Las Vegas and the Australia Connection


There’s a unique bond between Sin City and the Land Down Under…

Thanks to casino developer Sam Boyd and his trio of downtown properties, the people of Hawaii have forged a strong relationship with Las Vegas. The FremontMain Street and most especially California hotels are dependent on regular tourism from the Island State, and they cater to the culture in a variety of ways.

Restaurants serve Hawaiian favorites, staff wear island-style shirts, and Hawaiian retailers like ABC Stores and Lappert’s Ice Cream have locations Downtown. Signs throughout Boyd casinos even proclaim “Aloha Is Spoken Here”.

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        Olivia Newton-John at the opening party for her residency at the Flamingo…

On the other side of the equator, the continent of Australia has also formed a bond with Sin City. While not nearly as defined, there’s an undeniable connection between the folks from Down Under and the City of Entertainment. Let’s take a look at a few examples, and perhaps uncover why such distant locations are joined by an invisible highway of travelers…and why so many people relocate from one place to the other.

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   Perth’s Andrew Gill welcomes guests to the Mike Hammer Comedy Show at 4 Queens…

For Andrew Gill, it was the lure of magic that drew him to Vegas. Then 19 years old, this native of Perth flew across the Pacific to attend the World Magic Teen Mentoring Seminar by legendary Lance Burton. Things turned out so well that Gill remained and worked his way up to becoming production manager for Mike Hammer Comedy Magic.

Andrew stayed with Hammer’s team a few years until his work visa expired. Before returning, the ambitious young Aussie had developed relationships with fellow magicians Murray SawchuckDavid Copperfield and of course, Burton. Now a successful realtor (with his own magic act to keep things fun), Andrew returns annually for the MAGIC Live Convention at Orleans Hotel.

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     Human Nature gives Mike Tyson some love at the opening night of JUKEBOX…

Since this city thrives on sex appeal, it’s only natural that the legendary handsome men of Australia would come here to seek fame, fortune…and steaming hot billboards. Outback rancher Aaron Michael Lucey relocated here to become a successful choreographer and performer.

In addition to various other musical productions, Aaron was dance captain for Thunder From Down Under, the long-running Aussie-themed male revue at Excalibur. That was followed by Chippendales spin-off 53X and more recently Masters of Illusion.

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         Aaron Micheal Lucey traded a saddle for the excitement of the Strip…

Three years ago, the upstart Aussie Heat opened downtown, quickly expanding both the show and their audience in the larger V Theater at Planet HollywoodAussie Heat achieved the number one spot for Vegas productions on Yelp. Ninety-three percent of audience ratings are at five stars, so the risky plan for bringing a brand-new, er…brand to Las Vegas seems to have paid off.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations                                       Tommy (far left) with the cast of Aussie Heat…

You may remember the guest article penned by former Aussie Heat dancer Tommy Harvey aka “Tommy Gun” (pictured above, first row far right). Tommy detailed what it was like to move here from Australia. Despite undergoing a bit of culture shock, it wasn’t long before the striptease artist/athlete was feeling right at home.

Former Aussie Heat CEO Jono Weinstock explained the appeal of Vegas stages to Australian entertainers:

“As a performer, this is the pinnacle of achievement…being able to perform so many nights and shows a week. Back home, maybe once a week if lucky. It’s the pinnacle of entertainment, too — a big bold fun adult playground. Parties, gaming, pools, DJ’s, shows…”.

Weinstock was also quick to point out a few of the many positives that Sin City offers for Australian tourism:

“It’s a 15 hour flight from L.A., so we only get big-name performers once every 20 years in their careers! (There’s) cheap shopping also. We pay three times as much for everything down there. The outlets are a winner..and the Aussie dollar at times has been very favourable…now not so much, but shopping is of huge value.”.

Chippendales joined the Aussie-hunk popularity wave by recruiting dancer Ryan Stuart, who was widely promoted as their first member from Down Under. Stuart’s looks, talent, and super-sexy accent aided in him becoming a regular host for the show. After an onstage injury, Stuart returned to Australia but takes back with him a lifetime of experiences.

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              Hit-maker Kylie Minogue cuddles with fellow Aussie Ryan Stuart…

Ironically, Ryan’s fellow Chippendale host Russel Francis chose the opposite path, leaving the stages of Vegas for those of Australia. The handsome singer/dancer from Jacksonville Florida, who had starred in Planet Hollywood‘s PIANO MAN and VEGAS! THE SHOW was riding a career high when he decided to make a big change.

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Former Vegas performers Russel Francis (center) and Ali Francis (far right) bring a little taste of Vegas to the Australian Olympic team in Queensland…

Francis won the affection of a Vegas! The Show audience…and his co-star/future bride Ali…when he proposed to her onstage at the end of a performance. After the honeymoon and lots of traveling, Russel decided to head to Australia for a chance to audition for Ricky Martin on their version of The Voice. A year after going through the audition process, he made it to the finals and worked with legendary singer Seal.

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                       Russel and myself after one of his Vegas performances

Russel sees a definite connection between Las Vegas and Australia:

“I’ve traveled for about five years straight, been to six continents and hundreds of countries. Australia is by far the closest country to the U.S. They actually call Brisbane ‘Bris-Vegas’.

I asked Russel if Australia’s similarity to the United States eased his transition…and if he was welcomed by native residents:

“They have welcomed me with open arms. Everyone has been so friendly and helpful. I’ve been booked on all kind of gigs because everyone loves that I’m here. If I get on the show (X Factor) and do well then we might be here for awhile”.

The people of Las Vegas clearly have open arms for Aussies as well. Take note when you attend a show here and the performers ask audience members “Where are you from?”. Chances are, there will be a large and rowdy group of Aussies, all having a great time together.

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              The Australian Bee Gees celebrate all things disco at Excalibur…

And why not? It’s great to feel welcome when you’re so far away from home. And Aussie visitors are bombarded by advertising for Australian Bee GeesHuman Nature, and previously for Olivia Newton-John. But if they ever feel lonely, there’s a community group dedicated to Australians who have relocated here.

Currently, no casino has followed the California‘s lead and dedicated their marketing directly to Australians (Excalibur comes close with the Thunder/Australian Bee Gees line-up). And this writer has yet to find a restaurant that specializes in lamington and pavlova.

But as the bond between these two cultures continues to grow and strengthen, don’t be surprised if someday the MGM Grand restores their Oz theme with a new twist….and the Rainforest Cafe re-opens as the “Koala Diner”.

Photos: Sammasseur, Russel Francis/Ryan Stuart/Tommy Harvey/Aaron Michael Lucey via Facebook, LIGHT Nightclub/Australian Bee Gees via Facebook

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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.

Clint Holmes Earl Turner Soundtrack

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strip In The Dark Tonight For Earth Hour


Earth Hour Las Vegas is here again so get out your cameras….and a flashlight….

Things are about to go dark on the Strip. But don’t worry, the power “outage” isn’t a mishap…it’s part of a planet-wide awareness movement. Known as Earth Hour, the annual event will be making its ninth Vegas appearance…er, disappearance this Saturday, March 24th from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm. And it’s really a sight not to see.

Here’s a clip from KTNV’s coverage two years ago:

Earth Hour is more than just a publicity stunt or meaningless tradition. It’s part of a global initiative to bring awareness to the threats of climate change and related environmental concerns. More than 160 nations participate in Earth Hour, which was started by the World Wildlife Fund back in 2007.

To be a part of Earth Hour, individuals, organizations, landmarks and businesses are encouraged to turn off all non-essential lighting for 60 minutes. During that time and (and throughout the evening), events are held to support and publicize global green initiatives.

Earth Hour Las Vegas 2018

Here’s what the Venetian/Palazzo has in store for tonight:

The Venetian®, The Palazzo®, and Sands® Expo will be celebrating Earth Hour 2018 by turning off non-essential lights at 8:30 p.m. In addition, guests of the resort will also be invited to turn off non-essential lighting in their guest suites and share in the Earth Hour experience.
This effort is a part of the worldwide annual environmental campaign that asks organizations and individuals to turn off lights for one hour. To bring further awareness to this initiative, the resorts will turn exterior marquee signs green outside of Earth Hour.
The Venetian, The Palazzo, and Sands Expo are fully engaged in the Sands ECO360° Global Sustainability strategy designed to help minimize the environmental impact of the company. Las Vegas Sands’ vision is to lead the way in sustainable building development and resort operations; striving to leave a responsible, cleaner, and safer world for future generations.

Earth Hour Las Vegas 2018

According to the World Wildlife Fund‘s official site:

“WWF’s Earth Hour shows us how each of us can be heroes for our planet, our home. Our actions today can change our tomorrow – together, let’s #ChangeClimateChange”.

Since its Las Vegas beginnings, I’ve heard many cynics saying that an hour’s worth of electricity is just a drop in the ocean, so to speak. But that’s not really the point of Earth Hour. Awareness is everything, and even a city of excess can take big steps to reduce their impact on the environment throughout the year.

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      World Wildlife Fund’s “Pandy” visits the famous Welcome To Vegas sign…

For instance, Caesars Corporation cites environmental stewardship as one of the four pillars of their Code of Commitment. CET initiated “Code Green” in 2008 with a promise to preserve the planet for current and future generations. You can read about their effort by visiting here.

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                      Human Nature back in the Imperial Palace days….

MGM Resorts has their own environmental sustainability program. Its highest-profile effort so far has been the construction of the world’s largest rooftop solar array atop the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

Venetian/Palazzo boasts several awards for their Sands ECO360 Global Sustainability Program, which minimizes global impact in their building and operations programs. Parent company Las Vegas Sands Corp. is rated highest in the world for hospitality companies by Newsweek’s 2016 Green Ranking.

 

It’s really an understatement to say that building a city in the middle of the desert was impractical and excessive. But of course, Vegas has always boasted about its over-the-top qualities. However, as cultural shifts (and a rapidly-dwindling Lake Mead) remind us, the viability of life in Vegas valley would reach a tipping point without methods to address what we consume there.

Earth Hour Las Vegas 2018

Earth Hour Las Vegas 2018

      Thunder From Down Under strips off their Earth Hour shirts to celebrate…

To that end, we’ve seen big changes in the way that mega-resorts…and even the smaller hotels…are handling the mass consumption of resources. It’s now somewhat common for resorts to offer dining or other incentives when opting out of daily housekeeping. Water-saving shower heads, high-efficiency toilets, and energy-efficient bulbs have been installed throughout the city.

In many hotels, “smart” thermostats and motion sensors curtail unnecessary lighting and cooling. The majority of guest and convention trash is sorted and recycled in massive efforts that guests will never see. Reclaimed and green-wise building materials are now the norm. Even a large portion of the ill-fated Harmon Hotel‘s materials were collected for re-purposing.

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     And let’s not forget about those massive, enormous solar arrays outside of the city…

So when the lights go dark on the Strip tonight, enjoy the coolness factor and take lots of memorable photos. But please remember the message that Earth Hour brings…and how we can all make a difference.

You can learn more by visiting EarthHour.org via this link.

Photos: Sammasseur, Venetian, EarthHour.org, Earth Hour Las Vegas