COVID-19 Aftermath – Shows Most Likely (and Least Likely) To Return


Taking a hard and painful look at the Vegas entertainment landscape as Sin City’s quarantine drags on…

As a devoted enthusiast of Sin City entertainment, it pains me to think of the hundreds of gifted performers currently out of work during the pandemic shutdown. Devoted to a volatile industry in which success is never guaranteed, many artists work multiple jobs and/or share living expenses just to get by. Combine this with a lack of adequate health care and spotty unemployment compensation, and it wouldn’t be surprising if many struggling entertainers decide to leave the city…or the industry altogether.

Sadly, there’s a likelihood that numerous residencies and production shows will decide to fold (or have their lifeline unceremoniously yanked) once the ramp-up begins. How this plays out is anyone’s guess, but I’ve been doing my own pondering on what changes lie ahead. Keep in mind that my conclusions aren’t in any way a reflection of quality…or lack thereof. Instead, I’ve considered factors such as pre-virus buzz, operation overhead (costs), post-virus marketability, name recognition, longevity, and brand loyalty.

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I might be completely wrong on these predictions or right on the money. Your guess is as good as mine. We won’t know until it actually happens, but here’s my list of shows that might weather the storm. And those that I believe will most certainly blow away.

Very Likely To Return –

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David Saxe Productions – the long and colorful list produced by David Saxe amounts to a well-oiled machine. His self-named theater inside Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops and nearby V Theater churn out hits like Vegas! The Show, Zombie Burlesque, V – The Ultimate Variety Show and many more. Saxe is a master of efficiency and knows how to run and market his business. His children will survive just fine.

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ABSINTHESpiegelworld‘s naughty alternative to Cirque du Soleil is an instant hit that would have celebrated its ninth anniversary on April 1st. The bawdy burlesque ABSINTHE has spun off two successful companion productions and shows no sign of slowing down. Relatively low overhead (an outdoor tent, pre-recorded music, and simple props) should help it to last through a sluggish restart (if that’s how things play out, that is).

Other Spiegelworld titles OPIUM and ATOMIC SALOON SHOW might not have it so easy. Their out-of-the-way locations inside expensive Cosmopolitan and Venetian/Palazzo might prove to be a bigger challenge in the long run. Cosmo‘s costly parking fees make OPIUM an easy pass for locals, too. (Update 5/19/20 – Cosmopolitan has announced its intentions to discontinue parking fees)

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“O” at Bellagio – Despite a mountain of debt that Cirque du Soleil is carrying, it’s unlikely that they’ll allow their highest-profile Vegas production to fold. Since “O” is synonymous with the Bellagio image (just like its outdoor fountains and seasonal conservatory displays) it’s easy to envision the resort taking ownership of the show if it came down to that (Steve Wynn did that with Le Reve). “O” is still a very popular draw despite two decades and thousands of performances. Not my cup of tea, but for many tourists, it’s a must-see.

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CELESTIA – my insiders at CELESTIA assure me that the fledgling big-top production is on solid ground. STRAT Hotel Casino has a strong financial stake. which seems to be a common thread in the current make-or-break environment. Four-wallers (independent contractors) will suffer while casino-owned shows are likely to last. It all comes down to money.

Sex Tips For Straight Women from a Gay Man – This is an easy one to envision continuing. An extremely Vegas-y premise, an attractive local cast and very low overhead within an intimate theater setting. What’s not to love?

Solo and Lounge Acts – Our deeply-fractured economy is going to have a ripple effect on both consumers and the products they offer. Returning guests with limited discretionary income will most likely avoid the high-ticket attractions. That’s where one-man/woman shows come to the rescue.

With low overhead and a simple format, solo acts can offer solid entertainment and a retro vibe while passing the savings onto their audiences. Look for returning favorites like Mike Hammer, Murray Sawchuck, Carrot Top, Xavier Mortimer, Jen Kramer and maybe even the once-popular Gordie Brown to shine brighter in the spotlight. I anticipate that bloated, self-serving star vehicles like Criss Angel – Mindfreak Live and Mariah Carey‘s endless residencies will go down in flames, though. Darn.

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Expensive mega-residencies could also feel the same heat. Last year people were forking over a grand or more to StubHub for Lady Gaga tickets. Who has that kind of money now? Even though Paula Abdul‘s lip-syncing stomp-fest at the Flamingo couldn’t warrant a $49 price tag last fall, her short-lived residency now seems like a million years ago. Look for a glut of similar shows (like Derek Hough: No Limit), along with the resurgence of intimate lounge acts, to tide us over until the economy…and Vegas…rebounds.

Say Farewell –

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Blue Man Group – They’re old, tired, and as cliched as the fanny pack strapped around your cargo shorts. The trio of silent weirdos known as Blue Man Group is as annoying as those outdoor escalators that are constantly “under service”. Luxor‘s long-running production returned to the pyramid a few years ago, after more than a decade at Venetian and Monte Carlo. Now they’re in a much smaller venue and it’s easy to forget that they’re still around. Maybe COVID-19 will be the nudge that gets them to squeeze their final Twinkie.

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Human Nature (Update – permanent closure announced 6/10/20) –

It really upsets me to have this one on the list, but the Aussie quartet known as Human Nature appears to have been struggling for a while. I’ve been to the show a number of times in the past twelve months, and attendance has been anemic during each and every visit. Their live band has been downsized as a cost-cutting measure and the dancers were given a pink slip before that. They’ve also jettisoned the “Jukebox” format and returned to the Motown sound that put them in the U.S. limelight.

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Magic Mike Live (Update – Sahara opening postponed until 2021) –

                               We can wait even longer for this execrable slop to return….

The movie-inspired male revue received a scathing write-up from me upon its debut (deservedly so). Yet, the man-bashing mess, hosted by a shrill, leather-clad harpy who never shuts her f*cking mouth, somehow managed to become a hit. Still, the closure of Hard Rock Hotel sent the strippers dancers off into the sunset last year.

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Audiences were promised a spring relaunch at the newly-rebranded Sahara Hotel, yet an official debut date was never set and tickets have yet to go on sale. The 360-degree format requires a custom-built arena that Sahara didn’t have, so costly construction was required. Alas, an insider told me that the venue’s build-out was halted many weeks before the shutdown, suggesting that the bump-and-grind may actually be over. Today’s visit to the official website reveals that the word “spring” was removed, most likely due to the shutdown. Or are revised negotiations holding things back?

During the interim, MML has gone global with residencies in London, Berlin, Sydney, and Melbourne, so a pricey Vegas space is no longer a top priority for the franchise. Sahara Hotel has yet to prove itself as a hip destination, as demonstrated by the premature shuttering of similar-themed Blanc de Blanc. Combine that with the perpetual postponements of nearby Fontainebleau/The Drew and Resorts World, and things are looking pretty dead for Magic Mike Live.

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Cirque du Soleil 

Update 6/30/20 – Cirque du Soleil announced today that they have filed for bankruptcy protection and have eliminated 3,500 jobs…

I know what you’re thinking – “But you just said that “O” was safe?!?!?!?!”. True enough. But in our new reality, Vegas cannot sustain six (already down from eight) of what is basically the same show…especially at $150 and up for decent seats.

According to FinancialPost.com, Cirque owes more that $1.25 billion to creditors. MGM Resorts operates five of their six Vegas shows and is known to brutally slice away expenses wherever and whenever possible. So who gets their trapezes pulled? I’m looking at KA, The Beatles LOVE, and maybe Michael Jackson ONE.

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Hanging In The Balance/Probably Safe –

MYSTERE – the longest-running Vegas Cirque show follows its own set of rules since Treasure Island operates separately from MGM Resorts. MYSTERE is smaller in scale and has the lowest ticket prices. The others have massive sets, live musicians, huge casts and expensive automation that requires an entire team of technicians to operate and maintain. SO…..overhead…

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ZUMANITY – never a critical darling or fan favorite, but this one might not be in real jeopardy. It has many of the advantages that MYSTERE enjoys (smaller cast, intimate venue, lower ticket prices), and has already trimmed back its musicians and singers. But despite the adult-skewing format, ZUMANITY now pales in comparison to raunchy offerings from Spiegelworld. So once again, your guess is as good as mine.

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Le ReveWynn‘s signature production was never an out-and-out hit (some still believe it’s part of Cirque du Soleil fifteen years in), but it’s a critical darling and those who know it, love it. Le Reve is also owned by Wynn/Encore, which has deep pockets and an image to protect. When Steve Wynn’s own SHOWSTOPPERS was shuttered, massive shockwaves rippled through the entertainment community. That’s unlikely to happen again.

‘WOW: The Las Vegas Spectacular’ Celebrates Two Years on the Strip

WOW: The Vegas Spectacular – another budget-friendly production that hung in there despite the competition, WOW could in fact raise its profile and attendance numbers in the months ahead. Room rates at host hotel RIO start at a ridiculously-cheap $10 (plus resort fees/taxes) for the first half of May, so if the city actually opens, expect a pilgrimage to the aging off-Strip resort.

Sister production EXTRAVAGANZA missed its debut date at Bally’s last month and could possibly be in jeopardy. The cast of performers came from Israel and has yet to log a single hour in front of a paying audience. Housing the entire cast during quarantine is no doubt chipping away at the show’s reserves. Whether that could bring WOW down as well involves legalities that aren’t known to me. But from the outside looking in, it’s a pretty grim picture for EXTRAVAGANZA.

What are your thoughts, predictions and opinions? Feel free to add your comments or email me at Sam@VegasUnfiltered.blog.

2019 – The Year in Review: See It or Skip It?


A quick-reference guide for current shows and my take on their worthiness for your hard-earned discretionary income…

With all of the productions that have come and gone in 2019, it’s tough to know what is playing, let alone what to see. This is the most complete list of titles I could compile as of 12/22/19. The guide includes only shows that I’ve actually seen, along with three categories to help you decide. Where possible, I’ve provided a link to my reviews, which can be accessed by clicking on the colored letters.

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DON’T MISS IT!!!!

ABSINTHE“Daring burlesque variety show continues to amaze in its 9th year”.

ATOMIC SALOON SHOW“You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe and you’ll most definitely be titillated.” 

AUSSIE HEAT – The ‘other’ Down-Under male revue is faster/hotter/better than you’d ever expect.” 

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BEATLES LOVE by Cirque do Soleil – “Remains one of the most spectacular and satisfying shows in town.”

BARRY MANILOW – “Try not to get choked up.”

BRONX WANDERERS –  “Handsome and talented collection of musicians and singers brings down the house with every performance.”

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CELESTIA“Beautifully mounted with snappy pacing, memorable costumes, and a very attractive athletic cast.”

CHIPPENDALES – “It’ll melt your inhibitions…and the ice in your glass.”

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DAVID COPPERFIELD

DRAG BRUNCH – “The perfect opportunity to lose your gender-bender virginity.”

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FANTASY – “If you’ve enjoyed FANTASY in the past, you’ll love it even more the next time.

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HANS KLOK – “A breakneck theatrical experience that will leave you slack-jawed and gasping in wonder.”

HUMAN NATURE: MOTOWN AND MORE – “will have you humming all night and dancing in the aisles.”

JEN KRAMER MAGICa collection of tried-and-true favorites delivered with a next-generation spin.”

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John Caparulo MAD CAP COMEDY- “an unforgettable evening of gut-busting hilarity.”

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LE REVE: The Dream – “manages to be both intimate and epic. It’s my personal favorite in the city.”

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MIKE HAMMER COMEDY MAGIC

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MISS BEHAVE GAMESHOW – “An experience that you can’t have anywhere else…and that’s what Las Vegas is all about.”

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MURRAY THE MAGICIAN

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MYSTERE by Cirque du Soleil

OPIUM – “will have you gasping for days. Don’t let ANYONE spoil the surprise.”

PURPLE REIGN

REDNECK COMEDY MAGIC

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SEX TIPS FOR STRAIGHT WOMEN FROM A GAY MAN – “a fast-paced evening for open-minded adults of all persuasions.”

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SEXXY 

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TENORS OF ROCK – “An international confection of rip-roaring vocals, boundless energy, and a live onstage band.”

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TOURNAMENT OF KINGS

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V- THE ULTIMATE VARIETY SHOW

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VEGAS! THE SHOW

WOW – THE LAS VEGAS SPECTACULAR“an unforgettable adventure through the oceans of time.”

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DON’T DO IT!!!

BLACK MAGIC LIVE – a cheap, chaotic disaster unworthy of your time and money.”

CRISS ANGEL MINDFREAK – “continues to regurgitate up our collective pipes and spread noxious odors throughout the Vegas valley.”

MARIAH CAREY – “Santa didn’t hand out coal this year…he gave away tickets to Mariah.”

MAT FRANCO: Magic Reinvented NightlyMat Franco is about as dull as a dead rabbit.”

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R.U.N by Cirque du Soleil – “you’ll think you’ve wandered into a high school production of West Side Story”.

TERRY FATOR – “Terry Fator is a log jam that just won’t flush.”

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THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER – “a great big middle finger to the audience.”

IF THE PRICE IS RIGHT

AUSTRALIAN BEE GEES

BLUE MAN GROUP 

CARROT TOP – “the exact same jokes and gags for over a decade”

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CHERRY BOOM BOOM – “Costuming is top-notch, the choreography is consistently impressive, and some sequences are downright breathtaking.”

CRAZY GIRLS

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GEORGE WALLACE

KA by Cirque du Soleil

LEGENDS IN CONCERT

MAC KING COMEDY MAGIC

MARC SAVARD COMEDY HYPNOSIS

MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL

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NATHAN BURTON MAGIC

‘O’ by Cirque du Soleil

PENN & TELLER

POPOVICH COMEDY PET THEATER

POTTED POTTER – “a face-paced and humorous retelling of the wizarding-world saga.”

RAT PACK IS BACK

STEVE CONNOLLY – SPIRIT OF THE KING 

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X BURLESQUE

XAVIER MORTIMER’S MAGICAL DREAM – “technology blends with meticulous choreography and precision timing to jaw-dropping effect.”

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More of my 2019 Round-up in the days ahead…

 

 

2019 – The Year in Review: Entertainment Highs and Lows


Taking a look back at the best, worst and notable in production shows of 2019….

As in recent years, the Las Vegas entertainment arena of 2019 was volatile, to say the least. Some headliners soared while others became a blip. Expensive new productions were met with skepticism or downright disdain. And still, those rotten brown logs known as Terry Fator, Mariah Carey, and Criss Angel continued to float in toilets of their own making.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the more notable examples of Sin City’s troubling trends in 2019 – The Year in Review: Entertainment Highs and Lows.

BEST NEW SHOW – Atomic Saloon Show at Venetian/Palazzo

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Spiegelworld hits and scores once more with Atomic Saloon Show. A bawdy in-your-face Wild West romp with hookers, cowboys, a horny minister, and his pair of twisted nuns, Atomic Saloon Show tosses the high points of Absinthe and Opium into a blender and pours out a perfect cocktail. Cast members Colin Cahill and Davide Zongoli receive bonus points for pushing the “hotness scale” to ten but the entire cast is uniformly excellent.

Runners Up: Blanc de Blanc, Blond Invasion, Fuerza Bruta, Hans Klok 

WORST NEW SHOW – R.U.N at Luxor

R.U.N For The Exit – Cirque du Soleil’s Latest is an EPIC DISASTER

Cirque du Soleil has definitely had their heyday on the Strip but they’ve swiftly fallen down the scale in terms of must-do entertainment. The famed acrobatic troupe somehow survived a nauseating ten years of BeLIEve/Mindfreak Live, Criss Angel’s abominable slop fest at Luxor. Then they replaced it with something far worse (how that’s even possible is a question for the ages).

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Nothing can prepare you for the awfulness of R.U.N (read my full review here). No matter how much you may be warned in advance, you’ll still leave feeling nauseated, perplexed, violated, repulsed and suffering from a throbbing headache.

When the company behind such beloved productions as Mystere and The Beatles LOVE pukes out a furball of this magnitude, there really is no way to recover. R.U.N will go down in the history books as one of the worst shows that Las Vegas has ever seen. And this is the city where Nudes On Ice was born.

Runner Up – Criss Angel Mindfreak Live at Planet Hollywood Same shit, same arrogant asshole, different theater. Enough said.

BIGGEST SURPRISE – Blond Invasion at V Theater

In a city filled with tribute shows, Blond Invasion (here’s my review) had no right to be this much fun. Spot-on impersonations of Britney Spears, Madonna, and Lady Gaga would already be entertaining, but mix in a quartet of hot male dancers, terrific choreography, spectacular costumes and live singing and you’ve got a perfect night out.  Things got even better when the trio came together for a once-in-a-lifetime medley that will sadly never happen in real life.

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             Swoon-worthy Adam D. Tucker as Tim McGraw in Vegas Gone Country

Unfortunately, Blond Invasion was one of two gems at V Theater that was never discovered by the audiences they deserved. Companion show Vegas Gone Country followed a similar formula and also suffered from anemic ticket sales. When the stars themselves have regular gigs a few blocks away, it seems that folks would rather pay more for the genuine article, no matter how lazy or rude they’ve become (I’m talking to you, Madonna). Which leads us to…

MAJOR HEADLINERS THAT SNORED AND SOARED – 

2019 was the year that fans went gaga over Lady Gaga. With two simultaneous productions playing at Park MGM Theater, the Star Is Born actress wowed sold-out audiences with classy Piano Jazz on some nights and Enigma‘s full-scale psychedelic pop on others.

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Britney Spears imploded on a personal level…yet again…and her February residency at Park MGM was quickly canceled and forgotten. The official explanation was a concern for her father’s health, then later the pop tart claimed that daddy dearest had forced her into rehab. Whatever they claim, poor ticket sales were being reported right up to the cancellation. You can only move your lips and flap your arms so many times before audiences cry out “Enough already!”.

Janet Jackson quickly moved into the Brit-bot’s vacated slot but barely managed to make a squeak. It seems like most of her fans remained behind the velvet rope, waiting for something better. Maybe it was her silence regarding LEAVING NEVERLAND, the HBO documentary detailing brother Michael’s fascination with little boys, that kept them away.

Perhaps it was the tabloid-worthy marriage/pregnancy/birth/divorce to a Qatari billionaire. Or her conversion to the Islam faith accompanied by uncomfortable photos in traditional Muslim garb…or the fact that the weight-troubled former hitmaker had canceled a 2016 tour then kept the money from advance ticket sales (fans sued and won) that pushed them over the edge. Whatever the reason, don’t expect a return from the money-grubbing Rhythm Nation songstress anytime soon. Sorry, Miss Jackson, but you’re nasty.

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Madonna turned out to be no lady for a trio of shows at Caesars Palace last month. Originally scheduled for 8;30 pm, the self-proclaimed diva pushed the start time to 10:30 pm after tickets were already sold, then had the nerve to show up three hours beyond THAT, going on stage way after midnight. Fans rebelled, hundreds of refunds were issued and of course, a lawsuit was filed by ticket buyers.

Arriving to a chorus of boos, Madonna remained unapologetic, saying “”There’s something that you all need to understand, and that is that a queen is never late.” Well, let’s hope this queen bitch tumbles from her throne and lands on her face. Maybe then she’ll finally get those teeth fixed and put that absurd eye patch to good use.

Shania Twain arrived late in the game for a series of shows at Zappos Theater, Planet Hollywood. Fans and non-fans alike gave the new production an enthusiastic thumbs-up with special mention to the energetic performance of its star…and some seriously steamy back-up dancers. Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani’s residencies in the same venue garnered a similar response.

Paula Abdul signed on for Flamingo‘s Donnie and Marie Theater and reviews have been decidedly mixed, leaning towards the negative. While I’ve yet to see the show (I was never a fan in the slightest, so she isn’t high on my list), those who have gone to it report that she lip-syncs the entire performance while being tossed around like a sack of potatoes.

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Since the one-time American Idol judge (oh, the irony of that) was always a horrible singer, perhaps her onstage fakery is a blessing in disguise. But who thought that Abdul was worthy of a residency, especially since her 2018 comeback tour crashed and burned? Apparently the thrifty folks at TravelZoo, where you can snag discounted tickets for as low as $49. Forever your girl, indeed.

Next year will see a residency by Kelly Clarkson that already promises to be a big hit. The initial response has been through the roof. If this seems like something you’d be interested in, snatch up your tix asap, or else you may be seeing Gaga-level resale prices very soon.

GONE AND FORGOTTEN – Gordie Brown

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Last year Gordie Brown was the unfortunate recipient of my “Saddest Career Path” award. Well, the new owners of Hooters Hotel Casino rebranded the place as OYO and quickly showed Mr. Brown the door. It certainly didn’t help that the one-time Venetian headliner slandered and criticized his own showroom and host hotel during performances, promising the audience that he’d rise again in a better place. Good luck with that, Gordie.

“THEY’RE STILL AROUND?” AWARD – Mariah Carey, Criss Angel, and Terry Fator

The unsinkable triad of Mariah Carey, Criss Angel, and Terry Fator is a log jam that just won’t flush. Maybe it’s just time to grab a plunger and force them down the drain. You already know my contempt for arrogant mouthpiece Mariah and douchebag Criss from last year’s summary. Those who’ve aligned themselves professionally with the faux-goth farce, in particular, have learned the hard way that they’ll eventually get stabbed in the back…and become a laughingstock in the eyes of colleagues. So the less said about them this time around, the better. Please, just go away.

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Terry Fator is new to the list but deserves a placing nonetheless. His stale attempts at comedy were tired ten years ago but have grown exponentially stale, with the offensiveness amped up to levels that have garnered reactions from both audience members and host hotel Mirage.

While Fator presented himself on America’s Got Talent as an awe-shucks kind of guy, those in the know are aware of the real details of his scheming, shocking personal life. Fator has been accused of scandalous treatment and abandonment of first wife Melinda, a skeevy relationship with half-his-age employee/wife #2 Taylor Makakoa (he proposed to wife #3 right in front of #2 during a performance…while still married), lawsuits with former managers and a very bizarre background (including being raised in a cult). Then there’s that mysterious death of his estranged sister in his home and the lawsuit that his mother brought against him, fearing for her personal safety. You can’t make this shit up.

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         Nothing says “Christmas” like your fist shoved deep inside a sexual predator doll…

The Mirage recently asked Fator to get rid of his controversial Donald Trump puppet “to avoid escalating the political divide in an already polarized country” as reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Then Gary Costa, Executive Director of LGBTQ/AIDS charity Golden Rainbow sent a complaint letter to protest the show’s slandering of minorities and gays. Here is Mr. Costa’s public post via Facebook:

A few months ago I attended this offensive show at The Mirage Hotel and Casino and was horrified at the blatant racist, transphobic and homophobic content of the Terry Fator show. I contacted the management of The MGM including their diversity manager to formally lodge a complaint. While removing the offensive Trump puppet is a start it isn’t enough.

Blatant discrimination and public ridicule of Latinos and trans and LGBTQ individuals has no place on the Las Vegas strip disguised as “entertainment”. As long as the MGM corporation continues to allow this man to spew his hate under the guise of “family comedy” I will continue to boycott their company and keep pressuring their management to remove this outdated performer from their property permanently. There are literally a dozen or so ventriloquist acts in Las Vegas that are funny, entertaining, talented and enjoyable to watch. Terry Fator unfortunately is NOT one of them

My husband and I had a similar reaction when attending Fator’s sorry excuse for a show. We actually left the performance early and went to Le Reve instead. The fact that Fator is regularly listed on Groupon for $45 may be a sign that the wild, freaky ride is finally coming to a close. Then again, this is the same hotel that shuttered the Terry Fator Store in favor of Kardashian Khaos Boutique, so who can say? In any case, I urge you to boycott this hateful and revolting man, along with his nasty excuse for “entertainment”.

 

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT – The Fate of FUERZA BRUTA 

The long-running international hit Fuerza Bruta had a chilly reception from Sin City patrons and was closed mere weeks into a proposed six-month run. A daring, innovative show, it should have been a slam-dunk on the Strip (see my review here). But Vegas audiences won’t buy tickets to something that isn’t a known quantity, much like at movie theaters, where sequels and reboots shove new ideas to the bottom of the box office tallies.

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Fuerza Bruta‘s quick shuttering inspired me to write what would turn out to be my most-read article of the year. If you haven’t taken the time to look at it, now would be a great opportunity. The in-depth piece analyzes the troubling future of the City of Entertainment and explains why so many shows have closed…and why others are on the chopping block.

International Hit ‘Blanc de Blanc’ Pops a Cork at Sahara

 

RUNNER-UP: Blanc de Blanc’s abrupt closure at Sahara

 

BITTERSWEET FAREWELL – Jeff Civillico Closes After A Decade

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It’s a well-known secret within the industry that Vegas performers often head to other cities on their days off (or take a Vegas hiatus) to supplement high overhead (and dwindling sales) on the Strip. Entertainers like Jason Tenner (PURPLE REIGN), The Bronx Wanderers, Criss Angel, and even Terry Fator hop onto planes (or busses) to fill much larger venues with significantly lower overhead.

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Jeff Civillico has been extremely candid with me through the years regarding his difficulties with the “Four Wall” method of running shows. It’s a business model that puts the responsibility and cost of performing on the entertainers instead of the old way when casinos supported their productions. And it seems like Jeff has had enough of the current system.

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Last Wednesday was Civillico’s final Vegas performance after a decade that saw him in places ranging from guest gigs with magician Nathan Burton to his first stint at Planet Hollywood (the restaurant, not the hotel) to residencies at Imperial Palace/The Quad/Linq Hotel, Flamingo and the Anthony Cools Showroom at Paris.

Jeff will continue to perform at corporate gigs around the country while focusing more time at Win-Win Entertainment, which matches performers with not-for-profit organizations. As a fan and personal friend who has followed Jeff’s journey from very humble beginnings to his current achievements, I will miss this handsome hunk of joy.

RUNNER UP – The Naked Magicians

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The cuddly, talented and adorable duo of Mike Tyler and Christopher Wayne enjoyed the prestige and opportunity (along with enthusiastic reviews like mine) to have their own Strip residency. Alas, the Naked Magicians experienced the same difficult reality that persuaded Jeff Civillico to say “I’m leaving Las Vegas”. Why fight an uphill battle when you can do financially better just about anywhere else in the world?

Stick with Vegas Unfiltered for more of 2019 – Year in Review in the days ahead.

R.U.N For The Exit – Cirque du Soleil’s Latest is an EPIC DISASTER


Tone-deaf stunt show-cum-blockbuster confuses vulgarity and violence for action…

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UPDATE 3/8/20 I just attended the final performance of R.U.N, which was abruptly shuttered. I got the impression that the majority of the audience was comprised of friends and family. The show began about 15 minutes late. There was a lengthy cast/crew onstage farewell and the performers were snapping photographs with each other as the curtain lowered for the final time. 

Despite my absolute dislike for this production, I purchased tickets for third row, center section, to cheer on the performers, who carried no blame for this costly disaster. 

UPDATE 1/7/20 VitalVegas.com has reported that ticket sales for R.U.N have been suspended beyond 4/30/20. It is not known at this time whether the show is being permanently closed or shut down for retooling. But it’s worth noting that all other Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas are currently offering tickets through the end of December 2020. This doesn’t bode well for R.U.N, but then again, the show must NOT go on in its current state of “fiasco”.

If we can applaud entertainment companies for expanding outside of their comfort zone, then we’re surely entitled to speak up when they cross the line. That’s what’s been happening since Cirque du Soleil premiered R.U.N: The First Live Action Thriller at Luxor a few weeks ago. The public reaction has been overwhelmingly negative.

The outcry towards R.U.N has gotten so strong that I was bashed on Twitter for penning an opinion-free article describing the structure and content of the show for a freelance gig:

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Just how bad is it when readers DEMAND a negative review? Well…pretty darn bad indeed. R.U.N could have easily fallen into the category of “So awful that you have to see it”. Which is amusing when you consider that those very words described the previous occupant of Luxor’s theater – Criss Angel BeLIEve. That smelly heap of garbage somehow made it through ten long and miserable years (and several major overhauls) before Cirque could bleach away the stench and move forward with their next offering.

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But this is what they came up with for their newest show? I couldn’t for the life of me recommend R.U.N to anyone in good conscience…not even an enemy. It’s an ugly, inconsistent, poorly-planned and sloppily-executed mess that lies there like a dead body in a ditch. That is, except when characters are shouting F-bombs, being wheeled through the audience strapped to a torture device, having a syringe of drugs pumped into their arm or suspended over the audience by a metal claw driven into the face.

Yes, those things really happen in a Cirque du Soleil show….and people get up and walk out during these revolting sequences night after night (or so I’ve been told). It certainly happened during a Saturday 7pm timeslot that I attended. It’s also worth noting that despite plenty of nationwide advertisements and billboards all over the city, the auditorium was shockingly empty…..perhaps 25 percent of the seats were taken, and that’s not counting the two upper sections that are blocked off and covered with canvas. Ouch.

So how could something so awful make it past a brainstorming session, let alone twice-a-night performances on the Vegas Strip? Your guess is as good as mine. But let’s be real here….Cirque‘s reputation as a top provider of entertainment isn’t what it used to be. Viva Elvis did so poorly for ARIA that they ripped out their gorgeous theater when replacement production ZARKANA tanked there, too.

There have been numerous other missteps in the past few years that have allowed Spiegelworld (Absinthe, Opium and Atomic Saloon Show) to take away and put a new shine on Cirque’s tarnished crown. And the failing attendance of Cirque’s six other resident productions has led to rumors of them pulling out of Vegas altogether in the next few years. That’s what happens when you glut the market on a worldwide scale. You’re forced to eat your own tail just to survive.

Does anyone remember IRIS, the $100 million Cirque du Soleil resident show in Hollywood that closed after only 16 months? How about Paramour, the New York-based musical which did so poorly that Broadway’s LYRIC Theater paid Cirque $23 million just to close up and leave? There were other high-profile flops like Zaia in Macau, Zed in Tokyo, Banana Schpeel (New York/Chicago) and the first attempt to launch BAZ in Las Vegas (yes, it was Cirque that brought BAZ to Mandalay Bay before pulling out mere weeks into the run).

For some reason, Cirque du Soleil has been obsessed with Hollywood as of late. They seem to think that people want to pay over $100 to see a movie salute…at a time when people are skipping the cinemas and doing Netflix-and-chill at home. Besides film-centric IRIS and Paramour, they collaborated with director James Cameron on Worlds Away, a fantasy film that barely made a blip at the 2012 box office. Then Cirque produced TORUK – The First Flight, a poorly-reviewed touring show (based on Cameron’s AVATAR) that one magazine called “A troubling, redface spectacle”.

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                 R.U.N has guns, cars, drug dealers and LOTS of cardboard boxes…

Cirque even considered doing a Quentin Tarantino musical, but chose BAZ instead…because Tarantino films are so dark and violent! In an interview for Los Angeles Magazine in 2015, Cirque Theatrical‘s Scott Zeiger had this to say:

For the Record: Tarantino was going to be playing in Montreal. I went and loved it. I brought all of the top dogs from Cirque parent to see it. While all of them liked it, they were afraid for Cirque to get involved with this brand because the content of [Tarantino’s] films is pretty violent and deals with subject matter that might not be on the same wavelength with Cirque du Soleil’s more spiritual, love-oriented, happier themes.”

Yet here we are with a brand new $63 million production written by film director Robert Rodriguez, the man behind super-violent films like Planet Terror, Machete, Machete Kills and From Dusk Til Dawn. Somehow the company that once brought you glorious productions like Mystere and The Beatles LOVE thinks you want to spend an evening…and your hard-earned cash…watching the kind of show you’d slip into at Universal Studios for free to get out of the heat.

And as the photo below shows, people just didn’t care about the characters or what was going on all around them in the theater.

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                  Some people would rather stare at their phones than watch R.U.N…

That in itself shows just how tone-deaf Cirque has become to our current culture. And R.U.N lacks any kind of wink-wink fun that audiences might expect from the show’s advertisements. People are depicted as being tortured, killed and burned alive. One character has his arms and legs pulled out of joint and broken (with the sound of bone cracks amplified by Luxor’s megawatt sound system).

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Speaking of the sound system, this show is absolutely deafening. About five minutes in, my ears were literally hurting and my head began to throb. Fortunately, I’d read some online reviews warning about the extreme decibel level and brought along a pair of earplugs that stayed in place until the lights came up.

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So can this show be saved? Yes, it can. When Le Reve premiered at WYNN back in 2006, it was received so poorly that performances were cut and the production received a major retooling. Now it’s considered one of the best shows on the Strip…because audience reaction was analyzed and changes were made. And that HAS to happen with R.U.N, too.

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                   You’d have more fun playing a video game in a dark, creepy alley….

I predict a full closure for this show and a massive gutting. Costumes and sequences will be tossed out and the torture depictions have to go. Right now. There is no charismatic leading man to cheer for, no emotional investment in the fates of the characters, and even the plot (“retrieve a necklace to win” belongs in a video game, not a stage) will need to be refashioned into something people care about. A kidnapped child, perhaps? A damsel in distress? Anything but a pendant holding some secret data.

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The opening sequence, which is an actual film, goes on for far too long. From the get-go, people will be wondering “Did I just pay $300 to take my date to a movie?”. When flesh-and-blood characters actually appear, their performances and stunts will have you shrugging. Gang fights are so choreographed and punches so fake that you’ll think you’ve wandered into a high school production of “West Side Story”, despite silvery mylar costumes and moon boots that belong in a 90’s boyband video.

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Imagine if this show was built around an actual, heroic movie star! How cool would it be to watch the likes of Van Damme, Stallone, Chris Pratt or Dwayne Johnson doing their best stunt work before your eyes?  Even a live-action version of a familiar movie would be a cool idea…perhaps Rodriguez’s own SIN CITY, a hit film based on the works of Frank Miller. Now THAT is something I might recommend, not this violent, rambling and ugly excuse for a show.

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And yes, there were children in attendance despite a disclaimer stating that the material is intended for mature audiences 13 and up. I questioned a box office attendant as to whether they enforce this policy and she told me that they do not…it is a recommendation, not a restriction.

R.U.N is not a show for kids. Or teens. Or adults…or anyone, for that matter. Run as far away from R.U.N as you can…and don’t look back. Sorry, Cirque, but you’ve lost it…and heads are certainly going to roll.

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Normally I’d put ticketing information and showtimes here, but that’s not going to happen this time. See anything else (except for Mariah Carey or Criss Angel) but skip this bomb.

Photos: Sam Novak

NEED FOR SPEED: HANS KLOK IS ‘THE WORLD’S FASTEST MAGICIAN’ IN NEW SHOW

 


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When it comes to magic acts, the set-up is usually 90 percent of the illusion. Describe the trick, set up the props, lay on a little distraction and then…”ta-da!”. Not so with Hans Klok: The World’s Fastest Magician. Now performing six nights a week (with matinees on select dates), the latest production at Excalibur is a breakneck theatrical experience that will leave you slack-jawed and gasping in wonder.

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Longtime Vegas visitors may remember Klok’s large-scale 2007 production “The Beauty of Magic” at Planet Hollywood. Accompanied by glamorous Baywatch beauty Pamela Anderson, Klok turned Vegas magic shows inside out by combining vintage theatrical flamboyance with a hip, cutting-edge performance style (think Siegfried and Roy meet Criss Angel). The show drew attention from A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and Amy Winehouse, along with former America’s Got Talent judge (and Anderson’s Baywatch co-star) David Hasselhoff.

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In the ensuing twelve years, the Holland native has cemented his status as the “Dutch David Copperfield”. He’s toured throughout Europe, received numerous awards, appeared on countless television programs and was inducted into the “Inner Circle” of the British Golden Circle Magic Organization. In addition, Klok set a world illusion speed record in 2012 which he subsequently topped the following year. Now he’s returned to Vegas with a new collection of spectacular mind-benders.

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To describe any of Klok’s many sequences would spoil the fun. But “fun” is indeed the operative word here. The production is mostly light-hearted, family-friendly and filled with music and memorable costumes. A sexy cast of male and female dancers….

Click HERE to continue reading….

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Hans Klok: The World’s Fastest Magician performs Saturday through Thursday (dark Fridays) at Excalibur’s Thunderland Showroom. Check schedule for exact times and matinees on select dates…

Photos: Hans Klok, BestOfVegas.com

 

 

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….

 

 

 

 

 

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.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

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.

The Beatles: LOVE

        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.

The Beatles: LOVE

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.

The Beatles: LOVE

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.

Magic of Jen Kramer

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.

Magic of Jen Kramer

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.

Magic of Jen Kramer

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