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.

“Racy Magazine” Protest Exposes Sin City Parents as Hypcocrites


Outraged residents object to publication’s presence near libraries…

You know, there are certain subjects that push my buttons…REALLY HARD. Judgmental parents with conveniently-fluctuating standards of morality is certainly one of those matters. Something of that nature was brought to my attention recently. I want to tell you about it. And why I feel the way I do.

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My frustrations regarding this complaint are actually two-fold. On the surface, my skin crackles at the behavior of parents who feel that having children somehow grants them the position of Moral Compass Overseer. And deep down, my stomach knots up at the notion that anyone would find sexy material unacceptable in a place known as Sin City.

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Last evening I attended a performance of Zombie Burlesque with a friend who recently moved here. During a striptease number, he leaned over and commented at how odd it was that ladies were required to wear pasties during the show. He clearly was under the impression that “anything goes” in Las Vegas. But that is far from the truth, which he’ll continue to learn as he settles into the community.

In 2018’s corporation-run Las Vegas, you never know when the next “adult” behavior will be frowned upon, restricted…or eliminated altogether. For instance, a 2014 law was passed to prohibit drinking booze from open cans and bottles on the Fremont Street pedestrian mall.

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The move was made to supposedly protect everyone from injuries related to fights and such. But would this really have come to pass if so many parents hadn’t decided in recent years to bring their little ones to “Glitter Gulch”? You can still get drunk and dance in front of the stages, but now you’ve got to watch out for those four-year-olds who are right there by your knees at one in the morning. Because, you know, every tourist destination has to cater to children.

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You may recall how incensed I was recently when Palms Casino deemed it unacceptable for a group of athletic male show performers to gather at their poolside cafe for lunch…because they’d be shirtless most of the time (for photos and such). What a ridiculous stance, especially in a town that promises sin, smut, excess and discretion for all types of adult activities. #LasVegasHypocrisy, if you will.

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Don’t promise debauchery then pull your panties high and tight, Las Vegas. That statement is targeted at specific residents of the city…those who choose to raise their children here. There are fifty states in our Union and thousands of cities and small towns across the nation.

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But YOU chose to raise your little ones here. You know, the place where mobile billboards offer women directly to your room. So why are you suddenly so prim, proper, conservative and offended when an adult-skewing magazine is found on the racks in public places?

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“I’m shocked. It shouldn’t be here. There’s a school right across the street”. So says Phillip Castillo, a resident speaking on-camera to KTNV, the local ABC affiliate that’s stoking the fires on this non-controversy. Joining him with her expressions of revulsion was Angelica Torres, whose seven-year-old comes to the library to learn about life on this big blue marble.

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Well, Ms. Torres, your little daughter is in luck. The issue you’re so worked up over hails the talents of Noel Dahl, a highly-respected local photographer. If your child happened to be scouring, unsupervised, through the racks of magazines near the door of the county library and picked up that January issue of Las Vegas Night Beat, she might have learned all about this amazing man and his philanthropic work for the community you live in.

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      Noel Dahl (in tuxedo) is inadvertently at the center of a controversy….

While I researched the TV segment for this article, Mr. Dahl was in the process of donning his tuxedo to host a fundraiser for Golden Rainbow. That’s an organization providing housing, education and direct financial assistance to men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS in Southern Nevada.

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          Photographer Noel Dahl and others serving food to the homeless…

No doubt Mr. Dahl’s heart was a little heavy after having been metaphorically dragged through the mud right before bedtime on his own television set. Nevertheless, the day after the fundraiser, he was back to business as usual. While those parents were probably rinsing out their offspring’s eyes with peroxide and painting picket signs for a protest march at the library, Noel was spending his Valentine’s Day distributing meals to the homeless in one of the city’s parks.

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I myself am no stranger to Noel Dahl’s work. Last year I purchased and proudly displayed a calendar that he annually photographs and distributes to raise funds for AFAN (Aid for AIDS of Nevada). Noel donates 100 percent of the proceeds to this cause.

Throughout my years as a photographer, I have had the privilege of shooting countless men for my own portfolio, but I have always strived to find a way of utilizing my photography skills to give back to the Las Vegas community. I hope to make a change with this project. I hope to bring together local talent, the photographer community, and with the help of a few graciously supportive company sponsorships, I hope to rally support for the HIV/AIDS community and unite the LGBT community in Las Vegas.

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Here’s the kicker – it features sexy men in provocative poses. And that’s what these up-in-arms parents aren’t taking the time to absorb or acknowledge…that sex appeal can be channeled for great purposes. While Ms. Torres was on camera exclaiming “I see a lot of nudes. And flesh…skin…crack!”, she was simultaneously suggesting that the human body is something to be reviled…and completely misses the point.

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      A Vegas parent readies “Bobby” for an afternoon at the local playground…

I can’t help wondering if Mr. Castillo, the outraged father, ever visits Erotic Heritage Museum where the Golden Rainbow fundraiser was held this week. Does he drive around town with his daughter in the car? What exactly do Vegas parents do with all of this provocative material facing them from every direction? They’re even on billboards that line the roads and highways.

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Or should I scratch even deeper to ponder whether these frazzled mothers and fathers…and KTNV-TV by extension…are really just upset that these magazines are geared towards the LGBTQ community? If so, that’s just another form of judgmental, bigoted behavior being justified under the guise of “protecting our little ones”, i.e. suggesting that homosexuality is synonymous with pedophilia.

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I’m not sure what makes people think that, because they’ve procreated, they’re immediately granted a higher position in society. It takes no special gifts or skills to make babies. If it did, there wouldn’t be over seven billion of us on this planet. Creating offspring doesn’t make you smarter, more educated or a more worthy person. In fact, it shouldn’t entitle you to anything that parent-free people don’t have.

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It can get unnecessarily ugly when folks protest the freedoms of others within their own community, especially when they do so in public forums like television. We’re living in dangerous times, my friends, and you never know when something you say or do will be misconstrued or used against you down the road.

Thank goodness that the people at Las Vegas-Clark County Library District maintained their heads. A spokesperson addressed the complaint in a fair, professional statement that should hopefully bring this non-issue to a close:

The Library District collects, gathers, and makes available a wide variety of information and we understand that some people may occasionally find these materials offensive or inappropriate. The public library is a First Amendment public institution.

Yes, the Library District is aware of various magazines that are displayed in our lobbies. Our Display Policy, adopted by the Library Board in 1999, allows for free community-based publications that contain news and feature articles relevant to either segments of a district-wide population or to smaller geographic areas within the Library District to be circulated.

The presence of these materials in the Library District is not a form of endorsement. We encourage individuals to form their own opinion about what they choose the read or view.

In this case, the simple act of recognizing the talents and contributions of a gifted photographer has put an entire subculture under the microscope. I have no idea if Noel Dahl and his models are homosexuals…and it’s none of my business. But before citizens of this community…and the media outlets who cover it…decide to vilify other members of society, it might be worth their time to do some research. And a whole lot of self-examination.

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One final thought…if you’re so worried about what your child might pick up around the public areas of Sin City….then keep a better eye on them. It’s YOUR job…nobody else’s.

Photos: Sammasseur, Noel Dahl Studio, Oscareando Vegas, KTNV.com