Get Sweaty for Christmas with 98 Degrees


Steamy pop group’s holiday tour schedules final show for Vegas fans…

As popular boy bands of the 90’s segued into nostalgic “pop groups”, most of them have disbanded or faded into obscurity. Not the hotties of 98 Degrees. As part of the primary 90’s 4-pack (along with N’Sync, Backstreet Boys and NKOTB), 98 Degrees built a ravenous and extremely loyal fan base.  Of those groups, only 98D continues to record great new albums and fill arenas. They also manage to stay relevant in an ever-changing musical landscape.

98 Degrees Christmas

While New Kids and Backstreet have shown love to Vegas from time to time, it’s 98 Degrees that shares a special bond with Sin City. For that you can thank group founder Jeff Timmons, who calls Las Vegas home.

98 Degrees Christmas

A frequent guest at local functions and on Vegas TV talk shows, the ultra-sexy and ridiculously-fit Timmons is also the chesty front man for Men of the Strip. That’s the male revue which took on a vastly-inferior Magic Mike Live and is currently touring the U.S. and Canada.

98 Degrees Christmas

98 Degrees Christmas

  Timmons delivered Christmas in July with Men of the Strip at Hard Rock…                

But before I get more drool on my keyboard, let’s return to the matter at hand….Christmas! Yes, the four-part harmonies and soulful voices of 98 Degrees are back for their second collection of holiday treasures.

98 Degrees Christmas

Has it really been eighteen years since this album hit the shelves?                   

The first, This Christmas, was a certified-platinum hit at the peak of their popularity. Brimming with seasonal standards and three new songs, the album was released on the Motown label in 1999. Fans have been clamoring for a follow-up ever since…and for them, Santa came early this year.

 

98 Degrees Christmas

Better hair and clothing, same soulful harmonies…                 

Let It Snow debuted on October 20th and the boys gentlemen have been quite busy supporting their new album. They launched another nationwide tour along with TV appearances and a glorious performance during last week’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

98 Degrees Christmas

Ever trendy, the guys made sure that Let It Snow will be released on the retro-hip vinyl format (yes, actual freaking VINYL!) on December 1st. Click here to order the LP via Amazon.com. It’ll be great addition to my own collection of treasured holiday records gathered through the years. That postman better be on time….I have plans to get mine autographed.

98 Degrees Christmas

It’s amazing that 98D‘s four members  – Timmons, Justin Jeffre and brothers Nick and Drew Lachey – managed to find time to record a new collection this summer. With Jeff’s Men of the Strip launch in July (read my review here), Nick’s successful stint on Dancing With the Stars, the brothers’ super-popular Lachey’s Sports Bar in Cincinnati and Jeffre’s political activities….well, the logistics must have been staggering.

This isn’t the first time that 98D found themselves riding a new wave of popularity. In 2013 they released 2.0, their first studio album since 2000. They followed that with The Package Tour, a multi-group effort with Boyz II Men and NKOTB.

Now they’re back for phase three and closing out 2017 with a final stop in Las Vegas. 98 Degrees at Christmas will sleigh-ride into the area on Saturday December 23. Star of the Desert Arena in Primm Nevada will host the final performance of the tour. This awesome venue is a short drive south of Las Vegas and a world away from the madness.

The 6,500-seat arena is located at Buffalo Bill’s Hotel Casino in Primm. If you’re concerned about leaving the city limits for an evening, don’t be. Primm Valley Casino Resorts has three hotels serving the venue with hundreds of newly-renovated rooms. Rates start at $59 plus taxes/fees for the night of the event.

98 Degrees Christmas

So why not venture beyond the Strip for a different kind of fun? Turn up the heat and get sweaty on the eve of Christmas Eve with the guys of 98 Degrees. I hope to see you there.

“98 Degrees at Christmas” performs Saturday December 23rd at 8 pm. Tickets start at $20 plus taxes/fees up to a $149 VIP experience with meet/greet. Click here to order.  

Photos: Sammasseur, 98 Degrees via Facebook, Jeff Timmons via Facebook, Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

“WOW” is Wet Outlandish Whimsy on a Grand Scale


Rio’s water-themed production salutes the heyday of Vegas variety….

If you’ve read my show reviews and columns through the years, you’re probably aware that I’m not a fan of the direction the Vegas entertainment has headed. You know the kind I mean…manufactured talents clogging up enormous venues with their auto-tune warbling. Has-been “divas” sleep-walking and lip-syncing through high-ticket residencies for an enormous paycheck. So-called “celebrity DJs” with their creepy mugshot-style billboards peppering the main roads of the city. It’s all garbage!

Sorry, folks, but Vegas was built on the backs of real talent. If you don’t know or don’t remember what that is, you can check out the amazing musical BAZ at Palazzo, where singers can dance and dancers can sing. And they combine their complex roles with superb acting, offering wide-spectrum talent from every member of the cast.

In recent years, an assortment of variety shows have sprung up that remind us of the glorious era of Vegas. Dancers, singers, circus acts and comics zipping on and off the stage in a constant barrage of whimsy to thrill and dazzle. WOW – World of Wonder is the latest of these, and it’s definitely on my list of must-see-again thrills.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW is a rare commodity on the Sin City entertainment scene. It dares to be simultaneously silly, chaotic, retro and modern while offering high-tech amazement. WOW wears its randomness on its sleeve, starting here and jumping over there. You never know who will be coming onto the stage, creeping up behind you, descending from the ceiling or rising from the depths.

If some of that sounds a bit like Le Reve, you’re right. There are plenty of moments in WOW that resemble Wynn’s signature production, along with Absinthe, Mystere, Vegas! The Show and the sadly-defunct Vegas Nocturne at Cosmopolitan’s Rose.Rabbit.Lie. I offer those comparisons as compliments, as all have been personal favorites.

What differs with WOW is in the presentation, starting with the venue. Rio‘s refurbished Crown Theater will definitely elicit a “wow” from your lips. Not necessarily from the seating arrangements (which are a bit dated and not-quite-lush) but from the main stage and panoramic video panels, which are absolutely gorgeous and impeccably utilized.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Dazzling moving images of waterfalls and intensely-colored landscapes resemble Wonder Woman’s “Paradise Island” and Ariel’s undersea kingdom. Atmospheric sound design adds to the effect, creating significant anticipation for the show to begin.

Wow7

The thin plot line involves a nerdy fisherman, badgered by a harpy’s voice into catching something for dinner. Hunkering down in his yellow slicker, he casts his line into the water.  Of course, his baited hook is just there to grab the audience and take them on a journey to the fantastic.

Wow11

Wow8

What follows is a hodgepodge of circus acts, peculiar talents, humorous bits and large-scale production numbers. Some are familiar, like the skating act from Absinthe and V – The Ultimate Variety Show. Others offer talents you’ve surely never seen before.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

That in itself would work just fine…if the individual acts didn’t play to drastically different age groups. For instance, a sexy sequence with three lovelies swimming inside a clear glass bowl (similar to Zumanity but without the toplessness) is geared toward adults. But it’s preceded by a lengthy Pirates of the Caribbean spoof that’s best appreciated by children.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW follows the classic set-up of having smaller acts draw your attention while the big set pieces are setting up behind a curtain on the main stage. One moment an Italian chef is spinning plates on the streets of old Venice.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The next, a hot-bodied group of dancers is strutting their sexy stuff to popular and classic music. Just wait until you see the salute to Singing In The Rain, wherein the raindrops actually form the shape of umbrellas. Clever!

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

All of it is superbly done and most is highly enjoyable…and really, really random. But that’s what’s great about variety shows, especially in our era of short attention spans. As they say about San Francisco weather, if you don’t like what’s happening, just wait a moment.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Perhaps that’s why Riviera’s SPLASH and Bally’s JUBILEE!, a pair of Vegas classics, lasted for decades.  The format also allows for frequent refreshing, so each visit is sure to yield a unique experience.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The epic production numbers were my favorite aspect of WOW, especially a jaw-dropping ballroom scene aboard the Titanic. Your entire field of vision is filled with the ship’s interior, rising waves seen through the windows and a cast of dancers that is suddenly engulfed in the deluge. This obvious nod to the legendary sequence in JUBILEE! takes the experience much, much farther. Hold onto your life preserver!

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Wow16

My least favorite act involves Guinness World Record holder Dickson Oppong of West Africa. This large fellow has the unique ability to guzzle huge amounts of water, then spray it as continuous stream from his mouth. Although fascinating, it’s also a bit disturbing. Germ-aphobes may wish to avoid sitting in the splash zone.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

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More entertaining is a bit involving statues who become fountains too…in a funny, clever way. The gag builds layers of whimsy until it segues into another a trio of swimmers. I’d have like to have seen the statues go on a bit longer first.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Sadly, the comic-relief character that opens the show has solo moments that go on way too long. He also gets worked into too many of the other acts. Mostly wordless, his child-like bits involving a clap-along and a series of boo-boos make for excellent bathroom breaks. But he’s still more entertaining than the creepy, annoying clowns of O.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Some acts would be more at home in a traveling circus but don’t necessarily translate well to an evening Vegas production. Perhaps the fact that WOW comes from overseas (Israel, in fact) helps to explain why it feels so offbeat. The weirdness isn’t the same as Cirque du Soleil‘s French humor…nor is it as annoying. But a little fine-tuning for Vegas audiences might do WOW a whole lot of good.

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I also had issues with some clumsy sound cues and abrupt changes in volume that distracted from the performances of a uniformly excellent cast. As the show is relatively new (it opened just last month), things like this should eventually be worked out.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

But that’s a small complaint when compared to the scale of talent and visuals represented here. The 30-member international cast is beautiful and overflowing with skill. And they have one goal in mind – to leave you saying “WOW”.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The success of any variety production depends largely on whether you’re drawn into the premise. WOW succeeds in capturing your imagination. It grabs you from the opening moments, twirls you around, lifts you up and doesn’t let go until the final bows.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

It’s classic Vegas variety entertainment on a grand scale.

WOW – World of Wonder performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm with an additional 9pm show Friday-Sunday. Tickets start at $49 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here. Travelzoo currently has discount tickets from $39 with no additional taxes/fees. Click here to access this offer, good through 1/7/18.

Photos: Diane Lynn, Sammasseur

 

 

 

Anne Martinez Can’t Slow Down To Be “The Next Big Thing”


Meet a talent who’s equally at home in Gatsby’s world and Alice’s Wonderland…

Some performers set their sights on Las Vegas and dream of one day ruling the stage. Anne Martinez must have missed that memo about “someday”. You see, she came to Sin City four years ago and immediately began her Vegas reign.

Anne Martinez

You may not know Anne Martinez by name, but chances are that you’ve seen her perform at least once..and heard her glorious voice rattling the rafters. From Luxor‘s sexy Fantasy to Steve Wynn’s classy ShowStoppers. Dripping with blood at Zombie Burlesque or adorned with dazzling jewels in BAZ – A Musical Mash-up. There’s seemingly nothing that Anne cannot do.

Anne Martinez

Anne and her husband John Martinez came to Vegas in 2013. John’s expertise in rigging and scuba diving made him a perfect fit for Cirque du Soleil‘s water production “O”. While hubby was getting his feet wet at Bellagio, Anne was putting her own skills into play on various stages…while simultaneously working with a team of gifted colleagues to establish her own production company. BBR, like Anne, quickly made a name for itself with the genre-bending Alice: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy (more on that in a bit).

Anne Martinez

Despite her short time in the city, Anne dove headfirst into a wide variety of gigs, charitable functions and community events. Belting out hits at House of Blues Music Forward Foundation, joining Mondays Dark to benefit AFAN, singing the National Anthem during March Madness, saluting Amy Winehouse at Brooklyn Bowl‘s The Setlist late-night concert series…the list truly is endless.

Earning a BFA in acting no doubt explains Anne’s ability to step into a wide variety of song styles and characters, but her Masters of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Practice (aka show creation) is how Alice: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy sprang to life. Taking the darker elements of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland” and weaving them into a hard-rocking opera set in a retro-futuristic sci-fi world, Alice is sheer brilliance. Even Tim Burton didn’t try something so audacious for his interpretation.

Anne Martinez

Anne credits a great deal of Alice‘s success to other ambitious young artists like Jeffrey DeBarathyAdolfo BarretoLora KelseyAshley FullerClaudia MitriaApril Leopardi and co-director Ryan Kelsey. Having such a gifted ensemble almost guaranteed a show unlike anything Vegas had ever seen.

Naturally, Martinez wanted to see her baby become a resident production. Having outgrown its early days at Hard Rock Hotel‘s VinylAlice quickly became the must-see monthly event at Brooklyn Bowl…for locals and tourists alike. Even when the show was on hiatus last summer, she re-assembled the cast for a one-off at Las Vegas Pride.

Since then, Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Casino has become the permanent home for Alice. One Monday each month, the cast gathers for another epic performance. Their next show date is November 13th with guest performance by Cirque du Soleil artist Michelle DiTerlizzi as the Red Queen.

Anne Martinez

Compounding the challenge of short preparation time was the fact that her predecessors have gone on to major high-profile productions. Returning BAZ star Ruby Lewis finished her Daisy run at Light before the titular role in Broadway’s Paramour. Last fall, Joanna Alexis Jones left Palazzo Theater‘s production for the NBC broadcast of Hairspray Live. Her abrupt departure required Martinez to step into the star-making character.

Despite being an understudy for only a few short weeks, Anne’s version of Daisy was nothing short of breathtaking. She subsequently took on the lead role of “Satine”, made famous by Nicole Kidman in the film Moulin Rouge:

As if her schedule wasn’t already busy enough, Anne currently does double-duty as one half of the duo HEART in Stratosphere’s World’s Greatest Rock Show. She literally finishes her BAZ performance at Palazzo and high-tails it down the Strip to roar onstage and belt out high-powered anthems like this:

Before a performance of BAZ, I sat down with this dynamo outside of the Palazzo Theater to talk about her background, her inspirations, and of course, plans for her future in Las Vegas.

When asked what it felt like to join For The Record‘s innovative, genre-busting, star-making troupe, the Rochester NY native had this to say:

I think For the Record is a brilliant company that has only just begun on their road to amazing success! They have a keen sense of entertainment and are completely fearless in their journey of storytelling. It’s incredible to be a part of and magical to watch.

Despite the difficulties that entertainment productions aced in Sin City during 2016 (over 30 closures), Anne is optimistic that quality shows will continue to thrive on Las Vegas stages:
I think Vegas is an ever-changing amoeba that will always take us by surprise. As artists, we are always working toward entertaining our patrons and how exactly to do that. Experimentation is the key to growing as an artist and as a business. Keeping an open mind and trying new things will allow projects to grow and flourish. As new generations come forward, we can (hopefully) create entertainment that they will enjoy!
When asked how challenging it was to join an established cast then quickly step into a central role, Anne seemed grateful and confident at the same time:
My primary talent is willingness to learn. Everything can always be improved as a performer…but you have to be willing to jump. I love music with meaning. Listening to QUEEN and the BEATLES as a child really informed the sense of using music to speak…to color…to paint with your musicality….to speak your truth or to find the truth in others.

Martinez confided that coming down from the show each night is a bit difficult. The emotional energy required to take on a production like BAZ is also evident in her personal life and passions:

I love NSPCA. I have rescue cats myself and it breaks my heart to think they were hurt in the past. Adopting a pet or donating to NSPCA can save so many lives of innocent animals. I also have a yearly holiday show for Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth. There are so many teens and children in need of protection, education and opportunity.
 Anne Martinez
Every year, pianist Kenny Davidsen and I gather numerous vocalists in Las Vegas who donate their talents for a night of music. Our next one is December 19th at Tuscany Resort. It’s so important to remember that everyone deserves a chance.

The morning after the recent shooting tragedy in Vegas, Anne and husband John were the first people I saw on social media delivering food, water and assistance to first responders operating out of the Las Vegas Convention Center. They were broadcasting live via Facebook and urging people to come down and do the same.

Later that month, she and her fellow castmates formed “Team BAZ” for last month’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the largest such event dedicated to fighting that dreaded disease.

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Just this past Sunday (November 5th), Anne appeared with many other entertainers at Venetian Hotel for the Vegas Cares Benefit Concert to support both victims of and first responders to the tragedy.

It’s clear that Anne Martinez has truly found happiness in the city she calls home. Her love for its people is as strong as the passion she delivers in her performances. I look forward to many more hours of enjoying this boundless talent in darkened theaters throughout Las Vegas.

BAZ – A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesday through Saturday at 7pm at Palazzo Theater. Tickets start at $65 and can be ordered by clicking here

World’s Greatest Rock Show performs Tuesday through Sunday at 9pm at Stratosphere. Tickets tickets start at $73 and are available here.

ALICE: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy performs one Monday each month at Rocks Lounge inside Red Rock Resort. Tickets are $25 and can be ordered here.

This article previously appeared elsewhere in another version. It has been updated with new information.

Photos:  Jake Klein, Patrick Rivera, Elaine Wilkinson, Richard Brusky, Bill Hiltz, BBR and Anne Martinez via Facebook. Videos by Sammasseur

Male Revues from a Gay P.O.V. – Part 2


More info on where to go and what to expect from a gay guy’s perspective…

A few weeks back I explored the various resident male revues, ranking them in terms of their inclusion of audience members who are guys. It was, I think, a pretty thorough guidebook, but not entirely complete. At the end, I promised to contact two long-running stripper clubs that included male revues in their entertainment roster.

Male revues gay

Since publishing that original piece, I have reached out several times to the powers that be at Kings of Hustler and Men of Sapphire. Both expressed interest in participating in this article, yet neither provided responses to a series of questions I sent their way. Numerous follow-up attempts yielded nada, so I’m just going to let that go.

Male revues gay

I can say, however, that both locations permit attendance by men. Your level of interactivity will vary depending on the individual performers…and perhaps the degree of business they have that night (everyone has bills to pay and lap dances aren’t free). Also, since I was a guest at both places, I’m unable to provide admission prices.

Male revues gay

Another unresolved matter was my review of the upstart Black Magic Live. Unseen by me when Part 1 of this series was published, I wish that had remained the case. Black Magic Live is an absolute mess and I cannot recommend it at all. While not a mega-flop on the level of Magic Mike Live, it is indeed a cheap, chaotic disaster unworthy of your time and money.

Male revues gay

Because nothing says “Sexy Night in Vegas” like a wedding hall…                

Black Magic Live began its run at the Tommy Wind Theater, otherwise known as the place where shows go to die. It quickly moved to Ron Decar Events Center, a banquet hall belonging to Viva Las Vegas wedding chapel.

Men3

Male revues gay

You may find yourself wanting to look away, too…                             

BML is now on its third venue for calendar year 2017. As of this month, the show is performing inside the little known Embassy Night Club in a skeevy industrial area past the west side of the Strip. The Latino spot was in the news this past April when three patrons were stabbed in the parking lot. Stay away!

I’ve also revisited both Chippendales and Aussie Heat at V Theater since the last article. The boys at Chipps continue to be the glossiest cast in town, but not much has changed aside from the completion of Tyson Beckford‘s hosting stint (…or is he back? The website still lists him). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Chippendales set the bar for all male revues.

Male revues gay

Aussie Heat, on the other hand, seems to have ramped up their willingness to entertain guests of both (all?) genders. Along with an infectious silliness and sense of fun, the lesser-known troupe from Oz (not to be confused with the always-coasting Thunder From Down Under) continues to bend over backward for each and every audience member.

And like the stripper clubs, they offer a free party bus to get you there and some of the lowest ticket prices in town. Groupon is currently offering $49 general admission seats for Aussie Heat with no additional fees. Compare that to Magic Mike Live, where the farthest seats of the upper balcony will still run you over $120.00.

Male revues gay

You may remember that I chose Aussie Heat as my #1 male revue for inclusion of all audience members. As you can see, the response is overwhelmingly positive:

Male revues gay

Male revues gay

Check out this clip below for a taste of Aussie Heat, recorded Saturday 10/28/17. Be aware that it is probably NSFW.

So there you have it, my most complete guide to male revue residencies for guys. Whichever one you choose, be sure to cut loose and have some fun.

After all, Sin City can’t do any sinning without you.

Photos: Sammasseur, Black Magic Live, Aussie Heat, Men of Sapphire, Kings of Hustler

Magic Mike Live Is D.O.A.


Poorly-conceived circus collapses under the weight of its own contradictions…

Imagine a bunch of “bros” arriving in Vegas, intent on having a rowdy time. They prop up their feet at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, booze and money in hand, eager to be titillated. But instead of bare breasts and g-strings, the party boys get some low-rent male comedian babbling about his problems…and the ladies stay clothed.

You can believe there would be booing, flying fists and sailing beer bottles within a few minutes if this happened to guys. And yet, that same bait-and-switch is exactly what you’re served at Magic Mike Live…with the genders reversed. It’s a whole lot of  pro-female “humor” and blah-blah-blah masquerading as a male revue.

Magic Mike Live

Magic Mike Live

Despite being named after actor Channing Tatum’s pair of male-stripper films, this live show has essentially ZERO to do with them. It starts off promisingly enough, with local favorite Mark Shunock (Rock of Ages) gliding into the audience with a flashy jacket and flashier grin, then quickly plummets down the stairs.

One would assume that Shunock is channeling the first film’s “Dallas” (loosely based on real-life Vegas resident London Steele of Kings of Hustler). That calculating club owner, as portrayed by Matthew McConaughey, would make the perfect campy host for a rowdy night out. Alas, after a few raunchy jokes about desert-dried vaginas and such, Shunock disappears entirely (a cardboard standee of him is brought out during final bows…I’m not kidding).

Magic Mike Live

Next, a quartet enters the performance space, clad as your typical fantasy-hero types: cowboy, fireman, police officer, etc. A woman is coaxed onstage from the audience. It turns out that she is a plant…and subsequently the REAL emcee of the show. This abrasively-voiced harpy chides these characters for being misogynistic and cliched. But isn’t that what the movies were about?

What attracted audiences to the films were Channing and his hot Hollywood pals gyrating around in various states of undress, not the plot line. Complaints of “too much story” were even addressed in the sequel, wherein dance numbers and skin quotient were amped up.

Tatum and his production company, Iron Horse Entertainment, decided…after reading message boards…fans were demanding “more dancing and less story”. “Look, at the end of the day, it’s a stripper movie,” he says. Hence the extended dance sequences, with catchy tunes and screaming women in the background. The Straits Times, 7/8/15

Magic Mike Live

               The cast of Magic Mike Live begs you to buy into their nonsense…

But back to the show….the foursome of “Village People rejects” are forced offstage by the actual dancers of MML. You’re told in no uncertain terms that these are the kind of guys that women TRULY fantasize about. Spotlights scan the crowd, searching for “a doctor, a musician, the nice guy with a job, someone who will rub your feet without being asked”…you know, the type of men that sex-crazed women flew all the way to Vegas to drool over.

The hostess then promises multi-cultural offerings in what’s to follow and proves so by lining up four men in deepening shades of brown.  She squawks “I’ve always wanted to have a mixed (bi-racial) baby!” in an irritating cackle. Imagine how offensive this scene would be if viewed in the context of a stage production of ROOTS. It’s as ugly and off-putting as it sounds.

Magic Mike Live

Tatum has promised in interviews that Magic Mike Live would not reflect the movies (but has no issue with using the bankable name). Instead, his goal was for this project to focus on “female empowerment.” According to this show, what women want is just someone to impregnate them and pay their bills. It seems to me that women relying on men to get through life is the antithesis of female empowerment, wouldn’t you say?

So if you’re heading to Magic Mike Live to get your guy-porn on, you’ve just learned in no uncertain terms that you are SOL. Fortunately, there are genuine, infinitely superior and far less expensive male revues in Las Vegas for ladies (and gay guys) to spend their entertainment dollars on.

The messages conveyed in MML are so conflicting that they’re delusional. The fun-sucking emcee, portrayed by little-known Chicago comedienne Lyndsay Nicole Hailey (with Vegas local Chelsea Phillips-Reid subbing on Wednesdays), turns what might have been a guilty pleasure into a treatise on man-bashing. Expect divorce rates to soar among ticket-buyers.

At this point, you might be wondering how anything from the Magic Mike films connects to this fiasco. That answer comes in two parts. First, Lyndsay prays to a “mystical unicorn” who rewards her with a bejeweled microphone lowered from the ceiling (a magic mic….seriously?). She uses said mic to lure a handsome waiter onstage to try his hand at a striptease. It turns out that he’s also a plant…an employee supposedly named “Mike”. Oh, brother.

In the film, Mike is a construction worker who persuades a new guy on the crew to moonlight with him at a dance club. In a lame effort to distance the show from the movie, Mike is now the newbie instead.  He claims that he can’t dance, so Lyndsay exposes him to a series of sequences designed to fire up his libido and get those hips gyrating.

Magic Mike Live

What follows is a watered-down variation on Absinthe. Sets, props, and characters descend from the ceiling and rise from the floor. Singers, acrobats, aerialist and musicians appear, awkwardly draping audience members across a grand piano and the lap of a drummer.

Songs take center stage with relatively little in the way of actual strip-tease. The dancers are fully clothed for much of the proceedings. When they aren’t, you might find yourself wishing they were.

Magic Mike Live

It’s a bumpy ride both onstage and off at Magic Mike Live….      

The emcee struts onstage after each sequence, loudly declaring “how hot that was!”. At one point, that swagger becomes a stagger…her blouse and jacket are torn apart and her hair has fallen loose. “I feel like my vagina was just beaten up!” she exclaims. Is this entertainment or a PSA for battered women? Whatever it is, it’s in poor taste…and not funny in the slightest.

Magic Mike Live

Exactly 54 minutes pass before the first guy ditches his pants. Even then, his church-friendly briefs stay in place. How do I know the length of time so precisely? Because I couldn’t stop staring at my watch, eager for this mess to end.

Before the show limps its painful but welcome finale, Lyndsay can’t resist one final reminder of the inadequacies of men. She urges the ladies in the audience to get to their feet and hold one another. “When’s the last time you slow-danced with someone?”, she asks. Thanks, MML, for that feminist group-therapy session. Can we have some fun now?

If you’ve noticed that I haven’t reviewed the dancers, that’s because they play such an inconsequential part of the production as a whole. None of them are particularly memorable. Not even “Mike”, whose transformation into the titular character is actually quite dull.

Magic Mike Live

Magic Mike Live

The saving grace of the production is the venue itself. LOTS of Tatum-infused cash has been laid out to transform Hard Rock‘s Body English nightclub into an absolutely glorious theater. The corridor leading into it is tastefully appointed (aside from dozens of oddly-empty picture frames). A narrow stairway leads you down to the basement theater, a multi-level beauty.

Magic Mike Live

One oddity worth mentioning is the lack of a gift shop. Where are the t-shirts, calendars, posters and memorabilia? These things are standard at most Vegas shows. With more than a year of preparation since MML was announced, surely a line of souvenirs could have been produced and marketed. Very strange…as if Hard Rock had little faith in an extended run.

Update – since the original publishing of this review, an online store has been established. I’m uncertain if products are available at the showroom, as I’ve not been (and have no intention of going) back.

Magic Mike Live No

                                       This audience member’s sign says it all…

Once seated, a massive team of attractive ushers, bartenders and wait staff will make you feel welcome and pampered. A Hard Rock insider told me two months ago that all waiters and bartenders would be shirtless throughout their shifts (sadly, that’s not the case). But even without a show, I’d still stop there just to let them serve me a cocktail…or three.

Magic Mike Live

The true standouts here are indeed the wait staff…a collection of charming, attentive and handsome lads that exude more charisma and sex appeal than anything you’ll see onstage. Imagine, if you will…the first fake-out (Village People vs. Modern Man) gives way to a SECOND fake-out, wherein the studly waiters who’ve been giving you excellent service suddenly set down their trays and take to the stage. Now THAT would have been different…and far superior to anything that MML currently offers.

Magic Mike Live

Superstar Channing Tatum tossed oodles of money onto a vacuous stage….

As it is now, Magic Mike Live is a misandristic mess…an expensive and overblown bomb that’s about as sexy as Menopause – The Musical. It ranks alongside the first phase of Criss Angel BeLIEve as one of the most poorly-conceived Vegas productions of the past decade.

This is one major show desperately in need of a gutting and overhaul. Tomorrow wouldn’t be soon enough.

MAGIC MIKE LIVE performs Wednesday through Sunday at 8 pm and 10:30 pm. Tickets start at $75 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here

Photos: Sammasseur

This article was previously posted elsewhere in another form.

Singer Willie Gomez Emerges From Britney’s Shadow


Spear’s longtime dancer is a vocalist who’s about to explode…

The following article previously appeared in a different form on anther website.

People have been flocking to Britney Spear‘s residency ever since it opened at Planet Hollywood over two years ago. The large-scale production has been a huge hit with her fans across the world. Britney – Piece Of Me is all about the star’s impressive songbook, spectacle, costumes, and dancing. However, there’s secretly a powerhouse singer on that stage along with the pop star. His name is Willie Gomez, and he’s working to make sure his voice is also heard around the world.

Gomez, who grew up in Miami, was inspired to take dance lessons after watching Britney Spears videos in his youth. That inner fire served him well, as he’s been featured in three of Britney’s music videos. A few months after appearing in Womanizer with her in 2008, he was cast as a principal in the pop singer’s Circus tour.

Willie Gomez

Willie remains a member of Britney’s dance crew and has been a part of the Piece of Me residency in Las Vegas since it opened. They embarked on a short-term set of dates across Israel and Asia before returning to Planet Hollywood in August (the final Vegas performance is scheduled for New Year’s Eve 2017).

Even though this writer is not a Britney fan, friends frequently urged me to check out the show. So I did…by way of YouTube. What I discovered was riveting – a small army of very attractive dancers with precision choreography and stage presence. Despite all of them being world class performers, one in particular stood out. His physique, facial gestures and movements were just in another league.

Willie Gomez

Being an admirer of hard-working performers, I had to know more. It took a bit of research to identify Willie’s name. Fortunately, he has an established fan base who mentioned his name in the video comments. They raved about his dancing…and his singing?

Yes, Willie has his own Youtube Channel with a growing collection of music videos. This is his most recent:

You can also check out his cover songs via Soundcloud by clicking here.

As the fates would have it, Willie is friends with a Hollywood chiropractor that I used to work with a dozen years ago in Fort Lauderdale. Dr. Steve connected us and Willie agreed to meet for a conversation. A short while later, the two of us were having coffee before one of his performances at Britney: Piece of Me at Planet Hollywood.

Willie Gomez

It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you encounter a person with that intangible “something.” There’s an energy they give off…an electric feeling you perceive almost subliminally. Willie has that aura. There’s a fire in his eyes and he crackles with energy, magnetism, and lots of warmth.

Willie Gomez

As much as Willie loves to dance, he feels he’s ready to share his passion for singing with the world. The videos that he’s released so far have been covers of songs by other artists. His expressive vocals give those familiar compositions a unique flavor. Now he’s preparing a collection of original recordings.

“I’m very involved in song-writing. I know what kind of songs I want to sing and there are some great writers working with me. They understand what I feel and how I want to bring those emotions across. Together we’ve collaborated on pieces that reflect who I am as an artist”.

Willie’s great looks have placed him on the cover of several magazines. Modeling and acting have brought him plenty of attention, but now he’d like to scale that back a little. When asked how important looks and sexuality are for a successful music career, he had this to say:

“I’ve done plenty of magazine shoots…and I’ve shown a lot of my body. It’s been fun, but they always want you to show more…and more. The past few years I’ve been getting away from that. I want my music to speak for itself, without relying on sex or gimmicks to sell it”.

While that philosophy is great for career longevity, there’s no question that Willie’s video performances have been drenched in fluid sexuality. Much of it undoubtedly came from his collaborations with Britney, which overflow with hot bodies of both genders.

After our conversation, Willie had me as his guest for Piece of Me. It was my first time seeing the show, but I learned during our conversation that I’d unknowingly seen him perform a few years back at the Caesars Palace Coliseum.

Willie was an aerialist in Australian pop star Kylie Minogue‘s incredible Aphrodite tour. That stunning, massive production was once rumored to be eyeing a Vegas residency. “I doubt you would have recognized me back then” he joked. “My head was shaved and I was mostly hanging upside down”.

Along with Minogue, Willie has shared the stage with the likes of Katy PerryChristina AguileraMary J. BligeKesha and many prominent Latino artists. But his loyalty to the pop princess is strong.

“The thing about Britney is that she allows us to be ourselves. Sure, we’re doing the choreo, but she encourages me and the others to make it our own. She’s very supportive, which is why I work with her. Not all artists are like that”.

Last fall, Britney posted a video message on her Instagram page, wishing Gomez luck on his singing career: “Willie is a dancer of mine, and not only is he a great dancer, but he is an amazing singer…and I had no clue. You’re amazing, good luck on your project, and I’m sending all my kisses to you”.

Willie Gomez

With a few years of preparation behind him, the Dominican Republic native is coming close to releasing a four-song EP, tentatively entitled “My Life”. He began the process by enlisting his favorite writers, producers, and directors. Then came an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to help finance the project.

The hardest thing, though, was just gathering enough courage to take the first steps:

“From the time I was a little boy I had big dreams, with music running through my veins. But, I had fear in my heart.  I was afraid of rejection and sharing who I really was, and what I always wanted to be – a singer”.

Willie did his first concert appearance in LA this summer, not long after the original version of this article appeared on another site. He posted some highlights and was thrilled by the response:

It’s only matter of time before Willie Gomez goes from a backup dancer to a full-fledged marquee name. With so many successes already under his belt, I asked the dancer/singer/actor/model how he’d most like to be remembered years from now:

No matter what I do, I give it my all. Right now I’m focused on my passion for singing. But I don’t want to be categorized for just one thing. I’m a performer.

That’s who I am.

 

Photos: Willie Gomez via Instagram/Facebook/Youtube, Sammasseur

IMAGINARIUM Is Pure, Epic Magic


David Goldrake’s grandiose production at Tropicana will touch your senses and soul…

Something mysterious is going on at the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. The entertainment gods have seen fit to grace that location with three epic magic shows. One performer is legendary, the second is flashy, and the newest is a challenger of major proportions. His name is David Goldrake, and his new show David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM at Tropicana is an entertainment gold mine.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

Goldrake (center) with fellow magicians Jarrett and Raja at the media premiere…            

Following on the heels of Jan Rouven‘s shocking abrupt closure and the short-lived Band of Magicians, one might question the wisdom of opening yet another illusion-based production inside the troubled, beautiful Tropicana Showroom. But the third time is clearly a charm, as David Goldrake’s gorgeous presentation is worthy of the space. It’s also deserving of the opportunity to take on David Copperfield and the far-inferior Criss Angel.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

Say what you will about the relevance of magic shows in 2017 Las Vegas, but IMAGINARIUM is much more than hokey top hats and sexy assistants. With an ethereal introduction of smokey morphing shapes and lush music, IMAGINARIUM sets up a surrealistic mood that the Luxemborg-born Goldrake maintains throughout.

After an opening illusion, Goldrake comes out to introduce himself and explain IMAGINARIUM, the circus sideshow that he visited as a child for a fifty-cent admission price. The experience of growing up as a fascinated young man in Europe permeates the production, enhanced by the host’s unique accent and magnetic presence.

David Goldrake, while known in several countries as an “International Man of Mystery”, has yet to make a mark on U.S. pop culture. When you’re a somewhat unknown quantity in Las Vegas, it helps to have charisma and good looks…both of which Goldrake has in abundance.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

David moves with the grace and elegance of a dancer, yet his massive muscular frame fills the grand Tropicana stage. So do the lush sets and immersive backdrops that pull you into each illusion. Expensive-looking video content from Drop The Spoon (Le Reve/Franco Dragone), steampunk-style design by EDT and costumes from Erin “Topaz” Lareau rival anything that the Cirque-financed Criss Angel has presented at Luxor.

Goldrake8

All of those bells and whistles don’t mean anything if the star performer can’t capture your imagination. IMAGINARIUM does so in spades. Large-scale stunts like a human-sized hourglass disappearance and passing through a sheet of solid metal will have you scratching your head.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

A particularly memorable moment comes when Goldrake collects rings from the hands of three volunteers. Placing them on a spindle while in constant view of the audience, he agitates the rings until they’re suddenly linked together into a small chain. And before you can say “audience plants”, one participant of that illusion was my companion for the evening…there was no collusion.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

David’s assistants, two women and two men, are skilled performers in their own right. The gorgeous dancers, contortionists, acrobats and aerialists get their own well-deserved sequence, an old-tyme European-styled sideshow sequence highlighting individual talents that come together for a rousing mini-finale.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

My favorite set piece, by far, is a salute to Houdini’s underwater straitjacket escape. A shirtless (and ab-tastic) Goldrake is chained and suspended upside-down in a glass chamber filled filled with water before your eyes. Never once is the clear tank out of sight…the gasping, bubbles and struggles are real. So were the accelerated beats of my heart.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

It’s always exciting when a new name bursts on the Vegas scene and raises the bar for a everyone…audiences and performers alike. We saw it happen when Spiegelworld (Absinthe and Cosmo’s Vegas Nocture) challenged Cirque du Soleil, Matt Goss shook up the lounge scene and BAZ: A Musical Mashup redefined musical theater. We’re seeing it once more with David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM.

There’s a hot new illusionist in town and he’s not to be missed. If you see only one large-scale magic show on your trip to Sin City, make it David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM. You will be thrilled, mystified…and your heart will soar skyward.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm. Suitable for all ages. Tickets start at $39.90 plus taxes/fees and can be ordered here. Groupon is currently offering discount seats starting at $28 with no additional fees by clicking here.

Photos: Sammasseur, IMAGINARIUM via Facebook