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

 

“Rosina” Is The Latest Jewel In Palazzo’s Crown


Swanky art deco cocktail lounge elevates the already-luxurious Strip resort….

This past August, I penned a piece extolling the virtues of (and my love for) the Palazzo. Dripping with elegance and style, Venetian‘s high-end sister property offers a contemporary twist on top-tier resorts…and won my award for favorite five-star accommodations.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Now Palazzo has upped the ante with Rosina Cocktail Bar. Adding a page to the latest chapter of Venetian/Palazzo‘s evolution, Rosina builds on the momentum established by The Dorsey this summer. That cocktail lounge, with creations by famed mixologist Sam Ross, has already set a new standard for Venetian‘s lounge offerings.

While The Dorsey is an interesting mixture of old-school vibe (the library and fireplace are especially cozy) with contemporary music and hip DJ’s, Rosina harkens back to an era of sexy glamour and utter sophistication. It’s hard not to be mesmerized by the glossy blacks and shiny golds that make up the jewelry box-like exterior of this cocktail retreat.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Inside, lush chandeliers preside over four maroon-colored banquettes, small cocktail tables with pearl-colored leather chairs and high bar tables with stools in burgundy-covered cushions and backs.

Rosina Cocktail Lounge Palazzo

The 65-seat room is intimate, providing for impeccable service and attention to every detail. That includes an original beverage menu which celebrates the classic cocktails of bygone eras.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Upon arriving for a media preview, our party was led towards a glamorous lady posed upon the left side of the bar. This “cocktail fortune teller” asked each of us a few questions before suggesting a particular cocktail to start our evening.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Her recommendation for me was a Dark ‘N Stormy (from the “Shaken Cocktails” list – $18). Crafted from Bermuda rum, lime, fresh ginger and club soda inside a tall glass with a bar of hand-embossed ice, it reminded me of a high-powered Moscow Mule with a lot of sass. Additional shaken cocktails include the DaiquiriTom Collins, Presbyterian, Mai Tai and Gimlet.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Dark ‘N Stormy              

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Mai Tai                     

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo                    Daiquiri                    

The fortune teller steered my companion towards a Martini from the “Stirred Cocktails” menu (all $18). Made with gin, dry vermouth and either a lemon twist or olive, it was as smooth as it was lovely to look at. Other stirred cocktails include Mint Julep, Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Negroni.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Old Fashioned              

Later in the evening, I desired something fizzy. That meant a French ’75 (gin, champagne and lemon) from the “Bubbly” classics list, which also offered an Airmail (rum, honey, lime, champagne) and Jimmie Roosevelt (cognac, green chartreuse, bitters and champagne – all $22).

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

French ’75                   

Speaking of bubbly…if you’re out of champagne (four selections from France), there’s an innovative call button within reach. With it, you can have your flute topped off immediately. You won’t want to rush things, though, as the relaxing and elegant atmosphere will have you wondering where the time went.

A curated soundtrack of blues, jazz, soul and classic R & B plays overhead, ensuring that the mood is as classy as the cocktail in your glass. Be sure to ask your server about seasonal and daily specials while you’re there.

If you’re in the mood for wine, you can choose one of five whites from Germany, New Zealand, Italy, France and of course…California. Six red wines are brought in from Italy, California, Washington and this writer’s home of Willamette Valley, Oregon.

Baz Boot Camp

Perhaps it’s no accident that Rosina Cocktail Bar is right around the corner from Palazzo Theater. That’s where the stunning Gatsby-era BAZ – A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7 pm. The two compliment each other perfectly, much like Bourbon Room once invited Rock of Ages guests to party on after the show.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

You won’t need Gatsby’s tuxedo or Daisy’s sparkling gowns to enjoy a cocktail at Rosina, but it’s most definitely a dress-up atmosphere. So be sure to pack your favorite evening wear and immerse yourself in the shiny beauty of Rosina Cocktail Bar.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Rosina Cocktail Bar is nestled along the east side of Palazzo’s gaming floor. Hours of operation are from 5 pm through 3 am daily. The venue is available to host special events by calling 702.607.1945

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Photos: Sammasseur, Anthony Mair, Palazzo Hotel and Casino

“WOW” is Wet Outlandish Whimsy on a Grand Scale


Rio’s water-themed production salutes the heyday of Vegas variety….

If you’ve read my show reviews and columns through the years, you’re probably aware that I’m not a fan of the direction the Vegas entertainment has headed. You know the kind I mean…manufactured talents clogging up enormous venues with their auto-tune warbling. Has-been “divas” sleep-walking and lip-syncing through high-ticket residencies for an enormous paycheck. So-called “celebrity DJs” with their creepy mugshot-style billboards peppering the main roads of the city. It’s all garbage!

Sorry, folks, but Vegas was built on the backs of real talent. If you don’t know or don’t remember what that is, you can check out the amazing musical BAZ at Palazzo, where singers can dance and dancers can sing. And they combine their complex roles with superb acting, offering wide-spectrum talent from every member of the cast.

In recent years, an assortment of variety shows have sprung up that remind us of the glorious era of Vegas. Dancers, singers, circus acts and comics zipping on and off the stage in a constant barrage of whimsy to thrill and dazzle. WOW – World of Wonder is the latest of these, and it’s definitely on my list of must-see-again thrills.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW is a rare commodity on the Sin City entertainment scene. It dares to be simultaneously silly, chaotic, retro and modern while offering high-tech amazement. WOW wears its randomness on its sleeve, starting here and jumping over there. You never know who will be coming onto the stage, creeping up behind you, descending from the ceiling or rising from the depths.

If some of that sounds a bit like Le Reve, you’re right. There are plenty of moments in WOW that resemble Wynn’s signature production, along with Absinthe, Mystere, Vegas! The Show and the sadly-defunct Vegas Nocturne at Cosmopolitan’s Rose.Rabbit.Lie. I offer those comparisons as compliments, as all have been personal favorites.

What differs with WOW is in the presentation, starting with the venue. Rio‘s refurbished Crown Theater will definitely elicit a “wow” from your lips. Not necessarily from the seating arrangements (which are a bit dated and not-quite-lush) but from the main stage and panoramic video panels, which are absolutely gorgeous and impeccably utilized.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Dazzling moving images of waterfalls and intensely-colored landscapes resemble Wonder Woman’s “Paradise Island” and Ariel’s undersea kingdom. Atmospheric sound design adds to the effect, creating significant anticipation for the show to begin.

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The thin plot line involves a nerdy fisherman, badgered by a harpy’s voice into catching something for dinner. Hunkering down in his yellow slicker, he casts his line into the water.  Of course, his baited hook is just there to grab the audience and take them on a journey to the fantastic.

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What follows is a hodgepodge of circus acts, peculiar talents, humorous bits and large-scale production numbers. Some are familiar, like the skating act from Absinthe and V – The Ultimate Variety Show. Others offer talents you’ve surely never seen before.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

That in itself would work just fine…if the individual acts didn’t play to drastically different age groups. For instance, a sexy sequence with three lovelies swimming inside a clear glass bowl (similar to Zumanity but without the toplessness) is geared toward adults. But it’s preceded by a lengthy Pirates of the Caribbean spoof that’s best appreciated by children.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW follows the classic set-up of having smaller acts draw your attention while the big set pieces are setting up behind a curtain on the main stage. One moment an Italian chef is spinning plates on the streets of old Venice.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The next, a hot-bodied group of dancers is strutting their sexy stuff to popular and classic music. Just wait until you see the salute to Singing In The Rain, wherein the raindrops actually form the shape of umbrellas. Clever!

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

All of it is superbly done and most is highly enjoyable…and really, really random. But that’s what’s great about variety shows, especially in our era of short attention spans. As they say about San Francisco weather, if you don’t like what’s happening, just wait a moment.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Perhaps that’s why Riviera’s SPLASH and Bally’s JUBILEE!, a pair of Vegas classics, lasted for decades.  The format also allows for frequent refreshing, so each visit is sure to yield a unique experience.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The epic production numbers were my favorite aspect of WOW, especially a jaw-dropping ballroom scene aboard the Titanic. Your entire field of vision is filled with the ship’s interior, rising waves seen through the windows and a cast of dancers that is suddenly engulfed in the deluge. This obvious nod to the legendary sequence in JUBILEE! takes the experience much, much farther. Hold onto your life preserver!

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

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My least favorite act involves Guinness World Record holder Dickson Oppong of West Africa. This large fellow has the unique ability to guzzle huge amounts of water, then spray it as continuous stream from his mouth. Although fascinating, it’s also a bit disturbing. Germ-aphobes may wish to avoid sitting in the splash zone.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

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More entertaining is a bit involving statues who become fountains too…in a funny, clever way. The gag builds layers of whimsy until it segues into another a trio of swimmers. I’d have like to have seen the statues go on a bit longer first.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Sadly, the comic-relief character that opens the show has solo moments that go on way too long. He also gets worked into too many of the other acts. Mostly wordless, his child-like bits involving a clap-along and a series of boo-boos make for excellent bathroom breaks. But he’s still more entertaining than the creepy, annoying clowns of O.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Some acts would be more at home in a traveling circus but don’t necessarily translate well to an evening Vegas production. Perhaps the fact that WOW comes from overseas (Israel, in fact) helps to explain why it feels so offbeat. The weirdness isn’t the same as Cirque du Soleil‘s French humor…nor is it as annoying. But a little fine-tuning for Vegas audiences might do WOW a whole lot of good.

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I also had issues with some clumsy sound cues and abrupt changes in volume that distracted from the performances of a uniformly excellent cast. As the show is relatively new (it opened just last month), things like this should eventually be worked out.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

But that’s a small complaint when compared to the scale of talent and visuals represented here. The 30-member international cast is beautiful and overflowing with skill. And they have one goal in mind – to leave you saying “WOW”.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The success of any variety production depends largely on whether you’re drawn into the premise. WOW succeeds in capturing your imagination. It grabs you from the opening moments, twirls you around, lifts you up and doesn’t let go until the final bows.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

It’s classic Vegas variety entertainment on a grand scale.

WOW – World of Wonder performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm with an additional 9pm show Friday-Sunday. Tickets start at $49 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here. Travelzoo currently has discount tickets from $39 with no additional taxes/fees. Click here to access this offer, good through 1/7/18.

Photos: Diane Lynn, Sammasseur

 

 

 

Anne Martinez Can’t Slow Down To Be “The Next Big Thing”


Meet a talent who’s equally at home in Gatsby’s world and Alice’s Wonderland…

Some performers set their sights on Las Vegas and dream of one day ruling the stage. Anne Martinez must have missed that memo about “someday”. You see, she came to Sin City four years ago and immediately began her Vegas reign.

Anne Martinez

You may not know Anne Martinez by name, but chances are that you’ve seen her perform at least once..and heard her glorious voice rattling the rafters. From Luxor‘s sexy Fantasy to Steve Wynn’s classy ShowStoppers. Dripping with blood at Zombie Burlesque or adorned with dazzling jewels in BAZ – A Musical Mash-up. There’s seemingly nothing that Anne cannot do.

Anne Martinez

Anne and her husband John Martinez came to Vegas in 2013. John’s expertise in rigging and scuba diving made him a perfect fit for Cirque du Soleil‘s water production “O”. While hubby was getting his feet wet at Bellagio, Anne was putting her own skills into play on various stages…while simultaneously working with a team of gifted colleagues to establish her own production company. BBR, like Anne, quickly made a name for itself with the genre-bending Alice: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy (more on that in a bit).

Anne Martinez

Despite her short time in the city, Anne dove headfirst into a wide variety of gigs, charitable functions and community events. Belting out hits at House of Blues Music Forward Foundation, joining Mondays Dark to benefit AFAN, singing the National Anthem during March Madness, saluting Amy Winehouse at Brooklyn Bowl‘s The Setlist late-night concert series…the list truly is endless.

Earning a BFA in acting no doubt explains Anne’s ability to step into a wide variety of song styles and characters, but her Masters of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Practice (aka show creation) is how Alice: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy sprang to life. Taking the darker elements of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland” and weaving them into a hard-rocking opera set in a retro-futuristic sci-fi world, Alice is sheer brilliance. Even Tim Burton didn’t try something so audacious for his interpretation.

Anne Martinez

Anne credits a great deal of Alice‘s success to other ambitious young artists like Jeffrey DeBarathyAdolfo BarretoLora KelseyAshley FullerClaudia MitriaApril Leopardi and co-director Ryan Kelsey. Having such a gifted ensemble almost guaranteed a show unlike anything Vegas had ever seen.

Naturally, Martinez wanted to see her baby become a resident production. Having outgrown its early days at Hard Rock Hotel‘s VinylAlice quickly became the must-see monthly event at Brooklyn Bowl…for locals and tourists alike. Even when the show was on hiatus last summer, she re-assembled the cast for a one-off at Las Vegas Pride.

Since then, Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Casino has become the permanent home for Alice. One Monday each month, the cast gathers for another epic performance. Their next show date is November 13th with guest performance by Cirque du Soleil artist Michelle DiTerlizzi as the Red Queen.

Anne Martinez

Compounding the challenge of short preparation time was the fact that her predecessors have gone on to major high-profile productions. Returning BAZ star Ruby Lewis finished her Daisy run at Light before the titular role in Broadway’s Paramour. Last fall, Joanna Alexis Jones left Palazzo Theater‘s production for the NBC broadcast of Hairspray Live. Her abrupt departure required Martinez to step into the star-making character.

Despite being an understudy for only a few short weeks, Anne’s version of Daisy was nothing short of breathtaking. She subsequently took on the lead role of “Satine”, made famous by Nicole Kidman in the film Moulin Rouge:

As if her schedule wasn’t already busy enough, Anne currently does double-duty as one half of the duo HEART in Stratosphere’s World’s Greatest Rock Show. She literally finishes her BAZ performance at Palazzo and high-tails it down the Strip to roar onstage and belt out high-powered anthems like this:

Before a performance of BAZ, I sat down with this dynamo outside of the Palazzo Theater to talk about her background, her inspirations, and of course, plans for her future in Las Vegas.

When asked what it felt like to join For The Record‘s innovative, genre-busting, star-making troupe, the Rochester NY native had this to say:

I think For the Record is a brilliant company that has only just begun on their road to amazing success! They have a keen sense of entertainment and are completely fearless in their journey of storytelling. It’s incredible to be a part of and magical to watch.

Despite the difficulties that entertainment productions aced in Sin City during 2016 (over 30 closures), Anne is optimistic that quality shows will continue to thrive on Las Vegas stages:
I think Vegas is an ever-changing amoeba that will always take us by surprise. As artists, we are always working toward entertaining our patrons and how exactly to do that. Experimentation is the key to growing as an artist and as a business. Keeping an open mind and trying new things will allow projects to grow and flourish. As new generations come forward, we can (hopefully) create entertainment that they will enjoy!
When asked how challenging it was to join an established cast then quickly step into a central role, Anne seemed grateful and confident at the same time:
My primary talent is willingness to learn. Everything can always be improved as a performer…but you have to be willing to jump. I love music with meaning. Listening to QUEEN and the BEATLES as a child really informed the sense of using music to speak…to color…to paint with your musicality….to speak your truth or to find the truth in others.

Martinez confided that coming down from the show each night is a bit difficult. The emotional energy required to take on a production like BAZ is also evident in her personal life and passions:

I love NSPCA. I have rescue cats myself and it breaks my heart to think they were hurt in the past. Adopting a pet or donating to NSPCA can save so many lives of innocent animals. I also have a yearly holiday show for Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth. There are so many teens and children in need of protection, education and opportunity.
 Anne Martinez
Every year, pianist Kenny Davidsen and I gather numerous vocalists in Las Vegas who donate their talents for a night of music. Our next one is December 19th at Tuscany Resort. It’s so important to remember that everyone deserves a chance.

The morning after the recent shooting tragedy in Vegas, Anne and husband John were the first people I saw on social media delivering food, water and assistance to first responders operating out of the Las Vegas Convention Center. They were broadcasting live via Facebook and urging people to come down and do the same.

Later that month, she and her fellow castmates formed “Team BAZ” for last month’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the largest such event dedicated to fighting that dreaded disease.

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Just this past Sunday (November 5th), Anne appeared with many other entertainers at Venetian Hotel for the Vegas Cares Benefit Concert to support both victims of and first responders to the tragedy.

It’s clear that Anne Martinez has truly found happiness in the city she calls home. Her love for its people is as strong as the passion she delivers in her performances. I look forward to many more hours of enjoying this boundless talent in darkened theaters throughout Las Vegas.

BAZ – A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesday through Saturday at 7pm at Palazzo Theater. Tickets start at $65 and can be ordered by clicking here

World’s Greatest Rock Show performs Tuesday through Sunday at 9pm at Stratosphere. Tickets tickets start at $73 and are available here.

ALICE: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy performs one Monday each month at Rocks Lounge inside Red Rock Resort. Tickets are $25 and can be ordered here.

This article previously appeared elsewhere in another version. It has been updated with new information.

Photos:  Jake Klein, Patrick Rivera, Elaine Wilkinson, Richard Brusky, Bill Hiltz, BBR and Anne Martinez via Facebook. Videos by Sammasseur

IMAGINARIUM Is Pure, Epic Magic


David Goldrake’s grandiose production at Tropicana will touch your senses and soul…

Something mysterious is going on at the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. The entertainment gods have seen fit to grace that location with three epic magic shows. One performer is legendary, the second is flashy, and the newest is a challenger of major proportions. His name is David Goldrake, and his new show David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM at Tropicana is an entertainment gold mine.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

Goldrake (center) with fellow magicians Jarrett and Raja at the media premiere…            

Following on the heels of Jan Rouven‘s shocking abrupt closure and the short-lived Band of Magicians, one might question the wisdom of opening yet another illusion-based production inside the troubled, beautiful Tropicana Showroom. But the third time is clearly a charm, as David Goldrake’s gorgeous presentation is worthy of the space. It’s also deserving of the opportunity to take on David Copperfield and the far-inferior Criss Angel.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

Say what you will about the relevance of magic shows in 2017 Las Vegas, but IMAGINARIUM is much more than hokey top hats and sexy assistants. With an ethereal introduction of smokey morphing shapes and lush music, IMAGINARIUM sets up a surrealistic mood that the Luxemborg-born Goldrake maintains throughout.

After an opening illusion, Goldrake comes out to introduce himself and explain IMAGINARIUM, the circus sideshow that he visited as a child for a fifty-cent admission price. The experience of growing up as a fascinated young man in Europe permeates the production, enhanced by the host’s unique accent and magnetic presence.

David Goldrake, while known in several countries as an “International Man of Mystery”, has yet to make a mark on U.S. pop culture. When you’re a somewhat unknown quantity in Las Vegas, it helps to have charisma and good looks…both of which Goldrake has in abundance.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

David moves with the grace and elegance of a dancer, yet his massive muscular frame fills the grand Tropicana stage. So do the lush sets and immersive backdrops that pull you into each illusion. Expensive-looking video content from Drop The Spoon (Le Reve/Franco Dragone), steampunk-style design by EDT and costumes from Erin “Topaz” Lareau rival anything that the Cirque-financed Criss Angel has presented at Luxor.

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All of those bells and whistles don’t mean anything if the star performer can’t capture your imagination. IMAGINARIUM does so in spades. Large-scale stunts like a human-sized hourglass disappearance and passing through a sheet of solid metal will have you scratching your head.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

A particularly memorable moment comes when Goldrake collects rings from the hands of three volunteers. Placing them on a spindle while in constant view of the audience, he agitates the rings until they’re suddenly linked together into a small chain. And before you can say “audience plants”, one participant of that illusion was my companion for the evening…there was no collusion.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

David’s assistants, two women and two men, are skilled performers in their own right. The gorgeous dancers, contortionists, acrobats and aerialists get their own well-deserved sequence, an old-tyme European-styled sideshow sequence highlighting individual talents that come together for a rousing mini-finale.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

My favorite set piece, by far, is a salute to Houdini’s underwater straitjacket escape. A shirtless (and ab-tastic) Goldrake is chained and suspended upside-down in a glass chamber filled filled with water before your eyes. Never once is the clear tank out of sight…the gasping, bubbles and struggles are real. So were the accelerated beats of my heart.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

It’s always exciting when a new name bursts on the Vegas scene and raises the bar for a everyone…audiences and performers alike. We saw it happen when Spiegelworld (Absinthe and Cosmo’s Vegas Nocture) challenged Cirque du Soleil, Matt Goss shook up the lounge scene and BAZ: A Musical Mashup redefined musical theater. We’re seeing it once more with David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM.

There’s a hot new illusionist in town and he’s not to be missed. If you see only one large-scale magic show on your trip to Sin City, make it David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM. You will be thrilled, mystified…and your heart will soar skyward.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm. Suitable for all ages. Tickets start at $39.90 plus taxes/fees and can be ordered here. Groupon is currently offering discount seats starting at $28 with no additional fees by clicking here.

Photos: Sammasseur, IMAGINARIUM via Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALICE Blends “Wonderland” with a “Mad World”


Red Rock Casino’s steampunk fantasy concert is a striking new vision of the Looking Glass fables…

I’ve often contended that some of the purist forms of entertainment are passion projects…especially when they spring from the mind of performers. It’s one thing to sing and act out someone else’s material, but performing your own creation takes it to rarely-seen heights.

Unfortunately, passion projects often end up as little-seen ventures in out-of-the-way venues. This time that’s not going to happen. The day has come for the masses to discover ALICE: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy.

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If you’ve followed me here from my previous site, chances are you’ve already heard of ALICE…or at least its creator and star, Anne Martinez. Anne is the prolific singer/dancer/producer/director who plays “Satine” in BAZ: A Musical Mash-up at Palazzo. Then she hops down the Strip and onto the Stratosphere stage as one half of Heart in World’s Greatest Rock Show.

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Somehow, this gifted lady finds the time to balance dual roles and her personal life with the ongoing adventures of her brainchild, ALICE. And what a journey it has been. From small gigs at Tuscany to Hard Rock‘s Vinyl to the concert venue of Brooklyn Bowl, ALICE has continued to grow almost entirely on word-of-mouth.

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This summer, Alice and her friends are hosting tea parties one Monday a month at Red Rock Casino‘s Rocks Lounge. The next performance is scheduled for September 25th at 10pm. Admission is only $25 at the door and includes a welcome specialty cocktail.

If the concept of “steampunk” is unfamiliar, you may have already encountered it without even being aware.  Martin Scorcese dabbled in steampunk with the gorgeous and glorious Hugo. Movie fans might recall when Man of Steel director Zack Snyder went steampunk in the adults-only fantasy Sucker Punch.

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HUGO (2011)                       

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SUCKER PUNCH (2011)                            

Since steampunk blends historical settings with modern technology, the genre lends itself perfectly to classic fantasy tales. Perhaps that’s why Tin Man, the revisionist Oz miniseries with Zooey Deschanel and Richard Dreyfuss, was such a hit (and led to this year’s Emerald City).

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Ryan Kelsey, Anne Martinez and Michael Radiff…                      

So…why not a steampunk version of Alice In Wonderland? It had to happen eventually. Luckily, ALICE was beautifully conceived by Martinez, one of the most gifted artists in Sin City. She was aided by dancer Claudia Mitria, aerial choreographer April Leopardi and co-director Ryan Kelsey, who have been with Anne and her BBR Productions since the beginning. With them, ALICE has gone from “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” to “We going to need a bigger theater”.

If ALICE were simply a straight-forward concert, it would still kick ass. Hits like Bjork’s “Army of Me”, Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and The Beatles’ “I Want You” are delivered with a ferocity rarely seen in a smaller productions. Paired with a whimsical take on “Killer Queen” and a tea party staged to the moody “Mad World”, the effect is breathtaking.

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Ashley Fuller is front and center as “Ecila”…                   

Powerhouse vocals come courtesy of Ashley Fuller, former lead singer for Jubilee! at Bally’s. Fuller plays “Ecila”, a dark reflection of the titular character. She belts out Whitney Houston’s “Queen of the Night” as Lora Kelsey creeps onto the stage in stilts. Towering over the audience as the “Red Queen”, Lora unleashes a pole-dance sequence that will have you questioning your sanity.

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Lora Kelsey plays a towering Red Queen….                   

Of course, no Vegas show would be complete without some aerial work. Newest cast member Michael Radiff  brings his acrobatic talents to ALICE by way of Royal Caribbean Productions and the legendary Folies Bergere.

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As the artistic Gods would have it, cast members who go down the rabbit hole with ALICE are very gifted in other areas, too. Make-up artist Adolfo Barreto, choreographer Ryan Kelsey and costume designer Jeffrey DeBarathy have all contributed their expertise to make A Steampunk Concert Fantasy worthy of a residency on the Strip.

A regular residency could prove difficult, though, as most of the cast are committed to other ongoing productions. For instance, Ryan Kelsey is in Chippendales and DeBarathy and cast-mate Leopardi also ghoul out and strip down each night for Zombie Burlesque. And of course there’s the issue of Alice herself, played by Martinez…already in two nightly shows.

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    The Chippendales prowl the hedge with the Chesire Cat (Jeffrey DeBarathy)…                 

With a bigger budget and some epic sets, ALICE could easily be the newest breakout hit in Vegas. But until that time comes, consider making the trek to Red Rock Resort. Put on your mad hat and join the Cheshire Cat and crew for some tea at ALICE: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy.

ALICE performs select Mondays inside Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Casino. Pre-show at 9pm, performance begins at 10pm. Click here for dates and details. 

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Photos and video by Sammasseur

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling the Love for PALAZZO


Searching for elegance at Bellagio and Wynn but finding it quietly tucked away…

Last month this writer spent two weeks experiencing the pleasures of three top-tier resorts – Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo. All are established, respected and great at what they do. Each of them is a 5-star property catering to similar demographics, yet they’re distinct in style and flavor.

Palazzo is the sister property to Venetian. Opened in December of 2007, it’s listed by Wikipedia as the second-largest building in the Western Hemisphere, yet its presence on the Strip is as understated as the clean lines and Earth tones that make up its superstructure.

Inside, two cavernous domes oversee your entrance from either the main lobby or through the waterfall atrium connecting Palazzo to Venetian‘s Grand Canal Shoppes and Restaurant Row.

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Both Bellagio and Wynn sprang from the mind of legendary Steve Wynn, so of course they are essentially kindred hotels. Both have ornate decor, colorful seasonal displays, art collections, water-themed production shows created by the same man (Franco Dragone) and outdoor fountains synchronized to familiar musical standards.

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        Deja-view….                             

Unfortunately, Bellagio’s ownership and operations now rest in the hands of MGM Resorts International. That’s the money-grubbing corporation which introduced universally-reviled mandatory resort fees to the Strip, along with parking and valet charges. Their now-notorious profit-growth plan was designed to suck every last dollar out of the consumer’s pocket.

The results are even apparent in a luxury resort such as this, where you pay $12 a day to park while risking damage to your undercarriage. Some have even lost their tires and wheels (check out this mind-bending incident from April), so clearly those extra fees aren’t going towards additional security, which is odd for a casino that has been robbed time and again.

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Wynn/Encore initially resisted resort fees but caved when they became the new normal. I truly expected them to continue offering free parking and valet services, but that is no longer the case. One could argue that all Strip resorts should be on equal footing in respect to their parking arrangements, yet Wynn/Encore is far removed from the core of those affected.

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“Let’s put an ATM next to the garage payment kiosks and see if anyone gets the message”….

There is little to no chance of drivers using Wynn/Encore garages to visit other properties, especially with neighbors like Treasure Island still offering free parking. Installing gates and kiosks this week reeks of yet another money grab…and an insult to valued guests.

Fortunately for those of us who rent cars on our trips, the garages at Venetian and Palazzo are well-maintained and free of charge…at least for now. In the case of Palazzo, conveniently-located escalators and elevators bring guests directly into the lobby, center of the casino or near the showroom. Even when not staying at Palazzo, I frequently dine at wonderful Grand Lux Cafe, in part due to the ease of access (the food, service and free Wi-Fi rock, too).

But, I digress. Let’s delve into the resorts themselves, and why I favor Palazzo over the other two. For me, it all comes down to atmosphere…how I’m treated as a guest and whether I felt comfortable and relaxed in my surroundings.

While Bellagio is the oldest of the three, its rooms remain in tip-top shape and have recently-refreshed decor. Furniture, bedding and fixtures are all lovely, thanks to excellent maintenance. Unfortunately during my three-day stay, the room rumbled throughout the daylight hours until 7 pm with the sound of jackhammers, thanks to renovations above me.

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Bellagio Fountain-View King…          

A complaint to the front desk resulted in a $100.00 food/beverage credit being added to my account. It was willingly offered after my complaint – not something I was soliciting, as I was trying to write and needed to know when the pounding would stop so I could work. Nevertheless, the incessant noise tainted my stay and rattled my teeth loose. It would have been nice if they’d alerted us about construction prior to check-in, but they didn’t.

Noise can also be an issue at Wynn/Encore, especially if you’re hoping for a restful night. With its beach clubs and nightclubs, a constant thump-thump-thump rises up the sides of both towers. It’s a frequent complaint on travel sites for those who are accustomed to the elegance that Wynn initially offered in its early days.

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Wynn Tower King, Strip View…                

These days, Wynn/Encore has shifted from sophistication to the trendy club scene. It lures in a rowdy crowd that carries on loudly throughout common areas, casinos and elevators, in stark contrast to their expensive, classy surroundings. The effect is very off-putting and a disappointing about-face.

It wasn’t that long ago that trouble-making celebs like Paris Hilton and bad-behavior rappers like Lil Wayne were barred from Wynn/Encore. Now their kind seem to be openly courted. The type that this element attracts make Wynn the most money…yet are openly mocked by Steve as he collects a hefty share of their trust funds.

Take care not to collide with a stroller while reading Wynn’s “No Stroller” signs…

Along with “club kids”, the corridors and casinos at Wynn are inexplicably jammed to the max with real children, too. Despite a “No Stroller” policy posted at each and every entrance, there is nothing done to enforce this rule. The dreaded sound of screeching children at all hours of the day and night does nothing to convey the atmosphere of a luxury hotel…unless your idea of opulence is a cuticle trim at the Wal-mart nail spa.

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An unattended child parties down at Wynn’s “Parasol Up” casino bar…              

Earlier last year, the outspoken Mr. Wynn took heat for saying “nobody likes being around poor people”. One would assume, then, that he avoids visiting Bellagio these days. My biggest gripe about that Strip-center showpiece is the massive crowd that continuously flows through the lobby and into the Conservatory and Botanical Garden.

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Bellagio is one of the most expensive and well-regarded hotels in the city…yet the masses choking its heart tend make the lobby resemble a redneck State Fair. Thousands of flip-flops, cargo shorts, pajama bottoms, tank tops and yard-long drinks shuffle beneath a $10,000,000.00 Dale Chihuly ceiling every day, having no idea what it is or why it’s unique.

These everyday gawkers are in stark contrast to the multi-million-dollar surroundings, carrying their bad behavior, lack of manners, beer coolers and overflowing strollers with them. Call me snobby (I prefer the term “outspoken”, which is why this site is a one-man operation) but if I’m staying at a palatial resort, I want to be around a classier group of people.

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Palazzo Luxury King Suite (standard), Golf Course View…  

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   Every Palazzo room is a spacious suite with sunken living quarters and desk…     

That’s why I enjoyed my stay at Palazzo so much. Venetian‘s sister property has the right level of vibe, elegance and excitement to check off every box on my wish list. It has somehow managed to achieve the proper balance between fun and classy…and draws in a pleasant and appreciative crowd…minus the throngs that lug ice chests and beer coozies with them.

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Palazzo‘s porte cochere is absolutely gorgeous, but you wouldn’t really discover it unless you were a guest. Indoor attractions like the massive waterfall and spectacular atrium fountain don’t draw in nearly as many sidewalk gawkers as Bellagio‘s conservatory, either.

Palazzo hasn’t always been devoid of nightclubs, but that clearly isn’t their focus. Lavo continues to operate, but now as a restaurant and lounge. Their nightlife offerings were shuttered after a few years, allowing the focus to shift back to long-running Tao at Venetian.

A short-lived stint of The Act Nightclub on the upper floor of the shopping atrium was deemed too outrageous by the operators of Palazzo, who found nudity and shocking activity to be against the otherwise-conservative nature of the resort. The Sands Corp. forced its closure and the space, to my knowledge, remains empty.

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The rowdy Bourbon Room at Venetian was replaced this year as The Dorsey, an elegant affair featuring unique cocktails by famed Sam Ross in an atmosphere that evokes the sitting room and library of a stately mansion. Somehow the shelves of books and fireplace manage to feel hip without being stuffy, again reflective of that delicate balance that Palazzo and Venetian carry out so well.

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The pool scene at Palazzo is also lively without wallowing in vulgarity, especially at the adults-only Aquatic Club. That new day club offers throwback-style, super-cool server costumes and a slick intimate party atmosphere with retro sass. The service is impeccable and Wolfgang Puck makes a pretty mean turkey burger!

Just like Cirque du Soleil’s “O” and “Le Reve” reflect Steve Wynn’s fondness for water acrobatics, BAZ – Star Crossed Love represents the style and sensibilities of Palazzo. Hip, classy, bold and unique, the movie-musical mash-up BAZ dazzles the eye and puts a song (or thirty) in your heart. Its attention to details is rich without smashing you over the head…just like the hotel it calls home.

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BAZ: Star Crossed Love is sass, class and flash…               

Head clearance is another pleasing element of Palazzo. Both Wynn and Bellagio have very low ceilings throughout their casinos, which accentuate an already crowded atmosphere. The vertical height of Palazzo‘s casino is easily double that of the other properties, offering more natural lighting, fresher air and a spaciousness that compliments the nicely-spread slot machines and table games.

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As for the check-in areas, the less said about Bellagio‘s, the better. While the gardens behind the reservation desk are gorgeous, the lines are chaotic and smack dab in the middle of that human tide of fanny packs. No matter what time of day or night that you arrive, you’ll feel like a silver orb inside a pinball game.

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Wynn‘s check-in area for the original tower (there’s a separate entrance and desk for Encore) has undergone its own embarrassing problems of late. A brand-new arrival area, immediately to the right of the front entrance, lasted about a month before an onslaught of guest complaints (cramped quarters and a sloggy queuing system) shut it down.

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Guests weren’t the only ones confused by the constantly moving reservation desk…

The backlash prompted a reopening of the original reservation desk and dismantling of the new one during my stay. For a resort that prides itself on impeccable attention to detail, this must have stung!

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No such problems exist in the elegant and cathedral-like Palazzo reservation counter, which is as glorious as it is spacious. Despite the enormity of the property and its 3,000+ rooms, the check-in center is a model of efficiency…and once again, class.  The same could be said of the staff that I encounter whenever walking through Palazzo. Everyone I speak to is friendly, helpful, and comes across as genuine.

Perhaps that’s why I am writing this article. It’s easy to fall under the spell of gorgeous surroundings, and Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo are indeed palatial resorts. But once you’ve “been there, done that” with back-to-back stays at each of the Big Three, you begin to notice the differences. You realize that one of those places stood out in ways you never noticed before.

My takeaway is that the deterioration of decorum has rendered the notion of luxury resorts to be rather pointless in most cases. Despite their beginnings as palaces for the more affluent traveler, Bellagio has now devolved into a pseudo Mall of the Americas and Wynn/Encore version 2017 is essentially douche-bag central.

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Thank goodness Palazzo remains everything a five-star resort should be. No amount of glitz and glamour from Wynn’s current or former properties can replace the high-end experience of staying at the big P. It rises above the others by staying true to its purpose…and makes Palazzo my favorite luxury hotel on the Strip.

Photos by Sammasseur, Palazzo via Facebook, TripAdvisor, Expedia

Featured image courtesy Scott and Ryan Lyons

A side note:

There’s a widely-held misconception that critics and bloggers give favorable reviews when the object of their analysis has been comped. That notion is so common that even a former editor suggested that my scathing review of Magic Mike Live stemmed from not being invited to the media premiere (it’s a nauseating stink-fest no matter the circumstances).

As purveyors of our craft, it’s our responsibility to offer truthful opinions. That being said, when we’re invited guests, we’re likely to receive over-the-top service and perks galore. But as professionals, we can sift through the glitter and judge objectively.