Sexy Power Duos: Alejandro and Sarah Le Clear-Domingo


The city’s best dancers are a husband and wife team that brings down the house each night at Palazzo’s BAZ….

Ask anyone what their must-do Vegas experiences are and you’ll undoubtedly get a list of familiar answers: a romantic stroll by the fountains of Bellagio…people-watching at Mon Ami Gabi…drinks at a favorite cocktail lounge.

For this writer, no trip to Vegas is complete without a seat at the Palazzo Theater for BAZ: A Musical Mash-up. And that experience was recently taken to new heights with the addition of husband-and-wife dance team Sarah Le Clear and Alejandro Domingo.

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Stunning to look at (Alejandro was featured as “Best Abs” in my column four years ago) and a revelation to see in action, this power duo exudes every aspect of power, sensuality, sophistication and the sheer stunning artistry of dance. Audiences may recognize them from nearly five years at David Saxe‘s glorious VEGAS! The Show, but BAZ has unleashed their abilities in a way rarely seen on any stage.

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I recently spoke with the couple after seeing BAZ for the the 27th time (yes, really) and invited them to participate in a fun Q & A. I’m honored to say that they excitedly agreed. But before we get to that, here’s a little about them and how they came together as a professional team.

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Sarah and sister Julianne were born in southern California and grew up in the Bay area of San Francisco. Their parents were college sweethearts who encouraged their daughters’ love of performance arts. So, Sarah began formal dancing classes at age five.

I started intense ballet training at a very young age at Contra Costa Ballet Centre. A very prestigious school that I took very seriously, but I knew I wanted to study all aspects of dance. This is when I started my training at Dance Connection Performing Arts Center in Concord California, under the direction and ownership of Paula Henson.

My years at the studio is when I flourished the most…I became involved in the competition aspect of the studio competing all over California through the competition season. I was so thrilled to be expanding my repertoire of styles.

Years of practice and competitions were rewarded by a Sue Pipo Memorial Dance Scholarship, and Sarah’s future in the world of dance was assured.

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After graduation I auditioned to be an NBA Dancer for  the Golden State Warriors and became the youngest on the team. From there I moved to LA to continue my training at EDGE Performing Arts Center.

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Alejandro is from Buenos Aires. A rare combination of brains, brawn and grace, he played soccer and piano in his youth before pursuing a career in civil engineering. Despite his athletic frame and dashing looks, the Argentinian native enrolled in dance classes at the age of sixteen just to overcome shyness. By eighteen this natural talent was already touring with the salsa-heavy Latin musical Baracatun.

Many entertainers credit their parents and family for setting them on the show-business path. Ale is no exception:

My parents, Jorge and Ana, are just the best parents you could ask for. They always have supported my crazy dreams, and me, even though it meant being away from them for long periods of time. I have also a very smart and sweet little sister called Mariana, four years younger than me. I’m very proud of her and the person she is becoming.

Alejandro received a scholarship to further his dance studies in ballet, jazz, contemporary and partnering at Teatro Colón and the National Institute of Art in Buenos Aires. In 2006 he left Argentina to perform at the Chateau du Versailles in the renowned Fêtes de Nuit. After that he settled for periods in both Paris and Barcelona then continued his training throughout Europe and the United States.

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In 2008 the couple met in Hollywood, Florida when both were hired as dancers and aerialists for Royal Caribbean‘s Explorer of the Seas. Rehearsing nine hours a day, six days a week can bring people very close…and so can a first date at the local Martini Bar. That was a decade ago, and the gorgeous couple has never looked back.

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You might think that sharing the workplace and being together around the clock might tighten the pressure on a relationship, but for Sarah and Alejandro, their art is what brought them together and keeps them strong.

As Ale tells it:

Sarah and I met working together. Since then we have been blessed with sharing the same stage in many different productions, something quite unusual in our line of work. We have had our share of ups and downs in this crazy performers’ world.

I personally love working with Sarah because I always know that she has my best interest at heart…and I have hers. So any criticism or note we give to each other always comes from a caring and honest place and it’s intended to make the other person better.

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Sarah added:

The tense moments are very rare for us because we know how lucky we are to still be performing together. More than anything, it’s fun. A lot of hard work goes into it but it’s worth it!

I asked the couple if either of them tends to “take the lead” during their rehearsals….

We have both been “dance captains” so it depends on what we are rehearsing for, honestly. We pay attention to what the other one needs because if we are going to look and feel good on stage we both need to feel comfortable. (Alejandro)

Hahaha…I think we both want to take the lead! That’s the thing when you’re married to your dance partner…you both want to be in charge. But I think we have a very strong communication and respect for the other so we’re able to tell each other our needs as a partner. Ale is a fabulous ballroom teacher and I will say I have learned a lot from him as far as execution goes. (Sarah)

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Life in Vegas has definitely agreed with the couple. Along with having a great collection of friends in the community, the two enjoy much that the city has to offer. Alejandro offered these insights:

In my free time I like reading, going to the gym and to the movies. I’m not great at cooking but do enjoy it. I always enjoy trying new restaurants and Vegas is an awesome place for that.

I don’t dance much when I’m not on stage, but I have always enjoyed salsa dancing. It’s the first style I ever learned and it’s so much fun in social settings. I’m not a nightclub kind of guy. I prefer going to a chill bar with friends and having a drink, listen to some music and have a good conversation.

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I like taking Sarah out for dinner to a good restaurant and buying her nice things. I love Sinatra at the Wynn…the atmosphere and awesome background music. For a “cheat meal” I’d have to say Vege-Way…some of the most delicious vegan burgers you’ll have.

We also enjoy taking some much needed time off and going on a relaxing vacation. So far my favorite spot has been the Riviera Maya in Mexico.

Sarah enjoyed Mexico as well, but she’s partial to a different vacation destination:

Hawaii!!!!! We make an effort to spoil ourselves with nice vacations. We also love going to the M Resort pool during the summer as well as trying new restaurants on the Strip or downtown. I love cheat meals!!! Mon Ami Gabi is one of our favorites.

At my “seasoned” age I’m not much for the nightclub scene anymore…and because we perform so much we tend to enjoy our nights off with no dancing. Although the occasional line dance night at Stoney’s with my girls is always a blast. And we love catching new shows and supporting fellow performers.

I was a competitive swimmer for eleven years, so swimming is a fun hobby of mine. Fitness is a huge part as well so I enjoy the gym. And of course I have my “guilty pleasure” hobbies which include “The Real Housewives of Orange County” and “The Bachelor”, haha.

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It seems that animal rescue is a common thread among cast members of BAZ. Along with Anne Martinez and Ron Remke, the Domingos have a special place in their hearts for the Vegas community’s needy animal population.

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                                              Little Milo loves his toys…

“We both love animals and support the work of amazing nonprofits like The Animal Foundation“, Ale stated. Sarah continued “I am a member of the Humane Society and like to donate to any charity that helps and aids animals..this is very important to me! We have one dog named Milo and he is our baby. He is a rescue dog and has become a part of the family!”

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Speaking of family, I inquired as to where the Domingos saw themselves twenty years from now. Both hinted at the possibility of little dancers in their future.

Maybe I will go back to school and become an engineer. I’v wanted to finish that career. Hopefully we will have kids by then and we will be choreographing for Broadway, cruise ships, or another Vegas show.

Bob Fosse’s work has always been an inspiration for me. I would love to perform some of his work on stage someday. I absolutely love his style and legacy to the dance world. I would also love to work with choreographers like Jerry Mitchell, Sergio Trujillo and Andy Blankenbuehler.

Maybe we will own our own production company… Who knows? (Alejandro)

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Sarah shares her partner’s admiration for the work of Bob Fosse, too:

I would love to work with Broadway choreographers or any master of “Fosse” style like Ann Reinking. Any Broadway show or tour would be a dream of mine, but I also consider myself very lucky and grateful for the career that I’ve had thus far.

The exciting thing about this question is that I just don’t know. We are gypsies and follow the work. Vegas has been incredibly good to us, but the “show” aspect of the city is changing. I do know that we will always be involved in the industry, one way or another.

And by then, maybe we’ll have our own “little performers” in the making.

It’s true that the future of production shows in Las Vegas seems rather uncertain, especially recently. The sometime-abrupt closures of long-running hits combined with many short-term failures reflects a changing landscape for Strip entertainment.

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The Domingos left secure positions with VEGAS! The Show after nearly five years to join BAZ. Only a short time later, they learned that the last performance would be on July 29th, 2018.

As they prepare for an emotionally-charged final weekend with this landmark production, neither displayed any regret for coming aboard at Palazzo‘s signature musical. Instead, they’ll look back with fondness and gratitude:

This is a tough one to talk about and not get emotional. I will never forget the very first time I saw BAZ two years ago. I left the theater feeling completely overwhelmed with what I’d just experienced and witnessed. I remember thinking to myself “What an incredible show to be a part of”.

When Alejandro and I received the call with an offer we were absolutely blown away. After our time at VEGAS! The Show I was now being given the opportunity to be a part of a production that I love and admire. Words can’t really describe how I feel about being a part of the magic of BAZ…especially with Alejandro. (Sarah)

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                      “The first time I saw BAZ”. Sarah Le Clear-Domingo

The more I think about it the more I’m convinced this was where we were meant to be at this moment in our lives and careers.  It’s a memory I will forever cherish, and will always put a smile on my face.

I absolutely love the movies BAZ is based on, and have been a fan of the production since it first opened at Light in Mandalay Bay. The level of talent is incredible, and I’m fortunate enough to share it with the person I love the most, my beautiful wife.

It also allowed me to go back to my beginnings in ballroom and perform in a style that has always been so close to my heart. It’s a show that I truly believe in and that I am so proud to be a part of. There’s nothing else quite like it in the city, and I think Vegas is losing a true gem.

This show reminds people that love is the only thing really worth living for, no matter what situation life throws at you. Yes, it can cause pain, but only if you were lucky enough to truly love someone.

BAZ has real content and real entertainment. I would love for people to remember its message alongside with the talent that brought it to life: “Love is like … oxygen. Love is a many-splendored thing… Love lifts us up where we belong.” (Alejandro)

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BAZ: A Musical Mash-up concludes its two-year run at Palazzo Casino Resort this weekend.

Photos: Alejandro and Sarah Le Clear-Domingo via Facebook, Nicholas Foote, Patrick Rivera, banner photo by David Brenot Photography, video courtesy of Dominick Pepe

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The Many Sides of Savannah Cross


Palazzo’s infectious dancer brings razzle-dazzle to BAZ: A Musical Mash-up

Ever since its humble beginnings inside a small Los Angeles nightspot, BAZ: A Musical Mash-up has boasted a fluid cast. Performers and celebrity guests regularly step into and out of six iconic and several supporting roles. They often swap characters and lines…sometimes within the same performance, making each night a unique experience.

The genre-bending BAZ musical, a creation by LA-based For The Record, recently celebrated its 500th performance inside a custom-designed venue at Palazzo Resort. Although its tradition of rotating casts continues, one performer has been there through four different dance partners. Her name is Savannah Cross…and she’s someone you’ll want to experience on your next trip to the Strip.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah grew up in Sandy, Utah, just south of Great Salt Lake. She spent her earliest years learning to dance at several studios around her home state.

I started dancing at the age of 6.  Watching my older cousin compete is really what drew me into dance.  I remember thinking to myself, this is it, this is what I want to do.  From the time I started training at 6, I just never stopped and got even more immersed into dance.

During my first couple years of dancing, I saw the movie Center Stage and fell in love.  I loved the idea that dance was something I could make a career out of and watching this movie made it all even more real.  I also loved the work, energy and sacrifice that the dancers in the movie put into this crazy art form.

During high school, the ambitious teen traveled around the country with Hollywood Connection, a company dedicated to preparing dancers for their commercial careers. Despite her young age, Savannah performed in a variety of productions that displayed skills in hip-hop, contemporary and ballroom styles.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

After graduating from high school, the dynamic young lady enrolled at the University of Utah‘s College of Fine Arts. While there, Savannah was member of their Performing Dance Company, which gave her the opportunity to work with several famed choreographers. As a result of her hard work and the enormous potential she displayed, Savannah received the prestigious Dizzy Feet Foundation Scholarship for her 2014-2015 year.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

While less ambitious college students were spending their summers sipping margaritas on Mexican beaches, Ms. Cross was in Leeds, England, receiving intensive training at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. And somewhere in those college years she managed to become a finalist on Paula Abdul‘s Live To Dance and appeared in a music video for singer Shaun Barrowes.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Modern Dance, Savannah became an instructor at Utah’s Elite Academy, a unique dance studio that teaches children as young as preschool age.  There she inspired other up-and-coming dancers and shared the knowledge she’d gained from an already extensive background.

Aside from dancing, I have really found a passion in teaching.  I started teaching dance when I was 18 and instantly fell in love. I was so lucky to have such incredible and diverse teachers growing up and because of this I felt very informed when I first started teaching.

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It was obvious that the girl from a small town in Utah was destined to accomplish great things. With the unending support of her loving mom…and her father as a faithful companion/escort to countless auditions, Savannah’s determination would soon pay off.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

I have the most amazing support system and especially wouldn’t be where I am today without my mom and dad. They sacrificed so much to let me follow my dreams.  Every vacation we ever took as a family was always for dance.  A large part of me sticking with this art that can be so hard and grueling is because of those two.  They never gave up on me and every second of everyday, they believed in me.

I have one sibling, a 12 year old sister named Dylann.  She is now starting to dance and train heavily and it makes my heart so happy.  Watching her flourish makes me want to be the absolute best version of myself each day.

As with so many other promising artists, Savannah Cross decided to try her luck in New York City. Although she had success there, a turn of luck would lead her to the bright lights and neon of the Las Vegas Strip.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

The innovative Los Angeles-based cabaret troupe For The Record Live was catching on like wildfire. Their musical interpretations of the film works from directors  Quentin Tarantino and John Hughes were drawing raves…and crowds. Their biggest hit so far was For the Record: BAZ, built around the scenes and music of avante-garde Aussie filmmaker Baz Luhrmann.

The production, interweaving love stories from Luhrmann’s contemporary re-imaginings of The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet was given a short stint at Mandalay Bay’s LIGHT Nightclub. Plagued by problems with the venue and its relationship with Cirque du Soleil, BAZ closed prematurely…but refused to die.

In 2016, Palazzo Resort announced a relaunch of the newly-named BAZ: Star Crossed Love. Cirque was now out of the picture and Venetian/Palazzo pledged full support of the acclaimed musical. This latest version of the long-evolving production would open with a mostly-new cast, a reworking of songs and scenes and a custom theater designed to showcase its cabaret-style roots.

What would eventually become my 2017 Best Production Show in Las Vegas was about to gain a brand-new ballroom star. This time, Savannah would be required to sing, act and play characters in addition to swirling around the stage. Here’s how she became a part of BAZ…in her own words:

I really never imagined I would be a part of a show like BAZ. Before I joined the cast, I was dancing for two contemporary companies in New York and I really thought that was my path. When I initially joined the show, I was somewhat hesitant having to sing and act, but now have come to realize that I have such a passion for the two. I do strongly believe that my background in dance and immense training that I did all over the world and in different styles, informed and directed me as a strong actor.  

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

My initial start into the show was such a whirlwind! I received a phone call from a fellow dancer/friend who I hadn’t heard from in years. She started the conversation totally casual, and a few minutes into the conversation asked me if I would be interested in BAZ. I fell in love with the structure of the show and the incredible talent she described to me. Within days, I got a phone call that I was chosen for the role of Fran! I felt so incredibility lucky to be cast in the show without For the Record and the management team ever seeing me in person.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Everything happened so quickly, with only 3 days to learn the entire show, I became the first new cast member to come into BAZ. I instantly knew that I was meant to be here doing this amazing show. As of now, Scorsese: American Crime Requiem (based on the mafia films of Martin Scorcese) is the only other For the Record show I have seen, but it absolutely blew me away!!! I saw the show in Los Angeles with some others members of BAZ and I sat there thinking to myself, how lucky am I to be part of such an insanely talented family.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

I have now had four different partners in the show and I will say that I have really been lucky with each boy. Two of the four partners are also from Utah and we actually grew up dancing together, which made the transition pretty simple. But I will say that there is an emotional toll when a partner leaves.

You end up building such a connection and relationship with each other in which you fully trust each other. I do think that it often feels like a “break up” to some extent and can take a minute to rebuild an entirely new connection with someone else.

Being able to build a connection between herself and others is definitely one of Savannah’s gifts. Whether it’s with her fellow performers, the people in the audience or her own students, Miss Cross is magnetic, energetic and completely mesmerizing.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

This writer was fortunate enough to have once been Savannah’s student…for a day. As a member of the media, I was invited to participate in BAZ Boot Camp last summer, an event that allowed members of the press to live a day as a performer at the Palazzo Theater.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

  Savannah (center, rear) keeps a watchful eye on yours truly during rehearsal…

Despite my having two left feet and a pair of wobbly legs, Savannah and her dance partner Marcquet Hill rallied and turned us into dancers in a few short hours. Savannah’s positive reinforcement and patience were especially memorable.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Fortunately, the next round of students Savannah and cast mate Patrick Ortiz shared the BAZ experience with were fledgling local youth performers. During the past two years, the show’s team has partnered with Positively Arts Foundation to provide mentorship, collaboration and inspiration for students intent on pursuing a career in performance.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

The cast of BAZ also put on the Positively Arts Holiday Spectacular at the Palazzo Theater last December. Featuring more than sixty Positively Arts students, the show brought performances of seasonal songs like “Silent Night,” “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” “This Christmas,” “Carol of the Bells” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” to the stage with all proceeds benefiting the Foundation. For Savannah, teaching and performing on the same stage is something she will no doubt always relish:

I think its beyond amazing that I get to share something I love so dearly with others and help them find their own passion within the art.  Watching my students grow is the most inspiring and informative lesson for myself.

Now that BAZ: A Musical Mash-up has surpasseded the 500th-performance mark and is about to celebrate its two-year anniversary on the Strip, it’s clear that something special is going on inside the Palazzo Theater. With people like Savannah Cross to teach, inspire and entertain, here’s hoping that she and the cast of BAZ reach for the stars with five hundred more…and beyond.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

BAZ: A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 pm. Tickets start at $64 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here. VegasFool is currently offering discounted seats starting at $39(plus taxes/fees). Access that offer by clicking here.

Photos: Whitney Lauren Photography, Richard Brusky, Post Productions Photography, Marc Reynolds, Abe Larmas Photography, Erik Kabik, KTNV Morning Blend, Sands Corp.

Palazzo Surprises Guests On “National Plan For Vacation Day”


Movement encourages Americans to schedule their vacations and enjoy well-deserved fun…

Yes, I know what you’re thinking – “Sammasseur really loves Palazzo Resort. Blah blah blah”. And you’d be fair to say so. It’s true that I continue to crow about Palazzo‘s virtues (like Best Luxury Resort and Best Overall ShowBAZ Musical Mash-up). But since we’re in a time when so many Vegas properties continually find new ways to stick it to their customers, Venetian’s sister hotel does the opposite by giving back.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

Earlier this week, BAZ star Ruby Lewis posted a cute and clever video wherein she surprised Rosina Lounge bartender Sarah by taking over her shift. She then shocked two of Sarah’s guests with a complete Vegas vacation package.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

The unexpected award included round-trip airfare via Allegiant Air, a suite at Palazzo, tickets to BAZ Musical Mash-up and cocktails at Rosina Lounge. While the beginning of the clip seems somewhat scripted, the facial expressions of the recipients are anything but…

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

The purpose of this clip…and the “holiday” that inspired it…is to bring attention to an growing trend among Americans. And that is the wasting of paid vacation time…an estimated 659 million days each year. An alarming 54 percent of us don’t collect on the R & R we’re entitled to, and that’s harmful in more ways than you’d think.

In today’s uncertain economy, many workers are hesitant to take time off, perhaps fearful that the well-entitled indulgence will cost them more than it’s worth. Sadly, that decision backfires in many ways. Not only does work fatigue damage both productivity and morale, but the economy loses approximately $236 billion each year in vacation spending.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

That’s why the organization Project: Time Off was created. They’re spearheading a movement to address this silent epidemic of self-neglect, as so eloquently stated on their “About Us” page:

We aim to shift culture so that taking time off is understood as essential to personal well-being, professional success, business performance, and economic expansion.​

To that end, January 30th has been declared National Plan For Vacation Day. It has been shown that workers who actively and deliberately schedule upcoming vacations in advance are less likely to make excuses for skipping them. 2017’s NPFV Day was the very first, yet more than 600 organizations in all 50 states participated.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

This year’s NPFV Day was even larger with major players in the tourist industry hopping on board. Naturally, everyone wants a piece of the pie, but what better place to let off some steam than Las Vegas?

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

Palazzo and Venetian have a long history of community service efforts and often show support for worthy causes. You’ll frequently see the colors of their signage and marquees changed to support awareness (World Heart Day, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Breast Cancer Awareness) or darkened altogether for the annual World Wildlife Fund Earth Hour.

Venetian/Palazzo team members also do their part to help the world’s communities. To date they have assembled and shipped out about a half-million hygiene kits to support Clean the World. That organization’s mission is to promote good health and well-being around the globe through improved access to soap and other hygiene products.

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Myself with BAZ star Ron Remke and “Morning Blend” host Jennifer Jean Snyder…

That cast of BAZ: A Musical Mash-up reaches out to the community through the magic of song and dance. In addition to giving performance lessons to members of the media and clumsy bloggers like myself (BAZ Boot Camp), they’ve welcomed local children to participate in a day with the cast. The event is part of the Positively Arts Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to using the arts to empower, inspire and heal.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

  BAZ stars Savannah Cross and Patrick Ortiz put children through the paces…

Ruby Lewis, the show’s resident “Daisy”, released a holiday single to raise funds for Alzheimers research. In October, she and her fellow cast mates formed “Team BAZ” for the Las Vegas Walk to End Alzheimers. It’s the largest such event dedicated to fighting the dreaded disease. Each performer dedicated their efforts to someone…for Ruby, it was her grandmother.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

In December, my best friend and I were lucky enough to be in attendance at BAZ when they were collecting donations for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Our donation nabbed us a couple of autographed posters and photos with some of the cast. Overall donations exceeded $11,000.00 in the two weeks leading up to Christmas.

As you can tell, I’m extremely enamored of the people in front of and behind the scenes…those who tirelessly work, create, support and go beyond to make Palazzo a very special place.

As other hotel casinos on the Strip find new ways to gouge their guests and claw every last cent out of your wallet, the team at Venetian/Palazzo go down a very different path. This is one of the many reasons why I consider Palazzo to be the “Best Luxury Resort” in Las Vegas. You can read more about the how’s and why’s by clicking here.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

And don’t forget to schedule your vacation soon. If you don’t, Ruby Lewis just might show up at your workplace to remind you…and maybe even give you the night off…

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

BAZ: A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm. Tickets are available here.

Photos: Sammasseur, Venetian/Palazzo, Ryan Lyons

2017 In Review – Ranking The Resorts


There’s something for everyone when choosing a hotel. But not all of them deserve your business…

Best Luxury ResortPalazzo

Best Worst Vegas 2017

The Venetian‘s more contemporary sister property has what it takes to satisfy your luxury needs without overt attempts at “hipness” (Cosmopolitan) or coasting on a previously-established reputation (Bellagio).

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The Palazzo offers easy access from Las Vegas Boulevard, free parking, spacious rooms, flawless service, gorgeous common areas, lush pools and an airy, high-ceiling casino. Visitors can indulge in top-notch lounges (check out my write-up of the new Rosina Cocktail Lounge), restaurants, shops, the famous Canyon Ranch Spa and the Best Overall Show in Vegas (BAZ: A Musical Mash-up). You can learn more by visiting my full write-up here.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Palazzo is easily my choice for best five-star accommodations in Las Vegas.

Most Improved ResortWestgate Las Vegas

My relationship with Westgate (aka the former Las Vegas Hilton) began three years ago….and was rocky to say the least. An unflattering article I had penned for VegasChatter.com got a very professional response from a member of the team in charge of transforming the aging off-Strip giant into a newly-born destination.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

“Give us another chance. We’ve got great things happening here”. That was the message, in essence, of the Westgate Las Vegas representative. And he wasn’t just tossing some pretty words and glitter in my direction. Promises were kept…and I’ve been back many many times since.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

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The current state of Westgate is one of gloriously-restored elegance. Brass has been polished, gorgeous chandeliers have been restored, the marble flooring is immaculate and guest rooms are all modern and sleek.

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The property has recruited some of the finest chefs in the city to operate an admirable line-up of new restaurants (see my monthly series of profiles to learn more about the people behind the dishes). Then there’s the glorious new Serenity Spa, an extension of Westgate’s acclaimed facility in Park City, Utah (you can see my detailed experiences at Serenity Spa here).

Serenity Spa Westgate

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Every Westgate staffer from valet to reservations to the hostess at Sid’s Cafe will offer their name and ask you for yours. There’s a vibe throughout the casino that’s palpable and contagious. You’ll feel that your patronage and presence are appreciated…and you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

You can expect lots of new entertainment offerings to take up residence at Westgate this year (Barry Manilow is coming back!) and you can continue to enjoy free parking as a hotel/casino guest.

By the way…don’t be put off by the off-Strip location. A convenient monorail station at the FRONT of the hotel (not far in the rear like everywhere else) can get you from your room to center Strip in a matter of minutes.

Re-think your ideas of how a 2018 visit to Las Vegas should be. Give Westgate a try…and prepare to be wowed.

Steepest DeclineRio Las Vegas

Best Worst Vegas 2017

A short decade ago, the Rio was one of my favorite places to stay and play. There was a vibrance throughout the resort that made it worth the visit. These days, it’s just a sad red-and-blue stepchild of the Caesars family, mostly forgotten and seemingly just hanging on.

The restaurants are nothing to brag about, Masquerade Village is still a giant echo chamber, Kiss by Monster Mini Golf turned out to be a dud and the once-legendary Carnival World Buffet now operates on limited hours. At least there’s still the wonderful Chippendales and new WOW – World of Wonder to keep me stopping by for a few hours.

Miniature stages throughout the gaming floor used to light up regularly for songs and dances by “Bever-tainers”. Now those performance spaces sit empty and ignored (a current cocktail server told me that “most of them are broken and just don’t work anymore”). The stage and overhead tracks for once-popular Rio Show In The Sky also remain, dusty and forgotten.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

An unpleasant odor permeates certain areas of this hotel, uncomfortable reminders of the Legionnaire’s Disease incident that affected numerous visitors last year. Guest rooms and common areas are maintained with indifference. The conditions of the fitness facilities and spa areas have badly deteriorated as well.

There are better places to choose than Rio Las Vegas…and the ever-rising mandatory resort fee (currently $34.01 per day, up from $18.99 plus tax in 2016) does nothing to make me want to book there again. After a lackluster stay in mid-December resulted in my complaining via email and phone to the manager, I cancelled my next visit (which was scheduled for the very next week).

Staffers at Rio seem to be going through the motions of their chores across the board, much like the team at Sahara did in the years leading up to its closure. Which brings us to…

In The Throes of DeathSLS (the former Sahara)

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Driving towards the north Strip property once know as Sahara, you’d be hard-pressed to know exactly what the name is. The sign reads SLS at the bottom and a giant twinkling W at the top. Why, exactly? Because this is a property with an identity crisis…and no good reason for existing in its current state.

SLS Las Vegas answers a question that nobody in their right mind would ask: “What would happen if you whitewashed (literally and figuratively) a heavily themed historic property, filled it with Vegas-lite duplicates of Los Angeles dining/nightclub favorites, then tried to lure the L.A. millenials over the state line?”.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

The answer is “not much”. There’s no reason for the hip L.A. crowd to come to Vegas for inferior copies of what they already have. Nevertheless, the combined arrogance of Sam Nazarian and SBE led to betting heavily…and losing…on a proposition that was never going to work.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

All seven Fred Segal stores were shuttered, along with LIFE Nightclub and an excellent buffet that lasted all of three months. SLS promised to reopen the buffet in early 2015. I’m still waiting.

If only SBE has taken a cue from Westgate and honored the Sahara‘s legacy with a little updating instead of throwing it out the back door, they’d probably be sharing a different place on this list.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Someday, logical will prevail and SLS (which sold off a portion of the resort to the W hotel chain…that tower now operates as a separate entity) will be reborn once more as “The New Sahara”. Until that time, you can consider SLS to be as good as….

DeadLucky Dragon

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Here’s another resort with no good reason for existing. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing worthwhile to offer guests, the Lucky Dragon announced the closure of its casino and restaurants just yesterday.

This has got to be some kind of record. After only 13 months and one day of operations, a brand-new casino resort has shut down everything but the tiny little hotel. Employees have been sent packing only four days into the new year…a sad start for them and a bad omen for any hope of Resorts World actually making an impact on the north end of the Strip.

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It was clear after a highly-touted early opening that just a few months into the year, Lucky Dragon was anything but lucky. Restaurants Pearl Ocean and Dragon Alley were reworked along with the high-limit areas of the gaming floor. The excitement of a brand-new hotel casino had completely fizzled, and by the time I visited in late mid October, at least one restaurant was shuttered and the entire complex was virtually empty.

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As the financials are reworked and optimistic press releases tout a full reopening of Lucky Dragon, expect the northern face of the famous Las Vegas Strip to continue fighting some really persistent blemishes. And one big blue tumor.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Abandoned Fontainebleau Resort                         

 

Photos: Greg C., Sammasseur

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 In Review Part 4 – Performances and Shows, Highs and Lows


Best Overall Show – BAZ: A Musical Mash-up

All of the dozens of shows around the Valley tend to fall into just a few categories. Then there’s BAZ: A Musical Mash-up. A song-and-dance unlike anything Vegas has ever seen, it’s hard to describe…and an experience you will never forget.

That’s why, after two consecutive years as “Best New Show” (new name, location and cast allowed it to qualify twice), BAZ: A Musical Mash-up gets my award for “Best Overall Show”.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

With three universally-renowned tragic love stories interwoven through a tapestry of contemporary hits, BAZ will have you dancing, crying, laughing and singing…all while rediscovering your love for musical theater.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

With the most talented cast in the city, BAZ: A Musical Mash-up is one show that demands to be experienced and shared. Kudos to Palazzo for their continued support of this amazing achievement.

Worst Overall Show – Black Magic Live aka Vivica’s Black Magic

This one started out with an ugly anti-gay controversy and ended up as a sloppy assault on the senses. An unbearable amateurish concoction with no rhyme or reason, an indifferent cast and an emcee (D-list movie director Jean-Claude LaMarre) who argues with and badgers an audience he’s ill-equipped to handle, Black Magic Live is one reality-show baby that was delivered stillborn.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Audience abuse works fine if it’s meant to be comically shocking a la Absinthe. But at Black Magic Live, the insults are hurled without a single bit of tongue-in-cheek. “Don’t be touching my jacket with your greasy hands, lady. I don’t know you!”. Or how about “Sit down and shut the Hell up or you’re out of here!”.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

After 60 minutes of this nonsense and at least four instances of audience members rushing the stage and stopping the show, I was out of there, too. Save your money and time. Turn your back on Black Magic Live.

Best Performance – Ruby Lewis (BAZ – A Musical Mash-up)

It’s almost unfair to select one individual from the best line-up on a Vegas stage. Alas, choosing a “Best Performance” winner must be done, if for nothing else than to provide counterpoint to the absolute worst.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Of all the amazing and gifted individuals who make BAZ the best show on the Strip, Ruby Lewis gets my choice for best performance. After a landmark performance on Broadway in PARAMOUR, Lewis returned to the For The Record Live family…and the Palazzo Theater…this summer.

Ruby’s jaw-dropping and emotional finale (Over The Love from The Great Gatsby) will have you gasping, wiping away tears and rising to your feet in applause. It’s the must-see moment on the Strip.

Worst Performance – Sammasseur  (BAZ – A Musical Mash-up)

“Wooden”. “Uninspired”. “As nervous as a long-tailed cat in a rocking chair factory”. Those are some of the reviews that would have been deservedly slung at this writer had I been an actual cast member of BAZ – A Musical Mash-up. Fortunately, my participation was limited to an exciting and brilliantly-conceived “boot camp” experience for members of the media (you can read all about it here).

Best Worst Vegas 2017

As an invited guest, I was privileged to go through the paces of a performer from choreography to costuming and make-up. Then an actual number in front of a selected (and very kind) audience of Venetian/Palazzo team members. I’m proud to say that nobody was hit when my shoe went sailing through the air during a kick….and I’ll leave it at that.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

    Myself with Ruby Lewis, Savannah Cross, Anne Martinez and Ron Remke…

Photos and Video: Sammasseur with additional courtesy of Palazzo Resort

 

Puttin’ On The Ritz at BAZ BOOT CAMP


Yours truly has a “Performer for a Day” experience at the signature Palazzo production…

Baz Boot Camp

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy.

They say he wandered very far
Very far over land and sea.

A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise, was he.

Those dreamy lyrics from 1947’s classic NATURE BOY open the stunning BAZ: Star Crossed Love inside Palazzo Theater. And for one immersive day, they also described this author’s experience inside the world of Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby. Well, minus the “very wise” part, perhaps.

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BAZ: Star Crossed Love is a very unique piece of live entertainment. It has the distinction of being my choice for “Best New Show” in both 2015 and 2016. How? By moving from Mandalay Bay’s LIGHT Nightclub and being relaunched after a major reworking. While essentially the same production at heart, BAZ was fine-tuned to maximize the benefits of a custom-designed venue inside Palazzo Resort.

Baz Boot Camp

With the full support of Sands Corporation, BAZ went from “the little show that could” to an amazing word-of-mouth success. To celebrate their triumphant one-year anniversary (in the intensely competitive Vegas show-scape, no less), a handful of recognizable media celebrities were invited to attend an afternoon “boot camp”. They were welcomed to step into the shoes of BAZ cast members and perform a number from the show in front of a live audience.

Baz Boot Camp

Invitees included Barrett Foa (Eric Beale on NCIS Los Angeles), Andrew Freund (Fox Network’s Dish Nation), Las Vegas Review Journal columnist John KatsilometesMorning Blend host Jennifer Jean Snyder…and a certain small-time BAZ-loving Oregonian blogger. How I ended up being included in a group of such talented and distinguished individuals is anybody’s guess…but I wasn’t about to jeopardize the invitation by questioning it.

Upon receiving the email, it took me all of ten minutes to stop jumping up and down, clear my schedule and book a flight to Las Vegas. In no time, our group was seated in the auditorium and receiving a round of greetings from Keith Salwoski, Executive Director of Public Relations and Blair Farrington, the Show Manager.

Baz Boot Camp

On our laps were folders detailing the Boot Camp itinerary, along with statistics about the show. Introductions were made all around, then we headed to the stage for dance lessons with BAZ‘s ballroom champions Savannah Cross and Marcquet Hill.

The next sixty or so minutes were perhaps the most invigorating, exhausting, humbling and memorable since my skydive this past February. Surrounded by cast members Ron Remke, Broadway star Ruby Lewis and Anne Martinez (Alice: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy), our stalwart band of boot-campers received expert instruction on how to kick, swoop, heel-toe-heel-toe and drop-drop-drop.

Baz Boot Camp

During all the excitement and sweat, it became clear that one member of our novice group was lagging behind….and it was me. While the others seemed to have varying degrees of showbiz experience, “Sammasseur” brought little to the stage besides laughter and enthusiasm.

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Shaun Burgess of Vegas.com (white shirt) gets tips from cast member Ron Remke             

Baz Boot Camp

                      Johnny Kats and I go through the paces…and kicks…

To their stylish womp-womp-womps I countered with my Franken-stomps. Their high kicks were my wobbly half-kicks. At one point my left shoe even went flying through the air. While trying hard to look like Gary Cooper, I’d somehow stumbled into the tap dance scene from a certain Mel Brooks film.

Baz Boot Camp

Photographers and a videographer recorded the action as Savannah and Marcquet added more steps to the sequence. Ron Remke kept my spirits high with high-fives and “You’ve got this!” encouragement. I marveled at the ease with which his body swooped and swayed through the mechanics of the steps…just like everyone else around me.

Baz Boot Camp

Baz Boot Camp

Jennifer, Savannah and Melinda Sheckells show the cameras what they’ve got.

Soon we were putting the sequence to music and running through the entire scene…from an opening one-legged kneel to the final thrust of our arms. This time, we sang along with the dancing (take that, Britney!). After a brief rest (not brief enough, gasp gasp) it was behind the stage and downstairs to the actual dressing rooms used by the cast.

Once there, a small army of make-up artists and hair stylists gave us the theatrical flair that help make the already-stunning BAZ performers one of the most attractive casts on the Strip. My face was covered in a sweat-proof foundation and my eyebrows were darkened and thickened.

Baz Boot Camp

Baz Boot Camp

While in the chairs, the other guests and I were given on-camera interviews to share our initial impressions. The most common response drew attention to how difficult the dancing was. No matter what level of proficiency they’d brought to the boot camp, it was clear that our troupe had gained a greater respect for the craft of live performance.

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    NCIS Los Angeles actor Barrett Foa is used to being in the make-up chair…

Baz Boot Camp

             Andrew Freund records a clip for his Dish Nation TV series…

After donning our tuxes and dresses, it was back to the stage for a round of individual and group portraits before our actual performance. Dynamic Michael Shulman (of ShulmanSays.com) acted as emcee and welcomed our audience – guests, friends and execs/team members of various departments within the Venetian/Palazzo family.

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   Ruby Lewis returned to BAZ last week after a triumphant lead on Broadway…

The whirlwind afternoon had come to its biggest moment – a production number carried out by professional performers with the Boot Camp troupe on an actual Las Vegas stage. To call this a “pinch me” moment would be too mild…and it seemed to be over before it actually began.

Baz Boot Camp

Baz Boot Camp

Standing out there on an elevated extension of the stage, my arms outstretched with applause all around me, this total novice and dedicated fan understood the drive that brings talented individuals to Sin City stages. A lifetime of lessons, joy, pain, sacrifice, tears and ambition to perfect their art culminates in that one moment…and there’s nothing like it in the world.

Clips from the One-Year Anniversary Performance of BAZ

Returning to the dressing room, the guys and I laughed about how fun the afternoon had been, but the experience was far from over. From there, the group headed over to Venetian’s The Dorsey to sample various libations created by famed mixologist Sam Ross for their new summer cocktail menu.

Then we slid next door for an outrageously delicious array of small plates and entrees at Chica, the new Latin eatery by celeb chef Lorena Garcia. Perhaps it was the round of cocktails at Chica that gave us our second wind, but Barett Fao, Andrew Freund and I decided to grab a taxi and head down the Strip for another song-and-dance show. It was a long, exhilarating, exhausting and unforgettable day.

The next morning I grabbed my laptop to learn that reviews were pouring in for our BAZ Boot Camp performance. For once, the tables were turned…and the critic was receiving critique. Much like the day before, everyone was extremely kind:

Savannah Cross (BAZ Boot Camp instructor/performer) – Killed it!!

Blair Farrington (BAZ show manager) – Sam… you added a lot of personality to the BAZ Boot Camp performance! Welcome to the team!

Shane Scheel (creator of BAZ) – Thank you Sam Novak for your unwavering support of BAZ Star Crossed Love.

Bill Evans (BAZ emcee/performer) – You look good Sam!!!

Lisa Sundseth (VegasUnfiltered reader) – You are a STAR ⭐️!!

 

Nikki Ann Medaugh (VegasUnfiltered reader) – Dapper, very dapper. Who knew you could look so good wearing all of those pesky clothes?

 

Private Message: “Sam – you looked hot hot hot in BAZ CAMP!”

Private message from a cast member: “Sam!!! Ah Thank YOU so much for your incredible energy and presence!! Today was so incredibly enjoyable and was a reminder of why I love this this art form so much. All the love!”

Private message from a cast member – “Sam! You were fantastic and I’m so glad you had fun! Thank you for being so supportive of us!”

Rising from the bed of my Palazzo suite (which they’d kindly arranged for me), I noticed how sore my legs were from the previous day. It was a warm reminder of the incredible effort that performers give forth to keep us entertained.

Baz Boot Camp

With cast member Ron Remke and Jennifer Jean Snyder of ABC’s Morning Blend

As I went through the rest of that day, I kept thinking about how generous everyone at Palazzo and BAZ had been. They are a tightly-knit group, brought together for one purpose and working together to make BAZ the best show on the Strip…a genuine labor of love.

It was an honor to be a part of BAZ Boot Camp – and I think I made a few friends along the way.

The greatest thing
You’ll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved
In return….

                                                                             – lyrics from NATURE BOY

Baz Boot Camp

Photos: [Sammasseur, BAZ Boot Camp at Palazzo, 20th Century Fox]