Revamped “Thunder” Goes From ‘Strike-out’ to ‘Home Run’

Long-running male revue takes early lead as most-improved production of 2021…


Regular readers of Vegas Unfiltered Blog have probably figured out by now that this writer is an out-and-proud gay man. If you haven’t, my long-running “Hot Guys of Vegas” series should have tipped you off. Nevertheless, this column has never been focused on that aspect of my personal life. I just mention it now to give some insight on my perspective of male revues.

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Clowning with the guys of “Aussie Heat”…

That being said, I’ve spent many a night with my friends at Aussie Heat and Chippendales. And I’ve deliberately avoided that misguided mess called Magic Mike Live (one of the worst major productions of any kind). The other that’s been high on my “Do Not Fly” list is Australia’s Thunder From Down Under at Excalibur.

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My first visit to “Thunder” was in December 2015…

If you’re curious as to why “Thunder” ranks so low in the hierarchy of Vegas beef-fests, the full review from 2018 is here. But I can give you the Cliff Notes version:

“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.”

Now, I experience no joy in publishing negative reviews, especially when the cast and crew are rarely to blame. “Thunder” being in a temporary venue at the time (their second-floor showroom was undergoing a desperately-needed re-fit) certainly didn’t help. But three years later, I revisited this “Outback throwback” on a whim and found myself having a fantastic evening.

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“Thunder” shares a revamped showroom with “Australian Bee Gees”…

Let’s start with the venue itself. The newly-christened THUNDERLAND showroom received a pretty modern retrofit. The odd two-level footprint is sadly unchanged, and the choice of furniture is somewhat curious (psuedo-IKEA, much like Mat Franco’s space at The Linq). But the current positioning of seats and tables has improved the sight lines. Moving video walls double as a stage curtain, bar service has received an overhaul (with optional online ordering), and the lighting/sound system booms like a beating chest. 

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Speaking of chests, the cast of Thunder is one pec-tastic bunch. Each is chiseled, handsome, and much better at dancing than the last go-round. And this is where I noticed the first major improvement…individual performers are given a chance to shine. Each guy is introduced after their respective showcase moment, removes their mask, offers a few words to the audience…and one even sings the rafters loose.

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As for the ensemble numbers….my biggest gripe was the lazy choreography and cliched acts. Mercifully, “George of the Jungle” seems to have crashed into his final tree, and the vampires have retreated to their coffins. Replacing them are an uncomfortable SWAT team sequence in riot gear (too soon, guys) and a take on the 300 Spartans (meh). The rest is a top-shelf combination of musical hits, contemporary moves, and extreme athleticism that brings horney guests to their feet. 

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It’s worth noting that the element of male audience inclusion remains unchanged since my last review:

“Don’t expect to get more than a fist-bump from the dancers as they work their way through the audience. The rough-and-tumble men of the Outback are dripping with testosterone, but only seem interested in sharing it with the ladies.”

The show is specifically geared towards women, and the few guys in attendance are presumed to be supportive straight men (not tonight, fellas!). Hopefully the minds behind Thunder will catch up with the all-are-welcome Aussie Heat and realize that they’re turning away an untapped, lucrative market. Click here and here for more of my analysis on that topical subject. 

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New host Scott Reading is sass, class…and one sweet surprise…

Now for the best improvement of all….host Scott Reading. This bloke is just about everything you could hope for in a male-revue emcee. He’s sexy, charming, charismatic, funny, engaging, spontaneous, and downright fantastic. In other words, he’s everything that former front-man Marcus Deegan wasn’t:

Abrasive and short-tempered, Deegan seems to take delight in belittling rowdy audience members. 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 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.

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Yes, Marcus…that’s the exit door…

Who knows how many ticket-buyers failed to return thanks to Marcus and his abusive antics? But with any luck, he’s gone for good. Let’s hope that Scott Reading is a permanent fixture. He alone is worth the price of admission….and that’s before he unleashes a massive surprise at the finale.

With the recent sale of RIO Hotel Casino to Hyatt, there’s no telling when gold-standard CHIPPENDALES will return to Sin City…if ever. Thank goodness Thunder From Down Under has stepped up to the plate. It’s an early front-runner for “Most Improved Production of 2021”. And once COVID restrictions are finally removed, this generous serving of beef from the Outback will become a veritable buffet.

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Australia’s Thunder From Down Under performs Wednesday through Monday at 9pm with additional showtimes on weekends. Click here for full schedule and to order tickets. Prices start at $70.95 (plus taxes/fees).

Photos: Sam Novak, Thunder From Down Under, Scott Reading via Instagram

 

Mend Your Broken Heart with The Timeless Sounds of “Australian Bee Gees Show”

Top-level tribute delivers the Best Music when we need it the most…


If you saw the 2021 Grammy Awards and happen to have the slightest bit of good taste, you’ve realized that contemporary “music” is being dredged up from the smelliest bowels of Hell. When “WAP” aka “Wet A** P*ssy” is performed live on network television, there’s no place to go but up.

Yes, our nation is in a deep dive. We’re hurting and need something to lift us up. So we look back at the fantastic music of the 70’s and 80’s…songs that defined several generations and will last for years to come. That might explain why we’re dusting off our vinyl records for another go-round.  And who better to exemplify that era than the Bee Gees?

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A year after COVID’s mandatory shutdown , The Australian Bee Gees are back at Excalibur‘s remodeled second-level showroom, and they’re resonating like never before. Is it because of the music and warm lyrics? Perhaps it’s our yearning for better times. Or maybe we just need a little positivity in our lives. When you hear live performances of “To Love Somebody”, “ONE” and “How Deep Is Your Love”, those questions are moot.

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This past December, while we were stuck at home instead of visiting family or enjoying holiday vacations, HBO presented the documentary “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”. Directed by Frank Marshall (producer for POLTERGEIST, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, GREMLINS and the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy), the lovingly-created chronicle touched people around the world. It reminded us of the hearts behind the music, and left very few dry eyes.

There’s so much more to the brothers Gibb than the disco era. The Australian Bee Gees Show covers the gamut of their discography, opening with the 90’s, jumping back to the beginning, then culminating in a veritable dance party of Saturday Night Fever proportions.

There are medleys dedicated to every significant decade of their lengthy career. Along the way the trio visits youngest brother Andy‘s “Shadow Dancing”, Frankie Valli‘s “Grease”, Dolly and Kenny‘s “Islands in the Stream”, and a very familiar collaboration with Barbra Streisand (“Guilty”). Montages of vintage videos create a perfect backdrop to the performances.

The gentlemen behind the characters are a wildly-gifted trio of musicians in their own right. They’ve been delivering variations of this production across the globe for over two decades. Guitarist Michael Clift (“Barry”) founded the group in 1996. David Scott hits all the right notes and bears an uncanny resemblance to falsetto “Robin”. Handsome keyboardist Wayne Hosking lives and breathes Robin’s twin brother “Maurice”. They’re joined by bassist Tony Richards and percussionist Rick Powell, two powerhouse musicians with their own impressive resumes.

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It’s been several years since I last saw Australian Bee Gees. At the time, it was a two act, two-era show with a costume change in between. Hosking tells me that the production will continue to develop and grow once COVID restrictions have been eliminated:

Unfortunately some of the best additions to our new show are still absent under the distancing guidelines. We had to drop the second set costume change, the medley around one microphone and a lot of the audience interaction and dance floor. Still…just happy to be back on stage at this point!

I’d be perfectly content if A.B.G. maintained one continuous set. The current iteration is an authentic, in-character concert retrospective, as though all of the boys still remained alive (alas, only eldest brother Barry survives).  Much like Jason Tenner‘s PURPLE REIGN tribute to Prince, this is the closest thing you’ll ever get to an actual Bee Gees concert.

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Hosking also said that a big-screen biopic of the legendary group is in the works from Paramount and actor/director Kenneth Branagh. With the box office success of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and PIANO MAN, perhaps this was inevitable, and that’s just fine. As the HBO documentary showed, there’s a lot more to the story than you know.

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Las Vegas tribute shows rarely get the respect that they deserve. It takes plenty of effort to sing, dance, and channel iconic artists. Imagine how tough it is to maintain that illusion for an entire 75 minute production.

The Australian Bee Gees Show is overflowing with authenticity. You’ll be on your feet and feeling the fever way after the mirror ball stops spinning.

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The Australian Bee Gees Show performs at 6 pm (and 4pm on select dates) at Excalibur Hotel Casino. Prices start at $50.95 plus taxes/fees. Click here for complete schedule and to order tickets. 

Photos: Sam Novak, The Australian Bee Gees

Vegas Comes Together for Australian Relief Event


The world supported us when we were under siege. Now is our turn to return the love. ‘SHOW UP FOR DOWN UNDER’ assembles a stellar cast for Australian wildfire disaster aid show and fundraiser…

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You’ve seen the heart-wrenching headlines. Looked at the horrifying photos. Covered your ears at the devastating statistics. All of the loss being endured by our brothers, sisters, and wildlife in Australia is almost too much to grasp. Thankfully, we can channel those feelings of helplessness into action and provide much-needed aid to the people and animals of Australia.

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All proceeds from this concert event will go to Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors established by Steve and Terri Irwin

As you might remember, I penned this article detailing the unique bond shared between the Las Vegas community and the Land Down Under. So many of their citizens call this city “home” and provide us with joy through their endless talents. From the casts of Human Nature and Australian Bee Gees to the men of Aussie Heat and Thunder from Down Under, the Strip is alive with the people from Oz.

Now’s the time for us to give back. On January 28th at 8:30pm, THE SPACE will be hosting SHOW UP FOR DOWN UNDER, a fundraising show and event featuring a stunning array of entertainers. Here’s the official press release:

Given the catastrophic bushfires in Australia right now, Australian entertainers living in Las Vegas could not stand by idly while watching their beloved country suffer. True-blue Aussie spirit is alive and well in Las Vegas. With the incredible support from the entire local entertainment community, an exciting evening of song, dance, and sausage sizzling has been scheduled to raise much-needed funds and awareness.

Australian expats/Las Vegas performers Steve Judkins (Mayfair Supper Club & Mamma Mia), Sasha Judkins (Chicago & Mamma Mia), and Jessica Lane (Jubilee! Principal Dancer) are producing and coordinating this Vegas A-list charity event. Las Vegas Strip headliners Human Nature, Australian Bee Gees, Aussie Heat, and Tenors of Rock will provide top-notch entertainment.

Special appearances will be made by comedian/celebrity impersonator John DiDomenico, Australia’s Got Talent “PiP Comic Illusionist,” and Jubilee Showgirls. Anne Martinez (Baz & Fantasy), Shai Yammanee (Jubilee! & Mamma Mia Broadway Tour), Valerie Witherspoon Knecht (FRIENDS! The Musical & Cocktail Cabaret), Kelly Anne Williams (House of Blues & Les Mis West End), and Justin Michael Rodriguez (ExtremeLive) are only a few of Las Vegas’ finest performers who are lending their extraordinary voices to this cause. Entertainer/philanthropist Mark Shunock has graciously donated use of The Space for this upcoming benefit concert.

THE SPACE | 3460 Cavaretta Ct., Las Vegas, NV 89103
Tuesday, January 28th, 2020
Doors open at 7:30 p.m. | Performances from 8:30 p.m.
Door Prize, Wine Tasting, Auctions and Raffles, plus a good old Aussie Sausage Sizzle
Tickets are $25 and available for online purchase at:

Show Up For Down Under

All proceeds from this benefit concert will go to Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors. Established in 2002 by Steve and Terri Irwin, The Wildlife Hospital has treated over 90,000 animals. Their mission is to protect and care for injured, threatened, or endangered wildlife. However, with extreme drought, human impact, and wildfires, the hospital is only getting busier and busier. They now must rapidly expand field services in response to the current bushfire crisis to provide emergency supplies and medical caregivers for animals that cannot be transported.

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Please be sure to buy your advance tickets here, spread the word and share this information on social media. If you have auction items, services, manpower or talent to donate to this event, contact Elaina Bhattacharyya at (702) 498-2162 as soon as possible.

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THANK YOU!

 

HUMAN NATURE’S LATEST SHOW FEATURES ‘MOTOWN AND MORE’


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Relive the best songs of all time at “Human Nature Sings Motown and More”, Venetian‘s new show from chart-topping Australia’s Human Nature. Packed with amazing harmonies, precision choreography, live musicians and a stunning setlist, the group’s latest Vegas show will have you humming all night and dancing in the aisles.

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“Motown and More” is a nonstop cavalcade of hits, presented in a smooth sexy style that only Human Nature can deliver. After a joyous romp through the decades in the show “JUKEBOX”, the latest production revisits the Motown setlist that harkens back to their Vegas premiere. Debuting ten years ago at Imperial Palace with “Smokey Robinson presents HUMAN NATURE: The Ultimate Celebration of the Motown Sound”, the boys are excited to once again celebrate the songs that made them Sin City stars.

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Motown is marking its 60th anniversary this year, so the latest refresh of Human Nature’s setlist was a brilliant decision. Currently celebrating three decades together, the group was presented with the Medal of the Order of Australia in May. Earlier this year they hit the 2,000 performance mark of their Vegas residency and this month the quartet will be inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in Sydney. The Venetian has also extended their residency through 2022. So 2019 has indeed been packed with landmark achievements.

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Many Stateside fans are unaware that members Phil Burton, Toby Allen and brothers Mike and Andrew Tierney originally rose to fame in their homeland as a 90’s boyband. Yes, Motown singers that were the down-under equivalent to N’Sync and Backstreet Boys. But even before that, Human Nature formed as a school-age doo-wop group. And it’s that kind of feel-good music that they’re circling back to once more.

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And why shouldn’t they? After all, Human Nature boasts a stellar endorsement from mentor (and Motown legend) Smokey Robinson. And no matter what musical genre fills up your favorite playlist, chances are that you know the lyrics to “Stop! In The Name of Love”, “My Girl” and “I’ll Be There”. Those classics and many more from the “Motown sound” have made an indelible impression on our culture. And they continue to raise our spirits and lift us to our feet.

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Along with the Motown songbook, guests can expect excursions into other periods with hits from the likes of…

Click HERE to continue reading…

Human Nature Show Schedule: Tuesday – Saturday at 7:00pm. Click here to purchase discount tickets through BestOfVegas.com.

 

Inside “The NAKED MAGICIANS” at MGM Grand


Genre-bending illusionists reveal more than magic tricks….

Click HERE to read this article at BestOfVegas.com

There are some who say that Sin City doesn’t always live up to its name. Perhaps there is no such thing as shock value anymore? Well, don’t be so sure of that. A pair of bawdy Australian illusionists has arrived at MGM Grand and they plan to rip the roof off the resort by tearing away their top hats and tails.

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Unless you’re Mariah Carey, most performers would rather focus on their craft than how much skin they put on display But for Mike Tyler and Christopher Wayne, fans of The Naked Magicians wouldn’t have it any other way. These two handsome hunks are constantly goaded by audience members to “take it off”. And eventually, they do!

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Australian men are already recognized as some of the hottest on the planet – for proof, look no further than the success of Thunder From Down Under at the Excalibur. Add in the resurgence of the popularity of magic shows and Criss Angel’s sex appeal with the bawdiness of Absinthe and Opium, and it’s clear that the time is right for The Naked Magicians.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Despite a similar-sounding name, this is no Magic Mike LiveThe Naked Magicians actually have more in common with Mike Hammer’s Comedy Magic than any male revue. But where Hammer’s humor is insult-based, the Aussie boys’ focuses on sexual innuendo and in-your-face mayhem.

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Tyler and Wayne were perfecting jaw-dropping feats of illusion long before they decided to pair up and drop their trousers. When the boys went full-frontal and took their family jewels on the road, the response was unexpectedly overwhelming. Venues sold out in over two hundred cities around the world, and rave reviews poured in, ensuring that The Naked Magicians would eventually take their hit sensation to Sin City.

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If you haven’t already guessed, The Naked Magicians is an adults-only production. Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club blends the perfect amount of late-night intimacy to the proceedings – double entendre intended. An opening-night crowd on February 13th filled the venue, which is located at “The Underground” inside MGM Grand. A large percentage of attendees was gentlemen, a fact the duo joked about as they took to the stage.

Surprisingly, the magicians began their performance fully clothed, sporting flashy tailored suits that showed off their chiseled physiques. Despite a conservative entrance, their first illusion –  which involved a six-foot representation of male genitalia sailing through the crowd – shattered any concerns that these performers would play it safe.

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The rapid-fire performance is heavy on comedy, nearly all of it laced with some form of wink-wink humor. Bits involving a blow-up doll, cell phone hook-up apps, a crowd-made porno film, a “gay” straight jacket and other R-rated material fill the 90-minute show. It’s not long before the guys strip off their shirts, doing a little bump-and-grind to thaw out those chilly libidos.

As the guys’ off-the-chart charms electrify the crowd, more clothes fall away, and so do any apprehensions or uptight conventions. It’s safe to say that even straight-laced husbands in the crowd found this unusual form of entertainment to be “cool.”

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It’s worth noting that even though The Naked Magicians have gone “full-throttle” in places as tame as Salem, Oregon and Grand Rapids, Michigan, they’ve actually been forced to tone things down a bit for their Sin City run, as local laws prohibit total nudity in establishments that serve alcohol.

So, if encountering the “Full Monty” might have kept you from seeing the show, your worries have been covered. Just know that The Naked Magicians have found a new way to use a magician’s hat – and it doesn’t involve a rabbit.

To learn more about Mike Tyler’s magical talents, visit his website 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. Deegan matches the masturbating, screeching banshee of Magic Mike Live as the worst emcee in Sin City.

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                                                                 Talk to the hand…

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. Sadly, even their body grooming is poor. Nobody wants to see hairy backs in a male revue, and at least one of them had noticeable body odor. 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 

Las Vegas and the Australia Connection


There’s a unique bond between Sin City and the Land Down Under…

Thanks to casino developer Sam Boyd and his trio of downtown properties, the people of Hawaii have forged a strong relationship with Las Vegas. The FremontMain Street and most especially California hotels are dependent on regular tourism from the Island State, and they cater to the culture in a variety of ways.

Restaurants serve Hawaiian favorites, staff wear island-style shirts, and Hawaiian retailers like ABC Stores and Lappert’s Ice Cream have locations Downtown. Signs throughout Boyd casinos even proclaim “Aloha Is Spoken Here”.

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        Olivia Newton-John at the opening party for her residency at the Flamingo…

On the other side of the equator, the continent of Australia has also formed a bond with Sin City. While not nearly as defined, there’s an undeniable connection between the folks from Down Under and the City of Entertainment. Let’s take a look at a few examples, and perhaps uncover why such distant locations are joined by an invisible highway of travelers…and why so many people relocate from one place to the other.

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   Perth’s Andrew Gill welcomes guests to the Mike Hammer Comedy Show at 4 Queens…

For Andrew Gill, it was the lure of magic that drew him to Vegas. Then 19 years old, this native of Perth flew across the Pacific to attend the World Magic Teen Mentoring Seminar by legendary Lance Burton. Things turned out so well that Gill remained and worked his way up to becoming production manager for Mike Hammer Comedy Magic.

Andrew stayed with Hammer’s team a few years until his work visa expired. Before returning, the ambitious young Aussie had developed relationships with fellow magicians Murray SawchuckDavid Copperfield and of course, Burton. Now a successful realtor (with his own magic act to keep things fun), Andrew returns annually for the MAGIC Live Convention at Orleans Hotel.

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     Human Nature gives Mike Tyson some love at the opening night of JUKEBOX…

Since this city thrives on sex appeal, it’s only natural that the legendary handsome men of Australia would come here to seek fame, fortune…and steaming hot billboards. Outback rancher Aaron Michael Lucey relocated here to become a successful choreographer and performer.

In addition to various other musical productions, Aaron was dance captain for Thunder From Down Under, the long-running Aussie-themed male revue at Excalibur. That was followed by Chippendales spin-off 53X and more recently Masters of Illusion.

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         Aaron Micheal Lucey traded a saddle for the excitement of the Strip…

Three years ago, the upstart Aussie Heat opened downtown, quickly expanding both the show and their audience in the larger V Theater at Planet HollywoodAussie Heat achieved the number one spot for Vegas productions on Yelp. Ninety-three percent of audience ratings are at five stars, so the risky plan for bringing a brand-new, er…brand to Las Vegas seems to have paid off.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations                                       Tommy (far left) with the cast of Aussie Heat…

You may remember the guest article penned by former Aussie Heat dancer Tommy Harvey aka “Tommy Gun” (pictured above, first row far right). Tommy detailed what it was like to move here from Australia. Despite undergoing a bit of culture shock, it wasn’t long before the striptease artist/athlete was feeling right at home.

Former Aussie Heat CEO Jono Weinstock explained the appeal of Vegas stages to Australian entertainers:

“As a performer, this is the pinnacle of achievement…being able to perform so many nights and shows a week. Back home, maybe once a week if lucky. It’s the pinnacle of entertainment, too — a big bold fun adult playground. Parties, gaming, pools, DJ’s, shows…”.

Weinstock was also quick to point out a few of the many positives that Sin City offers for Australian tourism:

“It’s a 15 hour flight from L.A., so we only get big-name performers once every 20 years in their careers! (There’s) cheap shopping also. We pay three times as much for everything down there. The outlets are a winner..and the Aussie dollar at times has been very favourable…now not so much, but shopping is of huge value.”.

Chippendales joined the Aussie-hunk popularity wave by recruiting dancer Ryan Stuart, who was widely promoted as their first member from Down Under. Stuart’s looks, talent, and super-sexy accent aided in him becoming a regular host for the show. After an onstage injury, Stuart returned to Australia but takes back with him a lifetime of experiences.

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              Hit-maker Kylie Minogue cuddles with fellow Aussie Ryan Stuart…

Ironically, Ryan’s fellow Chippendale host Russel Francis chose the opposite path, leaving the stages of Vegas for those of Australia. The handsome singer/dancer from Jacksonville Florida, who had starred in Planet Hollywood‘s PIANO MAN and VEGAS! THE SHOW was riding a career high when he decided to make a big change.

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Former Vegas performers Russel Francis (center) and Ali Francis (far right) bring a little taste of Vegas to the Australian Olympic team in Queensland…

Francis won the affection of a Vegas! The Show audience…and his co-star/future bride Ali…when he proposed to her onstage at the end of a performance. After the honeymoon and lots of traveling, Russel decided to head to Australia for a chance to audition for Ricky Martin on their version of The Voice. A year after going through the audition process, he made it to the finals and worked with legendary singer Seal.

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                       Russel and myself after one of his Vegas performances

Russel sees a definite connection between Las Vegas and Australia:

“I’ve traveled for about five years straight, been to six continents and hundreds of countries. Australia is by far the closest country to the U.S. They actually call Brisbane ‘Bris-Vegas’.

I asked Russel if Australia’s similarity to the United States eased his transition…and if he was welcomed by native residents:

“They have welcomed me with open arms. Everyone has been so friendly and helpful. I’ve been booked on all kind of gigs because everyone loves that I’m here. If I get on the show (X Factor) and do well then we might be here for awhile”.

The people of Las Vegas clearly have open arms for Aussies as well. Take note when you attend a show here and the performers ask audience members “Where are you from?”. Chances are, there will be a large and rowdy group of Aussies, all having a great time together.

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              The Australian Bee Gees celebrate all things disco at Excalibur…

And why not? It’s great to feel welcome when you’re so far away from home. And Aussie visitors are bombarded by advertising for Australian Bee GeesHuman Nature, and previously for Olivia Newton-John. But if they ever feel lonely, there’s a community group dedicated to Australians who have relocated here.

Currently, no casino has followed the California‘s lead and dedicated their marketing directly to Australians (Excalibur comes close with the Thunder/Australian Bee Gees line-up). And this writer has yet to find a restaurant that specializes in lamington and pavlova.

But as the bond between these two cultures continues to grow and strengthen, don’t be surprised if someday the MGM Grand restores their Oz theme with a new twist….and the Rainforest Cafe re-opens as the “Koala Diner”.

Photos: Sammasseur, Russel Francis/Ryan Stuart/Tommy Harvey/Aaron Michael Lucey via Facebook, LIGHT Nightclub/Australian Bee Gees via Facebook