Grab Your Boots and Stetson for ‘BLICK LINEDANCE’

Sin City Dancing Returns in an exciting All-American way…


Yes, it’s true that Las Vegas is back. And if the packed airline flights that I’ve recently taken are any indication, that’s the way it’s going to stay. Restaurants, pools, and shows have opened up to increased capacity, and more fun and freedom are on the horizon. But what about dancing???

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Photos from mid-April 2021

The pathway to reopening nightclubs in our new era is going to be tricky. Too bad there aren’t any outdoor dancing venues around town to speak of. But award-winning line dancer George Blick has a plan to make COVID-safe line dancing the latest Sin City trend. 

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Gallery by Vinnie Cassidy…

“Line Dancing improves stamina, muscle tone and coordination, is a great stress buster and energy booster. Dancing is a unique form of exercise because it provides the heart-healthy benefits of an aerobic exercise while allowing you to engage in a social activity. It’s a community, and it’s all about having fun” says George.

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If you are in the camp that doesn’t find this activity to be appealing or hip, you might be in for a big surprise. Despite being a skeptic myself, I joined George and his crew, pre-pandemic, for an evening of fun at Stoney’s Rocking Country at Town Square. The youthful crowd was extremely high-energy and raucous, and all eyes turned towards George when he entered the dance floor. It’s quite a sight.

Blick Linedance began a YouTube Channel in October 2019, long before COVID-19 changed our way of life. An accompanying Facebook Page and official website keep fans up-to-date on the latest classes and events. George’s tutorials blend socializing, physical fitness and a love for good ole country music into a rip-roaring great time. Fortunately, the need for distancing of participants is built right into the checkerboard format. So…win-win!

169621015_542477543822771_7174071611073932316_n“The only way to keep the fire going is to outrun the wind.” – George Blick 

If the name “George Blick” seems familiar to you, it should. I’ve featured this handsome devil in an in-depth profile as well as an essay on Celebrity Quarantine Fitness.  The native of Whales played the role of “Stefan” in SEX TIPS at Paris Las Vegas, is a cast member of Mosaic‘s Aussie Heat and host of the new Rock Candy Male Revue at Alexis Park Resort.

Dancing has always been George’s passion. The Laine Theater Arts graduate holds six consecutive World Championship titles, has performed for the Queen, entertained aboard cruise ships, and shared his talents in over fifty countries. 

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On May 1st, George will be heading to California Ranch Company in Temecula for an outdoor festival. The EDGE DANCE EVENT invites guests to grab their camping gear, hook up their RV’s and prepare for a boot-scooting good time. Tickets and registration are available here

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Closer to home, Blick Line Dance holds beginner and intermediate classes in Las Vegas for those yearning to get out and enjoy themselves in a safer setting. Sessions take place Mondays (beginner) and Wednesdays (intermediate) at 9am inside Seniors Helping Seniors. Their center is located at 451 E. Bonanza Road. Classes last one hour and are quite a bargain at only five dollars each. Click here for more details. 

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Going forward, George would like to take advantage of warmer weather to bring line dancing “out to the streets”. He’s actively seeking venues with large spaces, paved surfaces and courtyards to launch concepts like “Linedance Brunch”, early-evening nightclub socials and the like. Perhaps it’s time to bring flash mobs back to the Fremont Street Experience

Vegas is back on its feet, and it’s time to bring a little “country” to Sin City. If you have a performance venue, group, club, or special event that could use an infusion of fun, contact George Blick to see what he can bring to the floor. You can reach him right here

Photos: George Blick, Sam Novak, Vinnie Cassidy

‘Unicus Manufactus’ – Muscle Up to the City’s Healthiest Food Truck


…or “What happens when two Las Vegas heroes launch a business during a pandemic”…

Once again, the challenges of 2020 have resulted in new, innovative and positive changes for our community. From daring music performances to the resurrection of old-school supper clubs and modern upgrades to the hospitality industry, Las Vegas has hit the “reset” button and is experiencing a fast-paced rebirth.

While some changes happened overnight, a pair of hometown heroes has been carefully curating a new approach to food trucks, those roadside food emporiums that soared in popularity during the “NO INDOOR DINING ALLOWED” madness of last year. But instead of the usual taco platters and BBQ’d ribs, this mobile kitchen promises an American-fusion menu with healthy flair.

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UNICUS MANUFACTUS aka U.M Trailer Bistro, is a curious name for an enterprise by first responders Daniel Sauls and Gunnar Walcavich. These two heroic friends protect the city’s citizens when the sun goes down and the bad guys come out. In the light of day, they’re whipping up creative new dishes to tickle the taste buds and build healthier bodies. That’s when they’re not hitting the gym to keep their own physiques in superhero condition.

The boys came up with the UNICUS MANUFACTUS moniker to acknowledge their mission statement, one that promises healthy, delicious dishes at the lowest possible price…all while never compromising quality. The Latin word Unicus means sole/unique/uncommon:

We didn’t pick the name “Unicus” because it sounded good. We picked it because Unicus is what we are. Our trailer looks different. Our food tastes different. Even our prices are different. We can guarantee there is nobody like us in the industry, that’s simply because we try harder. 

 You can tell that our nature is humanitarian, from the attention we give each customer to the prices across our menu. We ran through finance scenarios over and over to find the lowest numbers we could use on our menu BEFORE the pandemic. We want it to be apparent that we care.

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We are constantly thinking of ways, current and future, that we might be able to better Vegas with our existence. Our entire menu consists of items at $5 or less. We are (to my knowledge) the first mobile food business that provides not only caloric dietary information but MACROS as well!

We want to make ourselves available to those that need us most, as our mission is first and foremost to serve. We will diligently search for areas that service medical workers, first responders, and essential personnel during these trying times, in hopes to bring the most delicious food with a price that makes the most sense.

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The truth of that was most apparent recently when kitchen wizard Daniel had to undergo emergency surgery to save his life. Mere days later, he and Gunnar were back at that same hospital with UM Trailer Bistro to thank the hospital workers with their creations. They comped meals for anyone who wore scrubs:

We held a surprise service for the hospital that saved my life a little over a week ago. We always have so many hurdles to jump to try and accomplish things because of how new and small we are. We are a couple of persistent guys though, and yesterday was proof NOTHING CAN STOP US.

Persistence is a quality that Gunnar Walcavich exemplifies in spades. Vegas Unfiltered Blog readers first met this towering Russian boxer in my piece on ‘Quarantine Fitness‘, where I described his achievements and skills at getting people motivated.

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The formerly-overweight (and always-mugging) Gunnar recently earned a certification in Food Handling/Safety to accompany his personal training and nutritionist certifications. And his jacked physique makes the perfect canvas for Unicus Fitness Apparel that’s now available in the “Merch Market” section of their website.

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The menu at UM Trailer Bistro is a taste-tempting collection of recipes that Daniel has gathered from family members in Hawaii, along with others that he’s perfected through multiple trials. Pan-Asian influences are reflected in dishes like Agedashi Tofu, Ramen, Udon and Chashu bowl, and a Hawaiian Toast Breakfast plate.

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Daniel is especially proud of his freshly-made Shrimp and Grits and Fresh Pour-over Hot Chicory, a nutty, cajun-influenced alternative to traditional coffee beverages. And every item is served with style and a smile, accompanied by fun music from their vintage-style Victrola sound system.

We care about your enjoyment down to each bite and sip, and you can taste it every time. When you pay, you want to know that you got real ingredients, made WHEN you asked not before, and made with the care that we all desire our own food and drink to be handled with; and that’s our guarantee.

We promise that EVERY time you come by you will receive our best attempt at perfect service. Your food hits your hand hot, and your drink is either perfectly cold or has steam coming from it. You see us make each part of your drink, and even shake/stir it to make sure even your first sip is perfectly mixed and chilled. We actually care, and we care THAT much; and if you don’t believe us, come call our delicious bluff. 

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Along with the regular (and growing) menu, there is always a featured daily special to tempt you away from established favorites. And Unicus Manufactus has launched a 3-level loyalty program that can reward you with discounts and giveaways, one free item per month, up to a free item with every visit (purchase required).

The boys just announced a partnership with Tempo Ultra Lounge at 1000 East Sahara Avenue, where they’ll be every Friday and Saturday night beginning April 2nd. To learn where else to visit the UM Bistro Trailer, follow them on Facebook, check out the YouTube Channel, or subscribe at the official website.

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“Unique Handmade Culinary Creations & Libations for just $5. Need I say more???” – Unicus Manufactus

Photos: Sam Novak, Daniel Sauls, Gunnar Walcavich

John Lohmann: Dream Master of ‘The 35 Cinema’

Film enthusiast achieves lifelong desire to launch a Revival Movie House…


“To sleep, perchance to dream… for in this sleep what dreams may come…”  – William Shakespeare

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Rallying cries to never give up on your dreams – they’re the essence of nearly every high school graduation speech ever made. Yet when we venture forth into the real world, how many of us forget those goals that shaped our youth? Las Vegas resident John Lohmann never set his dream aside. Now, after the better part of four decades, it’s finally become a reality with The 35 Cinema.

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Mr. Lohmann and I are kindred spirits of a sort. We both have a passion for fantasy, horror and sci-fi films of the 70’s and 80’s. Our career paths somewhat intersected, as we were both movie theater managers who worked on marketing projects for major Hollywood releases. My tenure in the film exhibition industry was short, though, and John continues to pursue his passion.

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This week, John took a break from the challenges of running his retro-cool revival movie house to discuss his background with me. The conversation ended when he had to thread up a 35mm print of the 1979 classic ALIEN for a 6 pm showing. In that brief time, John shared some incredible memories, a stunning celebrity encounter, and an unusually difficult path to opening the doors of The 35 Cinema.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

John’s career in movie theater operations began at the age of sixteen. His first recollection of threading a movie onto the massive projection system (an art unto itself) was for the 1987 hit A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. It’s unlikely that the teenager envisioned one day working side by side in his own theater with actress Lisa Wilcox. Ms. Wilcox is The 35 Cinema‘s manager and the “final girl” from both Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master and Part 5: The Dream Child.

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As a youngster, Lohmann was entranced by the mechanics of movie projection. He had his own projector and used to charge his friend five cents to watch copies of Ken Films, short Super-8 editions sold for home use through the pre-VCR era of the 70’s. The reels were widely available at K-Mart (this writer had his own collection, a rear-projection viewer and an editing station).

In the 90’s, the movie enthusiast covered a lot of ground. He worked in various capacities for AMC Theaters, Regal, Globe, and the Century brand, which operates Cinemark theaters in the Las Vegas valley. He also branched out into attractions at Knott’s Berry Farm and Disney parks. 

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It’s was John’s passion for the movie-going experience that served him well in marketing. He received the highest levels of recognition and won prestigious accolades (including the Sid Grauman Award), for his promotions of such varied titles as The Peacemaker (with Nicole Kidman and George Clooney), Deep Impact, family films The Rugrats Movie, its sequel Rugrats In Paris, Barnie’s Big Adventure, Disney hits Mulan and Hercules…and a low-profile sleeper called TITANIC

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Perhaps John’s most incredible experience was when he attended a pre-release screening of the 1998 fantasy What Dreams May Come. A difficult-to-watch, emotional exploration of death and the afterlife, the film presented a considerable challenge to its marketing team. Lohmann was invited to attend an advance screening in order to serve as a consultant and advisor for marketing.

What Dreams May Come (1998 / Polygram) | KlaatuCarpenter | Flickr

The humbled guest entered the theater along with the movie’s creative team. He noticed that each seat came supplied with a box of tissues. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand why. 

When the lights came up, John was dabbing his eyes with tissues when he felt a pair of hands grip his shoulders from behind. Then an unmistakable voice asked “What did you think?”. Spinning around, the sobbing cinephile found himself face to face with the film’s star, Robin Williams.

What Dreams May Come - Movies on Google Play

Robin Williams and costar Annabella Sciorra…

The two gentlemen spent the better part of the next three hours discussing the emotionally-complex feature. As John recounted, Williams was absolutely thrilled by the project. “I love comedy, but acting is what I really want to do” the legendary entertainer proclaimed.

Lohmann came up with a few ideas to promote the drama, which garnered over $75 million at the box office. As for Williams’ dramatic career, it continued to expand with wildly diverse roles in Bicentennial Man, Patch Adams, the frightening One Hour Photo and Christopher Nolan‘s Insomnia

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While immersed in the worlds of film marketing, theme park entertainment, and becoming involved in animation art collecting, the Anaheim native was always looking for the perfect place to open his own revival movie theater. The search stretched through roughly four decades. At one point, Lohmann thought he’d finally found the perfect spot, a four-plex that had been abandoned for a decade. It was in poor shape, smelled badly, and had become a refuge for the homeless.

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Abandoned cineplexes await rebirth in a post-pandemic world…

Nevertheless, the cavernous grand lobby of the movie house was too gorgeous to ignore. Lohmann was all set to commit when a second-run (discount) chain swooped in to snatch it. Sadly, their endeavor lasted only a few months, but by that time, John had moved on.  Yet he never stopped looking for the perfect venue.

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Ira Heiden (left) in Elvira, Mistress of the Dark…

In the years since that first showing of Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, the horror franchise has become a permanent part of Lohmann’s life. He personally befriended most of the movie’s cast, and even became best buddies with actor Ira Heiden, who played Will Stanton aka “Wizard Master”. 

Nightmare on Elm Street 3 Cast Recreate Iconic Dream Warriors Photo

Elm Street 3 cast recreates iconic “Dream Warriors” photo in 2017

Fast forward to the current decade. As of 2017, virtually every theater has switched to digital equipment. Traditional projection systems were being discarded and replaced around the world. John happened upon a working set-up at Long Beach State University that was in jeopardy. After a little back-and-forth with those in charge, he was given a matter of hours to remove it from the campus.

For the next few years, this marvelous monster resided in a breezeway of its new owner’s California home, covered by a tarp and patiently waiting for an eventual return to usefulness. It joined John’s other treasure, a rare stereo 16mm system that came from a defunct Jerry Lewis Cinemas location in Georgia. 

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Eventually, John packed up his dreams and possessions (and of course, those two beloved projectors) and relocated to Las Vegas. They can now be found at The 35 Cinema inside The Nerd, a heavily-themed downtown fun spot for adults. You can read all about The 35 Cinema right here in this Vegas Unfiltered Blog companion piece. 

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It would be a disservice to the efforts of John and his team to close this piece with “they all lived happily ever after”.  Getting that first movie onto the screen was anything but easy. The venue should have opened nearly a year ago, but a series of obstacles kept falling into its path. And that’s not even factoring in the pandemic. 

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The 35 Cinema debuted in February 2021, and even now, difficulties arise. A highly-anticipated booking of 1977’s original STAR WARS promised to put hundreds of fans into the plush new seats, but a delivery problem forced the owner to remove it from the schedule. Lohmann is working to find a more reliable source for quality vintage titles on 35mm film, and each week provides new opportunities to challenge the boyishly handsome businessman.

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Fortunately, our city is overflowing with enthusiastic moviegoers. Thousands have flocked in the past year to West Wind drive-in for classic hits (albeit in digital form) and William Powell‘s The Sci-Fi Center in historic Commercial Plaza enjoys huge turnouts for drive-in style “Carpool Cinema” screenings of older titles.

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Now that Elm Street actress Lisa Wilcox is managing The 35 Cinema, its owner’s immersion into the dream world of Freddy Krueger is complete. And with our supportive community to rally around the newest Las Vegas cinema experience, it’s only a matter of time before ambitious John Lohmann, an honorary member of the Elm Street gang, ascends from “Dream Warrior” to the “Dream Master” of his own realm.

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The 35 Cinema is located at 450 Fremont Street, Suite 250, on the second floor of NEONOPOLIS. It is open Wednesday through Sunday. Click here for showtimes and to order tickets. 

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Photos: Sam Novak, John Lohmann, The 35 Cinema, The Sci-Fi Center (William Powell). Elm Street 3 cast reunion photo by Rodney Eastman

Relive Your Hollywood Favorites The Authentic Way at ‘The 35 CINEMA’

Downtown movie theater shows classic titles on vintage film projectors as they were meant to be seen…


It’s been more than two decades since digital technology transformed the way we enjoy music and movies. Crystal-clear sound and perfect projection are now the norm…yet to many, something is missing. Gone are the analog hiss of cassette tapes and the distinctive clacking of film projector gears. Who could forget the circular “bleep” that signaled the change of movie reels….or the way an audience would moan on the rare occasion when a movie jammed and melted onscreen?

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Yes, we’ve become bored with perfection…there’s just nothing nostalgic about it. That’s why vinyl records and turntables have roared back with a vengeance. An MP3 file can’t provide beautiful album cover artwork or the tactile experience of putting a needle on the record.

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The same holds true for our movie-going excursions. Since this past year, there’s been a nationwide resurgence in the drive-in theater, where social distancing is built in. With only a few new films in release, indoor and outdoor theaters have been featuring 80’s classics like GREMLINS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, ET, BACK TO THE FUTURE, THE GOONIES and more.

Parents are enjoying the rare opportunity to share those timeless hits on the big screen with their own children, while reliving the days when flickering lights and film imperfections were part of the cinematic experience.

But the original styles of movie-making and projection are having a comeback, too. Powerful directors like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino regularly use genuine film stock for their pictures, and even the new WONDER WOMAN 1984 was shot entirely on film. There’s a warmth to analog methods that modern technology can’t duplicate.

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Alas, finding a theater that can project a movie from actual film reels is a near-impossibility. As a former manager (in the 90’s) for the AMC Theaters chain, I spent many hours learning the in’s and out’s of assembling a print (splicing the many individual reels into a completed film), changing expensive xenon lamps, and learning how to thread the complex “platter system”. It’s intricate work…and there’s nothing like it. 

The expensive conversion to digital technology led many independent theaters to permanently shutter, and caused standard 35 millimeter projectors to all but disappear. A few cinemas still hold onto IMAX-film and 70 millimeter workhorses to placate the demands of certain directors, but they’re few and far between. That leaves countless copies of vintage 35mm prints just sitting in vaults, yearning to be rediscovered and shown in their original format.

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Fortunately for Las Vegas visitors and residents, downtown fun spot The Nerd expanded their footprint in early February to open The 35 Cinema. The 35 Cinema is the only movie theater in the state to strictly use traditional, analog film projection. Their main 35mm projector handles all of the Hollywood blockbusters, while a secondary system is designed for the rare 16mm print.

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According to owner John Lohmann, The 35 Cinema is also the only commercial theater in the world to have its projector inside the auditorium. The concept is the culmination of a dream that’s spanned two decades. Watching the projectionist thread the film, boot up the bulb and dim the house lights becomes part of the show. And once again, those mechanical sounds just amplify the mood.

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The manager of The 35 Cinema is actress Lisa Wilcox, with whom this writer spent many hours in darkened theaters. Ms. Wilcox starred as “Alice” in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: The Dream Master, my absolute favorite of the series (I saw it eight times). Her character survived to take the lead in Part 5. I was fortunate enough to meet this dynamic woman at RIO Hotel Casino a few years back. Las Vegas is lucky to have her.

Ms. Wilcox and her 80’s horror-film career might have a bit of an influence on The 35 Cinema‘s programming. This week, the revival house is showing pristine copies of ALIEN (1979) and THE SHINING (1980). Previous titles have included THE FINAL TERROR (starring Vegas resident Adrian Zmed), BEWARE! THE BLOB, and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with Robert Englund.  Upcoming classics include TRON (1982), STAR WARS (1977), THE MATRIX and 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY.

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Being located within THE NERD gives The 35 Cinema two distinct advantages. First, its entrance is through the bar, so all audience members must be 21 years or older (no disruptive children to ruin the cinematic experience!). Secondly, THE NERD is devoted to fans of fantasy, science fiction and horror. So, your fellow viewers are kindred, ready to blast off with you on a shared adventure.

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Along with the films, patrons can expect a variety of special events in the months ahead. There will be celebrity appearances and Q & A sessions with people involved in the films being presented. Actor/director Oliver Robins (“Robbie” in the Poltergeist series) recently attended a screening of POLTERGEIST 2.

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Despite being located inside the massive Neonopolis entertainment complex on Fremont Street, The 35 Cinema is a passion project that evokes feelings of a small town movie house. Reproductions of famous movie posters adorn the walls and a small, charming snack bar/gift shop serves up hot popcorn, cold drinks and a variety of snacks. There are plenty of autographed photos around, too, which I suspect might be from Ms. Wilcox’s private collection.

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Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the theater or online here. So grab your light saber, gather your friends, and head back to the future for a retro-cool time at the movies. Titles change weekly and are subject to studio availability. Click here for show schedule.

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The 35 Cinema is located inside THE NERD at 450 Fremont Street, second level of NEONOPOLIS. Call (702) 575-8486 or visit them online at https://the-35-cinema.ticketleap.com. Click here to read this article’s companion piece of The Cinema 35’s owner John Lohmann.

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Photos: Sam Novak and THE NERD/The 35 Cinema via Facebook

 

Small Spaces, Towering Talent

Intimate Venues are the Hottest Ticket to Sin City’s Rebirth…


The times, they are a changing’. Gone for now are the concert tours, superstar residencies and spectacular mega-productions. As Sin City eases into a new comfort zone, the smart money is on smaller spaces, where performers and audiences can connect on an intimate level. In other words, a pure entertainment experience.

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Lounge acts and supper clubs harken a return to the days that put Las Vegas on the map…a time when true talent was the star. Their resurgence is evidence that tourists and locals alike are yearning for live music, despite concerns of gathering in public spaces. Perhaps that’s why The Vegas Room, less than a year old, is already prepping a more elaborate sister club just down the block. Look for The Nevada Room to debut in April.

NOTORIETY Live on Fremont Street is another small performance space experiencing a wave of popularity. Located in a former movie theater at Fremont Street’s NEONOPOLIS complex, NOTORIETY has attracted a number of notable names from a wide variety of Strip productions.

“Tenors of Rock” performed a special July 4th show at NOTORIETY

Spearheaded by Ken Henderson of Best Agency, the colorful NOTORIETY nightspot has been safely hosting magic shows, burlesque revues from Lucie May, rock concerts and comedy acts for months while others have remained shuttered. With its full bar service and available dining options, the 21-and-over clientele have been returning week after week for top-notch excitement (there’s a big-name residency slated to begin there soon, but I’m sworn to secrecy for now).

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While contracted productions are on hiatus, individual performers have been able to create scaled-down solo shows. Bucky Heard of The Righteous Brothers (see my Las Vegas Magazine article here) is launching “The Heart of Rock & Roll”, a concert series. Bucky tells me that it’s an intimate duo presentation with accomplished guitarist John Wedemeyer, who’s worked with legendary acts such as Donny and Marie, Bonnie Raitt, Wayne Newton and Clint Holmes.

Bucky and John’s “The Heart of Rock and Roll” premieres February 17th at Italian American Club on East Sahara Avenue. An amazing dinner is included, which starts at 6:30pm. Showtime is 8pm sharp. Tickets are available by clicking here

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If you’ve never visited Italian American Club, you owe it to yourself to discover it. Thanks to a dear friend, I’ve experienced the joys of this old-school gem and their rotating roster of talent, both established and rising. Stunning hunks like Jonathan Karrant and Chadwick Johnson performed incredible pre-Christmas shows, and they’ll be back on the IAC stage very soon.  Other favorites include Craig Canter, Chase Brown, and Frankie Scinta

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Travis Cloer, best known for his l0ng-running role in the Jersey Boys musical, has been super-busy during the pandemic. He’s had gigs at The Vegas Room and Italian American Club, among others. This weekend he’s at Chianti Restaurant with Christopher Lash for a special Valentine-themed performance. Showtime is 6 pm on February 13th, and tickets can be purchased here

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Crooners, Inc. at THE MINT Lounge…

Also this weekend is the debut of Crooners, Inc. at The Mint Lounge on East Sahara Avenue. Described as “an hour and a half of pure, classic Vegas entertainment on Valentine’s Day with music, mayhem and memories”, the production features a full band and a cast that includes Miss Mala, Tony Felicetta, Jonny Bird, JC Lopez and Dean Perry. Showtimes are 7pm and 9pm, with tickets available here

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Tuscany Resort on East Flamingo Avenue has been another go-to for superb lounge acts. Kenny Davidsen’s Bowtie Cabaret is a weekly Friday event with rotating hosts and guests. Stars like Ruby Lewis, Ian Ward, Anne Martinez, Kelly Vohnn, and Cassie Stone have recently joined Davidsen on stage. Performers Rita Lim, Ashley Fuller and Michael Grimm all have ongoing residencies there as well. 

May be an image of 6 people, people standing, people playing musical instruments and text that says 'Italian American club THE BRONX WANDERERS BUFFET DINNER & HOI LET'S DO IT AGAIN!! As we celebrate Vin A.'s Birthday Bash!! THURSDAY FEBRUARY 18, 2021- Tickets $65.00 We had such great time in January we all said "Let's Do ItAgain." Join us for fun night as we celebrate Vin A. Birthday. Great Food! Great Music! You can't go wrong. It's simply the best bada bang for your buck in Las Vegas! BUFFET DINNER 6:30pm & SHOW 8:00pm For Reservations go to iacvegas.com or call (702) 457-3866'

Harrah’s outdoor lounge Carnival Court has been playing host to a number of familiar faces, albeit under aliases. The father/son duo of Vinny Adinolfi and son Vin A. (The Bronx Wanderers) hit the C.C. stage on the weekends, operating as…well, it seems to depend on the week. Let’s stick with “VINdemic” for now. The guys also hit Italian American Club with the full band in January, and will be back there on February 18th.

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Another effect of the pandemic has been the formation of “super groups”. What you get is a superlative combination of artists from various other productions working together under a new moniker. ORIGINAL CHAOS boasts TENORS OF ROCK members Dai Richards, Chris Cicchino and Tim Sorbs (The Black Donnellys), along with vocalist Colin Cahill (Atomic Saloon Show). Together they’ve been doing gigs at Carnival Court, along with the two Vin’s

NOTORIETY Live hit the ground running in November with Vin and Jimmy’s DOWNTOWN HOOTENANY. An irreverent collection of music, comedy, and hysterical video segments, the show featured Jimmy Denning of TENORS OF ROCK, Vin A. (him again), Tim Sorbs on drums, and guest stars Bucky Heard and Colin Cahill (do you see a trend here?). Expect another edition of DOWNTOWN HOOTENANY in the coming months.

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Broadway stage and screen star Ruby Lewis, a recurring guest at The Vegas Room, will have her own showcase at NOTORIETY on February 25th. The one-night performance will celebrate both her birthday and the release of her first original song “Shock Value“. Tickets are $40 and can be reserved here

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Speaking of The Vegas Room, the classy supper club has a great line-up of acts in the coming weeks. Entertainment director Jassen Allen has booked The Doo-Wop Kings, Christopher Lash, Savannah Smith, Elisa Fiorillo (with Barry Manilow’s musical director Joey Melotti), Skye Dee Miles and many more. Click here for performance schedules and to make reservations. 

 

October Horror-Fest at Las Vegas Drive-in Theater

Retro outdoor theater screens dozens of spooky comedies, bloody shockers and romantic chillers for safe Halloween fun…

The effort to successfully reopen indoor theaters has been such a struggle that eleven movie theaters in the Las Vegas valley closed once more this month. Some, like Eclipse Theaters in the downtown area and Tropicana Cinemas, a second-run bargain house, never unlocked their doors. Nevertheless, West Wind Drive-ins have been thriving!

West Wind Las Vegas is one of seven in California and Nevada operated by their parent company. I told you about this six-screen outdoor theater here. With budget-friendly prices on tickets and snacks, you can pack up the family (or a hot date) into your car and have a fun night out without breaking the bank. Even better, physical distancing is NEVER a concern at a drive-in, since you’re in control of your environment. You don’t have to interact with anyone if you choose not to (online ticketing is coming soon). 

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Modern conveniences like digital picture and stereo FM sound enhance the movie-going experience. Snacks and meals can be ordered from your smartphone for quick pick-up at the concession stand. You can smoke, bring your own food, turn up the volume as loud as you like on your car’s sound system and chat about the movie if you want to. It’s your own private universe under the stars.

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All of those advantages are why the drive-in theater has surged in popularity this year. Not only has the retro concept become a place to rediscover classics on the big screen, but locations around the country have been showing new concerts and hosted comedy and drag shows. Even Jennifer Romas and the cast of Westgate’s SEXXY revue performed drive-in shows this summer at a special location.

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COVID-19 is still affecting seasonal activities like sporting events and holiday parties. Depending on your neighborhood, even trick-or-treat might not happen. But nothing is tastier than freshly-buttered movie popcorn, and you can still dress the kids (or yourself) in costumes to see a great Halloween hit, double-feature, or even a trilogy….all for one low price.

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From now through October 31st, West Wind is lighting up their six massive screen with dozens of horror titles. From franchise hits of the 80’s to the latest spooky titles. there’s something for EVERYONE.

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Click here for the latest schedule, and check back often. 

Family-friendly Spookers – 

Romantic Vampire Films – 

Franchise Horror Films – 

Tim Burton Favorites – 

John Carpenter Classics –

Low-Budget Shockers –

Big-Budget Titles –

Groundbreaking Classics –

There are plenty more films to be added to the list, and the festival runs through Halloween night. Click here for updates, and check back often. 

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West Wind Las Vegas Drive-in Theater is open year-round, rain or shine. They’re located at 4150 West Carey Avenue, northwest of downtown. Call  (702) 646-3565 OR (702) 647-1379 for more information.

 

THE VEGAS ROOM – Sin City’s Best Kept Secret Is A Secret No Longer


Intimate supper club is a meticulously crafted experience from arrival through the final applause…

“I miss the days of old Vegas.” How often do you hear those words? Colored by a fondness for “when the Mob was in charge”, people lament about the golden era of Sin City. It was a time when you were escorted to your “usual table”, the bartender had that favorite cocktail waiting, and an evening out was a splendidly curated event.

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If you’re among those who yearn for the return of vintage-Vegas glamour, your prayers have been answered. Step through the red doors of The Vegas Room and enter a world where dinner and music are served on a plate of elegance. Here you’ll enjoy the most gifted entertainers of Sin City, showcasing their talents in an intimate presentation that you won’t see anywhere else.

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The Vegas Room is a passion project of sorts…a crowning achievement representing the careers of three gifted gentlemen. President Thomas Richard Michel orchestrates the business side, pulling from years in the entertainment and marketing industries. It falls upon him to ensure that every visit is uniquely memorable:

“There are so many talented performers in Las Vegas who don’t always have a place to share their talents. And, even if they do under normal circumstances, they often aren’t able to perform the type of material that they might really want to showcase. This was a key reason that The Vegas Room came to be.”

“Our mission is to envelop our guests in an environment that doesn’t really exist in Las Vegas anymore. It is a place where people can experience incredible local talent coupled with delicious handcrafted food, all in a warm and intimate setting.”

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“The entertainment we showcase changes each and every weekend, and the handcrafted menu – whether for our five-course dinner, our light bites “Sampler” package, or our Sunday Jazz brunch – changes every two weeks” Michel explained. “For this reason, many local people are already returning frequently, as they appreciate our reasonable prices and the fact that there’s always something new and wonderful to experience.”

“Tourists also tell us that they’ll make The Vegas Room a definite “must-do” on their calendars when they’re back in Las Vegas. Whether locals or tourists, there’s no doubt that that type of reaction is extremely gratifying for everyone involved in The Vegas Room, whether a performer or staff member.”

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Although the tourism industry is currently in flux thanks to the pandemic, The Vegas Room‘s location gives it the ability to prosper, even in these uncertain times. Tucked away inside a rather humble and aging East Sahara shopping center, the small venue provides an immediate feeling of welcome familiarity. That’s especially important to locals, whose repeat business makes up the majority of their clientele.

The supper club experience might be new to contemporary generations, but it’s made a remarkable return, thanks in part to high-profile spaces like Rose.Rabbit.Lie (Cosmopolitan) and Bellagio‘s new Mayfair Supper Club. True fans of the supper-club concept know that a skilled chef is as much an integral component as the entertainers who command the microphone and keyboards.

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Executive Chef David James Robinson is the owner of The Vegas Room. He’s known to thousands of fans and followers thanks to television shows, a strong online presence, and his 10-part cooking tutorial “Learn How To Cook (and eat your mistakes)”. It’s clear when he’s visiting tables that Chef David is having as much fun as his guests:

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“We care enormously about the food and service we provide. Our guests at The Vegas Room will see that for themselves when they experience the reality – both in look and taste – that everything we make is handcrafted and made from scratch” (click here to view the latest brunch and dinner menus).

“For example, all of our salad dressings, soups, and stocks are uniquely ours and made fresh. Additionally, all breads, muffins, and biscuits were baked fresh that day, and every component of every dish was sourced and prepared with great care…and it always will be.”

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“Our goal when it comes to the food we serve at The Vegas Room – whether for dinner or brunch – is to make it an equally memorable complement to our world-class entertainment, combining the two to make a truly wonderful evening or afternoon out.”

The entertainment community seems to have adopted The Vegas Room as their new combination hangout/haven. Often unable to perform in their usual venues thanks to the pandemic, they come here to share their craft and support one another. During each of my visits, entertainers from large-scale Strip productions were enjoying the food and cheering on their colleagues.

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As you might imagine, management has taken great care to ensure guest safety. Face masks are required until seated, guests have their temperature scanned (a two-second touchless process), and everyone is required to sanitize their hands upon arrival. The serving and bar staff wear protective facial coverings, and implements are santized and sealed. Tables are arranged to meet social-distancing protocols, aptly serviced by the always-wonderful Sandy Love. A full description of The Vegas Room‘s COVID-19 safety plan is available on their website.

                   Vocalist Randal Keith with Philip Fortenberry at the piano…

Onstage, stars like Anne Martinez (FANTASY, BAZ) Randal Keith (Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular, Showstoppers), and Eric Jordan Young (Vegas! The Show, Cocktail Cabaret, Rock Of Ages) present spectacular interpretations of classics old and new. As you might imagine from a line-up of that pedigree, Broadway showtunes frequently fill the air.

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There’s an enormous amount of respect between artists and the venue’s Director of Entertainment Brent Barrett, himself a seasoned performer (The Broadway Tenors, Chicago The Musical):

“From an entertainment perspective, The Vegas Room is meant to be a prestige room. That means that – as the Review-Journal stated recently – you have to be great to play this room. And, speaking of the room itself, instead of being a big theatrical space, it’s a very comfortable jewel box of a setting, currently seating less than 50 guests.”

“With our wonderful sound system and amazing acoustics, you really feel as though you’re listening to great standards, jazz, rhythm and blues, and Broadway showtunes in the comfort of your own living room. It’s THAT intimate. I think that is what has attracted so many of Las Vegas’s best performers to want to play the room.”

                                   Anne Martinez accompanied by pianist Dan Ellis…

“Because of that, we are able to present a robust array of truly incredible singers and musicians to our guests. And, many of the folks who attend The Vegas Room now return week after week to experience artists they know in addition to ones that they don’t…but should,” stated Barrett.

               Patrick Hogan performs at Sunday Jazz Brunch throughout July….

One such artist is Patrick Hogan, who dazzled audiences during July 4th weekend’s Sunday Jazz Brunch. The 24-year-old singer/songwriter is principal pianist at Mayfair Supper Club. Hogan performed two astonishing sets of his own compositions, along with many beloved standards.

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Look for Patrick Hogan and fellow jazz great Amanda King Sundays throughout July. Upcoming evening performances include Travis Cloer (Jersey Boys) with pianist Chris Lash (BAZ), Toscha Comeaux (Cirque du Soleil) and The Vegas Room‘s own Brent Barrett.

The Vegas Room is located at 953 East Sahara Avenue E-18. Sunday Jazz Brunch is held weekly at 1pm. The “Supper Club Experience” takes place every Friday and Saturday beginning at 6:30pm. There’s also a “light bites” sampler option which seats at 7:30pm. Showtime is 8pm.

Click here for full details and to make reservations or phone (725) 206-7059

Photos: Sam Novak, Sparky Lisa, Lisa Marie, The Vegas Room, Brent Barrett, Amanda King, Toscha Comeaux, Travis Cloer, Christopher Lash

2019 – The Year in Review: ‘What The CL#@K!?’ The First Half-Dozen

 


A look back at the first half of a year filled with memorable and some truly bizarre happenings in Sin City…

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When this writer relocated here from Oregon a short 14 months ago, I knew that it would be a huge lifestyle change. But even for the folks who’ve lived here the vast majority (or all) of their lives, 2019 brought about some seriously weird and wacky shit.

January –

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New Year’s Day started out on a bizarre note with a visit to Rio’s GLOBAL WINTER WONDERLAND. The bitterly cold conditions kept just about everyone away, meaning you could walk through a colorful electric representation of the entire world AND enjoy the amusement park thrill rides of your choice while being nearly alone. As long as you held on tightly to a steaming hot cup of cocoa, it was actually pretty damned fun.

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Employees at the Rio assured me that this attraction would not be returning (and they were correct), as it had caused a major disruption to hotel operations and employee/guest parking. While one of the attraction’s team members swore that at least the Midway part of Global Winter Wonderland would remain through Chinese New Year, the entire area was empty soon after….save for a few sad, abandoned pieces that were left on the side of the lot.

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Historic attraction Bonnie Springs Ranch announced on January 9th that it was being sold and razed for luxury housing. The beloved ranch had been operating in various forms since the 1950s. Locals began flocking to the charming themed attraction for one last visit, many bringing their children to share the same experience they had when growing up.

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The property offered a motel, western town, event barn, horse rides, petting zoo, wax museum, train ride, saloon, restaurant, and a wild west shootout show. Attempts to protect the property by having it declared a historic landmark failed and the ranch closed its barn doors one final time on March 17th.

On a sad personal note, my handsome pal Sunny, who had been undergoing chemotherapy for several months, took a turn for the worse the day before Christmas and passed on January 2nd. It was a rough start to 2019.

February –

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The shortest month of the year will always be remembered for the snowfall. Not once, but THREE times within the span of two weeks. The first layer hit shortly after Valentine’s Day, and by the final downfall, my home in Mountain’s Edge was under at least four inches.

While that’s nothing in most parts of the country, in southern Nevada it’s life-altering. From my rooftop deck, I could see the entire valley under a beautiful blanket of white. Pilot Jim Gisclair of Serenity Helicopters captured some stunning views while heading out to the Grand Canyon. Schools shuttered, longtime locals went bananas and those who grew up in chilly climates just enjoyed a pleasant few days of relative quiet.

Inside “The NAKED MAGICIANS” at MGM Grand

The Naked Magicians, a pair of Aussie hunks with a penchant for bawdy humor, magic tricks and bare skin launched at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club. Despite their name, the worldwide sensations found Sin City’s liquor laws to be a bit challenging, as this prevented the boys from going full-frontal (ironic, isn’t it?). Even with a bevy of positive reviews and a legion of fans, ticket sales proved to be a challenge. So the handsome duo put on their pants and headed back to OZ to regroup. Perhaps we’ll see more (or all) of them down the road.

The Sahara Hotel was still operating under the SLS banner in February, but changes were already underway with new owners from Reno. The Sayer’s Club premiered Ester Goldberg’s Totally Outrageous Brunch, a fun mixture of singing, acrobatics, dirty humor, Donald Trump, deviled eggs and a host in drag.

A few months into the run, show creator Michael Airington (Ester Goldberg) was fired by the producers, who promised that the show would go on without him/her (it didn’t). Airington is hoping to regain the Goldberg character and has been very vocal on social media about wanting satisfaction:

“Can’t wait to serve up some Karma Whoop Ass in 2020!!! NEVER EVER count this old Jew broad out! Happy Hanukkah Bitches” – Ester Goldberg

Totally Outrageous Brunch premiered on February 23rd, which happened to be my birthday. After enjoying the show, it was off to The Golden Tiki that evening for a celebration with friends. You can’t find a more enjoyable place to commemorate a special event than this magical spot on Spring Mountain Road.

Head honcho Branden Powers, whom I’ve mentioned numerous times in this column, was kind enough to make a little memorial for Sunny, whose plight he had followed. Thanks to you and your staff for making it a very special night, Branden.

March –

In March, Excalibur Hotel Casino tried to shake up its image a little bit with the opening of Fuerza Bruta, an avante garde international production housed inside a tent along the Strip. A true winner in terms of innovation and the “wow factor”, Fuerza Bruta proved to be a hard sell to Sin City ticket buyers and petered out within 6 weeks.

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98 Degrees founder (and world’s hottest man) Jeff Timmons used his considerable clout, industry knowledge and fanbase to launch a new boy band called OVERNIGHT. The fledgling group’s one-night performance at Orleans Casino left this writer underwhelmed (and that’s being kind). The official Twitter page has been dormant ever since, suggesting that OVERNIGHT has already said “good night”.

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As for Timmons, he did a spectacular rebound with longtime hit-makers 98 Degrees, with whom he continues to tour. The group is scheduled for Ontario next and is heading to Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines soon after. With luck, we’ll see Jeff on a Vegas stage sometime soon, minus OVERNIGHT and of course, without his shirt.

Construction at both Allegiant (Raiders) Stadium and Resorts World (finally) began to shoot skyward. Although both have announced delays (and escalated final costs), their progress through the year has been rapid and remarkable. Blue monolith monster Fontainebleau/The Drew remains a dormant reminder of overreaching ideas, while the Las Vegas Convention Center has spread its reach onto the Strip, rising on the ruins of historic Riviera Hotel.

April –

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Venetian welcomed CHICAGO – The Musical to its grandest theater for a short run (April 10th through 14th). The Broadway revival was sold on the star power of supermodel Christie Brinkley, who at 65 years old was way past the point of being believable as femme fatale “Roxie Hart”. While the staging and supporting cast were top-notch, Brinkley’s gravely vocals were a constant reminder that some performers should be seen and not heard. Who thought that this was a good idea?

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Thanks to my friends Allison Duck and cast member Derrick Boyce, I was able to meet the legendary Donny and Marie Osmond after a stellar performance. The duo’s long-running show at Flamingo closed in late November and the months leading up to the final performance were packed to the rafters.

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Tropicana Hotel hosted the annual NPC Jay Cutler Desert Classic, a bodybuilding competition created by the former Mr. Olympia competitor. Cutler is a beloved resident of Las Vegas, a city filled with athletes, models, acrobats, and dancers.

Chippendales cast member Ryan Worley, whom you may remember from this profile piece, realized a longtime goal by stepping back into the competition ring. Happily, he went home with an impressive medal hanging from his perfectly shaped chest. Yours truly was there to cheer on this big-hearted cat dad.

Warmer temperatures saw the welcome return of many outdoor activities…and a dreadful allergy season. As the snow began to melt from the western mountain ridge, hot air balloons became a regular sight on the morning horizon.

Kaos Nightclub opened at the newly-renovated Palms Casino. Millions were poured into the venue and millions more into paychecks for headliners like barely-human trashbag Cardi B. and celebrity deejays Kaskade and Marshmello, who alone was offered a $60 million contract. A fool’s errand from day one. the disastrous project closed right after Halloween.

                         Progress photos of Raiders stadium taken by me on April 27th…

May –

One month after it opened at Harrah’s, I finally made it over to see Heartbreak Hotel in Concert. This Vegas-style version of the musical play stripped out plotlines and characters in favor of songs and narration by the cast. Despite a talented team, the show was never a big hit and will be closing at the end of this year. I think it’s time for producers to realize that today’s audiences have had their fill of Elvis Presley and his music, nostalgia be damned.

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Primm Valley Premium Outlets landed in this writer’s crosshairs after an unfortunate encounter with mall security. While strolling through the struggling mall on Mother’s Day, I decided to snap some photos of the numerous closed businesses. Apparently, this was an indication of terrorist activity, as I was accosted and interrogated by an over-zealous rent-a-cop.

I detailed the encounter in a tongue-in-cheek article that sadly spelled out the true cluelessness of business establishments in the region. In 2019 Las Vegas, it doesn’t matter what your intentions are….you’ll be treated suspiciously while simultaneously being gouged for every spare penny in your wallet. I recently heard that the long-suffering space would be remodeled and rebranded, something it desperately needs.

Magician Jen Kramer celebrated her first year at Westgate Las Vegas with a gala celebration. Food was provided by Fresco Italiano and Edge Steakhouse, two of the best restaurants in the city.

And of course, there were more progress shots of stadium construction. As the structure began to take shape, so did the jokes.

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June –

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Summertime in Vegas used to be considered “off-season”. Tourists avoided the city’s scorching heat and hotels commonly closed off entire towers to reduce cooling expenses. Then came the “Day Club” and “Beach Clubs” and all of that changed. Now the mean season brings openings and events galore.

After numerous delays, CELESTIA finally debuted at the newly-rebranded STRAT Hotel Casino. The star-studded media premiere was a splashy event and the casts of many other productions stopped by to lend their support. The show continues to evolve under the guidance of Kim Scott, formerly of Cirque du Soleil.

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Ms. Scott just invited me back to experience a new “VIP Star Seating”, in which CELESTIA guests will actually be on stage for the performance. Prior to the show, they’ll be welcomed into the tent through a private entrance and treated to a complimentary cocktail and popcorn. Sounds like a blast!

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Speaking of blasts, MGM Grand brought The Hunger Games: The Exhibition to Las Vegas in June. An interactive attraction based on the popular movie series, The Hunger Games comes from the same company that designed Marvel Avengers STATION at Treasure Island.

Downtown’s Cockroach Theater Company outdid many Strip productions with SATANGO, featuring Savannah Smith (Vegas! The Show) and Human Nature‘s Toby Allen. A clever musical based around the “dance of temptation”, SATANGO envisions a one-night ballroom gala where the denizens of Heaven and Hell call a truce to lure members to the opposite side. Simply brilliant!

Finally, June marked my first appearance in front of the cameras, via Vin A.‘s hysterical web talk show “WHAT THE CL#@CK?!”Vin A. is best known as the musical director and outrageously-energetic member of The Bronx Wanderers. A brilliantly engaging host with a firm grasp on the balls of current events, the talented singer/songwriter/musician welcomed me along with his pal Michael Shapiro of ReCkLeSs in Vegas.

Our conversation covered everything from strippers and strollers to fiery California and flaming Elton John. You can watch the entire episode right here:

After a rip-roaring good time at the studio, I headed home and nearly crashed into oncoming traffic. Some things are just never meant to be seen with the naked eye, especially at 65 mph. And that’s how June came to a crack close.

Coming up in the second half, Sin City encounters the Wrath of God. Rainstorms and grasshoppers and earthquakes! Oh, my!

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Sipping In Style at Venetian/Palazzo’s “COCKTAIL COLLECTIVE”


Three moods and a whole lotta class at Venetian/Palazzo’s trio of sexy lounges…

Last week my house guest and I were relaxing during the late afternoon when some cool jazz came up on the CD changer (yes, some of us are still old school). Apparently that piano and saxophone set the right tone because he perked up and said “I’m in the mood for some fancy cocktails. Where do we go?”.

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                   Dr. Ryan Cooley (right) and I start our evening at Venetian/Palazzo…

If you read this blog regularly then you’d know that my immediate response was “ROSINA“. I’ve had a love affair with Palazzo’s gorgeous art-deco lounge since it opened in the summer of 2017. A sister of sorts to Venetian’s The Dorsey, ROSINA was the latest jewel in the resort’s crown.

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Since then, Venetian/Palazzo has added ELECTRA Cocktail Club, the third member of their upscale lounge offerings. Now known as the Cocktail Collective, this trio beckons you with a sophisticated take on the pub crawl. So we were off to shower and into our swanky duds for an evening of superlative martinis, signature cocktails and gorgeous surroundings.

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Our first stop was ELECTRA Cocktail Club, a high-gloss and sumptuous space just off the casino floor near Mott 32 (read my review here). The largest of the three, ELECTRA has an open floor plan with large tufted sofas and luxurious lounge chairs. The far wall is a stunning and massive video screen with amazing resolution.

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This “digital canvas” is almost subliminal as a mood-enhancer, as constantly-changing vibrant images alternately rivet your attention then become part of the background atmosphere. The effect is dazzling and memorable, helping to create the energy of a mega-club with the intimate trappings of a local hangout.

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                      Performer Ruby Lewis surprises Sarah Delgado-Rith at Rosina…

Of course any cocktail lounge is only as good as who’s behind the bar. It was pleasing to recognize bartender Sarah Delgado-Rith. This lovely and wonderfully-skilled mixologist was the centerpiece of an article I penned last year. In it, Sarah was surprised by BAZ performer Ruby Lewis, who took over her shift as part of “National Plan for Vacation Day”.

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Reintroducing myself, I brought up that article and asked Sarah if Miss Lewis had really worked her entire shift. “No, I wish!” she laughed. “As soon as the cameras were done rolling, girlfriend was outta here. But I actually did get the vacation, so that was cool”.

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We all had a chuckle then got down to business with a look at ELECTRA’s magnificent cocktail menu. The newest member of the Cocktail Collective prides itself on being ahead of the trends in mixology. Their primary focus is on rums, agricoles and mezcals, but the skilled bartenders can create absolutely anything to suit your taste. I was drawn to Unicorn Tears ($18), a tall blend of gin, Fino sherry, fresh lime, pineapple and absinthe.

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My companion, a family-practice physician from the Pacific Northwest, decided to take a walk on the wild side with Low Blow ($18). This union of bourbon, pineapple liqueur, chocolate and Angostura bitters is stirred and dramatically served on the rocks.

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The ambience at ELECTRA tends to ebb and flow. Music changes throughout the evening just like that electric video wall. Resident DJ’s supply contemporary hits, hip-hop, rock and the occasional mellow selection. On Thursdays, the club hosts a fun-filled “Shake Off” in which celebrities participate in a cocktail-creation competition. A famous pair of guests is challenged to design drinks that reflect their tastes and sensibilities…and club attendees get to be the judges!

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Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Saying farewell to Sarah and the ELECTRA staff, we sauntered across the casino to ROSINA. The eye-catching black and gold entrance lures you from the east side of the gaming floor and offers an intimate environment that’s in stark contrast to ELECTRA’s party vibe. Famous for it’s unique “Champagne Call Button” that keeps the bubbly flowing, ROSINA specializes in fine wines and classic cocktails delivered with panache.

ROSINA’s stunning space is the perfect size to host intimate groups and celebrate special events. Our visit happened to coincide with “Rosina Connoisseur Nights”, a series that recognizes noteworthy Las Vegas women. This evening was celebrating Women in Television and was hosted by reporter/personality Jillian Lopez.

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                                             Host Jillian Lopez with Kyle Markman…

The featured cocktail for the evening was Air Columbia, made with Belvedere Vodka, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, housemade simple syrup, lemon juice, fresh raspberries and MOËT ROSÉ.

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                        Claudine Grant (right) is the resort’s Communications Manager…

Guiding the festivities was Claudine Grant, the resort’s dynamic and always-elegant Communications Manager.  In attendance was Keith Salwoski, Venetian’s handsome Executive Director of Public Relations. I’d been fortunate to meet both of these wonderful people during the 2017 BAZ Boot Camp experience that I told you about here.

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Keith recommended that we try the Seasonal Fix ($18), a refreshing mixture of muddled seasonal fruit, spirit of your choice, fresh lemon, crushed ice and a whole-fruit accent. I enjoyed gin and raspberry while the good doctor chose vodka and blueberries. Open wide and say “Ahhhhhhh”….

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                    GM Luis Lopez (second from left) and Keith Salwoski (far right)…

General Manager Luis Lopez, who also helms ELECTRA, told me about ROSINA’s growing collection of “Secret Menus”. Along with the regular list of wines and signature cocktails, guests in the know (and Vegas Unfiltered readers) can request a peek at the down-low Manhattan Menu. On Thursday June 6th they’ll be debuting a Champagne Secret Menu at a special cost for one night before a formal roll-out. Be sure to attend and tell them that Sam sent you.

On a side note, I learned via this piece in Las Vegas Magazine that Mr. Lopez regularly visits sick children in hospitals dressed as Deadpool and Batman. Performing the same heartwarming work as the team at Critical Care Comics (which I wrote about here), Luis says “It’s great for me to be able to do that for the kids. I wear those suits so I can take their mind off things—so they can have some fun.”

The founding member of the Cocktail Collective is The Dorsey, our final stop for the evening. Take a short stroll through Restaurant Row, past the recently-reviewed Factory Kitchen and a right at the Venetian casino.

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The Dorsey is a distinctly fresh take on cocktail culture with a different vibe from either ELECTRA or ROSINA. An interesting blend of casual elegance, soothing atmosphere and hip culture, The Dorsey is the perfect place to begin…or close out…an evening on the town.

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My favorite section of The Dorsey is the library, where you can indulge in one of famed mixologist Sam Ross‘s legendary creations while enjoying conversation and social interaction. It’s perfect for a first date or to mark an intimate personal event.

I was fortunate on my first visit to experience Sam Ross in person…as he graced our group with a fascinating presentation of his latest creations. You may not be so lucky to visit when Ross is with, but with so many things to taste, see, listen to and enjoy, every moment at The Dorsey is memorable.

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Ross and his team now have introduced “The Dorsey Sessions”, an ongoing cultural exchange of sorts in which noteworthy bartenders from around the world come to The Venetian to share their craft, knowledge and influences on the latest cocktail trends.

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When you’re at The Dorsey with a group of friends, bring a party atmosphere to the table with one of their outlandish shareable craft Disco Punch Bowls. Presented in an open-top mirror ball with copper mugs, your punch can be made with Dom Pérignon,  Laurent-Perrier, Absolut Elix or Patrón Tequila.

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You can peruse the extensive wine, champagne, beer and cocktail list by clicking here. I highly recommend trying The Penicillin ($18), a true conversation starter made with blended scotch, lemon juice, honey-ginger syrup and a float of Islay Scotch on top. Sam Ross created this one at the Milk and Honey Bar in New York City and it’s become quite popular at The Dorsey…so much so that Ross created a frozen variation, The Penichillin, which is available at nearby ELECTRA.

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Now that you too are in the know, it’s time to follow doctor’s orders and experience the Cocktail Collective for yourself. It’s an adventure for the senses that you won’t want to miss.

Photos: Sam Novak, Venetian/Palazzo

 

 

Hanging By A Thread – Sin City’s Huge Entertainment Dilemma


Fuerza Bruta’s shocking failure suggests a troubling future for large-scale productions….

Several years ago I penned a two-parter for Vegas Chatter entitled “Four Walls and a Dream”. In it I explored the difficulties involved in launching a new show in today’s corporation-run Vegas. Gone are the days when casinos supported their own entertainment. It’s up to productions themselves to “pay the rent” via an arrangement known as four-walling. And that quite simply is why most new shows are gone before you’ve ever even heard of them.

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That article was inspired by Jeff Civillico, a dynamic young entertainer whose star was already on the rise. His “Comedy In Action” afternoon show at Linq Hotel (then known somewhat absurdly as The Quad) was working hard to make a name for itself. Yet the resort where he rented showroom space had little interest in helping “Comedy In Action” to succeed.

Civillico was on the hook not only for the room and production costs, but also for supplying the advertising materials to display around the property. Yet Jeff had little control over where they’d be displayed….if at all. I’m not sure if he ever worked out his issues with parent company Caesars Entertainment, but Comedy in Action still performs once a week at Paris Hotel Casino.

I learned a lot about the current state of Vegas entertainment while researching that piece. There was plenty of response from performers, producers, directors and public relations people when it ran, too. But after the shocking announcement that Fuerza Bruta would be shuttering only four weeks into a six-month stint, I realized two valuable facts:

  1.  There is no magic formula to ensure that a show will be a hit.
  2.  The current state of Vegas entertainment is more volatile than ever before.

If you haven’t heard of Fuerza Bruta, then congratulations. I’ll pretend to make a check-mark in the air and we can continue on down the list. But first, allow me to say that less than one week ago in my rave review for Fuerza Bruta for BestOfVegas.com, I called it a “Sin City game changer”. I also inaccurately claimed that it was “poised to redefine entertainment on the Strip”. Oh, my… (click HERE to read the original review).

 

 

Just after I’d sent the piece off to the editor, I received an email from Fuerza Bruta’s public relations firm regarding the Vegas run.

FUERZA BRUTA will perform its final show at Excalibur Hotel & Casino on Sunday, April 7, 2019. The acclaimed production, which has been seen by more than six million spectators in more than 34 countries and 58 cities since its launch in 2003, will continue to impress audiences from around the world as it prepares to make the move from Las Vegas to MGM Cotai in Macau in June 2019.
Tickets for the remaining Las Vegas performances of FUERZA BRUTA are now on sale and available at any MGM Resorts International box office, online at Excalibur.com or by calling (702) 597-7600. Refunds for tickets purchased for shows at Excalibur after April 7 will be available at the point of purchase.

It took awhile for the shock of this announcement to subside. I could have been embarrassed that I’d been so far off in my predictions. Instead I was angry that the so-called “City of Entertainment” had chewed up and spit out yet another piece of great entertainment.

 

 

All but one of my friends who had seen the show were absolutely dazzled by the balls-to-the-walls audacity of it. During three separate viewings, I’d stood alongside (and chatted afterwards with) cast members from shows like Chippendales, Le Reve, Zumanity and Donny & Marie. They’d come as I had to see if the enthusiastic pre-opening buzz was deserved. And every one of them was delirious, if not downright envious, of the incredible visuals and creative sequences that Fuerza Bruta was able to pull off inside a tent erected on a parking lot.

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That positive word-of-mouth alone should have been enough to bolster tickets sales. If performers from some of the top shows in Vegas loved it, then it was a must-see, right? Not so fast. Depending on who you ask, it turns out that paid tickets for the show were averaging 50-80 sales per performance with the rest comped (freebies). But if all of those people love it, then they’ll recommend it to friends and attendance will build, right? Well, that would take time….which the powers that be weren’t about to grant.

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Fuerza Bruta was located just outside of Excalibur, which is owned by MGM Resorts. MGM runs nearly half of the major resorts on the Strip. So why weren’t they supplying the capital to help fund operations and allow for attendance of this remarkable show to grow? Four-walling, of course! If Fuerza Bruta failed, all Excalibur would have to do is pull down the advertisements and sweep away any remaining evidence of where the tent had been.

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Realizing that readers and friends who’d planned on seeing the show would never get that opportunity to do so made me angry. I took to social media to vent my frustrations. “What the Hell is wrong with Vegas? Nothing worthwhile stands a chance anymore!”

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Well, thank goodness for the reach of Facebook and Twitter, because my steam-valve post brought out lots of sensible responses from performers in and around the Strip. Mike Hammer of Mike Hammer Comedy Magic at Four Queens was the first to chime in:

You can blame it on this city all you want but they didn’t understand the fundamentals of running a show in this town. It comes down to poor marketing strategy. First of all the show has a name that is not memorable. I live here and can’t even pronounce the name. No way most people from the Midwest are even going to know what the show is. Also, it’s pretty hard to sell a show when you can’t even describe it. Everyone I know that has seen it, including has never described it in one sentence. They didn’t even leave enough time to build up a buzz.

Bad timing of when they opened too. Slower time of the year with March madness and spring break. Again, this a producers decision. They weren’t even selling 50 tickets so how can you blame it on this city?

Again, people that don’t get the VEGAS market. If they didn’t plan enough money to survive six months of marketing, they just were not ready. I wish the best of luck elsewhere where they know what they’re doing. I love VEGAS and it’s been a home to me for 16 years. I’ve seen shows come and go and most of the time it’s the producers or management fault.

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Enoch Augustus Scott, host of long-running hit Zombie Burlesque at Planet Hollywood’s V Theater also took exception to my finger-pointing at Vegas:

There are a million possible reasons besides fat Americans to account for this. Injury. Bad accounting. Or it could be the standing up. People stand and walk around Las Vegas all day along. Sometimes the only chance they get to sit is dinner or a show. Also the Las Vegas show demo skews older. Also people from all over the world come to Vegas. Cirque has been able to grow as big as they are by catering to and attracting an international market base. So you really can’t blame fat Americans on a show not running. Clearly the producers did not understand the landscape or have enough capital to go the 6 months. Happens all the time. Producers come here with a hope and dream and without a business plan or the necessary investment to run a show long enough for it to become a success. It is poor craftsman who blames his tools and even poorer performer who blames his audience. Literally.

While I agree on much of what Enoch says, he also had added “It was always meant to be a limited run. Calm down everybody.” Correct, but that limited run was for six months with the hope of an extension. Four weeks was clearly a failure with deeper implications.

 

See, that’s the problem with having so many choices in one city. Without brand recognition, a famous headliner or a simple-to-explain concept, your middle-American Vegas visitors just won’t make the time for it. Hence we’re inundated with magic shows, impersonators, topless revues and lots of “Circus Day Solay”.

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It’s interesting to note that Fuerza Bruta played in New York City from 2007 through 2016. That’s over 3,000 performances! But we’re talking about an entirely different demographic over there. Visitors to NYC book their tickets to Broadway hits months…and sometimes a year or more…in advance. They’re also a more sophisticated crowd that makes Broadway entertainment part of an elegant evening that includes fine dining while wearing tasteful and carefully-selected outfits.

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But in Las Vegas we’ve got 1) no backing from the host hotels, 2) no opportunity to build brand awareness….and 3) a group of visitors not exactly looking for high art to go along with their yard-long daiquiris.

I went poking around other social media outlets to see how people were reacting to the news of Fuerza Bruta’s sudden shuttering. Always-reliable VitalVegas.com had quickly published an article announcing the closure, and it was a comment from reader ExVegasLocal that caught my eye:

I was “this close” to buying tickets to see Fuerza Bruta for an upcoming trip. It looked like a really cool show, but I was on the fence because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be jostled in a crowd from one side of the room to the other for an hour. In the end, I decided not to bite.

No matter what Vegas thinks about itself, it’s not really that forward thinking/avant garde. Neither are its visitors. Hence the constant replication of one thing that works until it’s completely overdone. Another Cirque show/night club with one syllable name/shopping arcade in front of a hotel/pool party/CVS pharmacy anyone? Now that’s more like it.

Vin A., one of The Bronx Wanderers, had a humorous reaction to my post…one that was also deeply insightful:

Well THAT was obnoxiously fast 😢 i didn’t even get to see the freaking thing! Wtf? Need a low low overhead to survive out here. Why all the one man shows live on forever and a few small cast things barely squeak by. It’s tough as hell out here. You play here for the prestige, and you tour for the money that carries you through your losses out here. That’s the future.

Raja Rahman of the musical magic duo Jarrett and Raja added his own thoughts to the situation:

It’s never about the quality of the show. It’s the $$$ behind it. Ugh. The cycle continues. After our experience, I’m convinced this business model is crap. Any business needs time to ramp up.

“Our experience” no doubt refers to the troubles Jarrett and Raja encountered at various showrooms throughout the city. They’ve had to deal with four-wall scenarios and abrupt closures at downtown’s Plaza Hotel, Hooters Casino and Stratosphere. Even though these gentlemen are residents of Las Vegas, they often find it sensible and more lucrative just to take their talents on the road.

Actually, it’s a pretty common thing for Vegas shows to go on tours. And often they never return. A few years ago I shadowed a production as it searched for a suitable venue on the Strip. After months of meetings and hassles, they decided on a major casino with a troubled showroom history. Sadly, their production would just be another casualty in a long list at the historic south-Strip hotel.

An opening date was chosen, tickets were sold, sets were constructed and advertisements went up throughout the casino and outside. But after being frustrated by resistance and lack of support from the hotel’s regime, the producers abruptly decided to throw up their hands, walk out the door and take the show on the road without doing a Vegas residency.

It makes no sense. It’s like they don’t want you here. Why should I put up money and then fight with the people who I’m paying rent to? After all that, if I’m lucky I’ll sell two hundred tickets a night in Las Vegas. We could take this show to other places where entertainment like this isn’t available and sell out two THOUSAND seats a night. And those places roll out the red carpet for us.

And that’s exactly what he did. A show designed for the Vegas Strip had to leave the city in order to survive. And the showroom they walked away from still remains empty two years later.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but greed always puts short-term profit ahead of long-term goals. Let’s use BAZ as an example. That innovative musical was brought to Mandalay Bay from Los Angeles by none other than Cirque du Soleil. The launch occurred during an awkward time frame in which ownership and business models at Cirque were being radically altered. Cirque abandoned BAZ in no time and without their support it closed after only six weeks.

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      BAZ was the perfect blend of sass, class and contemporary pop culture…

That’s when the Sands Corporation stepped in. Recognizing the many benefits of having a fantastic and unusual show on their property, they forked over the money to retro-fit the Palazzo Theater and supported BAZ’s run for two years. BAZ was never going to be a huge hit, but it was a prestigious project that brought a great deal of class and pride to the Venetian/Palazzo family.

So on one side we’ve got performers stating from personal experience that the four-wall business model doesn’t work. And on the other we’ve got these huge corporations that just don’t care. Working within the confines of the current system, what can be done to help a show succeed?

Well, if there was an answer to that, then at least a few of the dozens of shows that died in 2017 and 2018 might still be around. And that theoretical answer still wouldn’t apply to an existing property like Fuerza Bruta. So should it have been the responsibility of the PR firm to suggest “Hey, your show isn’t going to work here without a bit of overhaul”? Unlikely….they’re a third-party agency being hired by the show to spread awareness and buzz….nothing more. And who tells their boss on the first day that people might not even want their product?

Besides, public relations firms work mostly within the industry, reaching out to people like yours truly and much larger outlets such as TV networks, magazines and newspapers. They can tailor an existing ad campaign to make it Vegas-centric, but a risky top-to-bottom re-do for one stop of a tour? Not gonna happen…and we’ve already decided that there’s no magic formula for success, so why even try to change what’s worked everywhere else on the planet?

Should the PR firm have at least suggested a name revision for the show? Again, that would have understandably been met with resistance from a product that’s already a worldwide brand. And yet, a temporary re-naming to “Fuerza Bruta – Brute Force” might have eliminated some confusion and put a few more arses in those non-existent seats. Even the wise folks at Wynn eventually decided after several years to officially change the name of  Le Reve to “Le Reve – The Dream”. Because, you know, French is hard!

So just how much is in a name? Maybe the folks at the Strat should be asking that question right about now. No doubt they are sweating, because their delayed-delayed-delayed tent show Celestia, which was supposed to open on January 30th, is suddenly looking at an even more troubled future.

Celestia, now set for a May 1st debut (even though tickets are still not up for sale), may have an edge over Fuerza Bruta simply because it’s a show created specifically for Vegas. But we can justifiably counteract that advantage with the simple fact that it’s way at the troubled north end of the Strip and not the heavily-traveled Excalibur/MGM Grand/Tropicana/New York NY intersection where F.B. failed.

Celestia can also boast having some Cirque du Soleil DNA in its genes….and a few years ago that might have mattered. But now it’s time to recognize something really scary: Cirque du Soleil is facing genuine trouble here in Las Vegas. I’ve been told by people behind the scenes that MGM Resorts is quietly preparing to shut down all of their Cirque shows by the end of 2020.

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                             It’s my blog, I’ll be dramatic if I want to be…

While that might sound like absurd conjecture, there is plenty of evidence to back this rumor up. For one, huge productions like KA, ZUMANITY and Beatles LOVE are now advertising on Groupon. Yes, Groupon…the place where you go to buy discount Botox treatments and personalized make-up bags.

 

 

In my Vegas Chatter days, Groupon was a clear indicator that a Vegas attraction was struggling badly and would soon be gone. If you don’t believe me try to visit Eli Roth’s GORETORIUM. That’s not always the case anymore, but with must-see shows like LOVE, it’s an embarrassing way to put butts in seats.

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Hundreds of empty seats during a Friday performance of Cirque’s “Beatles LOVE” 

I recently attended a Friday-night performance of LOVE and was shocked that the massive auditorium was perhaps 40 percent filled. Hundreds upon hundreds of empty seats. And that’s apparently been the case for most of the Cirque shows for awhile now.

Vital Vegas stated in May of last year that Cirque’s 2017 capacity had been running at around 50 percent. With the removal of free parking to Nevada residents and a continued drop in tourism, that number would look even bleaker in the first quarter of 2019.

MGM Resorts numbers bear out rumors Cirque shows running at 50-60% capacity in Vegas: 3.6 million Cirque tickets sold in 2017, 9,890/week avg. per show. At 10 shows per week, that’s 989 sold with avg. capacity of 1,700.

Vital Vegas was also one of the first to report that Cirque Vegas was undergoing huge layoffs behind the scenes as part of a massive cost-cutting measure:

As they say in show business, “Holy crap!” Cirque du Soleil has reportedly informed all their Las Vegas shows (excluding “Mystere”) all department heads (lighting, sound, wardrobe, etc.) will be let go Apr. 17.

7:19 PM – 23 Mar 2019

He followed that up with an even more troubling tweet:

Hearing at least one well-known Cirque variety act was spotted auditioning at another (non-Cirque) show in town, presumably due to safety concerns related to Cirque layoffs.

12:48 PM – 31 Mar 2019

So, department heads have been axed, individual shows are being consolidated under one umbrella and performers are supposedly jumping ship to save their own skins. Does that sound like Cirque du Soleil will be around much longer to you?

In November I visited the Vegas Cirque du Soleil headquarters for a profile on Kim Scott, their Senior Manager of Sourcing and Partnerships. In her twelve years with the company, Scott had spearheaded shows like KA, Beatles LOVE and Criss Angel Believe.

During the interview, Kim had proudly spoken about being “responsible for maintaining our position in the industry as a leader in live entertainment safety standards, and position(ing) Cirque du Soleil as an employer of choice.” Yet one week after the article was published, Ms. Scott notified me that she was leaving Cirque to start her own consulting firm. I was astonished…and a little concerned.

Scott had also mentioned at the time that Cirque was busy creating a new show for Luxor in the theater vacated by Criss Angel’s Mindfreak. Raise your hand if you’ve heard anything about that one….I certainly haven’t.

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          Wanna go gaga over Gaga? It’ll set you back about a grand….

If a major brand like Cirque is struggling, new shows can’t afford to open and dozens of existing productions have disappeared, what will the future of Las Vegas entertainment look like? I have three answers: pricey headliner residencies, sports teams and celebrity DJ’s.

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       This….person…was just hired by Palms Resort to the tune of $60 million…

I don’t think anyone’s unaware of the Golden Knights or the new Raiders stadium. And who isn’t buzzing about Lady Gaga‘s two new shows at Park MGM Theater? Katy Perry, Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Aerosmith and more are settling in for extended gigs. Throw in Marshmello/Calvin Harris and their ilk for the club kids and that’ll probably cover nearly every major kind of entertainment in the city.

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           1.8 billion dollars is the projected cost of the new Raiders stadium…

Oh, those little one-man shows will probably survive. And the strippers most likely will never run out of poles to swing from. But for productions shows, you’ll just have to head Downtown to the Smith Center. That venue for the performing arts will continue to host nationwide touring productions for short-term runs. Las Vegas will just be another stop on the schedule…no longer unique.

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               “Closed. Refunds will be available at the point of purchase.”

Clips and photos by Sam Novak. Except for a few from…wherever….