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

 


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

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

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

BEST NEW SHOW – Manilow: The Hits Come Home

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

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

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

WORST NEW SHOW – Inferno: The Fire Spectacular 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runner-up: Soundtrack at Westgate Hotel Casino

BEST OVERALL PRODUCTION – Le Reve The Dream

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

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

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

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Last-minute Deals and Tips for New Year’s Eve


You still have options galore but don’t wait one minute more…

Very few cities aside from New York can match the outlandish excitement of a New Year’s Eve in Sin City. With all of the dining, entertainment and nightclub options, there is something to appeal to every taste.

Be aware, though, that restaurants fill up quickly and most require reservations. Same goes for hotels, and the closer to the actual date, the more prices will skyrocket. Many resorts prohibit checking in on December 31st and require a minimum two-night stay. So if you haven’t reserved your lodging yet, prepare for quite a bit of sticker shock. Prices will fluctuate frequently, often several times within a single day, so this article is only meant as a guideline. Check prices often and lock them in if something meets your budget.

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When it comes to searching for hotel deals, this writer is partial to Kayak.com. Entering dates for a stay from December 30th through January 1st, you’ll see that the best deal out there (at the time this article was written) is at Downtown’s El Cortez. Priced at a non-refundable rate of $126.00 per night (plus taxes and fees) for a double suite, the El Cortez is a great last-minute option. It also puts you within walking distance of the wild street party held under the Fremont Street Experience canopy.

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If you’d like to take in the Strip’s beautiful fireworks shows at midnight but want to avoid the insane crowds on Las Vegas Boulevard, consider two nights at Gold Coast Hotel Casino. Situated across from PALMS on Flamingo Road, Gold Coast has an assortment of wonderful restaurants and recently-updated rooms. Parking is free and you can easily walk to a number of nightclubs…even Voodoo Rooftop Nightclub at RIO for an unbeatable view.

Priceline.com is currently listing several room options at Gold Coast from $202 to $212 per night (plus taxes/fees) and free cancellation if you find a better deal elsewhere.

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For those who absolutely must stay on the Strip to chime in 2019, the best price going right now is at LUXOR for $207, You’ll notice the inclusion of Westgate Hotel Casino in the photo above. Even though it’s not technically on the Strip, having its own dedicated monorail stop makes Westgate an absurdly convenient option to get around with ease.

Speaking of the Las Vegas Monorail, it’s truly the best way to traverse the city during this holiday. The monorail runs continuously from 7 am on December 31, 2018 through 2 am on January 2, 2019. Single rides are $5 and a 24-hour pass is $13. The track runs from MGM Grand on the south end to SLS Las Vegas on the north. Stations are in the rear of casinos and automated ticketing kiosks accept credit cards, cash and Google Pay. Click here for a guide to monorail resort stops.

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Luxury hotels are available at press time and still not priced as outrageously as in previous years. Amoma.com is listing rooms at Wynn Las Vegas starting at $679 per night. With all of the nightclubs at the Wynn/Encore complex, this is certainly one worth considering for a high-end celebration.

Remember that the entire Las Vegas Strip is closed to all vehicles on New Year’s Eve starting at around 4 pm. Traffic is a nightmare and cars, buses and taxis will be squeezing onto the smaller back roads to get around town. So it’s highly advisable that you stay near where you plan to play, get situated early in the evening and have a plan to get around and back. You might also want to carry a fully-charged phone, a back-up battery and choose a meet-up point in case you get separated from your companions or have some kind of emergency.

Even though Vegas is in the desert, this is still winter. Plan on the possibility of cold weather and dress accordingly. You’ll also want to remember that crowded events pose issues of personal security. Keep your valuables as secure as you can, men should keep wallets in their front pockets, don’t accept drinks or food from strangers, etc. A little common sense will go a long way…and be especially careful of letting your guard down once the bubbly starts flowing.

There will be a significant increase in police presence on New Year’s Eve. Strollers, coolers, luggage, over-sized purses and backpacks will be prohibited on the Strip. Downtown’s Fremont Street Party is a ticketed event ($35 until Christmas Day, $45 after) and only those 21 and older are permitted. Click here for tickets to Fremont’s “America’s Party Downtown”.

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Expect security to be aggressive at nightclubs, too…along with hefty cover charges. Voodoo Nightclub at RIO has a $100 admission but includes open bar from 9 pm through 11 pm. Marquee Nightclub‘s admission at Cosmopolitan is $75 for women and $150 for men (say what?). Price includes hors d’oeuvres and open bar starting at 9 pm and a complimentary champagne toast at midnight.

Over at Caesars Palace, overhyped DJ Calvin Harris will be the hot draw for OMNIA Nightclub. Tickets cost $150 for women, $225 for men and include….absolutely nothing. Your dollars will go much farther at Aria‘s JEWEL, where admission is $52/$104 and gets you two hours of open bar and music by Tyga. You can add a four-course dinner at Herringbone for $175 per person, good from 7 pm through 11 pm.

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For the best view in all of Las Vegas, consider the Skyline Spectacular NYE Party at Stratosphere. For $250 per person you get the works:

Party in the Sky for a New Year’s Eve you won’t forget! Enjoy 3-hours of unlimited premium brand open bars, specialty drinks, martini luges and award-winning chef’s specialty food stations from around the world as you celebrate New Year’s Eve 800 feet above Las Vegas Boulevard in our iconic Tower’s indoor Observation Deck. Take in the spectacular Las Vegas New Year’s Eve Firework Show at Midnight with our signature champagne toast. Mingle and dance to live DJs and go-go dancers, and ring in 2019 in style.

Click here for tickets to Stratosphere’s Party in the Sky.

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Yours truly will be spending his first NYE as a Las Vegas resident in a somewhat conservative style. Just like last year, I’ll be enjoying great food, music and cocktails inside the cavernous ballroom of Westgate Las Vegas. Last year’s SUNDAY NIGHT FEVER costume party was a 70’s theme. This time they’ve jumped a decade ahead:

REVENGE OF THE 80s NYE PARTY: Pop your collar and jam out to music from the Spazmatics, celebrating the decade that gave us puzzle cubes, 8-bit obsessions, synth rock, shoulder pads, and other unforgettable fashions. You’re welcome to wear your sunglasses at night as you moonwalk your way out of 2018! $150 includes 3-course seated dinner and open bar.

The Westgate Revenge of the 80s party begins at 6 pm and is framed around an east-coast time zone ball drop (their home offices are in Florida). So you’ll have the opportunity to ring in 2019 at 9 pm…then do it all over again three hours later. Click here for tickets. Here’s a sample from last year’s entertainment:

There are a number of other inclusive events that’ll give you significant bang for your buck. For instance, Sugar Factory/Chocolate Lounge at Fashion Show Mall has a package deal for $99 via Groupon which in my opinion is the best NYE deal in the city. Here’s what you get:

  • General admission
  • What’s included: guest’s first goblet, free unlimited signature cocktails, unlimited champagne toast, buffet-style dinner, party with a DJ in the Chocolate Lounge, fireworks show at midnight, 20% discount off any retail purchase.
  • Bottomless signature cocktails to choose from: Peace, Love, Harmonie, Grape Crush, Lemon Drop, Watermelon Burst.
  • Buffet style dinner: chicken fingers, mini-burgers, fries, bruschetta, Caesar salad, mixed green salad, scalloped potatoes, green beans, chicken satay, grilled shrimp skewers, rigatoni marinara, meatballs, sandwiches, mini-cheesecake, chocolate cake, red velvet cake, assorted sundaes, brownies, cookies.
  • Time: 10 p.m.

While you won’t get the elevated views that Stratosphere or Voodoo Nightclub offer, it’s still a scenic and pretty sweet venue. The price on one Goblet Signature Cocktail by itself is upwards of $35 on a typical afternoon, so wrap your mind around the savings here.

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Neighborhood bars are a great way to drink in the Sin City vibe without feeling like your wallet has been stolen. Personal favorite The Golden Tiki on Spring Mountain Rd. will be featuring YouTube sensation Marc Rebillit with one of his offbeat musical performances. There’s no cover, complimentary hats/noisemakers and a free champagne toast at midnight.

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For the LGBTQ crowd, The Garage on E. Flamingo Road makes the perfect locals’ NYE spot for guys who like guys. There’s a masculine auto-service theme, never an admission charge and the cheapest top-shelf drink prices in the city.

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Across the street and down one block from The Garage, Hamburger Mary’s is offering $50 open bar from 9 pm-midnight (well&draft), Champagne Bottles $25, Skyy $75 and Absolut for $100. Entertainment from7 pm-Midnight and a countdown with entertainer Kenneth Blake. Complimentary champagne toast while watching the fireworks on their Strip-view patio.

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The most unusual NYE party for this season has gotta be the one at Spiegelworld’s hit show at ABSINTHE at Caesars Palace:

For an all-inclusive celebration, The Gazillionaire has a huge package for you. Arrive from 8.30pm for a complimentary glass of champagne in the Absinthe forecourt. Then enjoy a performance of ABSINTHE from 9.30pm to 11.00pm. After the show, you will have exclusive access to a private outdoor party in the Absinthe forecourt, on Stripside at Caesars Palace, which includes an open bar, light hors d’oeuvres, DJ and one of the best views of the fireworks. The party will conclude at 1am.

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The all-inclusive Show & Party ticket prices are $599 for VIP seating, $499 for Category A seats and $299 for Category B seating, which is one hell of a deal for a Sin City party and show. Click here to reserve your tickets and party admission.

Be sure to stay safe this holiday and don’t drive while impaired. LYFT rideshare service is offering a NYE discount to get you there and back. “Whether you are celebrating on the Strip, bar hopping, or partying at a friends house, we want everyone to get home safe on New Year’s Eve and other holidays throughout the year”, says Yacob Girma, Lyft Nevada’s general manager.

The Las Vegas Coalition for Zero Fatalities has donated $200,000 in ride credits to LYFT. Access your discount by using code “LASNYE10”. Have a wonderful time and a spectacular 2019.

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Photos: Sam Novak, Stratosphere, Fremont Street Experience, ABSINTHE, Westgate Hotel Casino, The Golden Tiki, The Garage LV

BEHIND THE CURTAIN: KIM SCOTT OF CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

 


Excerpts from my article for Best Of Vegas…

There’s a memorable scene in 1977’s Annie Hall in which Woody Allen says “Those who can’t do…teach. And those who can’t teach…teach gym.” In the acrobatic world of Cirque du Soleil, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Behind the curtain of every Cirque show is an army of skilled technicians and a highly trained supporting cast. Step further back to discover a collection of individuals who work as a team to make the magic possible.

One such person is Kim Scott, Senior Manager of Sourcing and Partnerships for Cirque du Soleil Resident Division. Working from an impressive headquarters in western Las Vegas, Kim serves many key roles.

“I am responsible for ensuring the continued sourcing of qualified technicians to support our upcoming creations and current productions. I am also 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.”

Read the rest by clicking here

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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                    Free tickets abound yet the showroom is nearly empty…

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

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

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

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

 

Teresa Van – Trainer to the Stars


Dynamic inspiration keeps Sin City’s top performers in peak condition…

Reno NV is called “The Biggest Little City In The World”. But once you get to know the locals of Las Vegas, that slogan could just as easily apply here. It’s a tight-knit community of people who live and work amid the glitz and flashing lights, yet are extremely supportive of one another in everyday life.

Recently I did a profile of Alejandro and Sarah Le Clear Domingo, the husband-and-wife team that tore a roof through the Palazzo Theater in BAZ. These amazing dancers are also stunning physical specimens. Sarah credits much of her success to her friend, trainer Teresa Van.

Teresa McAuliffe Van is a fitness and lifestyle coach as well as owner of ENVY TRAINING. This hard-working wife and mother of two is an inspiration for many stars and featured performers in the Las Vegas Valley. With over 18 years of experience, Teresa knows how to get the most out of their bodies. Being that Teresa is a seasoned choreographer and a former professional dancer herself, it’s no surprise that today’s crop of athletes and dancers depend on her to maximize the primary tool of their craft.

Teresa’s impact has been felt in many gyms throughout the area. Before starting her own business in conjunction with Tim Soder Physical Therapy, she trained clients at the former Edge Fitness (this writer’s personal retreat), EOS Fitness and David Barton Gym. Onstage, eagle-eyed show-goers may recognizer her as one of Matt Goss‘s “Gossy Girls” and her stint in iCandy Burlesque.

Teresa says “I truly have a passion for helping people feel their best”. One of her favorite sessions meets regularly on Saturday mornings. These boot camps gather performers from a variety of shows like Legends In Concert, Zombie Burlesque, Vegas! The Show and even Chippendales.

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Teresa (left) and Sarah Le Clear-Domingo after a performance of Palazzo’s BAZ…

Sarah is a regular member of that weekly class…and couldn’t be more please with the results.

We are all “seasoned” performers and in the same upper age bracket. We still put in the work to maintain our tool and do what we are passionate about. Teresa has devoted her life to fitness and keeping us current performers in shape. She’s such a wonderful person who gives so much to us.

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       Teresa (far left) and the cast of iCandy Burlesque at Planet Hollywood…

Teresa’s personal evolution is uniquely “Sin City”. She’s gone from sharing the spotlight with SEXXY‘s Jennifer Romas to building a family with her handsome husband (loan officer Brenton Van). Teresa understands the changes that hard-working bodies go through as life progresses. She’s now using her own experiences to guide those facing similar challenges.

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I have struggled in regards to keeping a tight, toned body for both my career and postpartum. I know that accountability is a key factor in maintaining a fitness regimen. Adopting new fitness habits is difficult and often times frustrating. My goal is to change your view on fitness, so that it becomes a part of who you are and your overall lifestyle.

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To that end, Teresa’s ENVY TRAINING offers personalized courses, written and audio plans along with online support. Whether you come to her facility or she designs an in-home course for you, Teresa promises to be there every step of the way:

I am capable of analyzing your body and creating an in-home or on-location fitness plan that will help you achieve your highest potential. Most plans include healthy eating and exercise to ensure the best results. I will always be in contact with you to keep you on track and motivated on your fitness journey. I am also available for personal training sessions in both Las Vegas and Henderson. If you’ve never worked with a personal trainer, get ready to WORK and SEE RESULTS!

Perhaps that’s why so many Strip stars entrust their health, fitness and longevity to the UNLV graduate and certified personal trainer. Sarah Domingo is very grateful for the time they spend together.

Each session is different, fun, hard and always a full body work out. So thrilled to have her training me! Thank you so much for always keeping my injuries in check and pushing me so I can do this nightly.

As for Teresa, she couldn’t be happier to make a difference she makes in the lives of her clients, friends and colleagues. “It feels awesome to be strong, and that’s why I love training around this city…helping everyone feel healthier and more AWESOME!”.

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   Teresa and her family count their blessings during a recent holiday season…

You can contact Teresa Van for a personalized workout by calling 520-820-9258 or visiting EnvyTraining.com. Envy Training is located at 6440 Medical Center St #100, Las Vegas, Nevada 89148. Gift cards are available by clicking here

Photos: Teresa Van, Sarah Le Clear-Domingo

 

 

 

Lost Vegas – When Your Favorites Are Gone Forever


The decision-makers of Vegas may want you to forget all about what “used to be”, but not me…

Everyone knows about the ever-changing face of Vegas. While the publicity machine churns out NEW! BETTER! BEST! in the hopes of grabbing your attention (and getting a fair share of your travel stash), they fail to mention that, in the process, you might be losing your favorite Vegas “whatevers”. Most times they’ll disappear, with no hope of returning and never to be mentioned again. In today’s round of “Lost Vegas”, I’ll share some of my own fond memories…and perhaps a couple of tears.

Chef Kerry Simon passed away in 2015 after battling MSA disease, a form of Parkinson’s. His death was preceded by the closing of two Vegas restaurants, Simon’s at Palms Place and KGB Burger Bar inside Harrah’s. While I was fond of Simon’s for its location and ambiance, it was the food at KGB that drew me back many times.

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My favorite item there was the Thanksgiving Turkey Burger, a one-of-a-kind holiday celebration on a bun: big juicy turkey patty, stuffing, cranberry relish and sprouts topped off with a layer of turkey gravy. That belt-buster was even better when washed down with a Captain Crunch milkshake.

My favorite KGB server, Chris, used to offer his own variation of the Crunch shake, topping it with strawberry syrup. All the better to evoke memories of morning cartoons with a bowl of Crunch Berries, the best variety of Captain Crunch.

Kerry’s legacy will live on at Carson Kitchen, his final culinary offering to Sin City. We’ll miss you, Mr. Simon…and those fond recollections of Thanksgiving and Saturday mornings in front of the TV.

From there we move to Neonopolis, the troubled downtown shopping/entertainment complex which has been mired by a history of failures. The biggest one-two punch came with the simultaneous closings of Krave Massive and Drink and Drag.

Both businesses catered primarily to the LGBTQ crowd, but Drink and Drag was much more of a progressive mix of gay and straight. This nightclub/bowling alley was the epitome of Vegas oddities, mixing lip-syncing drag queens, pool tables, tasty food and muscular shirtless bartenders into one wild ride.

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Always a blast, especially for those with an open mind, Drink and Drag quickly became a hit. The former Jillian’s location offered big entertainment–and a very unusual evening on the town…for chump change. Unfortunately, there was more behind-the-scenes drama than a truckload of divas sharing a dressing room. Management and liquor-license issues ultimately closed the doors, taking sister club Krave Massive (one level up) with it.

The final incarnation of Strip mainstay Krave never really took hold downtown, despite a temporary life at Rio, which kept the brand in circulation during the construction phase. Promising to one day become the biggest gay venue in the world (complete with a rooftop pool) Krave Massive was more like Krave Minor…it lasted only four months. Most sections of the club were never completed, and those that were accessible lacked…a lot.

The former occupant of that third-floor space didn’t fare much better. Galaxy Theaters at Neonopolis once offered mainstream movies to downtown visitors and residents. What started off as a 14-screen multiplex was later downsized to 11. The theater complex was poorly maintained and drew a frequently rough customer demographic. It even operated without air conditioning (unthinkable in the desert heat) for the last several months of its existence.

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The theater was closed abruptly on the eve of the new Star Trek reboot on May 7th, 2009. Neonopolis frontman Rohit Joshi explained that without digital projection upgrades, Galaxy Theaters would need to “maintain its competitive edge” by shutting down. With logic like that, it’s no wonder that Neonopolis continues to sit mostly empty.

Speaking of Star Trek, the former Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton continues to garner mentions at the annual Trek convention at Rio. Offering rides, character experiences, weddings, dining, a mock-up of “Quark’s Bar”, gift shops and a museum, Star Trek Experience drew visitors from all over the world. For many, it was the only reason to visit the otherwise-floundering Hilton (now a more successful Westgate Hotel Casino).

Star Trek entrance

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At one point, Rohit Joshi (him again) promised to reopen Star Trek Experience at Neonopolis, in conjunction with a new Star Trek film on May 8, 2009. Obviously that didn’t work out so well. These days, the casino portion of the Star Trek space is being used by Westgate timeshare sales people as a presentation room. A curious end to an otherwise-legendary exhibit.

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In the 1990’s, it seemed like every casino wanted to have thrill rides – IMAX simulators, roller coasters, sometimes even an entire amusement park. A few remain, but two of my favorites are long gone. The first I experienced, on my inaugural trip to Vegas, was the High Roller. No, not the observation wheel at the Linq, but a roller coaster that once wound around the top of the Stratosphere. That slow-moving train was more about the height than the dips, but I’ll never forget stepping into the car, looking over the edge and saying “I must be insane to do this”. High Roller was closed and dismantled in December of 2005.

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Sahara Hotel was home to Speed: The Ride, a fast-moving coaster that shot riders from inside the building onto the Strip. It turned them upside down, then sped up even faster for a jaw-dropping vertical climb. Once the train came to a stop, it ran backwards and returned to the station through a cool misty fog, all in a very rapid 45 seconds.

Speed was dismantled with the closure of Sahara and was slated to be rebuilt near Mandalay Bay under the shadow of a second planned giant observation wheel called SkyVue. Years later, the pylons for that stalled project remained unfinished and the property has a “For Sale” sign on the corner of the lot. Was Rohit Joshi involved in this venture? We can’t help wondering…

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Free attractions were once a popular way to lure people into the casinos…and hopefully to keep them there. Now that gambling is no longer the hot ticket, every available space seems to be destined for retailing. Hence, the removal of the white tiger pool at Mirage for a burger joint, the lions at MGM Grand for a sports pub, the Sirens and Pirates at Treasure Island for a CVS Drugstore, and on and on.

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Many others are removed due to costly maintenance and staffing expenses, like Rio‘s Show In The Sky, the Gods of the Festival Fountain (moving statues) at Caesars Palace Forum Shops, the lobby aquarium at Mandalay Bay and the Roman centurions that once strolled through Caesars Palace. Some attractions just yield to the times, like Merlin’s Dragon Battle at Excalibur…and the Sphinx water/laser show and Nile River Ride, both at Luxor.

What favorite attractions, features or offerings do you miss in today’s Vegas? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Photos: Sammasseur, Greg C., Banner photo via Cuningham Group Architecture

KRAMPUS – A Wickedly-Engrossing Stunner


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Sam Novak, Majestic Repertory Theater