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

 


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

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

January –

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

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

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

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

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

February –

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

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

Inside “The NAKED MAGICIANS” at MGM Grand

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

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

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

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

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

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

March –

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

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

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

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

April –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May –

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

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

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

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

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

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June –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Donny and Marie” Turn It Up To Eleven


Famed duo hits new heights for final year of Flamingo residency….

Donny Osmond loves making jokes. Even when the gag seems to go over the audience’s head, he still keeps chuckling. “Did you get that one?” he asked, referencing This Is Spinal Tap‘s famous “up to eleven” quote. “I think you were one of the few who did” he laughed as we spoke after a recent performance of Donny and Marie Show at Flamingo Hotel Casino.

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The beloved brother and sister of the famed Osmond clan have indeed turned up the dial to maximum setting. Not only is their revamped show better than ever, but the Utah natives are about to wrap up an amazing eleven years on the Strip. “You know, we were only supposed to be here for six weeks. And now we’re in our eleventh year” Donny exclaimed. “Can you believe it?”

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While other nostalgia-based Vegas productions have had mixed success of late, Donny and Marie continue to pack the house, perhaps now more than ever. Derrick Boyce, one of the production’s award-winning dancers, is excited about their continued success. “I was in the casino before showtime and was stunned at the long line stretching around the corner. We’re sold out on a Tuesday night. It’s amazing!”.

“Amazing” is also the perfect word to describe the show itself. A perfect blend of their original hits and chart-toppers by other artists, Donny and Marie leave everyone wanting more. While their legacy is certainly the catalyst in attracting longtime fans, it’s the charisma of the two leads combined with their fantastic voices, dance skills and production numbers that lure in audiences of all ages.

Opening with a high-energy medley of Black Eyed Peas “I’ve Got A Feeling” and B-52’s “Love Shack”, the siblings thrill the crowd with non-stop banter and good-natured rivalry. Despite the passage of more than four decades, it feels like you’ve stepped into a live taping of their beloved 70’s TV variety show.

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After that raucous opener, the Osmonds stroll down memory lane with their successful individual careers. Marie makes a visit to Broadway, then slips on a pair of cowgirl boots for country favorites. Duo Des Fleurs (from the French opera Lakme) is a beautiful sequence in which Marie performs a duet with herself via special effects. The segment closes with Music Is Medicine (from the album of the same name). That release features a collaboration with Olivia Newton-John and benefits Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, which Marie helped to establish in 1983.

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There’s definitely no opera or country when brother Donny takes over the stage. He unleashes serious rock and roll amidst hardcore pyrotechnics for Crazy Horses and Soldier of Love. The former heartthrob boasts about his recent Dancing With the Stars and The Masked Singer successes, revisits those teen idol days with Puppy Love and reunites with the legendary Osmond Brothers (via video) for Love Me For A Reason.

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Hold On To The Memories with Richard Marx

 


Satisfied: Only The Hits at Flamingo exceeds expectations and then some…

After a recent teaser performance for Richard Marx‘s upcoming stint at Flamingo, it was clear that record-setting chart-topper was about to embark on an impressive series of shows. While only performing a handful of songs that evening, the 80’s heartthrob was in top form, looking fantastic, sounding even better…and eager to entertain Sin City crowds.

Last Tuesday’s official premiere of the new mini-residency solidified my suspicions that SATISFIED: Only The Hits would be pure gold from beginning to end. What I didn’t expect was to be caught up in a tidal wave of memories, laughter, charming banter and even a few teary-eyed moments.

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August 15, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Audiences might be surprised that Marx has chosen to perform his songbook in a somewhat stripped-down fashion, using only acoustic guitar, piano and a string section for accompaniment. That decision gives his flawless voice a chance to really shine, bringing an intimacy to the lyrics that might otherwise have been overlooked…or taken for granted.

After an video montage highlighted by media appearances and celebrity testimonials, Marx entered the stage, lit from behind and in a swirl of fog. Standing between two barely-open curtains, he belted out a haunting Endless Summer Nights (from the self-titled 1987 debut album).

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The curtains then opened to reveal a string quartet of elegant young ladies. With them, Marx revisited his career chronologically from the very first singles. Photographs of album covers like Repeat Offender and Rush Street lit up the video screens as memories flowed over his audience. In between, Richard joked about that infamous mullet and some very 80’s outfits.

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While clothing and hairstyles have changed, those early songs continue to remain timeless and beautiful. A very packed house of celebrities and fans was encouraged to join him in a toast to the new Flamingo gig, which is scheduled to run through September 2nd (let’s hope for an extension).

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Marx eventually moved to the piano to perform songs he had written or co-written with and for other artists, like Grammy winner Dance With My Father (with the late Luthor Vandross), This I Promise You (N’SYNC) and Long Hot Summer (Keith Urban).

One highlight of the evening came when Richard’s three stunningly-handsome musician sons (Lucas, Brandon and Jesse) joined him by way of video for When You Loved Me (from the live album A Night Out With Friends). That dazzling song, the only one in the set not performed acoustically, marked a resurgence of Richard’s career in 2012…and gained him a new legion of fans.

     Highlights from opening night performance at Flamingo…

Marx recounted how fun it was to hear himself back on the radio along with the likes of Lady Gaga (“Other artists don’t care if they hear themselves on the radio but I’m like ‘Turn that #!@* up!”).

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After a brief break, the charismatic star returned for an encore starting with 1989’s Angelia. Marx began the set by disconnecting his mic and amplifiers, walking towards the edge of the stage and performing completely “unplugged”. That surprising move, one that this writer had never witnessed in a concert before, drew audience members to the edge of their seat, riveted to every note and phrase. That is, before the clapping began…

The Way She Loves Me and Right Here Waiting closed out the show, bringing the career of Richard Marx full circle and the audience to its feet. Most attendees had no doubt embraced the music of this iconic headliner in their youth. It was obviously a joy to have him back in their lives once more.

Richard Marx’s boyish pop-idol features may have been replaced by the chiseled cheekbones and knowing eyes of a seasoned professional. But it’s also the face of a man whose musical influences have prevailed throughout four turbulent decades. That he continues to sound contemporary in a dramatically different world is a testament to Richard Marx’s talent.

SATISFIED: Only The Hits is a truly remarkable night out with one of the masters of the era. Along with long-running Donny and Marie and the recently-completed Olivia Newton-John’s SUMMER NIGHTS residency, Flamingo has firmly established itself as a go-to destination for legendary performers. These artists continue to remain relevant…and more importantly….get to revisit their legacy at a new level of perfection.

SATISFIED: Only The Hits performs at the Donny and Marie Showroom on select dates through September 2nd at 7:30 pm. Tickets start at $59 plus taxes/fees and can be purchased by clicking here.  

Follow this link for discounted tickets through Vegas.com and use the following promo codes for additional savings:

$250 or more, enter SUMMER25 to get $25 off
$500 or more, enter SUMMER50 to get $50 off
$1,000 or more, enter SUMMER100 to get $100 off

Photos and video by Sammasseur, professional shots courtesy of Denise Truscello

 

 

RICHARD MARX Will Be “Right Here Waiting” For You At Flamingo


The 80’s hit machine previews his upcoming Flamingo residency for the media…

There’s something about the music of the eighties that makes it timeless. Despite being a very identifiable product of the era, that sound is still fresh and alive three decades later. The same can be said for Richard Marx, who shared some of his songs from that period last night at Cleopatra’s Barge.

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The lounge venue inside Caesars Palace was the location for a special preview of Richard’s upcoming SATISFIED: Only The Hits at nearby Flamingo. Members of the media and Marx’s fan club filled the venue for a taste of what was in store for Vegas audiences next month.

Fit, handsome as ever and truly ageless, the Grammy winner settled in with a string quartet and guitar for acoustic versions of his hits. The superstar, who’s sold over 30 million records throughout his career, belted out those tunes with a voice that hasn’t changed a bit since his debut album in 1987.

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The appreciative crowd was invited to join in for “Should Have Known Better” after being mesmerized by favorites like “Endless Summer Nights” and “Don’t Mean Nothing”. Along the way, Richard joked about his infamous mullet and those of-the-decade outfits.

While discussing Flamingo’s upcoming residency, the 53-year-old described his enjoyment in performing those iconic songs in a scaled-down fashion. “I don’t know why I waited so long to do this…I’ve been playing with myself my whole life”, he joked.

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The short teaser came to a close with Marx at the piano for “Right Here Waiting”. The private performance was designed to get his fans and members of the media excited about the upcoming series of shows. It definitely left us “Satisfied”…and wanting more.

“See you guys in a couple weeks! Thank you so much”.

RICHARD MARX SATISFIED: Only The Hits begins August 15th at the Donny and Marie Showroom inside Flamingo Hotel Casino. Tickets start at $59 (plus taxes/fees). Click here for more information and show dates. 

Photos and video: [Sammasseur]