Hanging By A Thread – Sin City’s Huge Entertainment Dilemma


Fuerza Bruta’s shocking failure suggests a troubling future for large-scale productions….

Several years ago I penned a two-parter for Vegas Chatter entitled “Four Walls and a Dream”. In it I explored the difficulties involved in launching a new show in today’s corporation-run Vegas. Gone are the days when casinos supported their own entertainment. It’s up to productions themselves to “pay the rent” via an arrangement known as four-walling. And that quite simply is why most new shows are gone before you’ve ever even heard of them.

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That article was inspired by Jeff Civillico, a dynamic young entertainer whose star was already on the rise. His “Comedy In Action” afternoon show at Linq Hotel (then known somewhat absurdly as The Quad) was working hard to make a name for itself. Yet the resort where he rented showroom space had little interest in helping “Comedy In Action” to succeed.

Civillico was on the hook not only for the room and production costs, but also for supplying the advertising materials to display around the property. Yet Jeff had little control over where they’d be displayed….if at all. I’m not sure if he ever worked out his issues with parent company Caesars Entertainment, but Comedy in Action still performs once a week at Paris Hotel Casino.

I learned a lot about the current state of Vegas entertainment while researching that piece. There was plenty of response from performers, producers, directors and public relations people when it ran, too. But after the shocking announcement that Fuerza Bruta would be shuttering only four weeks into a six-month stint, I realized two valuable facts:

  1.  There is no magic formula to ensure that a show will be a hit.
  2.  The current state of Vegas entertainment is more volatile than ever before.

If you haven’t heard of Fuerza Bruta, then congratulations. I’ll pretend to make a check-mark in the air and we can continue on down the list. But first, allow me to say that less than one week ago in my rave review for Fuerza Bruta for BestOfVegas.com, I called it a “Sin City game changer”. I also inaccurately claimed that it was “poised to redefine entertainment on the Strip”. Oh, my… (click HERE to read the original review).

 

 

Just after I’d sent the piece off to the editor, I received an email from Fuerza Bruta’s public relations firm regarding the Vegas run.

FUERZA BRUTA will perform its final show at Excalibur Hotel & Casino on Sunday, April 7, 2019. The acclaimed production, which has been seen by more than six million spectators in more than 34 countries and 58 cities since its launch in 2003, will continue to impress audiences from around the world as it prepares to make the move from Las Vegas to MGM Cotai in Macau in June 2019.
Tickets for the remaining Las Vegas performances of FUERZA BRUTA are now on sale and available at any MGM Resorts International box office, online at Excalibur.com or by calling (702) 597-7600. Refunds for tickets purchased for shows at Excalibur after April 7 will be available at the point of purchase.

It took awhile for the shock of this announcement to subside. I could have been embarrassed that I’d been so far off in my predictions. Instead I was angry that the so-called “City of Entertainment” had chewed up and spit out yet another piece of great entertainment.

 

 

All but one of my friends who had seen the show were absolutely dazzled by the balls-to-the-walls audacity of it. During three separate viewings, I’d stood alongside (and chatted afterwards with) cast members from shows like Chippendales, Le Reve, Zumanity and Donny & Marie. They’d come as I had to see if the enthusiastic pre-opening buzz was deserved. And every one of them was delirious, if not downright envious, of the incredible visuals and creative sequences that Fuerza Bruta was able to pull off inside a tent erected on a parking lot.

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That positive word-of-mouth alone should have been enough to bolster tickets sales. If performers from some of the top shows in Vegas loved it, then it was a must-see, right? Not so fast. Depending on who you ask, it turns out that paid tickets for the show were averaging 50-80 sales per performance with the rest comped (freebies). But if all of those people love it, then they’ll recommend it to friends and attendance will build, right? Well, that would take time….which the powers that be weren’t about to grant.

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Fuerza Bruta was located just outside of Excalibur, which is owned by MGM Resorts. MGM runs nearly half of the major resorts on the Strip. So why weren’t they supplying the capital to help fund operations and allow for attendance of this remarkable show to grow? Four-walling, of course! If Fuerza Bruta failed, all Excalibur would have to do is pull down the advertisements and sweep away any remaining evidence of where the tent had been.

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Realizing that readers and friends who’d planned on seeing the show would never get that opportunity to do so made me angry. I took to social media to vent my frustrations. “What the Hell is wrong with Vegas? Nothing worthwhile stands a chance anymore!”

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Well, thank goodness for the reach of Facebook and Twitter, because my steam-valve post brought out lots of sensible responses from performers in and around the Strip. Mike Hammer of Mike Hammer Comedy Magic at Four Queens was the first to chime in:

You can blame it on this city all you want but they didn’t understand the fundamentals of running a show in this town. It comes down to poor marketing strategy. First of all the show has a name that is not memorable. I live here and can’t even pronounce the name. No way most people from the Midwest are even going to know what the show is. Also, it’s pretty hard to sell a show when you can’t even describe it. Everyone I know that has seen it, including has never described it in one sentence. They didn’t even leave enough time to build up a buzz.

Bad timing of when they opened too. Slower time of the year with March madness and spring break. Again, this a producers decision. They weren’t even selling 50 tickets so how can you blame it on this city?

Again, people that don’t get the VEGAS market. If they didn’t plan enough money to survive six months of marketing, they just were not ready. I wish the best of luck elsewhere where they know what they’re doing. I love VEGAS and it’s been a home to me for 16 years. I’ve seen shows come and go and most of the time it’s the producers or management fault.

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Enoch Augustus Scott, host of long-running hit Zombie Burlesque at Planet Hollywood’s V Theater also took exception to my finger-pointing at Vegas:

There are a million possible reasons besides fat Americans to account for this. Injury. Bad accounting. Or it could be the standing up. People stand and walk around Las Vegas all day along. Sometimes the only chance they get to sit is dinner or a show. Also the Las Vegas show demo skews older. Also people from all over the world come to Vegas. Cirque has been able to grow as big as they are by catering to and attracting an international market base. So you really can’t blame fat Americans on a show not running. Clearly the producers did not understand the landscape or have enough capital to go the 6 months. Happens all the time. Producers come here with a hope and dream and without a business plan or the necessary investment to run a show long enough for it to become a success. It is poor craftsman who blames his tools and even poorer performer who blames his audience. Literally.

While I agree on much of what Enoch says, he also had added “It was always meant to be a limited run. Calm down everybody.” Correct, but that limited run was for six months with the hope of an extension. Four weeks was clearly a failure with deeper implications.

 

See, that’s the problem with having so many choices in one city. Without brand recognition, a famous headliner or a simple-to-explain concept, your middle-American Vegas visitors just won’t make the time for it. Hence we’re inundated with magic shows, impersonators, topless revues and lots of “Circus Day Solay”.

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It’s interesting to note that Fuerza Bruta played in New York City from 2007 through 2016. That’s over 3,000 performances! But we’re talking about an entirely different demographic over there. Visitors to NYC book their tickets to Broadway hits months…and sometimes a year or more…in advance. They’re also a more sophisticated crowd that makes Broadway entertainment part of an elegant evening that includes fine dining while wearing tasteful and carefully-selected outfits.

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But in Las Vegas we’ve got 1) no backing from the host hotels, 2) no opportunity to build brand awareness….and 3) a group of visitors not exactly looking for high art to go along with their yard-long daiquiris.

I went poking around other social media outlets to see how people were reacting to the news of Fuerza Bruta’s sudden shuttering. Always-reliable VitalVegas.com had quickly published an article announcing the closure, and it was a comment from reader ExVegasLocal that caught my eye:

I was “this close” to buying tickets to see Fuerza Bruta for an upcoming trip. It looked like a really cool show, but I was on the fence because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be jostled in a crowd from one side of the room to the other for an hour. In the end, I decided not to bite.

No matter what Vegas thinks about itself, it’s not really that forward thinking/avant garde. Neither are its visitors. Hence the constant replication of one thing that works until it’s completely overdone. Another Cirque show/night club with one syllable name/shopping arcade in front of a hotel/pool party/CVS pharmacy anyone? Now that’s more like it.

Vin A., one of The Bronx Wanderers, had a humorous reaction to my post…one that was also deeply insightful:

Well THAT was obnoxiously fast 😢 i didn’t even get to see the freaking thing! Wtf? Need a low low overhead to survive out here. Why all the one man shows live on forever and a few small cast things barely squeak by. It’s tough as hell out here. You play here for the prestige, and you tour for the money that carries you through your losses out here. That’s the future.

Raja Rahman of the musical magic duo Jarrett and Raja added his own thoughts to the situation:

It’s never about the quality of the show. It’s the $$$ behind it. Ugh. The cycle continues. After our experience, I’m convinced this business model is crap. Any business needs time to ramp up.

“Our experience” no doubt refers to the troubles Jarrett and Raja encountered at various showrooms throughout the city. They’ve had to deal with four-wall scenarios and abrupt closures at downtown’s Plaza Hotel, Hooters Casino and Stratosphere. Even though these gentlemen are residents of Las Vegas, they often find it sensible and more lucrative just to take their talents on the road.

Actually, it’s a pretty common thing for Vegas shows to go on tours. And often they never return. A few years ago I shadowed a production as it searched for a suitable venue on the Strip. After months of meetings and hassles, they decided on a major casino with a troubled showroom history. Sadly, their production would just be another casualty in a long list at the historic south-Strip hotel.

An opening date was chosen, tickets were sold, sets were constructed and advertisements went up throughout the casino and outside. But after being frustrated by resistance and lack of support from the hotel’s regime, the producers abruptly decided to throw up their hands, walk out the door and take the show on the road without doing a Vegas residency.

It makes no sense. It’s like they don’t want you here. Why should I put up money and then fight with the people who I’m paying rent to? After all that, if I’m lucky I’ll sell two hundred tickets a night in Las Vegas. We could take this show to other places where entertainment like this isn’t available and sell out two THOUSAND seats a night. And those places roll out the red carpet for us.

And that’s exactly what he did. A show designed for the Vegas Strip had to leave the city in order to survive. And the showroom they walked away from still remains empty two years later.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but greed always puts short-term profit ahead of long-term goals. Let’s use BAZ as an example. That innovative musical was brought to Mandalay Bay from Los Angeles by none other than Cirque du Soleil. The launch occurred during an awkward time frame in which ownership and business models at Cirque were being radically altered. Cirque abandoned BAZ in no time and without their support it closed after only six weeks.

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      BAZ was the perfect blend of sass, class and contemporary pop culture…

That’s when the Sands Corporation stepped in. Recognizing the many benefits of having a fantastic and unusual show on their property, they forked over the money to retro-fit the Palazzo Theater and supported BAZ’s run for two years. BAZ was never going to be a huge hit, but it was a prestigious project that brought a great deal of class and pride to the Venetian/Palazzo family.

So on one side we’ve got performers stating from personal experience that the four-wall business model doesn’t work. And on the other we’ve got these huge corporations that just don’t care. Working within the confines of the current system, what can be done to help a show succeed?

Well, if there was an answer to that, then at least a few of the dozens of shows that died in 2017 and 2018 might still be around. And that theoretical answer still wouldn’t apply to an existing property like Fuerza Bruta. So should it have been the responsibility of the PR firm to suggest “Hey, your show isn’t going to work here without a bit of overhaul”? Unlikely….they’re a third-party agency being hired by the show to spread awareness and buzz….nothing more. And who tells their boss on the first day that people might not even want their product?

Besides, public relations firms work mostly within the industry, reaching out to people like yours truly and much larger outlets such as TV networks, magazines and newspapers. They can tailor an existing ad campaign to make it Vegas-centric, but a risky top-to-bottom re-do for one stop of a tour? Not gonna happen…and we’ve already decided that there’s no magic formula for success, so why even try to change what’s worked everywhere else on the planet?

Should the PR firm have at least suggested a name revision for the show? Again, that would have understandably been met with resistance from a product that’s already a worldwide brand. And yet, a temporary re-naming to “Fuerza Bruta – Brute Force” might have eliminated some confusion and put a few more arses in those non-existent seats. Even the wise folks at Wynn eventually decided after several years to officially change the name of  Le Reve to “Le Reve – The Dream”. Because, you know, French is hard!

So just how much is in a name? Maybe the folks at the Strat should be asking that question right about now. No doubt they are sweating, because their delayed-delayed-delayed tent show Celestia, which was supposed to open on January 30th, is suddenly looking at an even more troubled future.

Celestia, now set for a May 1st debut (even though tickets are still not up for sale), may have an edge over Fuerza Bruta simply because it’s a show created specifically for Vegas. But we can justifiably counteract that advantage with the simple fact that it’s way at the troubled north end of the Strip and not the heavily-traveled Excalibur/MGM Grand/Tropicana/New York NY intersection where F.B. failed.

Celestia can also boast having some Cirque du Soleil DNA in its genes….and a few years ago that might have mattered. But now it’s time to recognize something really scary: Cirque du Soleil is facing genuine trouble here in Las Vegas. I’ve been told by people behind the scenes that MGM Resorts is quietly preparing to shut down all of their Cirque shows by the end of 2020.

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                             It’s my blog, I’ll be dramatic if I want to be…

While that might sound like absurd conjecture, there is plenty of evidence to back this rumor up. For one, huge productions like KA, ZUMANITY and Beatles LOVE are now advertising on Groupon. Yes, Groupon…the place where you go to buy discount Botox treatments and personalized make-up bags.

 

 

In my Vegas Chatter days, Groupon was a clear indicator that a Vegas attraction was struggling badly and would soon be gone. If you don’t believe me try to visit Eli Roth’s GORETORIUM. That’s not always the case anymore, but with must-see shows like LOVE, it’s an embarrassing way to put butts in seats.

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Hundreds of empty seats during a Friday performance of Cirque’s “Beatles LOVE” 

I recently attended a Friday-night performance of LOVE and was shocked that the massive auditorium was perhaps 40 percent filled. Hundreds upon hundreds of empty seats. And that’s apparently been the case for most of the Cirque shows for awhile now.

Vital Vegas stated in May of last year that Cirque’s 2017 capacity had been running at around 50 percent. With the removal of free parking to Nevada residents and a continued drop in tourism, that number would look even bleaker in the first quarter of 2019.

MGM Resorts numbers bear out rumors Cirque shows running at 50-60% capacity in Vegas: 3.6 million Cirque tickets sold in 2017, 9,890/week avg. per show. At 10 shows per week, that’s 989 sold with avg. capacity of 1,700.

Vital Vegas was also one of the first to report that Cirque Vegas was undergoing huge layoffs behind the scenes as part of a massive cost-cutting measure:

As they say in show business, “Holy crap!” Cirque du Soleil has reportedly informed all their Las Vegas shows (excluding “Mystere”) all department heads (lighting, sound, wardrobe, etc.) will be let go Apr. 17.

7:19 PM – 23 Mar 2019

He followed that up with an even more troubling tweet:

Hearing at least one well-known Cirque variety act was spotted auditioning at another (non-Cirque) show in town, presumably due to safety concerns related to Cirque layoffs.

12:48 PM – 31 Mar 2019

So, department heads have been axed, individual shows are being consolidated under one umbrella and performers are supposedly jumping ship to save their own skins. Does that sound like Cirque du Soleil will be around much longer to you?

In November I visited the Vegas Cirque du Soleil headquarters for a profile on Kim Scott, their Senior Manager of Sourcing and Partnerships. In her twelve years with the company, Scott had spearheaded shows like KA, Beatles LOVE and Criss Angel Believe.

During the interview, Kim had proudly spoken about being “responsible for maintaining our position in the industry as a leader in live entertainment safety standards, and position(ing) Cirque du Soleil as an employer of choice.” Yet one week after the article was published, Ms. Scott notified me that she was leaving Cirque to start her own consulting firm. I was astonished…and a little concerned.

Scott had also mentioned at the time that Cirque was busy creating a new show for Luxor in the theater vacated by Criss Angel’s Mindfreak. Raise your hand if you’ve heard anything about that one….I certainly haven’t.

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          Wanna go gaga over Gaga? It’ll set you back about a grand….

If a major brand like Cirque is struggling, new shows can’t afford to open and dozens of existing productions have disappeared, what will the future of Las Vegas entertainment look like? I have three answers: pricey headliner residencies, sports teams and celebrity DJ’s.

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       This….person…was just hired by Palms Resort to the tune of $60 million…

I don’t think anyone’s unaware of the Golden Knights or the new Raiders stadium. And who isn’t buzzing about Lady Gaga‘s two new shows at Park MGM Theater? Katy Perry, Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Aerosmith and more are settling in for extended gigs. Throw in Marshmello/Calvin Harris and their ilk for the club kids and that’ll probably cover nearly every major kind of entertainment in the city.

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           1.8 billion dollars is the projected cost of the new Raiders stadium…

Oh, those little one-man shows will probably survive. And the strippers most likely will never run out of poles to swing from. But for productions shows, you’ll just have to head Downtown to the Smith Center. That venue for the performing arts will continue to host nationwide touring productions for short-term runs. Las Vegas will just be another stop on the schedule…no longer unique.

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               “Closed. Refunds will be available at the point of purchase.”

Clips and photos by Sam Novak. Except for a few from…wherever….

 

 

 

 

 

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Vegas 2018 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst in Large-scale Production Shows

 


Wrapping up another event-filled year with fond memories and a little sass…

Can it really be that Santa is returning to his home base to put the elves back to work? Perhaps, but that Christmas hangover still lingers, ensuring that you didn’t dream your way through another holiday season in Vegas.

As you bring out the noisemakers and put champagne on ice for New Year’s Eve (check out my piece for tips on last-minute NYE planning), let’s look back at some of the noteworthy…and notorious…moments and madness from Las Vegas 2018. First up: the shows…

BEST NEW SHOW – Manilow: The Hits Come Home

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I’ll admit to being a bit worried when 75-year-old Barry Manilow missed his own big night at Westgate Las Vegas. The legendary singer was hospitalized on the morning of his kick-off weekend, which scuttled a massive media party and prompted singers Clint Holmes and Earl Turner to entertain the sold-out auditorium with their SOUNDTRACK show in his absence.

It turns out that my fears were unnecessary, as Manilow snapped back quickly, proving that he truly is the World’s Greatest Showman. Brimming with energy and love for his audience, Barry is everything you want in a Las Vegas event production. Check out my full review here and be sure to see Manilow: The Hits Come Home through June of 2019.

Runner-up: Soundtrack with Clint Holmes and Earl Turner, also at Westgate (now closed), OPIUM at Cosmopolitan (tie)

WORST NEW SHOW – Inferno: The Fire Spectacular 

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                                        “We need more GAS-O-LEEN!!!!!” 

There are certain entertainment venues in Sin City that seem to have a hex on them. Bad things happen, shows close way faster than they should and nothing seems to go right. Tropicana Showroom, Encore Theater at Wynn and Palazzo Theater have all gone through this period at one time or another (in Tropicana’s case, it’s as bad as ever). Now the curse seems to have landed at Paris Hotel Casino.

This was a bad year for Paris. Its troubled (and aging) Paris Theater chewed up and spit out Circus 1903 and Marilyn: The New Musical in just the first half of this year. Next came the cringe-worthy Inferno: The Fire Spectacular. Built around the supposed talents of peculiar and obscure magician Joe Labero, this upstart element-based production squandered every bit of potential in its premise and left you laughing for all the wrong reasons (“We need more gasoline. Lots and lots of GAS-O-LEEN!”). Read my full review here.

While Inferno could have been salvaged by jettisoning its star and focusing on the fire aspect (and The Fuel Girls), the show was abruptly yanked from the Paris schedule just six months in. Its cast was rudely told to hit the road during a break without the benefit of a farewell performance. Show business can be cruel.

It’s interesting to note that I Love The 90’s, the next production to enter this venue, went on an abrupt hiatus for most of December, just two months into its residency. UD Factory‘s CEO Seth Yudof assures me that there is no reason to be concerned. He swears that I Love The 90’s will return stronger than ever in January. Let’s hope his production is the one to break the Paris showroom curse. Entertainers in Sin City already have it tough enough.

Look for my review of I Love The 90’s when it returns in 2019.

MOST UNWELCOME RETURN – Mariah Carey/Britney Spears/Criss Angel (tie)

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                   A stripper, a robot and a douche bag walk into a bar…

The worst thing about Christmas is taking down the tree, packing up the lights and tossing away all that torn wrapping paper. I get that same sinking feeling every time I spot a billboard hyping the residencies of these three clowns.

Like a dried-up fruit cake that won’t go down the garbage disposer, the miserable triad of Carey, Spears and Angel continue to regurgitate up our collective pipes and spread noxious odors throughout the Vegas valley.

There’s an amazing amount of common ground among the self-proclaimed diva, robotic lip-syncer and goth faux-magician. Arrogance, fakery and distraction are the hallmarks of their supposed talents. Onstage gaffes, cancellations, accidents and savage reviews have plagued each of their productions. Yet minimally-talented blowhards continues to sell tickets and broker new residencies shortly after the last ones have been kicked into the desert.

The PR teams for each were touting their “returns” before the stench had even cleared from their previous rounds. Mariah’s somehow on her second stint at Caesars…three if you count last year’s Christmas gig. MGM Resorts wooed Britney from Planet Hollywood over to Park MGM Theater starting in February (why, exactly?). They’re probably regretting it now that advance ticket sales have been lukewarm at best.

Criss Angel’s partnership with Cirque du Soleil is finally over (they’re probably breathing a collective sigh of relief for surviving ten tumultuous and embarrassing years). He’s left Luxor biggest theater for a mezzanine-level auditorium at PHo, the same troubled theater that swallowed Frankie Moreno and Paul Zerdin just last year. Let’s hope it manages to choke down Mindfreak Live…and digest it once and for all.

Santa didn’t hand out coal this year…he gave away tickets to Mariah, Britney and Criss.

SADDEST CLOSURE – BAZ/David Goldrake’s IMAGINARIUM (tie)

It’s frustrating to see unique and talent-packed shows being overlooked for the likes of the notorious three mentioned above. And while they’re vastly different, both BAZ and IMAGINARIUM suffered similar fates.

Palazzo Hotel Casino deserves a lot of credit for backing BAZ, the daring musical mash-up built around a trio of familiar and tragic love stories. Defying simple descriptions and difficult to promote in any form of media, BAZ relied on word of mouth to put butts in seats. Those who saw it praised the innovative production and its amazing cast. In other words, it was doomed from day one.

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David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM had the unfortunate challenges of 1) coming in behind notorious child-porn illusionist Jan Rouven in the cursed Tropicana Showroom 2) sharing the same corner with high-profile magicians Criss Angel and David Copperfield, and 3) being better than Vegas audiences wanted…or deserved. The hard-working Goldrake made IMAGINARIUM far superior to anything either of his competitors currently offer. And he did it with sincerity, dignity, humility and a great deal of sexiness.

Runner-up: Soundtrack at Westgate Hotel Casino

BEST OVERALL PRODUCTION – Le Reve The Dream

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It’s nice to have my all-time show back on this list. Le Reve – The Dream had to take a backseat to BAZ for a few years. But now that the musical has closed down, nothing shines more brightly than Wynn’s signature spectacular.

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Not only is Le Reve back to the top of my list, but it’s fresher than ever. New costumes and make-up design, a fabulous re-imagined score and songs by original composer Benoit Jutras…and a revised story line all come together for an unforgettable experience. When it comes to sheer spectacle, nothing on the Strip beats Le Reve – The Dream. Read my full review here.

Be sure to check back for my next entry in 2018’s wrap-up. And best wishes for the New Year.

BEHIND THE CURTAIN: KIM SCOTT OF CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

 


Excerpts from my article for Best Of Vegas…

There’s a memorable scene in 1977’s Annie Hall in which Woody Allen says “Those who can’t do…teach. And those who can’t teach…teach gym.” In the acrobatic world of Cirque du Soleil, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Behind the curtain of every Cirque show is an army of skilled technicians and a highly trained supporting cast. Step further back to discover a collection of individuals who work as a team to make the magic possible.

One such person is Kim Scott, Senior Manager of Sourcing and Partnerships for Cirque du Soleil Resident Division. Working from an impressive headquarters in western Las Vegas, Kim serves many key roles.

“I am responsible for ensuring the continued sourcing of qualified technicians to support our upcoming creations and current productions. I am also responsible for maintaining our position in the industry as a leader in live entertainment safety standards, and position(ing) Cirque du Soleil as an employer of choice.”

Read the rest by clicking here

LOVE 2.0 Merges Tech, Heart…and Lots More Beatles


“The Beatles: LOVE” remains one of the most spectacular and satisfying shows in town…

When Cirque du Soleil unveiled “The Beatles: LOVE” twelve years ago at Mirage, it was a first in many ways. The custom-designed 360-degree theater had an immersive sound system with speakers built into the seats. Intricate stage platforms quickly transformed the set from one sequence into another. Hi-tech projections created the illusion of a unique concert experience that couldn’t be seen anywhere else.

And the biggie of them all…the Montreal-based acrobatic company had built their first-ever show around an existing musical property – the Fab Four. Dozens of works by the Beatles were intricately woven into a musical tapestry that defies explanation. It was lovingly created for LOVE by Sir George Martin (aka “the fifth Beatle”) and his son Giles with the blessings of Ringo StarrPaul McCartneyJohn Lennon‘s wife Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, widow of George.

A lot has changed in the ensuing years, especially in the relationship between Cirque and Las Vegas. Further collaborations resulted in productions featuring Michael Jackson (hit), Elvis Presley (fail) and Criss Angel (where do we start?). With the closure of Zarkana two years ago (the second of their shows to fail in the Aria theater), it’s fair to question whether CDS has over-extended their brand on the Strip. Still… LOVE started out…and remains…a critically-acclaimed crowd-pleasing hit.

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        May 5th, 2016 – Massive crowds lined up to see “Beatles: LOVE” at Mirage

For the tenth anniversary of LOVE, Cirque took on the challenge of revising, updating and fine-tuning what many already consider to be the best show in the city. A risky proposition, but with Giles and original artistic director Dominic Champagne at the helm, the updating was nearly flawless…and quite beautiful.

Those unfamiliar with the show…or who haven’t seen it multiple times (this writer clocks in at 14 and counting) will be oblivious to the more subtle tweaks. But the new sound system, updated video elements, and three-dimensional projections stand out as clearly state-of-the-art.

LOVE’s pacing is also much tighter in this new incarnation. What once began from an incredibly slow build to explosive action, then back to a more solemn World War II sequence now drives continuously forward, thanks to the addition of Twist and Shout.

There’s less focus on the Beatles as children (in fact, during the media event that I attended for the tenth anniversary, only three child actors were present, but their downplayed roles hardly made it noticeable). Another absence, seemingly permanent, was the “Eleanor Rigby” character (portrayed by beloved Brazilian actress Silvia Aderne since the beginning).

The Beatles: LOVE

It seems as though the re-sequenced songs and staging are now meant to represent an emotional interpretation of the Beatles’ cultural impact, more so than just a chronological depiction of their rise. LOVE has always been quite a bit on the dreamy side, with surreal visuals and characters.

Now the show is even more trippy, with wildly colorful costumes and props that are vivid and vibrant. Whimsical touches, like characters and sea creatures from Yellow Submarine and Octopus’s Garden, permeate every corner of the massive arena.

Two significant numbers have been re-imagined by replacing marionettes with projections. Lady Madonna has jettisoned the dancing yellow galoshes. The once-black floor now comes alive with moving multi-colored spots that turn the surface into a living Twister game board.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps has done away with the giant marionettes made of letters. In their place, a sole female character now dances with an animated sketch of a man that moves, morphs, and flies from one screen to another throughout the auditorium. The scene and staging are hard to describe, but their beauty brought tears to my eyes.

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The biggest sequence – and a fan favorite – is the enormous mushroom-cloud bedsheet that spreads over the audience during Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows. That set piece remains, but it was unclear from my seating position whether anything going on above the canvas had been updated (that statement might only make sense if you’ve seen LOVE in the past).

Check out the YouTube video below for a brief look at this mind-blowing segment.

Speaking of the previous version, it’s worth noting that the four band members were once only shown in silhouette until the final moments. Now their faces are front and center, sometimes using archival footage that syncs with the soundtrack. That effect and a few others might need a little tweaking (the show was briefly interrupted on the night I attended, due to a glitch) in the weeks leading up to the official tenth-anniversary celebration.

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That gala on July 14th 2016, presented the return of Ringo, McCartney, and the widows of John and George for a formal event. It was truly an epic night and one for my personal Hall of Memories.

It’s terrific to know that one of my favorite Vegas shows is just as wonderful as ever. Whether you’re a fan of the Liverpool quartet, Cirque du Soleil or just great productions, The Beatles: LOVE remains one of the most spectacular and satisfying shows in town. Don’t miss it.

The Beatles LOVE performs Tuesday through Saturday at 7 pm and 9:30 pm. Tickets and information on behind-the-scenes tours and VIP  experiences are available through this link. Our friend at VegasFool.com has tickets starting at $75 (plus taxes/fees) by clicking here.

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared on another site. It has since been updated.

Photos: Sam Novak

MAGIC OF JEN KRAMER Is Delightful, Frothy Fun


Award-winning illusionist brings laughter, surprises and boundless charm to Westgate’s Cabaret Theater…

P.T. Barnum has one of the most memorable legacies in entertainment history. His recent resurgence in popularity, thanks to “The Greatest Showman“, reminds us that despite decades of change in entertainment culture, the master of deception had universal ideas:

“The noblest art is that of making others happy”. – P.T. Barnum

In the world of magic shows, there is an extremely familiar collection of illusions that most entertainers fall back on: card tricks, disappearing/reappearing, nail-biting escapes, “mind reading”, audience predictions and the classic saw-a-lady-in-half are all favorites. What makes or breaks these acts is how they are presented….and whether or not the entertainer is indeed a great showman. Or in this case, show person.

Much has been made in other media about the disproportionate amount of male magicians. I won’t belabor the point other than to say that it’s refreshing to see a lovely young lady front and center as the headliner of a magic show. And Jen Kramer has certainly earned her place on a Las Vegas stage.

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Already familiar to fans of television shows like Masters of Illusions and Penn and Teller: Fool Us, Ms. Kramer has risen quickly through the ranks of the magical boys club. Think of her as a “Hermoine Granger” to David Goldrake‘s “Harry Potter”. Despite a young age (she graduated from Yale University in 2014), Jen’s already received honors such as the Merlin Award and Female Magician of the Year 2016 by the International Magicians Society.

Ms. Kramer kicked off her new residency at Westgate Las Vegas just last week. I attended on the second evening of what might be considered a soft opening. Despite a couple of minor technical gaffes, it was a fast-moving and altogether enjoyable 70 minutes. The intimate Westgate Cabaret is the ideal location for Jen’s illusions, many of which rely on detailed sleight of hand.

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What Magic of Jen Kramer lacks in large production values is made up for with plenty of comedy, audience participation and charm. Kramer brims with enthusiasm for her craft, drawing the audience into her prestidigitation with a magnetism that Criss Angel could only hope to match.

Kramer’s ability to engage her guests is quite noteworthy. I immediately fell for this young performer, despite know nothing about her background or achievements. What followed that evening was indeed a collection of tried-and-true favorites, but delivered with a next-generation spin.

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While the show could actually use some theatrical bombast, it’s off to a solid start. I’ll avoid describing individual illusions (nobody likes review spoilers, anyway). Instead, lets boast about the fact that Jen was able to pull off the near-impossible by stunning me with a few tricks that I’d never seen before (the Rubik’s Cube is still haunting me). That in itself makes this production worthy of the admission price.

The family-friendly show is suitable for all ages and an early start time makes it a perfect pairing for dinner at one of Westgate‘s adjacent restaurants (yes, that’s a blatant plug since I’m a known fan of their dining offerings).

Magic of Jen Kramer

Surprise me once and you can consider me a fan. Do it twice and I’ll call you amazing. Jen Kramer astounded me numerous times in her new residency. So I guess you can label me a “groupie”. Being a fan of Vegas magic acts, that can be considered high praise.

Magic of Jen Kramer performs Wednesday through Saturday at 6pm. Tickets start at $19.99 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here or purchased at the Westgate Box Office. 

Photos: Jen Kramer, Westgate Las Vegas, Beckett Studios, Sammasseur

 

 

 

INFERNO’s Magician Goes Up In Flames


Visually-spectacular production is a victim of its own star performer…

A few years back, the handlers for Britney Spears were faced with an unusual dilemma…what to do when the star of your production is a washed-up tabloid punchline with an inexplicably-strong fan base. Their answer was simple yet effective: launch her residency with a circus of hoopla, stick her onstage with all the pyrotechnics and distractions that money could buy and hope for the best.

As fate would have it, Britney: Piece of Me was indeed an unqualified hit. The mentally-troubled pop tart flapped her arms and silently moved her lips while a small army of gorgeous dancers did the heavy lifting, both literally and figuratively. They carried her around like a mannequin accompanied by prerecorded audio tracks and propped her up in whatever area of the stage that the choreography required. Think of it as “Weekend at Bernie’s: The Musical”.

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                         Joe Labero thanks Britney Spears for her #1 idea…

The minds behind INFERNO: The Fire Spectacular (now playing at Paris Hotel Casino) seem to have taken a similar route. Their featured performer is Joe Labero, an obscure illusionist (at least to American audiences) who’s apparently a big name in Europe. He’s also a former recipient of Illusionist of the Decade. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of him.

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Labero’s version of smoke-and-mirrors distractions comes courtesy of a London pyrotechnic troupe known as The Fuel Girls. You may know them from the UK tour of rock group Fall Out Boy….or maybe not. The resultant pairing is the most uncomfortable seen on a Vegas stage since Criss Angel crawled into bed with Cirque du Soleil nearly a decade ago.

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On their own, The Fuel Girls could easily warrant their own show. Stunts, flame throwers, explosions, choreography and visual effects are all top notch. Ramped up and fleshed out, INFERNO could be to fire what Le Reve and WOW – World of Wonder are to water.

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Alas, the show is hostage to Labero and his magic routines. The illusionist does everything he can to remain front and center, despite being the weak link. Like an annoying uncle who laughs at his own jokes then repeats the punchline a second time, Labero attempts to milk every last clap from the audience.

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Walking to the edge of the stage after each bit, Labero stretches out his arms in a “Ta Dah!” pose that he holds far too long…before dashing into the audience to repeat it in the aisles. There were frequent snickers from people seated all around me. Yes, it’s that embarrassing.

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Labero’s stage presence is hampered by a strong Swedish accent that makes it quite difficult to understand what he’s saying much of the time. Also distracting is that the 54-year-old host is frequently out of breath, heaving heavily and sweating…even in the quieter moments of the show.

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As for the illusions themselves, expect the requisite “person sliced into pieces”, sleight of hand, card tricks and people disappearing/reappearing. Two illusions that do have merit are one where Labero seems to walk right through a person stretched between two supports and another where he passes through a mirror.

Aside from that, there isn’t anything truly special about the magic acts in INFERNO: The Fire Spectacular. With the likes of David Copperfield, David Goldrake, Masters of Illusions, Criss Angel, Matt Franco and many more filling the Strip showrooms with this type of entertainment, was there really a need for another? Of course not, especially when one European import in particular is already doing it so much better (David Goldrake’s IMAGINARIUM was my choice for Best New Production of 2017).

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What makes the show worthy of your consideration are all the sequences without Labero. Pyrotechnics are always jaw-dropping in any medium, but feeling the heat, hearing the sizzle and being bombarded with loud blasts are a visceral experience. In this case, the flames are deftly used through aerial stunts, physically-demanding choreography and handling of fiery objects like batons, whips and an umbrella frame.

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Other saving graces are the elaborate production design and costumes. Stylist collaborators Georgia Richardson and Jeffrey DeBarathy (ALICE: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy) bring a distinctive “Mad Max” look to the performers that’s a perfect match for the Fuel Girls’ visuals. The character of “Animal” is clearly inspired by The Road Warrior.

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Unfortunately, Labero’s attempt to associate his magic acts with the far superior fire aspect are truly cringe-inducing. The two just do not overlap well. It’s clear that the magician has taken his existing acts and awkwardly grafted them onto this new production with wildly uneven results.

Joe frequently breaks from what he’s doing to grab a large vase on the side of the stage and dump its contents into a nearby barrel. “We need more gasoline. Lots and LOTS of GAS O LEEEEEEN!” he exclaims time after time before returning to the business at hand.

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Amidst more hushed chuckling from nearby patrons (several of whom had walked out at this point), my companion leaned in and said “Am I missing something here?”. No, my friend…it’s just the sound of another expensive Strip production going up in flames.

INFERNO: The Fire Spectacular performs Wednesday through Sunday inside the Paris Theater. Tickets start at $65.77 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here.

VegasFool.com is offering a $20 discount on INFERNO by following this link. Discounts on additional shows and hotels can be combined/increased by visiting here.

Photos: INFERNO: The Fire Spectacular, Joe Labero

2017 In Review Part 2 – The “Bye, Felicia” Award for Most Interminable Residency


The inaugural “Vegas Unfiltered Wrap-up” is upon us. Brace yourselves…

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Within the laughter, tears and tragedy were moments of amazement and joy. Whatever you sought, there was something for you to relish and moments to make you cringe. Nothing will let you forget 2017 – the Year in Las Vegas.

The “Bye, Felicia” Award for Most Interminable Residency – Mariah Carey/Britney Spears (tie)

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Mariah and Britney are a couple of very defiant fish. You throw them into the lake and they stubbornly hop back into your boat. And like a couple of dying carp, they stink up their respective venues with dead eyes and mouths that sporadically gulp for air.

In Carey’s case, she can’t even be bothered to walk or dance. Instead, she gets carried around like a sack of lumpy potatoes. Or perhaps a corpse, as this infamous moment from July suggests:

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Mimi’s outrageous ego must have taken a nasty blow when Caesars failed to extend her 2-year residency. That final evening at the Coliseum was so under-attended (despite deep discounting) that the so-called diva refused to perform “until the place filled up”.

How do I know? Because I was there, talking to staffers who were laughing about it as it happened. Still, she came back for five sappy Christmas shows during the slowest week of the year. Tickets started at only $59.00. Ouch!

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Britney Spears will flap her arms and sleepwalk her way through a final performance of Piece of Me at Planet Hollywood this New Year’s Eve. Thank goodness her hunky and talented singer/dancer Willie Gomez will be onstage to inject a much-needed spark.

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There’s talk that Britney will resurface at another property, much like legionnaire’s disease keeps attacking guests at Rio Las Vegas. Her resilient career is proof that wooden objects really do float.

Dishonorable Mention – Criss Angel’s Mindfreak Live (closing October 2018)