Postmodern Jukebox Is A Musical Time Machine

 


The group’s vintage remixes are pitch-perfect for Vegas…

You may have heard of Postmodern Jukebox, the genre-busting collective of musicians and singers. But have you actually heard them? One song into Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox Hideway, their new production at The Mirage, and you’ll become a lifelong fan.

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Postmodern Jukebox is a brilliantly entertaining concept. An ever-changing line-up of performers and songs, PMJ (as they’re affectionately known) has become a sensation thanks to the power of YouTube. Founded in Queens just eight years ago by pianist Scott Bradlee, Postmodern Jukebox takes your favorite contemporary songs, puts them into a time-machine blender and gives them a whole new spin.

Imagine hearing a familiar rap single performed in a roaring 20’s style. How about an electronica dance hit re-imagined as swing or Motown? Perhaps a country ballad doled out as a cool jazz session or a doo-wop ditty? That’s what PMJ does…and they do it oh so well.  Every song is a thrill to experience, and you’ll marvel at how well it all works.

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PMJ has been enjoying a love affair with Sin City for quite some time. Their short-term gigs around the city and in a 2016 New Year’s Eve performance at Cosmopolitan were such successes that it was only a matter of time before they landed a residency here. And why not? Las Vegas attracts music lovers of all generations and tastes, as does the group itself.

The new Hideaway stint has already been hailed by Mark Shunock (Rock of Ages, voice of Las Vegas Golden Knights) as “The best show in Las Vegas right now…period!”. Presented as an evening at an early 1900’s nightclub, Hideaway gathers the best singers, dancers and musicians you may ever see on a stage. And each performance is unique to that particular evening.

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Fans of Palazzo’s glorious BAZ: A Musical Mash-up will be thrilled by the return of its stars Nicci Claspell and Jaclyn McSpadden. Revisiting BAZ’s infectious vintage-pop fusion, Claspell delivers and cool and bouncy take on Portugal The Man’s “Feel It Still”. Dazzling Vegas local McSpadden brings down the house with a torch rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep”.

Lead vocalist/host Ariana Savalas (daughter of Kojak actor Telly Savalas) and award-winning tap dancer Aaron Turner (son of Vegas legend Earl Turner) rip up the floor with a stunning “Bad Romance”. They’re supported by an electrifying five-piece band and a hot cast of dancers that take the excitement to every corner of the club.

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

 


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

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

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

BEST NEW SHOW – Manilow: The Hits Come Home

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

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

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

WORST NEW SHOW – Inferno: The Fire Spectacular 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runner-up: Soundtrack at Westgate Hotel Casino

BEST OVERALL PRODUCTION – Le Reve The Dream

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

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

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

SOUNDTRACK Brings Alive The Songs Of Your Life


Legends Clint Holmes and Earl Turner are the heart and soul of a superlative collaboration…

Earl Turner and Clint Holmes, the stars of Westgate’s new SOUNDTRACK production, amusingly carry with them a condition I call “Danny Gans Syndrome“. That is, they’re very well-loved by Vegas audiences but virtually unknown elsewhere. That’s unfortunate, as talent is…and should always be…universally recognized.

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             Clint Holmes (left) and Earl Turner light up the Westgate stage…

Yet Turner and Holmes continue to prosper and thrive on Vegas stages. The two friends have performed separately for many years and are mutual fans of one another. As Clint tells the story “When arriving in Vegas back in 2000, I did what every performer does…I asked “Whose show should I see?”. Everyone told me about Earl Turner…and they were right. He’s terrific”.

These days you’re just as likely to see Earl in the audience for Clint’s solo performances as vice versa. But when these two collaborate for an ongoing series of concerts at Westgate’s International Theater, it’s the fans who will be rejoicing.

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SOUNDTRACK offers a familiar premise – cover versions of songs you know and love…and what they mean for memorable events in your lives and theirs. The target demographic is mainly folks forty and over, yet the gentleman do justice to current hits as well. It’s a well-rounded collection of favorites sure to please every generation.

Much of the fun of this anthology comes from not knowing what’s next, so I’ll try not to spoil things by pounding out a track list. Just know that artists as diverse as Bobby Darin, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Ed Sheeran and The Beatles get the SOUNDTRACK treatment, all done in the inimitable styles of the two leads.

Much like Human Nature JUKEBOX at Venetian, SOUNDTRACK bounces through the decades somewhat randomly, adding to the sense of spontaneity that makes productions like this such a joy. Between the songs are humorous anecdotes that convey a warmth these two have clearly shared through the years…both onstage and off.

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                                                             Serena Henry…

Holmes and Turner fittingly open SOUNDTRACK with “The Boys Are Back In Town”. But this is far from an all-guys night at the theater. Talented back-up singer Serena Henry comes front and center….and owns the stage with a set of classic songs made famous by other female vocalists. It’s almost disappointing when Serena steps back out of the spotlight. Expect to hear lots more from Ms. Henry in the future.

Both stars also have their own moments alone onstage. Clint demonstrates the way he learned to be funky from his African-American father (his mom was a “proper British white woman”, he tells us). Earl shares his evolution from country tunes to a spot-on James Brown impersonation that will have you on your feet and holding your sides with laughter. They come back together for a scatting session that will leave you breathless.

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                                                            Earl Turner…

The eight-piece band led by musical director Christian Tamburr is as attractive as it is talented. Standout saxophonist Rocco Barbato brings a huge slice of “sexy” to several solo moments including a vocal/instrumental jam session with Holmes.

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                                                           Rocco Barbato…

The large International Showroom stage, once home to the likes of Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand and the returning Barry Manilow, is nicely utilized with simple but effective sets. Lighting, sound and visuals are all what you’d expect from such a well-known venue. Costuming is pretty basic with the band in black suits and the gentleman in shiny pants and sparkly blazers. Ms. Henry dazzles in a series of flattering ensembles.

Clint Holmes Earl Turner Soundtrack

One thing that I’m personally pleased to see is a minimum of sing-alongs and “I can’t hear you!” moments. Those live-performance cliches are so overused…and quite frankly need to be retired. If I wanted karaoke I’d go to Ellis Island Brewery, so thank you SOUNDTRACK for sparing us many of the cornball audience-participation segments.

With Holmes and Turner both having busy solo schedules, the dates for SOUNDTRACK are somewhat limited. A next round of performances will begin July 5th and a full schedule of upcoming shows is available here.

Be sure to stake out a future date and mark this show down on your list of Vegas “musts”. SOUNDTRACK is one memorable playlist that should not be missed.

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SOUNDTRACK performs on select dates at 7 pm inside Westgate International Showroom. Tickets start at $48 (plus taxes/fees) and are available here. Travelzoo is running a special for seats starting at $24 by following this link.

Photos: Sammasseur, Clint Holmes, Serena Henry, Rocco Barbato, Westgate Las Vegas

Video clip courtesy of Curtis Haines, Next Level Media and Entertainment