2019 – The Year in Review: ‘What The CL#@K!?’ The First Half-Dozen

 


A look back at the first half of a year filled with memorable and some truly bizarre happenings in Sin City…

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When this writer relocated here from Oregon a short 14 months ago, I knew that it would be a huge lifestyle change. But even for the folks who’ve lived here the vast majority (or all) of their lives, 2019 brought about some seriously weird and wacky shit.

January –

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New Year’s Day started out on a bizarre note with a visit to Rio’s GLOBAL WINTER WONDERLAND. The bitterly cold conditions kept just about everyone away, meaning you could walk through a colorful electric representation of the entire world AND enjoy the amusement park thrill rides of your choice while being nearly alone. As long as you held on tightly to a steaming hot cup of cocoa, it was actually pretty damned fun.

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Employees at the Rio assured me that this attraction would not be returning (and they were correct), as it had caused a major disruption to hotel operations and employee/guest parking. While one of the attraction’s team members swore that at least the Midway part of Global Winter Wonderland would remain through Chinese New Year, the entire area was empty soon after….save for a few sad, abandoned pieces that were left on the side of the lot.

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Historic attraction Bonnie Springs Ranch announced on January 9th that it was being sold and razed for luxury housing. The beloved ranch had been operating in various forms since the 1950s. Locals began flocking to the charming themed attraction for one last visit, many bringing their children to share the same experience they had when growing up.

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The property offered a motel, western town, event barn, horse rides, petting zoo, wax museum, train ride, saloon, restaurant, and a wild west shootout show. Attempts to protect the property by having it declared a historic landmark failed and the ranch closed its barn doors one final time on March 17th.

On a sad personal note, my handsome pal Sunny, who had been undergoing chemotherapy for several months, took a turn for the worse the day before Christmas and passed on January 2nd. It was a rough start to 2019.

February –

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The shortest month of the year will always be remembered for the snowfall. Not once, but THREE times within the span of two weeks. The first layer hit shortly after Valentine’s Day, and by the final downfall, my home in Mountain’s Edge was under at least four inches.

While that’s nothing in most parts of the country, in southern Nevada it’s life-altering. From my rooftop deck, I could see the entire valley under a beautiful blanket of white. Pilot Jim Gisclair of Serenity Helicopters captured some stunning views while heading out to the Grand Canyon. Schools shuttered, longtime locals went bananas and those who grew up in chilly climates just enjoyed a pleasant few days of relative quiet.

Inside “The NAKED MAGICIANS” at MGM Grand

The Naked Magicians, a pair of Aussie hunks with a penchant for bawdy humor, magic tricks and bare skin launched at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club. Despite their name, the worldwide sensations found Sin City’s liquor laws to be a bit challenging, as this prevented the boys from going full-frontal (ironic, isn’t it?). Even with a bevy of positive reviews and a legion of fans, ticket sales proved to be a challenge. So the handsome duo put on their pants and headed back to OZ to regroup. Perhaps we’ll see more (or all) of them down the road.

The Sahara Hotel was still operating under the SLS banner in February, but changes were already underway with new owners from Reno. The Sayer’s Club premiered Ester Goldberg’s Totally Outrageous Brunch, a fun mixture of singing, acrobatics, dirty humor, Donald Trump, deviled eggs and a host in drag.

A few months into the run, show creator Michael Airington (Ester Goldberg) was fired by the producers, who promised that the show would go on without him/her (it didn’t). Airington is hoping to regain the Goldberg character and has been very vocal on social media about wanting satisfaction:

“Can’t wait to serve up some Karma Whoop Ass in 2020!!! NEVER EVER count this old Jew broad out! Happy Hanukkah Bitches” – Ester Goldberg

Totally Outrageous Brunch premiered on February 23rd, which happened to be my birthday. After enjoying the show, it was off to The Golden Tiki that evening for a celebration with friends. You can’t find a more enjoyable place to commemorate a special event than this magical spot on Spring Mountain Road.

Head honcho Branden Powers, whom I’ve mentioned numerous times in this column, was kind enough to make a little memorial for Sunny, whose plight he had followed. Thanks to you and your staff for making it a very special night, Branden.

March –

In March, Excalibur Hotel Casino tried to shake up its image a little bit with the opening of Fuerza Bruta, an avante garde international production housed inside a tent along the Strip. A true winner in terms of innovation and the “wow factor”, Fuerza Bruta proved to be a hard sell to Sin City ticket buyers and petered out within 6 weeks.

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98 Degrees founder (and world’s hottest man) Jeff Timmons used his considerable clout, industry knowledge and fanbase to launch a new boy band called OVERNIGHT. The fledgling group’s one-night performance at Orleans Casino left this writer underwhelmed (and that’s being kind). The official Twitter page has been dormant ever since, suggesting that OVERNIGHT has already said “good night”.

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As for Timmons, he did a spectacular rebound with longtime hit-makers 98 Degrees, with whom he continues to tour. The group is scheduled for Ontario next and is heading to Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines soon after. With luck, we’ll see Jeff on a Vegas stage sometime soon, minus OVERNIGHT and of course, without his shirt.

Construction at both Allegiant (Raiders) Stadium and Resorts World (finally) began to shoot skyward. Although both have announced delays (and escalated final costs), their progress through the year has been rapid and remarkable. Blue monolith monster Fontainebleau/The Drew remains a dormant reminder of overreaching ideas, while the Las Vegas Convention Center has spread its reach onto the Strip, rising on the ruins of historic Riviera Hotel.

April –

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Venetian welcomed CHICAGO – The Musical to its grandest theater for a short run (April 10th through 14th). The Broadway revival was sold on the star power of supermodel Christie Brinkley, who at 65 years old was way past the point of being believable as femme fatale “Roxie Hart”. While the staging and supporting cast were top-notch, Brinkley’s gravely vocals were a constant reminder that some performers should be seen and not heard. Who thought that this was a good idea?

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Thanks to my friends Allison Duck and cast member Derrick Boyce, I was able to meet the legendary Donny and Marie Osmond after a stellar performance. The duo’s long-running show at Flamingo closed in late November and the months leading up to the final performance were packed to the rafters.

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Tropicana Hotel hosted the annual NPC Jay Cutler Desert Classic, a bodybuilding competition created by the former Mr. Olympia competitor. Cutler is a beloved resident of Las Vegas, a city filled with athletes, models, acrobats, and dancers.

Chippendales cast member Ryan Worley, whom you may remember from this profile piece, realized a longtime goal by stepping back into the competition ring. Happily, he went home with an impressive medal hanging from his perfectly shaped chest. Yours truly was there to cheer on this big-hearted cat dad.

Warmer temperatures saw the welcome return of many outdoor activities…and a dreadful allergy season. As the snow began to melt from the western mountain ridge, hot air balloons became a regular sight on the morning horizon.

Kaos Nightclub opened at the newly-renovated Palms Casino. Millions were poured into the venue and millions more into paychecks for headliners like barely-human trashbag Cardi B. and celebrity deejays Kaskade and Marshmello, who alone was offered a $60 million contract. A fool’s errand from day one. the disastrous project closed right after Halloween.

                         Progress photos of Raiders stadium taken by me on April 27th…

May –

One month after it opened at Harrah’s, I finally made it over to see Heartbreak Hotel in Concert. This Vegas-style version of the musical play stripped out plotlines and characters in favor of songs and narration by the cast. Despite a talented team, the show was never a big hit and will be closing at the end of this year. I think it’s time for producers to realize that today’s audiences have had their fill of Elvis Presley and his music, nostalgia be damned.

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Primm Valley Premium Outlets landed in this writer’s crosshairs after an unfortunate encounter with mall security. While strolling through the struggling mall on Mother’s Day, I decided to snap some photos of the numerous closed businesses. Apparently, this was an indication of terrorist activity, as I was accosted and interrogated by an over-zealous rent-a-cop.

I detailed the encounter in a tongue-in-cheek article that sadly spelled out the true cluelessness of business establishments in the region. In 2019 Las Vegas, it doesn’t matter what your intentions are….you’ll be treated suspiciously while simultaneously being gouged for every spare penny in your wallet. I recently heard that the long-suffering space would be remodeled and rebranded, something it desperately needs.

Magician Jen Kramer celebrated her first year at Westgate Las Vegas with a gala celebration. Food was provided by Fresco Italiano and Edge Steakhouse, two of the best restaurants in the city.

And of course, there were more progress shots of stadium construction. As the structure began to take shape, so did the jokes.

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June –

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Summertime in Vegas used to be considered “off-season”. Tourists avoided the city’s scorching heat and hotels commonly closed off entire towers to reduce cooling expenses. Then came the “Day Club” and “Beach Clubs” and all of that changed. Now the mean season brings openings and events galore.

After numerous delays, CELESTIA finally debuted at the newly-rebranded STRAT Hotel Casino. The star-studded media premiere was a splashy event and the casts of many other productions stopped by to lend their support. The show continues to evolve under the guidance of Kim Scott, formerly of Cirque du Soleil.

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Ms. Scott just invited me back to experience a new “VIP Star Seating”, in which CELESTIA guests will actually be on stage for the performance. Prior to the show, they’ll be welcomed into the tent through a private entrance and treated to a complimentary cocktail and popcorn. Sounds like a blast!

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Speaking of blasts, MGM Grand brought The Hunger Games: The Exhibition to Las Vegas in June. An interactive attraction based on the popular movie series, The Hunger Games comes from the same company that designed Marvel Avengers STATION at Treasure Island.

Downtown’s Cockroach Theater Company outdid many Strip productions with SATANGO, featuring Savannah Smith (Vegas! The Show) and Human Nature‘s Toby Allen. A clever musical based around the “dance of temptation”, SATANGO envisions a one-night ballroom gala where the denizens of Heaven and Hell call a truce to lure members to the opposite side. Simply brilliant!

Finally, June marked my first appearance in front of the cameras, via Vin A.‘s hysterical web talk show “WHAT THE CL#@CK?!”Vin A. is best known as the musical director and outrageously-energetic member of The Bronx Wanderers. A brilliantly engaging host with a firm grasp on the balls of current events, the talented singer/songwriter/musician welcomed me along with his pal Michael Shapiro of ReCkLeSs in Vegas.

Our conversation covered everything from strippers and strollers to fiery California and flaming Elton John. You can watch the entire episode right here:

After a rip-roaring good time at the studio, I headed home and nearly crashed into oncoming traffic. Some things are just never meant to be seen with the naked eye, especially at 65 mph. And that’s how June came to a crack close.

Coming up in the second half, Sin City encounters the Wrath of God. Rainstorms and grasshoppers and earthquakes! Oh, my!

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Dance With The Devil at SATANGO


New musical comedy in the Arts District is one Hell of a great time…

Despite my promises to do otherwise, it’s been way too long since this writer has visited a community theater performance. My last was the outstanding KRAMPUS by Majestic Repertory Theater during the 2018/2019 holiday season. It’s a good thing that dancer/choreographer Alejandro Domingo reached out to me this week and invited me to his latest production. Otherwise I might have missed the brilliantly entertaining SATANGO at downtown’s adorable Cockroach Theatre Company.

I’ll admit a certain weakness to the prospect of seeing Alejandro back in action after the abrupt closure of BAZ in 2018. Despite having kept busy since then, the abs-tastic dancer has been keeping a relatively low profile here in Sin City. Now it’s clear as to why…Domingo has created the choreography and supplies a supporting role in one of the cleverest and most wonderfully naughty new musicals in ages.

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The premise of SATANGO is delightful and delicious. Toby Allen‘s “Old Scratch” is contemplating his eternity of loneliness (Welcome To My Neighborhood, I Was Once An Angel) while fearing that he may have lost his dance grooves. You see, it’s the eve of the All-Souls Ball, a once-in-a-millenium party. On that special night, the barrier between Heaven and Hell dissolves, giving souls the opportunity to lure each other to the opposite side. How? By using tango, the “Dance of Seduction”, of course. Will Lucifer’s dancing impress the other guests…and will he find an eternal companion?

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Fortunately for Satan, a lost innocent named Sofia (played by Savannah Smith) happens to pass through the gates to his fiery lair. She also just happens to be a dance instructor from Pahrump! Using his persuasive charms (“Everyone loves Luci!”, he boasts), Satan manages to strike a deal with Sofia to give him three tango lessons. She asks for one thing in return, which she’ll reveal after the party. What ensues is an amusing and steamy tug of war between the temptations of naughtiness and the rewards of being pure.

 

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Pop-culture references and topical humor fly as fast as the nimble feet in a wild assortment of comical and sexy dance numbers. Vegas locals will enjoy a shout-out to downtown pizza favorite Evel Pie and jabs at parking fees, the High Roller observation wheel and the ill-fated Fontainebleau tower. Supported by a solid five-piece band led by Music Director Keith Thompson, the cast belts out fifteen original songs (music by Stewart D’ Arrietta, book and lyrics by Justin Fleming) that keep the plot moving at just the right pace.

 

Toby Allen absolutely shines in the lead role. Despite his towering physical presence, Allen tends to be the lowest-profile member of Venetian’s long-running Human Nature Jukebox. In SATANGO, he unleashes a maelstrom of emotions and energy coupled with a scathing slice of wit. He’s clearly great at improv, too. An opening-weekend mishap with a prop was splendidly blended into the proceedings by Allen. As luck would have it, a second occurrence of the same gaffe occurred perfectly in sync with lyrics being sung at that moment. Clearly, the Devil had an angel on his shoulder last night.

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Speaking of angels, Savannah Smith (Vegas! The Show) is sheer nirvana as “Sofia”. Whether singing the praises of Pahrump from atop a ladder (My Favorite Place To Eat) or bringing the audience to its feet with her dazzling steps, the popular singer/actress/dancer is clearly having the time of her life.

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Alejandro Domingo, Kate Farrow and Socorro Jones round out the wonderful cast. They portray Satan’s minions along with a variety of other characters including Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian and even a lusty delivery boy. And yes, Domingo doffs his shirt once more to display the legendary abs that earned him a place on my list of the hottest guys in Vegas five years ago.

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Despite the tiny size of Cockroach Theatre Company, every inch of the venue is utilized in this production. Set design and costumes are spot-on, and director Wayne Harrison (ABSINTHE) achieves a polish that belies the indie nature of this production.

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SATANGO is one dance with the Devil that you won’t want to miss. You’ll forget your humble surroundings and be immediately drawn into this den of temptation. That’s the magic of live theater, and SATANGO pulls it off with aplomb.

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Cockroach Theatre Company is located at 1025 South First Street #110 in the Arts District. SATANGO performs Friday through Sunday at 8pm through June 23rd with matinee performances at 2pm on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $35 ($20 for public servants) and can be ordered here

 

 

 

 

2018 Events, Trends & Moments…The Personal Side


Sharing some of the more intimate moments and thoughts of 2018 as I bring this year-end retrospective to a close…

THAT WONDERFUL HELICOPTER RIDE

There were a lot of changes in my personal life during the latter half of 2018. The biggest began during a fortuitous flight from my home in Salem Oregon to Las Vegas. A conversation with my seat mate and his wife, who was directly in front of him, led to a new friendship. And that friendship yielded one of the most (if not THE most) spectacular events of the year.

It’s quite common to see helicopters slicing through the skies of Sin City, but only one offers the experience as a luxurious jaunt over Hoover Dam to the Grand Canyon. I could go on and on with words, but this one deserves a visual. Thanks to Trina Larmony, Jim Gisclair and all the wonderful folks at Serenity Helicopters for making my heart soar. Read about the full experience here.

GONE AND FORGOTTEN – Vegas Bright

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VegasBright.com was an idea that had so much potential. The brainchild of a fan of VegasChatter.com (the site that got me started in this industry), VB could have been an enormous success. I was approached by this particular reader with a proposal to gather former VC contributors, regroup and carry on the tradition. And I’d get to work (sans compensation, mind you) with wonderful photographer and friend Greg C. once more.

Alas, there was no direction, organization or cohesive path from the very start. Writers left with abandon and those who stuck around offered pedestrian pieces like the painful series “My Halloween Visit to Fremont Street” (that began the first week of November and carried on for ten insipid chapters into June of the following year), endless burger joint reviews (which earned our site the nickname “Burger Bright”) and week after week of fluffy reader-contributed “Must-do” filler.

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If I sound bitter about this matter, I most definitely am. There was no excuse for such a wasted opportunity. My attempts to bring our team to a unified whole were consistently met with resistance by the founding editor. In fact, our writers never actually gathered a single time. Articles that I penned about fresh and exciting events were set aside for dusty reviews of long-running shows (that had nothing new to report on) and restaurants that had been around forever. It became a predictable and boring snooze fest, nothing at all like the site we’d set out to emulate.

After I departed in frustration to start this blog, a replacement editor came in. This guy subsequently put Vegas Bright on hiatus…not once but twice. That didn’t stop him, someone whom I’ve never actually met, from slandering both me and my brand-new page on Twitter (several times, actually). Not cool, dude! He mocked my readership and writing abilities (“You write? I’ve never heard of you”). Such childish behavior, despite the fact that dozens of my articles continue to fill the archives of his now-dead site.

Sounds an awful lot like our current White House regime, doesn’t it? When you feel inferior or threatened, it’s easier to insult than to up your own game. All bluster, little logic, zero action.

I feel pride in having an intimate and discerning readership (thank you all) and for not churning out the same recycled news bits as others do. What’s really cute is that, despite ripping my page apart, there were at least three separate incidences where Vegas Bright cribbed my headlines, articles, layout and photographs.

The most recent…or final…Vegas Bright piece was published on June 8th, 2018. It, too, was a knockoff of my ongoing series on Sin City oddities hiding in plain sight. Thanks for flattering me….yet again.

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There’s been no explanation for the continued inactivity, no official “farewell” and no reason to believe that Vegas Bright will ever return. What a nice way to disrespect your loyal readers. Not that anyone actually cares. If a website utters its dying gasp in the virtual woods, does it make a sound?

MOVING TO LAS VEGAS

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The biggest personal event I have to share is the decision to relocate from Oregon to Las Vegas. To say that frequent flying between the cities is trying would be an understatement. Southwest Airlines, the primary carrier between the two cities, has yet to master the art of an on-time departure. Competitor Alaska Airlines, my preferred airline by leaps and bounds, has unfortunately scaled back the number of non-stops between the two cities.

To make things more frustrating, an incident at McCarran International Airport last November had me deeming their TSA checkpoint “the worst in the nation”. Then there are all the recent changes that make staying in a hotel on the Strip much less pleasant and affordable than just a few short years ago.

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      A typical morning view from my home in the Mountain’s Edge community…

Surprisingly, life for Vegas locals is quite a pleasant affair. Homes are newer, cheaper and slicker than you’d expect. The cost of groceries, gasoline and dining out are lower than where I came from (which is why so many locals see the Strip for the ripoff it is), and there are many outlying attractions and activities that tourists never know about.

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       My four-level home has a rooftop deck with a view of the entire valley…

After making the decision spontaneously, I contacted Jeff Desruisseaux, a realtor whom I’d recently met at Leon Spinks’ birthday party. We arranged to meet and I headed down here to go house-hunting. Within 24 hours I had an offer in on my dream home, a four-level beauty, which was accepted immediately. Some things are meant to be.

                                     I’ve made a lot of fantastic friends in this city…

In no time I was back in Oregon, packing the SUV with my rescue cats and getting on the road. On board was my orange tabby Sunny, who had lymphoma and was about to begin chemotherapy. Sadly, he passed away on January second. But the time we spent together on the highway was unforgettable.

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My little buddy stayed hidden for most of the trip, but when the sun began to break the horizon, he came out of his carrier and watched the beautiful sunrise with me. As we drove along the lake, the warmth of the sun hit both of our faces and I knew it was a special moment never to be forgotten.

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It was hard to start 2019 by saying goodbye to my little pal. Thank goodness he was treated with loving care by the staff and oncologists at Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center right up to his final moments. Amazingly, both Branden Powers of The Golden Tiki and Chef Bruno Morabito of Sid’s Cafe at Westgate have offered to make tributes to Sunny at their respective businesses. This community has a deep soul indeed.

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Life in Sin City has taken some adjusting to but there are no regrets….only new opportunities. This valley is packed with wonderful, giving and talented men and women. I look forward to telling you about them in the weeks and months ahead. And why, despite all the things that make Vegas less than perfect, it’s still a wonderful place to call home.

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Thank you for being a loyal reader and friend. Happy New Year.

 

 

Branching Out Under The Bamboo of The Golden Tiki


Having a Q & A with Branden Powers, the ultimate lounge lizard…

As you may have heard from this blog’s Facebook posts, yours truly is branching out and writing pieces for other sites along with this one. My most recent, for BestofVegas.com, covers wonderful Golden Tiki in the Chinatown district of Las Vegas.

Click this link to read all about it…and be sure to include The Golden Tiki in your next Sin City adventure.

https://www.bestofvegas.com/articles/must-visit-vegas-golden-tiki-branden-powers/