falsely and the improvisation is sheer perfection. More guests will arrive, awkward family conflicts will surface…and a sinister decades-old secret will be revealed. To tell you any more might dilute the carefully-crafted thrills delivered by an exquisitely believable cast of gifted performers.

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If you’re a fan of KRAMPUS, the hit horror film of the same name, rest assured that this story is quite different but just as chilling…literally, in fact. Bring your sweaters, as some sequences take place outside in the dark. And pay close attention to everything you see and hear, even when it’s down the hallway or through closed doors. This house is alive with mysteries…and not everyone will survive when the dark Santa finally arrives.

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Local theater productions can be hit-or-miss, but Majestic Repertory Theater carries a reputation for consistently fantastic work. If KRAMPUS is any indication of what they have in store for 2019, then consider me a future fan.

KRAMPUS is created and directed by Troy Heard, co-directed by Natalie Senecal. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 7 pm and 8:30 pm, now through December 23rd. Tickets are $35 and can be ordered here. This production is intended for adults only. You will be required to sign a waiver in order to participate.

Photos: Sam Novak, Majestic Repertory Theater

LOVE 2.0 Merges Tech, Heart…and Lots More Beatles


“The Beatles: LOVE” remains one of the most spectacular and satisfying shows in town…

When Cirque du Soleil unveiled “The Beatles: LOVE” twelve years ago at Mirage, it was a first in many ways. The custom-designed 360-degree theater had an immersive sound system with speakers built into the seats. Intricate stage platforms quickly transformed the set from one sequence into another. Hi-tech projections created the illusion of a unique concert experience that couldn’t be seen anywhere else.

And the biggie of them all…the Montreal-based acrobatic company had built their first-ever show around an existing musical property – the Fab Four. Dozens of works by the Beatles were intricately woven into a musical tapestry that defies explanation. It was lovingly created for LOVE by Sir George Martin (aka “the fifth Beatle”) and his son Giles with the blessings of Ringo StarrPaul McCartneyJohn Lennon‘s wife Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, widow of George.

A lot has changed in the ensuing years, especially in the relationship between Cirque and Las Vegas. Further collaborations resulted in productions featuring Michael Jackson (hit), Elvis Presley (fail) and Criss Angel (where do we start?). With the closure of Zarkana two years ago (the second of their shows to fail in the Aria theater), it’s fair to question whether CDS has over-extended their brand on the Strip. Still… LOVE started out…and remains…a critically-acclaimed crowd-pleasing hit.

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        May 5th, 2016 – Massive crowds lined up to see “Beatles: LOVE” at Mirage

For the tenth anniversary of LOVE, Cirque took on the challenge of revising, updating and fine-tuning what many already consider to be the best show in the city. A risky proposition, but with Giles and original artistic director Dominic Champagne at the helm, the updating was nearly flawless…and quite beautiful.

Those unfamiliar with the show…or who haven’t seen it multiple times (this writer clocks in at 14 and counting) will be oblivious to the more subtle tweaks. But the new sound system, updated video elements, and three-dimensional projections stand out as clearly state-of-the-art.

LOVE’s pacing is also much tighter in this new incarnation. What once began from an incredibly slow build to explosive action, then back to a more solemn World War II sequence now drives continuously forward, thanks to the addition of Twist and Shout.

There’s less focus on the Beatles as children (in fact, during the media event that I attended for the tenth anniversary, only three child actors were present, but their downplayed roles hardly made it noticeable). Another absence, seemingly permanent, was the “Eleanor Rigby” character (portrayed by beloved Brazilian actress Silvia Aderne since the beginning).

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It seems as though the re-sequenced songs and staging are now meant to represent an emotional interpretation of the Beatles’ cultural impact, more so than just a chronological depiction of their rise. LOVE has always been quite a bit on the dreamy side, with surreal visuals and characters.

Now the show is even more trippy, with wildly colorful costumes and props that are vivid and vibrant. Whimsical touches, like characters and sea creatures from Yellow Submarine and Octopus’s Garden, permeate every corner of the massive arena.

Two significant numbers have been re-imagined by replacing marionettes with projections. Lady Madonna has jettisoned the dancing yellow galoshes. The once-black floor now comes alive with moving multi-colored spots that turn the surface into a living Twister game board.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps has done away with the giant marionettes made of letters. In their place, a sole female character now dances with an animated sketch of a man that moves, morphs, and flies from one screen to another throughout the auditorium. The scene and staging are hard to describe, but their beauty brought tears to my eyes.

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The biggest sequence – and a fan favorite – is the enormous mushroom-cloud bedsheet that spreads over the audience during Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows. That set piece remains, but it was unclear from my seating position whether anything going on above the canvas had been updated (that statement might only make sense if you’ve seen LOVE in the past).

Check out the YouTube video below for a brief look at this mind-blowing segment.

Speaking of the previous version, it’s worth noting that the four band members were once only shown in silhouette until the final moments. Now their faces are front and center, sometimes using archival footage that syncs with the soundtrack. That effect and a few others might need a little tweaking (the show was briefly interrupted on the night I attended, due to a glitch) in the weeks leading up to the official tenth-anniversary celebration.

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That gala on July 14th 2016, presented the return of Ringo, McCartney, and the widows of John and George for a formal event. It was truly an epic night and one for my personal Hall of Memories.

It’s terrific to know that one of my favorite Vegas shows is just as wonderful as ever. Whether you’re a fan of the Liverpool quartet, Cirque du Soleil or just great productions, The Beatles: LOVE remains one of the most spectacular and satisfying shows in town. Don’t miss it.

The Beatles LOVE performs Tuesday through Saturday at 7 pm and 9:30 pm. Tickets and information on behind-the-scenes tours and VIP  experiences are available through this link. Our friend at VegasFool.com has tickets starting at $75 (plus taxes/fees) by clicking here.

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared on another site. It has since been updated.

Photos: Sam Novak

Manilow: The World’s Greatest Showman


Barry returns to Westgate’s International Theater in a must-see event…

Thanks to Hugh Jackman’s recent hit film The Greatest Showman, a new generation regards P.T. Barnum as the greatest showman. But look a little closer at history and you’ll find a career marked in controversy and ethical concerns.

No such worries with the revered Barry Manilow. This legendary performer is universally respected, admired and loved….with good reason. No living singer/songwriter has done for entertainment what the Brooklyn native has been able to accomplish. And the fact that he’s still bringing crowds to their feet at 75 years of age is beyond remarkable.

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It goes without saying that after more than four decades, Manilow has begun to show signs of aging (ya think?). The voice is a little less velvety than you may remember. And after some serious health issues, his gait can be a bit wobbly at times.

But make no mistake – the man still owns the stage and can belt them out with aplomb. As Manilow said himself last night: “What is your 75-year-old grandfather doing tonight? I’m STILL a sex god!”. Yes, sir, you are.

As for the production, Manilow: The Hits Come Home is a landmark achievement in Vegas entertainment. Returning to the stage that he ruled for so many years (under the “Hilton” banner), Manilow’s entrance is preceded by a video intro that builds an unbearable amount of suspense. When the screen arises and the icon steps into the spotlight, it’s a true “pinch me” moment.

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The set list begins with 1975’s “It’s A Miracle”, which seems fitting considering the circumstances. The significance of this early hit was not lost on a packed house of diehard and casual fans. “Daybreak” and “Looks Like We Made It” round out the opening medley, setting the tone for 105 minutes of pure hits and touching moments.

There are very few performers of his era that can maintain the energy level that Barry does during a show. Eschewing the usual time-borrowing distractions…like solos from back-up artists and endless video packages (I’m looking at you, Cher), Barry is onstage from curtain-up through final bows.

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It’s clear that the singer’s primary reason for being onstage is because he enjoys doing it so very, very much. He wants you to have a great time, sing along and reminisce with him about an era that looks so great in the rear view mirror.

“I just love these songs”, he says. “Whatever happened to melodies? Today’s music is great….there’s lots of rhythm…but where did the melodies go?”. Then he answers that question by diving right back into his huge bag of goodies, which includes “This One’s For You”, “Even Now” and “I Made It Through The Rain”.

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Between songs, Manilow recounts his childhood…and the endless support he got from his family. This was especially true of his grandfather, who took little Barry into the city to record his voice at a coin-operated sound booth. Amazingly, the audio of that scratchy vinyl disc still exists. He shares it with the audience, along with photos of them together on their adventure.

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Speaking of adventure, Barry briefly turns on the campy charm with a 3D-enhanced flyover of New York City (everyone gets a pair of 3D glasses, glow stick and collectible tumbler), set to the lyrics of “This Is My Town”. That self-penned single is from his newest album. Released in 2017, “Songs of New York” is the 31st studio release, which rose to number 12 on U.S. charts.

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Another heartwarming moment brought tears to this writer’s eyes. It’s when Manilow is seen in a clip of his 1975 performance of “Mandy” on THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. After a few phrases, Barry himself appears, already seated at a piano. The two Manilows share a duet, separated by 43 years and a lifetime of experience. Try not to get choked up.

The television has always kind to Barry, especially in the formative years of his career. He began as a songwriter, creating jingles for the likes of State Farm, Band-Aid and McDonald’s. He shares a few of those ear worms, much like he did in a legendary 1978 HBO concert.

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That program, “Manilow: Live at the Greek Theater”, was HBO‘s first-ever music special…and a breakthrough for modern programming. It was also the first cable program to ever beat the big three networks in the ratings, cementing HBO‘s place in American homes (bet you GAME OF THRONES fans didn’t know that you have Barry to thank!).

I remember going to a friend’s house to watch this concert (we couldn’t afford cable back then) and being utterly mesmerized. And that’s how I felt at the Westgate Hotel Casino as this master of entertainment brought all those memories back to vivid life.

The nearly two-hour show flies by at a rapid pace, culminating in the glorious “I Write The Songs”, a masterpiece that united the many generations in attendance. This clip will show you just how moving a song can be. And of course, there’s an encore of “Copacabana (At The Copa)” to send you dancing in the streets.

If there’s one show you absolutely must see while in Vegas, it’s Manilow: The Hits Come Home. 2019 dates were just announced today, so you still have some time to witness the legend. But don’t put it off…even the World’s Greatest Showman will have to hang up his flashy jackets someday.

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Manilow: The Hits Come Home performs Thursday-Saturday at Westgate’s International Theater. Tickets start at $22 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here.  Our friend at VegasFool.com is offering discounts via this link

Photos: Sammasseur