‘Duo Transcend’ Poised to Electrify CELESTIA at The STRAT


TV talent show’s breakout stars add thrills and emotional heft to STRAT’s circus extravaganza…

transcend –

1: to be greater, better, or stronger than

2: to go beyond the limit of

3. to triumph over the negative or restrictive aspects of 

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The Las Vegas Strip is a beacon for fledgling performers hoping to succeed in the entertainment industry. One young couple known as Duo Transcend has longed for the applause of a captivated Vegas audience. Now that dream is about to come true under the Big Top of CELESTIA, Sin City’s newest, boldest and brightest circus-themed extravaganza.

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

When you perform for a nationwide television audience under the name “Duo Transcend”, you’ve already set the bar pretty high. Fortunately for viewers of America’s Got Talent, the husband and wife team of Mary Wolfe and Tyce Nielsen delivered sexy thrills and heart-stopping chills that brought down the house.

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Much like CELESTIA, The STRAT‘s award-winning production that they recently joined, the duo’s story is fraught with determination, wonder, and a passion to entertain. It’s also one of overcoming near-impossible odds in the face of a debilitating medical condition – one that threatened to permanently end their career.

The couple began their collaboration at a stunt show in Salt Lake City. Performing together for the first time, they fell in love and decided to create their own solo project. The result was a jaw-dropping trapeze and skating act that catapulted Duo Transcend to fame on America’s Got Talent…and most recently, its global face-off known as AGT: The Champions.

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Due to quarantine restrictions, I was unable to meet with Duo Transcend in person for this article. Through email, Mary had this to say about their origins:

We began our performance career as cliff divers in a stunt show. That’s where we met and decided to put a duo act together so that we could stay together and not have to take separate contracts.

In the first year, we lived on saved money so that we could focus on training. In 2013 we were hired for our first trapeze contract and since then, performing has been our only job. We slowly worked our way into companies and were able to support ourselves one hundred percent by performing.

Despite all of the planning that went into their career path, one variable was completely out of their hands. Tyce suffers from keratoconus, a progressive eye disease that affects the corneas. With their skills dependent upon precision and timing, Duo Transcend faced the very real possibility of having to withdraw from show business.

A medical procedure called cross-linking can often help victims of the disease, but for Tyce, that option appeared to be out of the question.

When I first met Tyce, the doctors in Utah said that his corneas were too thin to get cross-linking done. We were told the only option would be to get a cornea transplant, maybe in his 40’s or 50’s depending on how it progressed. Tyce’s older brother and younger sister also have keratoconus. We don’t know why. – Mary

The decision was made to continue performing, and eventually, the duo became three with the birth of son Jaxx. Being new parents was challenging enough, but a life on the road made it especially tough. So the couple aligned with the venerable Cirque du Soleil, who provided flexibility for them and their young progeny.

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It was hard to leave Jaxx home so much. Luckily we have a supportive family who we could leave Jaxx with. Sometimes we could take him with us, like when we would do gigs with Cirque (du Soleil). For a lot of gigs, it was just too expensive to fly him with us. We have performed with Cirque Du Soleil since 2017 in their special event traveling shows. They were very accommodating to have Jaxx with us. – Mary

Duo Transcend then decided to take their next big leap of faith by auditioning for America’s Got Talent. The star-making competition has been at the forefront of new Vegas acts for over a decade. Headliners like Terry Fator, Shin Lim, and Mat Franco all have AGT to thank for their successful residencies on the Strip. And while the series has launched numerous careers into the stratosphere, it’s also an intimidating option that opens you to criticism…and the potential for crushing disappointment.

The decision to try out for America’s Got Talent wasn’t an easy one:

Auditioning on TV is a huge gamble. Circus people like us have already been training and working professionally for years, then go on TV with little stage practice time and have a judge hate you. Art is subjective. Some people will like you, some won’t, and having that happen on TV can be devastating for an artist. – Mary

Those fears were never realized, though, as Duo Transcend‘s audition brought three of the AGT judges to their feet. Throughout the competition, they continued to up their game, captivating voters and the panel week after week. Despite numerous standing ovations, the couple didn’t win but was invited to return this year for AGT: The Champions. This time they placed second overall, then unveiled their plans to join CELESTIA in Las Vegas just a few weeks later.

  Don’t have weights? Use your partner! 😂 Hope you all are staying safe. – Duo Transcend

Once again, fate has intervened. After only a handful of performances, CELESTIA and all other productions in Las Vegas have been shut down amid COVID-19 coronavirus quarantine precautions. Mary tells me that they are using their free time to stay in shape and help others in doing the same.

Right now during the shutdown we have been focusing on creating at-home workouts for our social media followers.

Here Mary and Tyce get physical with “Contortion Sisters“, who are currently laid off from Cirque du Soleil. The Nielsens have been sharing their home with the acrobatic siblings during the pandemic. They’ve also been posting regular updates on their social media pages and YouTube, offering hope and positive thoughts for fans and other out-of-work performers.

Since their national television exposure, something incredible has happened regarding Tyce’s eye condition. He credits AGT with getting him the help that he desperately needed:

When we first auditioned, it wasn’t of a question of “if” I would go blind…but “when”. Because of AGT, we had one of the most successful eye surgeons in the country reach out to us personally. And he was able to do a procedure where he stopped the progression of the disease. So, I will no longer go completely blind. Now there’s a future that looks completely different, and I would have never known if it wasn’t for AGT. – Tyce via AGT

It’s clear that when Las Vegas reopens for business, it will be a very different place. Expensive shows will undoubtedly need to scale back (some are likely to disappear altogether). Very serious financial troubles for Cirque du Soleil were hinting at possible closures for at least a few of their Vegas shows even before the virus outbreak.

Fortunately for fans of CELESTIA, the production presents a large-scale spectacle at an extremely friendly price (tickets start at only $29 plus taxes/fees). Plus it’s financially supported by host hotel The STRAT, which is rare in the current “four-wall” climate (see my article HERE to learn more on that subject). In the current economic crisis, that offers job security that bodes well for the cast and crew.

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This year we were super happy to get a job offer with CELESTIA. We had been wanting to settle down in one place. We love touring but now that Jaxx is getting older we want him to be able to go to preschool and make friends. We’re thankful for the journey that AGT has brought us and thankful for all of you.  – Mary Wolf

Photos: Duo Transcend, CELESTIA, Sam Novak, America’s Got Talent screencaps via YouTube

Step Into the Magic Phone Booth of ‘Bucket Listin’


Raucous Vegas-based comedy-adventure series features the antics of AGT’s Daniel Emmet and heartthrob Mark Justice…

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What’s more fun than a pair of regular “bros” cutting loose in Las Vegas? The answer lies in Bucket Listin’, a brand new web-based show debuting on YouTube. Bucket Listin’ follows the free-wheeling and unpredictable team of singer Daniel Emmet and actor Mark Justice as they teleport from one Las Vegas adventure to the next…via a retro telephone booth. How do they decide on their latest destination? Well, from picking pre-loaded fortune cookies out of a wooden bucket, of course. Yes, it’s just as crazy as it sounds.

While the premise is certainly outrageous, the strength of Bucket Listin’ lies in the charming personalities of its two hosts and the effusive chemistry they share. Emmet is fresh off a successful stint as a finalist in 2018’s America’s Got Talent. His powerhouse voice has been entertaining audiences at events and concerts all around the country. He’s also been riding a well-deserved wave of stellar reviews for his residency at Cleopatra’s Barge inside Caesars Palace.

Readers of Vegas Unfiltered and its corresponding Facebook page should be quite familiar with my affection for Mark “You probably don’t know me at all” Justice. The handsome and chiseled action star/underwear model bounces around the city like a Price Is Right Plinko chip, landing in places as diverse as Excalibur‘s Tournament of Kings, Fremont Street Experience and last fall’s Halloween event SCARE at Town Square. He’s also a writer/director/producer with over one hundred credits listed on the Internet Movie Database, including a collection of fantasy and horror films shot right in and around Sin City.

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Emmet and Justice first released a teaser for Bucket Listin’ on Christmas Eve, when they gathered around the fireplace for a fractured version of “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. It was clear right away that the two were planning on presenting something unusual and quite fun for 2020. The series was officially announced on New Year’s Day (S1E0), then the pilot arrived last week, a whole month earlier than expected.

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Apparently, the creative team behind Bucket Listin’ has a fetish for holidays, as the premiere episode (S1E1) is entitled “Valentine’s Day Chocolate Destruction”. All the better to play a cringe-inducing game of chocolate-dipped “Who Knows?”, followed by a trip to Battlefield Vegas for a crushing romantic encounter with a tank.

Subsequent episodes will chronicle the boys’ exploits as they face some of the many extreme adventures that Las Vegas has to offer. From a Grand Canyon experience and high-speed police chase to skydiving and flying a plane, Emmet and Justice are sure to tickle your funnybone and raise adrenaline to maximum levels.

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Since I’ve already crossed those challenges and more from my own bucket list, I’m sure the guys are up to the task. They’ll just look way cooler while doing it…and a whole lot funnier. Kids these days…..I tell ya.

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Follow Bucket Listin’ on its official Facebook page and subscribe to their YouTube Channel for regular updates. 

‘WOW: The Las Vegas Spectacular’ Celebrates Two Years on the Strip


Rio’s water-based variety show sails on a sea of silly fun….

BestOfVegas

It’s a world of water. A world of whimsy. And most especially, a world of wonder at WOW: The Las Vegas Spectacular. The fantastical international variety production at Rio Hotel Casino is celebrating two successful years with new acts and plenty of excitement and laughter.

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The premise of WOW is pretty simple…a shy, awkward fisherman casts his pole into mysterious waters and drifts off to sleep. His fishing line opens the doorway to an undersea kingdom of nymphs, mermaids, pirates, and long-lost souls. Freed from the depths, these spirits dance, sing, fly and celebrate with all forms of acrobatics and aerial magic. With their encouragement, the fisherman discovers his confidence and joins in on the fun.

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If the concept of a water-based dream sounds a little like Le Reve, you’re right. But that’s where the similarities end. Unlike the Wynn production’s romantic-triangle storyline, WOW audiences are presented with a free-wheeling assortment of sequences, each built around water. From the romantic canals of Venice to the dangerous shores of the Carribean to the Grand Ballroom aboard Titanic, WOW takes you on an unforgettable adventure through the oceans of time.

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Rio’s spacious circular showroom has been outfitted with a powerful sound system and visual effects that are simply stunning. Wide panoramic screens envelop the audience and heighten the central action in a way that’s almost three-dimensional. You’ll feel like you’re zipping across the surface and plunging below the waves.

An actual pool at the center means you might even experience a mild splash or two.

Along with physical feats and plenty of gut-busting comedy, WOW features several Broadway-worthy dance numbers. A musical salute to “Singing in the Rain” drenches the cast in a high-tech downpour where rainfall takes the shape of umbrellas, diamonds, and hearts. With gorgeous choreography and highly-talented performers, this sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

But there are plenty of other reasons to experience WOW. The fun-filled production is….

Click HERE to continue reading…

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WOW: The Las Vegas Spectacular performs Tuesday & Wednesday at 7PM, Thursday – Saturday at 7PM & 9PM, Sundays at 5PM & 7PM. Family-friendly, although no children under 4 will be admitted.  

Photos: Sam Novak, WOW – The Las Vegas Spectacular

 

 

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


New astral-themed production opens at the STRAT…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: CELESTIA, Sam Novak

 

 

 

 

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


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

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

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

MOST OUTRAGEOUS – Miss Behave Gameshow

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

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

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

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

MOST IN NEED OF A FACELIFT – Carrot Top at Luxor

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

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

BEST DOWNTOWN SHOW – Mike Hammer Comedy Magic

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

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

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

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                                            Little guy. Big entertainment…

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

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

BEST VINTAGE VEGAS VIBE – Cocktail Cabaret at Caesars Palace

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

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

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

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

BIGGEST SNOOZE – Mat Franco: Magic Reinvented Nightly

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

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

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

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

FAVORITE TOPLESS REVUE – Chippendales/SEXXY (tie)

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

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

Runner Up – Zombie Burlesque

MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER – Opium at Cosmopolitan

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

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

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

SADDEST CAREER PATH – Gordie Brown (Hooters)

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

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

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

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

BEST LOCALS SHOW – Mondays Dark at The Space

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

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

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

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