Actor/Musician Ian Ward is Ready to Rock ‘The Vegas Room’


Youthful heartthrob from “Rock of Ages” and “BAZ” possesses the soul of a legend…

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There are many who consider Palazzo‘s BAZ to be one of the greatest productions that Las Vegas has ever seen. A gentre-defying blend of modern music and the works of literary greats as seen through the eyes of film director Baz Luhrmann, BAZ provided a forum for some of the best entertainers in the business.

When Ian Ward stepped into the role of “Romeo”, the youthful performer had big shoes to fill. James Byous, LJ Benet and Myles Nuzzi had all been stunning as the ill-fated lover, yet Ian (full name Ian Ward Brininstool) managed to make his own indelible impression. His powerful, heartfelt performance of Elton John’s “Your Song” elicited cheers from the audience…and the tragic “Love Is Blindness” (below) could cause you to erupt into sobs.

Ian made his stage debut at the age of nine, landing the lead in a large scale production of Oliver. Since then he’s taken on television with a role in Veronica Mars and the New York stage in musicals like Gettin’ The Band Back Together, Leaving Eden and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.

The native of La Jolla has performed on cruise ships around the world and lived in cities as diverse as Los Angeles, Miami, and of course, the Big Apple. Currently completing his studies at Berklee College of Music with an album on the way, he’s released a collection of self-penned singles that reflect a variety of cultural experiences.

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Ian was performing in the hit Los Angeles production of Rock Of Ages (with fellow BAZ alumnus Sean Lessard) when the pandemic forced it to close. Since then he’s been focused on his studies and writing new music. Like BAZ, Ian refuses to be categorized, yet influences from The Beatles, Elton John and classic rock anthems come through.

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Like most entertainers, the sandy-haired Californian has been yearning for a return to live performance. He’ll be center-stage this Friday and Saturday with an intimate showcase at The Vegas Room. I caught up with Ian over the weekend, and this is what he had to say:

When did you first visit Las Vegas, and when was the first time you performed here?

Growing up in San Diego, Las Vegas has always been a vacation destination for me and my family. I clearly remember spending my 13th birthday here and doing the indoor skydiving experience with my best friend. I think somewhere deep in my subconscious, I always knew that I would be spending more time in this special city. My dream came true when I was cast as Romeo in BAZ back in 2017. This was my first time experiencing performing here and getting to know the entertainment community in Las Vegas.

Roles in BAZ, Footloose, and Rock of Ages have allowed you to stretch your acting, dancing and singing muscles all at the same time. Do you approach a song “differently” when you’re performing in-character versus as yourself? Which do you prefer?

When I am performing a song in a musical, I bring the past experiences and memories of that character into the words that he is speaking and singing. As an actor through song, you must be able to convey to the audience where this character is in their particular journey within the overall story of the play.  

When I perform an original song or a cover song in a cabaret setting, sometimes I am more focused on feeling the energy and vibe of the material and connecting with the audience. I want to communicate directly and bring them along on the ride. It’s much more collaborative with the people there enjoying the music.

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Photos: Ryan Salinas for The Vegas Room

You tend to gravitate towards explosive productions, yet your solo work is of a more romantic nature. What kind of music do you listen to for your own enjoyment?

I love doing large scale productions because of the quality of lights, sound, special effects and the entire creative team that comes together to create something spectacular. However, in my solo work, I tend to gravitate towards love stories or stripped down acoustic sounds. I think this comes from my father’s influence in classic rock and my love for classic songwriters such as Neil Young, James Taylor, Sting, and The Beatles. I would love to blend high quality production with my own songs eventually.

Your cover of “Across The Universe” with Ruby Lewis is gorgeous and pure in its simplicity. How did that collaboration come about, and do you see the two of you working together again?

Ruby and I love to collaborate on songs that we share a passion for. One afternoon at my parents house, we were listening to some oldies and “Across the Universe” started playing. Ruby’s voice is so pure and strong that when we blend harmonies, it always sounds special and unique.  

We decided that it would be a nice take on a classic to do our own rendition, and I think the setting of my deck made the ambience all that more magical. She and I will definitely be doing more writing and recording together in the future. She is featured as the background singer on my song “Tru Luv” and sometimes I help arrange or cowrite on her songs. We hope to be onstage together soon!

Your IMDB and social media bios don’t list your birth year. Is there a reason behind that?

Haha! No reason for that actually. Maybe it’s just an industry thing…I think my agents might have taken it down online. I was born on Valentines Day, 1996.

You’ve shone onstage, on the screen and in the recording studio. What’s next to conquer?

I want to continue to grow my catalog in the recording industry and make songs that will make a difference to society and uplift people. A large goal of mine is to get significant progress made with my entertainment company ‘Outward Original’. This company was formed to establish artistic media that can create understanding and harmony. And, I want to collaborate with other artists to make art across all mediums. 

Many artists have reported a surge of creativity during the pandemic. Has this happened to you as well? What did COVID-19 deliver to your legacy?

This year has been very tough on everyone. Covid-19 was responsible for the closing of one of my favorite productions I have been a part of…’Rock of Ages Hollywood’…just after we had opened. It also took the life of my great friend, Nick Cordero, whom I shared the stage with in ‘Rock of Ages’.  

I went though a couple months of reflection and a form of depression where it didn’t feel authentic to be creating or trying to push my voice out into the world. However, now I am feeling invigorated and have been blessed with an influx of new opportunities, so I’m ready to get back out there and create!

Your website is “Ian Ward Out Ward Dot Com”. What is the message or meaning of that?

Ward is actually my middle name. My last name is Brininstool, of German descent. ‘Outward Original’ is the name of my entertainment company. And, being a spiritual person, I believe in the process of taking inspiration and then letting that flow freely outward into the world. So this play on words seemed both fitting and appropriate for my company and my beliefs.

Is there one well-known role that you’d love to take on? Who’s your dream onstage partner?

A dream role of mine would be to play Roger in RENT! Or be a part of a brand new, revolutionary musical where I get to build a role from the ground up. I had an experience like this when I was the first “Ren” in ‘Footloose’ for Norwegian Cruise Lines, because I got to make a lot of creative and artistic choices that became a part of the track for other actors to come! I am excited to see which great performers I get to share the stage with in the future!

The Vegas Room has quickly become the go-to venue/hangout for BAZ alumni (Randal Keith, Lisa Marie Smith, Anne Martinez, Eric Jordan Young) as well as other highly seasoned performers. Your inclusion in their entertainment line-up is testimony to your talent. What can guests expect from your showcase?

I feel so honored to have been asked to perform at The Vegas Room! My peers that worked on BAZ with me are so talented and are such gems in this city. I look forward to joining them in the roster at this great venue! The audience can expect a night of an eclectic smattering of classic songs, some originals I have been writing recently, and stories from my career that I hope will excite and interest people. I can’t wait to connect and entertain to bring some light to their night!


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Ian Ward takes to the stage of The Vegas Room on August 7th and 8th at 8pm. Options include a 6:30pm dinner/show or 7:30pm light bites/show. Click here or call  (725) 206-7059 for more information and reservations. The Vegas Room is located at 953 E Sahara Avenue Suite E18 (Bright RED Doors), Las Vegas, NV 89104 

 

THE VEGAS ROOM – Sin City’s Best Kept Secret Is A Secret No Longer


Intimate supper club is a meticulously crafted experience from arrival through the final applause…

“I miss the days of old Vegas.” How often do you hear those words? Colored by a fondness for “when the Mob was in charge”, people lament about the golden era of Sin City. It was a time when you were escorted to your “usual table”, the bartender had that favorite cocktail waiting, and an evening out was a splendidly curated event.

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If you’re among those who yearn for the return of vintage-Vegas glamour, your prayers have been answered. Step through the red doors of The Vegas Room and enter a world where dinner and music are served on a plate of elegance. Here you’ll enjoy the most gifted entertainers of Sin City, showcasing their talents in an intimate presentation that you won’t see anywhere else.

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The Vegas Room is a passion project of sorts…a crowning achievement representing the careers of three gifted gentlemen. President Thomas Richard Michel orchestrates the business side, pulling from years in the entertainment and marketing industries. It falls upon him to ensure that every visit is uniquely memorable:

“There are so many talented performers in Las Vegas who don’t always have a place to share their talents. And, even if they do under normal circumstances, they often aren’t able to perform the type of material that they might really want to showcase. This was a key reason that The Vegas Room came to be.”

“Our mission is to envelop our guests in an environment that doesn’t really exist in Las Vegas anymore. It is a place where people can experience incredible local talent coupled with delicious handcrafted food, all in a warm and intimate setting.”

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“The entertainment we showcase changes each and every weekend, and the handcrafted menu – whether for our five-course dinner, our light bites “Sampler” package, or our Sunday Jazz brunch – changes every two weeks” Michel explained. “For this reason, many local people are already returning frequently, as they appreciate our reasonable prices and the fact that there’s always something new and wonderful to experience.”

“Tourists also tell us that they’ll make The Vegas Room a definite “must-do” on their calendars when they’re back in Las Vegas. Whether locals or tourists, there’s no doubt that that type of reaction is extremely gratifying for everyone involved in The Vegas Room, whether a performer or staff member.”

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Although the tourism industry is currently in flux thanks to the pandemic, The Vegas Room‘s location gives it the ability to prosper, even in these uncertain times. Tucked away inside a rather humble and aging East Sahara shopping center, the small venue provides an immediate feeling of welcome familiarity. That’s especially important to locals, whose repeat business makes up the majority of their clientele.

The supper club experience might be new to contemporary generations, but it’s made a remarkable return, thanks in part to high-profile spaces like Rose.Rabbit.Lie (Cosmopolitan) and Bellagio‘s new Mayfair Supper Club. True fans of the supper-club concept know that a skilled chef is as much an integral component as the entertainers who command the microphone and keyboards.

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Executive Chef David James Robinson is the owner of The Vegas Room. He’s known to thousands of fans and followers thanks to television shows, a strong online presence, and his 10-part cooking tutorial “Learn How To Cook (and eat your mistakes)”. It’s clear when he’s visiting tables that Chef David is having as much fun as his guests:

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“We care enormously about the food and service we provide. Our guests at The Vegas Room will see that for themselves when they experience the reality – both in look and taste – that everything we make is handcrafted and made from scratch” (click here to view the latest brunch and dinner menus).

“For example, all of our salad dressings, soups, and stocks are uniquely ours and made fresh. Additionally, all breads, muffins, and biscuits were baked fresh that day, and every component of every dish was sourced and prepared with great care…and it always will be.”

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“Our goal when it comes to the food we serve at The Vegas Room – whether for dinner or brunch – is to make it an equally memorable complement to our world-class entertainment, combining the two to make a truly wonderful evening or afternoon out.”

The entertainment community seems to have adopted The Vegas Room as their new combination hangout/haven. Often unable to perform in their usual venues thanks to the pandemic, they come here to share their craft and support one another. During each of my visits, entertainers from large-scale Strip productions were enjoying the food and cheering on their colleagues.

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As you might imagine, management has taken great care to ensure guest safety. Face masks are required until seated, guests have their temperature scanned (a two-second touchless process), and everyone is required to sanitize their hands upon arrival. The serving and bar staff wear protective facial coverings, and implements are santized and sealed. Tables are arranged to meet social-distancing protocols, aptly serviced by the always-wonderful Sandy Love. A full description of The Vegas Room‘s COVID-19 safety plan is available on their website.

                   Vocalist Randal Keith with Philip Fortenberry at the piano…

Onstage, stars like Anne Martinez (FANTASY, BAZ) Randal Keith (Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular, Showstoppers), and Eric Jordan Young (Vegas! The Show, Cocktail Cabaret, Rock Of Ages) present spectacular interpretations of classics old and new. As you might imagine from a line-up of that pedigree, Broadway showtunes frequently fill the air.

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There’s an enormous amount of respect between artists and the venue’s Director of Entertainment Brent Barrett, himself a seasoned performer (The Broadway Tenors, Chicago The Musical):

“From an entertainment perspective, The Vegas Room is meant to be a prestige room. That means that – as the Review-Journal stated recently – you have to be great to play this room. And, speaking of the room itself, instead of being a big theatrical space, it’s a very comfortable jewel box of a setting, currently seating less than 50 guests.”

“With our wonderful sound system and amazing acoustics, you really feel as though you’re listening to great standards, jazz, rhythm and blues, and Broadway showtunes in the comfort of your own living room. It’s THAT intimate. I think that is what has attracted so many of Las Vegas’s best performers to want to play the room.”

                                   Anne Martinez accompanied by pianist Dan Ellis…

“Because of that, we are able to present a robust array of truly incredible singers and musicians to our guests. And, many of the folks who attend The Vegas Room now return week after week to experience artists they know in addition to ones that they don’t…but should,” stated Barrett.

               Patrick Hogan performs at Sunday Jazz Brunch throughout July….

One such artist is Patrick Hogan, who dazzled audiences during July 4th weekend’s Sunday Jazz Brunch. The 24-year-old singer/songwriter is principal pianist at Mayfair Supper Club. Hogan performed two astonishing sets of his own compositions, along with many beloved standards.

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Look for Patrick Hogan and fellow jazz great Amanda King Sundays throughout July. Upcoming evening performances include Travis Cloer (Jersey Boys) with pianist Chris Lash (BAZ), Toscha Comeaux (Cirque du Soleil) and The Vegas Room‘s own Brent Barrett.

The Vegas Room is located at 953 East Sahara Avenue E-18. Sunday Jazz Brunch is held weekly at 1pm. The “Supper Club Experience” takes place every Friday and Saturday beginning at 6:30pm. There’s also a “light bites” sampler option which seats at 7:30pm. Showtime is 8pm.

Click here for full details and to make reservations or phone (725) 206-7059

Photos: Sam Novak, Sparky Lisa, Lisa Marie, The Vegas Room, Brent Barrett, Amanda King, Toscha Comeaux, Travis Cloer, Christopher Lash

Vegas 2018 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst in Smaller Shows


Which one ones to rush to…and a few to steer clear of…

Earlier this week I put the spotlight on a few of the more spectacular resident productions on the Strip (read here). But for every grand-scale shows there are a dozen or more economical choices vying for your entertainment dollar. These little guys must survive without massive advertising budgets or big-name stars. The casts have to work that much harder to please their audience, often making for a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

Let’s take a look at a few of these lesser-known and more intimate shows…and sort out the gems from the lumps of coal.

MOST OUTRAGEOUS – Miss Behave Gameshow

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Sometimes you just need to do something a little crazy. And that madness is even more intoxicating when there are dozens of like-minded guys and girls taking the same trip down the rabbit hole with you.

Miss Behave Gameshow is offbeat, raunchy, free-wheeling fun from creator Amy Saunders. Accompanied by a curious fellow named Tiffany, Saunders (as Miss Behave) guides you through a game whose primary rule is “There Are No Rules”. It’s part improv, part avante-garde performance and a heaping helping of audience participation.

Miss Behave Gameshow earns every laugh in the best way possible…by being genuinely entertaining. And there’s a heartwarming philosophy at its core that will send you out into the casino with a smile on your face. For something you can’t do at home, put this one on your next Vegas “must-list”. Full review here.

Runner Up – Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man

MOST IN NEED OF A FACELIFT – Carrot Top at Luxor

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Let’s be clear right away…I’m referring to Carrot Top’s act, not his actual face. And while I adore the orange-haired comic both personally and professionally, his act has become quite stale. It’s still hysterical for those who haven’t seen it in the past, but he’s been performing the exact same jokes and gags for over a decade now.

When I first started visiting Vegas in 2006, Carrot Top at Luxor‘s Atrium Theater was a must. As the years wore on, so did the jokes. Even his props look old and dirty now. The Hooters application. Rosie O’Donnell’s buffet tray. A-Rod’s steroid-filled bat…all past their prime. We love ya dude, but give us something new. And once again, I’m not talking about your face.

BEST DOWNTOWN SHOW – Mike Hammer Comedy Magic

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Mike Hammer shares his name with a fictional detective character, but you don’t need to be a sleuth to figure out why he’s such a success. The Chicago-born multi-hyphenate is good-looking, suave, a little bit raunchy and a whole lotta funny.

You might be thinking “Great, another cheesy magic act” but Mike Hammer Comedy Magic is a lot more Don Rickles than David Copperfield. Sure, his illusions are sharp and frequently earn gasps from the audience, but it’s his jokes that you’ll remember long after you leave.

There’s a lot going on when you watch Mike Hammer. The guy is clearly at the top of his game, mixing topicality with wit, sarcasm, unforgettable facial expressions and wonderful sleight of hand. It doesn’t hurt that he’s ridiculously handsome, stylish and more fit than guys half his age, too.

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                                            Little guy. Big entertainment…

Dollar for dollar, you won’t find a better entertainment value Downtown…or anywhere else in Las Vegas. If you’re heading down to Fremont Street, be sure to start your adventure at the showroom of Four Queens. And be sure to stick around after the performance to chat (or flex) with Mike. Sometimes that’s the best part of the night.

Honorable mention – Spirit of the King (also at Four Queens)

BEST VINTAGE VEGAS VIBE – Cocktail Cabaret at Caesars Palace

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For awhile it seemed like this little treasure was gone for good, then it returned a few months ago to Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars. Nobody seems to know exactly how or why, but what matters is that Cocktail Cabaret is back.

The concept here is simple…a traditional early-evening lounge act overflowing with superb local celebs doing their finest standards and witty repartee. Backed by the wonderful Philip Fortenberry band, this foursome strolls throughout the audience, encouraging you to imbibe as they dance, sing and tell jokes.

Of the three times I’ve attended Cocktail Cabaret, lovelies Maren Wade (The Morning Blend), Niki Scalera and Eric Jordan Young (Vegas! The Show) have been constants. Guest performers include Ron Remke (BAZ), Travis Cloer (Jersey Boys), Daniel Emmet (America’s Got Talent), Shai Yammanee (Jubilee) and James D. Gish.

Whatever the line-up, the talent will be top notch and you’re certain to be entertained. Cocktail Cabaret is the type of show that put Las Vegas entertainment on the map. It’s vintage Vegas at its finest. Don’t miss it.

BIGGEST SNOOZE – Mat Franco: Magic Reinvented Nightly

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Vegas has become a bit of a sanctuary for America’s Got Talent contestants. Some hit it big (Terry Fator), others fade away quickly (Paul Zerdin). In the case of Mat Franco, there was a lot at stake.

If the gossip is to be believed, NBC put a chunk of their own bucks into renovating the Linq Hotel showroom for their latest AGT winner. The desire to solidify their brand in Vegas caused a riff between the hotel and Frank Marino’s DIVAS, which was being pushed to the side in favor of Franco. Few know it, but the long-running DIVAS was already in the crosshairs before a financial scandal slammed the door on the drag queen’s closet.

As for Magic Reinvented Nightly, nothing could be further from the truth. Good luck trying to spot something that you haven’t seen before. The production relies heavily on the star’s charisma to make it exciting. Sadly, Mat Franco is about as dull as a dead rabbit. His boyish grin is the only thing the magician has to offer, so you’re left with…..well, not much else.

Tickets to Magic Reinvented Nightly should come with a complimentary dose of No Doz.

FAVORITE TOPLESS REVUE – Chippendales/SEXXY (tie)

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In this era of equality, why should beefcake and T&A be separated into their own categories? Not at Vegas Unfiltered, where I’ll crow about the assets of Rio’s Chippendales and Westgate’s SEXXY in equal measure. Both are held in small-ish cabaret venues, feature a nice blend of traditional and cutting-edge sequences…and have a broad range of ages and ethnicities. In other words, there’s something here to curl everyone’s toes.

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Despite their naughty nature, Chippendales and SEXXY casts are quite akin to angels. Tirelessly working to raise funds and awareness for charitable causes, the topless performers of Chipps and SEXXY are as admirable as they are breathtaking. Read about Chippendales’ charity work by clicking here.

Runner Up – Zombie Burlesque

MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER – Opium at Cosmopolitan

OPIUM Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

I hesitated to include OPIUM in the small-production category, as it really could go either way. It may have the backing of Spiegelword entertainment group….and a huge financial push courtesy of a big marketing campaign. But at its heart, OPIUM is very much a quirky little independent production.

Using a re-purposed showroom and sets from their previous flop Vegas Nocturne, the folks at Spiegelworld have fashioned a balls-to-the-wall variety show that wears its cheapness on its sleeves. Not to say that the costumes themselves aren’t fantastic, but any production whose central prop is an old Mattel Simon game…well, I’m sure you catch my drift.

Drenched in the type of naughty nastiness that you might expect to find at an underground avante garde show, Opium will do anything to make you gasp and bellow with laughter. A live band and vocalists, up-close acrobatics, a horny android and the cutest dog act you’ll ever see make Opium a great addition to the Strip. Read my full review here.

SADDEST CAREER PATH – Gordie Brown (Hooters)

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Pity poor Gordie Brown, a textbook example of a career in free-fall. The one-time Venetian headliner has been on a downward slide for over a decade. After leaving the Strip, this singer/impersonator settled in nicely at his own Golden Nugget showroom. As tickets sales continued to dwindle, Brown was shown the door. That led to a series of continually-smaller showrooms at Planet Hollywood and now the little-known Night Owl Showroom at Hooters.

It doesn’t help that Gordie’s material is as weathered and shop-worn as his voice. He tries his best, working up a messy sweat while attempting to get the most out of tired George Burns, Nicholson and DeNiro bits…all between gasps of air. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you have to identify the characters to your audience….but since they all sound the same, does it even matter?

It’s worth noting that Mr. Brown is quite a beloved member of the local community. He’s a fixture at just about every fundraiser you can mention. He’s well-respected by his colleagues and fellow performers.

But as for his career, the once-promising star on the rise is now just bargain-basement filler. Even at $24.99 via Groupon, you’ll still feel cheated. Give Gordie Brown a hard pass.

BEST LOCALS SHOW – Mondays Dark at The Space

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Mondays Dark gets its name from the fact that most ongoing shows are “dark” on Monday, the slowest day of the week in Sin City. That frees up performers to do their own thing…and many of them still long to be onstage.

With that in mind, creator Mark Shunock (Rock of Ages and the miserable Magic Mike Live) gathers his show-biz friends a couple of times a month to “put on a show”. Then they donate all the proceeds to charity. Each event is absolutely unique from the others…and so are the casts. Each December, stars and the year’s charity reps gather at The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel to celebrate their success and announce the next year’s charities.

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A humble concept has grown into one of the biggest little secrets in Las Vegas. I’ll be publishing a full article on Mondays Dark in an upcoming piece for BestOfVegas.com. But if you’re interested in learning more right now, follow this link.

Stay tuned for my next entry in 2018’s “Best of/Worst of”. Thanks for being a reader in 2018 and I hope to see you around town.