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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Chippendales Celebrates 40 Years of Sizzling Fun


Click here to read the BestOfVegas version of this article…

Some gentlemen are so eager to please that they’re willing to give you the shirts from their backs. At Chippendales, that’s just a normal day at the office. The hard-bodies dance troupe has been entertaining audiences for over four decades and continues to be the gold standard for Las Vegas male revues.

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What started out as an idea in a small Los Angeles nightclub has grown into a cultural phenomenon. The Chippendales brand has reached all corners of the globe with tours, merchandise, intimate accessories and a line of clothing. Of course, the annual Chippendales calendar and their signature cuffs, collar, and bowtie are as famous as the show itself.

Today’s Chippendales is far removed from the greasy bump-and-grind appearances on 80’s daytime TV that made them famous. Gone are the campy dance moves, glitter, tassels, and neon spandex. In their place is a fully-choreographed presentation with trained dancers, live singing, and large-scale production values.

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Chippendales launched the Las Vegas male revue craze way back in February, 2002. Since then, others like Magic Mike Live and Thunder From Down Under have come along to challenge the crown, but Chippendales still reigns supreme as both “Best Male Revue” and “Best Bachelorette Party”.

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The show performs every night (twice on weekends) in a custom-designed theater at Rio Hotel Casino. It’s been seen by thousands from around the world, with diehard followers returning time after time. Some fans even plan their trips to Vegas with Chippendales as the main event.

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A night out at Chippendales is a truly immersive experience. Stop at the Chippendales Boutique for a calendar, then make your way to FLIRT LOUNGE for one of their signature cocktails like Blood Orange Margarita or Chippendales Rum Punch. After the performance, join the men on stage for a group photo, grab a drink with the cast, get your memorabilia autographed…and maybe exchange social media information (It is called “Flirt Lounge”, after all). By the way, your ticket stub entitles you to free admission at Voodoo Rooftop Nightclub, where you can dance the rest of the night away with one of the best views of the city.

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The past few years have seen a number of upgrades to the Vegas residency. High-tech video backdrops were added and new songs, hot new guys and set pieces are regularly integrated. Artistic Director John Cook infuses the choreography with heightened energy and a rousing soundtrack of top hits. A longtime Chippendales cast member and Managing Director of Summerlin Dance Academy, Cook has created a spectacular finale that raises the bar for male revues.

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Dance Captain Ryan Kelsey is a Las Vegas native who’s performed in a number of Strip productions like Vegas! The Show and Pin-Up. Under his guidance, the cast astonishes with a variety of hip-hop, contemporary and performance moves. Kelsey’s boundless energy and talent are showcased in searing guitar solos and hosting duties.

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                 Artistic director John Cook (far right) and cast welcome Tony Dovolani…

Chippendales is the place to see some of the hottest stars. Tony Dovolani and Nyle DiMarco (Dancing With The Stars), Jeff Timmons (98 Degrees), Joey Lawrence, Ian Ziering (90210), Tyson Beckford, Antonio Sabato Jr. (Melrose Place) and Vinny Guadagnino (Jersey Shore) have all strapped on the collars and cuffs to guest-host. Previous members of Chippendales have risen to fame in places like The Talk, The Amazing Race and Celebrity TV.

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                Zach Zoufaly and Miguel Rivera are two of the newest members…

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               Zoufaly and Pat Taski (r) are towering mountains of muscle and talent…

This year has seen the addition of stellar, jaw-dropping talent like longtime Le Reve dancer Miguel Rivera. Major-league beefcake Zachary Zoufaly joined the troupe just this month. Zoufaly is a 6 foot 4-inch former bodybuilder, biochemist, and minor-league ballplayer making his stage debut. Bearded behemoth Pat Tanski is a full-time jokester, Trump/Stallone impersonator and dog lover with what may well be the most chiseled body to ever grace the stage.

More than just a sizzling group of hunks, the Men of Chippendales are pillars of the community. They spend much of their free time supporting charitable causes and frequently escort Mayor Carolyn Goodman to major events. They’re also involved in LGBTQ causes and welcome male audience members to the show. The guys may be a little naughty on stage, but you’d still be proud to bring one of them home to meet your mom.

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                 Ryan Stuart (left) became the only Aussie ever to perform and host… 

Other male revues may come and go, but Chippendales will always be on top. So grab your friends and head to the Rio for a 75-minute multi-media experience like no other. It’ll melt your inhibitions…and the ice in your glass.

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The Chippendales perform nightly at 8:30pm with an additional 10:30pm show Friday and Saturday. Audience members must be 18 and over. Tickets start at $38 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered via this link at BestOfVegas. 

Photos: Sam Novak, John Cook via Instagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Sweaty for Christmas with 98 Degrees


Steamy pop group’s holiday tour returns for Vegas fans…

UPDATE: 98 Degrees at Christmas will perform at GREEN VALLEY RANCH on November 17th 2018 at 8pm. Tickets available at all STATION CASINOS or by visiting 98Degrees.com

As popular boy bands of the 90’s segued into nostalgic “pop groups”, most of them have disbanded or faded into obscurity. Not the hotties of 98 Degrees. As part of the primary 90’s 4-pack (along with N’Sync, Backstreet Boys and NKOTB), 98 Degrees built a ravenous and extremely loyal fan base.  Of those groups, only 98D continues to record great new albums and fill arenas. They also manage to stay relevant in an ever-changing musical landscape.

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While New Kids and Backstreet have shown love to Vegas from time to time, it’s 98 Degrees that shares a special bond with Sin City. For that you can thank group founder Jeff Timmons, who calls Las Vegas home.

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A frequent guest at local functions and on Vegas TV talk shows, the ultra-sexy and ridiculously-fit Timmons is also the chesty front man for Men of the Strip. That’s the male revue which took on a vastly-inferior Magic Mike Live and is currently touring the U.S. and Canada.

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98 Degrees Christmas

  Timmons delivered Christmas in July with Men of the Strip at Hard Rock…                

But before I get more drool on my keyboard, let’s return to the matter at hand….Christmas! Yes, the four-part harmonies and soulful voices of 98 Degrees are back for their second collection of holiday treasures.

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Has it really been eighteen years since this album hit the shelves?                   

The first, This Christmas, was a certified-platinum hit at the peak of their popularity. Brimming with seasonal standards and three new songs, the album was released on the Motown label in 1999. Fans have been clamoring for a follow-up ever since…and for them, Santa came early this year.

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Better hair and clothing, same soulful harmonies…                 

Let It Snow debuted on October 20th and the boys gentlemen have been quite busy supporting their new album. They launched another nationwide tour along with TV appearances and a glorious performance during last week’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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Ever trendy, the guys made sure that Let It Snow will be released on the retro-hip vinyl format (yes, actual freaking VINYL!) on December 1st. Click here to order the LP via Amazon.com. It’ll be great addition to my own collection of treasured holiday records gathered through the years. That postman better be on time….I have plans to get mine autographed.

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It’s amazing that 98D‘s four members  – Timmons, Justin Jeffre and brothers Nick and Drew Lachey – managed to find time to record a new collection this summer. With Jeff’s Men of the Strip launch in July (read my review here), Nick’s successful stint on Dancing With the Stars, the brothers’ super-popular Lachey’s Sports Bar in Cincinnati and Jeffre’s political activities….well, the logistics must have been staggering.

This isn’t the first time that 98D found themselves riding a new wave of popularity. In 2013 they released 2.0, their first studio album since 2000. They followed that with The Package Tour, a multi-group effort with Boyz II Men and NKOTB.

Now they’re back for phase three and closing out 2017 with a final stop in Las Vegas. 98 Degrees at Christmas will sleigh-ride into the area on Saturday December 23. Star of the Desert Arena in Primm Nevada will host the final performance of the tour. This awesome venue is a short drive south of Las Vegas and a world away from the madness.

The 6,500-seat arena is located at Buffalo Bill’s Hotel Casino in Primm. If you’re concerned about leaving the city limits for an evening, don’t be. Primm Valley Casino Resorts has three hotels serving the venue with hundreds of newly-renovated rooms. Rates start at $59 plus taxes/fees for the night of the event.

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So why not venture beyond the Strip for a different kind of fun? Turn up the heat and get sweaty on the eve of Christmas Eve with the guys of 98 Degrees. I hope to see you there.

“98 Degrees at Christmas” performs Saturday December 23rd at 8 pm. Tickets start at $20 plus taxes/fees up to a $149 VIP experience with meet/greet. Click here to order.  

Photos: Sammasseur, 98 Degrees via Facebook, Jeff Timmons via Facebook, Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Magic Mike Live Is D.O.A.


Poorly-conceived circus collapses under the weight of its own contradictions…

Imagine a bunch of “bros” arriving in Vegas, intent on having a rowdy time. They prop up their feet at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, booze and money in hand, eager to be titillated. But instead of bare breasts and g-strings, the party boys get some low-rent male comedian babbling about his problems…and the ladies stay clothed.

You can believe there would be booing, flying fists and sailing beer bottles within a few minutes if this happened to guys. And yet, that same bait-and-switch is exactly what you’re served at Magic Mike Live…with the genders reversed. It’s a whole lot of  pro-female “humor” and blah-blah-blah masquerading as a male revue.

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Magic Mike Live

Despite being named after actor Channing Tatum’s pair of male-stripper films, this live show has essentially ZERO to do with them. It starts off promisingly enough, with local favorite Mark Shunock (Rock of Ages) gliding into the audience with a flashy jacket and flashier grin, then quickly plummets down the stairs.

One would assume that Shunock is channeling the first film’s “Dallas” (loosely based on real-life Vegas resident London Steele of Kings of Hustler). That calculating club owner, as portrayed by Matthew McConaughey, would make the perfect campy host for a rowdy night out. Alas, after a few raunchy jokes about desert-dried vaginas and such, Shunock disappears entirely (a cardboard standee of him is brought out during final bows…I’m not kidding).

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Next, a troupe of dancers enters the performance space, clad as your typical fantasy-hero types: cowboy, fireman, police officer, etc. A woman is coaxed onstage from the audience. It turns out that she is a plant…and subsequently the REAL emcee of the show. This abrasively-voiced harpy chides these characters for being misogynistic and cliched. But isn’t that what the movies were about?

What attracted audiences to the films were Channing and his hot Hollywood pals gyrating around in various states of undress, not the plot line. Complaints of “too much story” were even addressed in the sequel, wherein dance numbers and skin quotient were amped up.

Tatum and his production company, Iron Horse Entertainment, decided…after reading message boards…fans were demanding “more dancing and less story”. “Look, at the end of the day, it’s a stripper movie,” he says. Hence the extended dance sequences, with catchy tunes and screaming women in the background. The Straits Times, 7/8/15

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               The cast of Magic Mike Live begs you to buy into their nonsense…

But back to the show….the collection of “Village People rejects” are forced offstage by the actual dancers of MML. You’re told in no uncertain terms that these are the kind of guys that women TRULY fantasize about. Spotlights scan the crowd, searching for “a doctor, a musician, the nice guy with a job, someone who will rub your feet without being asked”…you know, the type of men that sex-crazed women flew all the way to Vegas to drool over.

The hostess then promises multi-cultural offerings in what’s to follow and proves so by lining up four men in deepening shades of brown.  She squawks “I’ve always wanted to have a mixed (bi-racial) baby!” in an irritating cackle. Imagine how offensive this scene would be if viewed in the context of a stage production of ROOTS. It’s as ugly and off-putting as it sounds.

Magic Mike Live

Tatum has promised in interviews that Magic Mike Live would not reflect the movies (but has no issue with using the bankable name). Instead, his goal was for this project to focus on “female empowerment.” According to this show, what women want is just someone to impregnate them and pay their bills. It seems to me that women relying on men to get through life is the antithesis of female empowerment, wouldn’t you say?

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       Nothing says “female empowerment” like fingering yourself onstage…

So if you’re heading to Magic Mike Live to get your guy-porn on, you’ve just learned in no uncertain terms that you are SOL. Fortunately, there are genuine, infinitely superior and far less expensive male revues in Las Vegas for ladies (and gay guys) to spend their entertainment dollars on.

The messages conveyed in MML are so conflicting that they’re delusional. The fun-sucking emcee, portrayed by little-known Chicago comedienne Lyndsay Nicole Hailey (with Vegas local Chelsea Phillips-Reid subbing on Wednesdays), turns what might have been a guilty pleasure into a treatise on man-bashing. Expect divorce rates to soar among ticket-buyers.

At this point, you might be wondering how anything from the Magic Mike films connects to this fiasco. That answer comes in two parts. First, Lyndsay prays to a “mystical unicorn” who rewards her with a bejeweled microphone lowered from the ceiling (a magic mic….seriously?). She uses said mic to lure a handsome waiter onstage to try his hand at a striptease. It turns out that he’s also a plant…an employee supposedly named “Mike”. Oh, brother.

In the film, Mike is a construction worker who persuades a new guy on the crew to moonlight with him at a dance club. In a lame effort to distance the show from the movie, Mike is now the newbie instead.  He claims that he can’t dance, so Lyndsay exposes him to a series of sequences designed to fire up his libido and get those hips gyrating.

Magic Mike Live

What follows is a watered-down variation on Absinthe. Sets, props, and characters descend from the ceiling and rise from the floor. Singers, acrobats, aerialist and musicians appear, awkwardly draping audience members across a grand piano and the lap of a drummer.

Songs take center stage with relatively little in the way of actual strip-tease. The dancers are fully clothed for much of the proceedings. When they aren’t, you might find yourself wishing they were.

Magic Mike Live

It’s a bumpy ride both onstage and off at Magic Mike Live….      

The emcee struts onstage after each sequence, loudly declaring “how hot that was!”. At one point, that swagger becomes a stagger…her blouse and jacket are torn apart and her hair has fallen loose. “I feel like my vagina was just beaten up!” she exclaims. Is this entertainment or a PSA for battered women? Whatever it is, it’s in poor taste…and not funny in the slightest.

Magic Mike Live

Exactly 54 minutes pass before the first guy ditches his pants. Even then, his church-friendly briefs stay in place. How do I know the length of time so precisely? Because I couldn’t stop staring at my watch, eager for this mess to end.

Before the show limps its painful but welcome finale, Lyndsay can’t resist one final reminder of the inadequacies of men. She urges the ladies in the audience to get to their feet and hold one another. “When’s the last time you slow-danced with someone?”, she asks. Thanks, MML, for that feminist group-therapy session. Can we have some fun now?

If you’ve noticed that I haven’t reviewed the dancers, that’s because they play such an inconsequential part of the production as a whole. None of them are particularly memorable. Not even “Mike”, whose transformation into the titular character is actually quite dull.

Magic Mike Live

Magic Mike Live

The saving grace of the production is the venue itself. LOTS of Tatum-infused cash has been laid out to transform Hard Rock‘s Body English nightclub into an absolutely glorious theater. The corridor leading into it is tastefully appointed (aside from dozens of oddly-empty picture frames). A narrow stairway leads you down to the basement theater, a multi-level beauty.

Magic Mike Live

One oddity worth mentioning is the lack of a gift shop. Where are the t-shirts, calendars, posters and memorabilia? These things are standard at most Vegas shows. With more than a year of preparation since MML was announced, surely a line of souvenirs could have been produced and marketed. Very strange…as if Hard Rock had little faith in an extended run.

Update – since the original publishing of this review, an online store has been established. I’m uncertain if products are available at the showroom, as I’ve not been (and have no intention of going) back.

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                                       This audience member’s sign says it all…

Once seated, a massive team of attractive ushers, bartenders and wait staff will make you feel welcome and pampered. A Hard Rock insider told me two months ago that all waiters and bartenders would be shirtless throughout their shifts (sadly, that’s not the case). But even without a show, I’d still stop there just to let them serve me a cocktail…or three.

Magic Mike Live

The true standouts here are indeed the wait staff…a collection of charming, attentive and handsome lads that exude more charisma and sex appeal than anything you’ll see onstage. Imagine, if you will…the first fake-out (Village People vs. Modern Man) gives way to a SECOND fake-out, wherein the studly waiters who’ve been giving you excellent service suddenly set down their trays and take to the stage. Now THAT would have been different…and far superior to anything that MML currently offers.

Magic Mike Live

          Superstar Channing Tatum tossed oodles of money onto a vacuous stage….

As it is now, Magic Mike Live is a misandristic mess…an expensive and overblown bomb that’s about as sexy as Menopause – The Musical. It ranks alongside the first phase of Criss Angel BeLIEve as one of the most poorly-conceived Vegas productions of the past decade.

This is one major show desperately in need of a gutting and overhaul. Tomorrow wouldn’t be soon enough.

MAGIC MIKE LIVE performs Wednesday through Sunday at 8 pm and 10:30 pm. Tickets start at $75 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here

Photos: Sammasseur

Pride, Prejudice and a “Pitchfork”


Choreographer Glenn Douglas Packard redefines coming-out dramas with a genre-bending slasher film…

People who run on creative energy frequently have a passion project tucked away deep inside their mind. It lives there, growing and taking shape until it finally breaks free and becomes reality. For Emmy-nominated dance man Glenn Douglas Packard, that secret desire has been the creation of his own horror epic.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Glenn and I first connected in the cyber-world a few years back when a mutual friend posted a review of a movie thriller. As my longtime Florida buddy (who also happens to be named Glenn) and I were discussing the merits and shortcomings of the film, Packard chimed in…and I was like “Hey…aren’t you the guy from Men of the Strip?”.

Being a fan of MOTS frontman Jeff Timmons (98 Degrees), I’d had the good fortune to pen numerous Vegas Chatter articles about the show. Packard and crew had just wrapped up their splashy showcase at Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues and it seemed surreal that we were now debating slasher films from far-flung corners of the country.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Packard, Timmons and Foland at Men of the Strip rehearsal…             

Fast forward to summer 2017, and once again I’m in Las Vegas, shadowing Timmons, show financier “Money” Mike Foland and Packard for a relaunch of Men of the Strip. One evening after rehearsals, Glenn and I (along with his associate and right-hand man David Mayorga) headed over to LGBTQ locals’ gem The Garage for cocktails…and to discuss how they turned Packard’s imagination into a silver-screen reality.

Pitchfork was created in the spirit of 70’s and 80’s franchises that, like their titular villains, refuse to stay dead. But the film’s tagline “Every Generation Has Its Monster” cuts a bit deeper. In our era of political turmoil, where LGBTQ citizens view the White House with concern and suspicion, one might ask who the true monster is.

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At the home of main character “Hunter”, that answer is even more complex. Returning to his family’s sprawling rural dairy farm and estate, Hunter is about to face a stern father who recently learned of his son’s homosexuality. Hunter’s not coming back alone though, as his art-school classmates have packed into a van for the weekend to throw him a coming-out party of sorts.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Sexual dynamics are front and center in most slasher films. Those barn-loft trysts and back-seat hookups inevitably lead to a bloody demise. In Pitchfork, sex and sexual subtext permeate nearly every sequence, especially as the story reaches its outrageous climax.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

It’s no accident that Pitchfork‘s maniac is a muscular, shirtless man…abs and pecs on display as he slices his way through the cast of characters. Under other circumstances he might be considered hot…in a kinky kind of way. But there’s the issue of a farm tool in place of his left hand. That’s one detail you’d probably leave out of your Grindr profile.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Both Hunter and “Pitch” have daddy issues and highly involved mothers. Each views himself as an outsider, desiring acceptance from his respective family. How they deal with being different, the way they were raised…and how they turn out as adults…offer a strong metaphor for “growing up gay” in today’s volatile and ever-changing society.

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When dreaming up the concept for Pitchfork, it’s unlikely that Packard envisioned he’d one day be acting as its producer, director, casting supervisor and choreographer, too. Yes…choreographer. Would you seriously expect a bunch of vacationing art students to NOT have a barn dance on their gay buddy’s farm?

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Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Did someone say “Barn Dance”?                         

Despite this being his directorial debut, Packard fills Pitchfork with plenty of style and memorable imagery. The camera swoops in and around each scene, accentuated with glorious aerial shots and starkly-lit night sequences by cinematographer/editor Rey Gutierrez. It boggles the mind that the film was recorded with a single camera in 21 days on the director’s own family farm.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

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                  Men of the Strip’s Keith Webb gets a sticky facial…                                              

Like most passion projects, family and friends offered their time and energy to make Pitchfork a reality. Dancer Keith Webb, who also worked with Packard on Men of the Strip, amps up the cast’s hunk quotient as an ill-fated jock.

Plenty of Sin City DNA infuses the heart and soul of Pitchfork. Vegas resident Mayorga from Zombie Burlesque and Men of the Strip served as Assistant Director. Darryl F. Gariglio of Grand Adventures Tours Las Vegas was its Executive Producer/writer. Chris Arrendondo, who creates the eerie creatures and characters for Circus Circus Fright Dome, did the stunning make-up work.

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Packard and David Mayorga (back row) clown around with the cast….                         

During filming, Packard revealed a rather moving detail in the film’s making-of documentary: the lair where “Pitch” brings his victims is the actual shack that the director retreated to when he was bullied as a child.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Growing up as a gay person, especially in a rural community, can leave scars that never disappear. In Packard’s case, he used his own safe haven as a symbol for the damage that society can inflict on a developing psyche. His courage to face those memories and channel them into something positive is echoed in a soul-baring “It Gets Better” video from 2010.

Packard told me in our conversations that the effort that went into filming Pitchfork was crazy and intense, yet everyone seemed to have a great time. One would assume that the cast of eager young actors found it cool to be in a horror movie.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Since its release, Pitchfork has won accolades and awards throughout the horror-film universe. Now that Halloween season has arrived it’s finding a new legion of fans, especially within the LGBTQ community.

Glenn continues to promote the film via conventions and screenings. And there’s even a new comic-book novelization by actor/artist Andrew Dawe-collins (“Pa Hollister” in the film) that you can check out here.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

Any worthwhile slasher entry teases a sequel, even when the killer seems to be dead and dismembered. In Pitchfork, the unpredictable left-field denouement will leave you gasping…and clamoring for more. Luckily, Glenn told me that ideas for Pitchfork 2 and 3 are already swirling in his semi-twisted mind.

Pride Prejudice Pitchfork

That’s great news for chiller-thriller fans, because every generation needs its monster-movie king. Like John Carpenter and Wes Craven before him, Glenn Douglas Packard is on his way to becoming the next Master of Horror.

Pitchfork is available on a Special Edition Blu Ray/DVD and streaming services like REVRY, YouTube Movies and Amazon Prime.

Photos: Pitchfork, David Mayorga

Ranking Male Revues from a Gay P.O.V.


In this era of inclusion, how welcome are men at various male stripper shows?

Back in 1985, John Travolta played a Rolling Stone reporter in the semi-fictional drama Perfect. Assigned to cover the singles scene in Los Angeles, Travolta finds himself attending a male revue (save the jokes for later). Interestingly, he is forced to watch the proceedings from behind a screen. According to Laraine Newman’s character, men are forbidden from attending the show (a thinly-disguised Chippendales).

Male revues

Male revues

That was 35 years ago. These days, you’re as likely to see men in the audience as on the stage. I can say that from experience, as these shows are one of my favorite things to do when in Sin City. And they’re an absolute balls-to-the-wall blast!

While I attend as an openly gay man, not every guy in the audience is homosexual. It’s worth pointing out that women of all persuasions have been attending topless revues for decades, and that has always been acceptable.

As we gravitate towards an era of full inclusion, the lines of sexuality have blurred. But that doesn’t mean that men will get the same level of welcome and interactivity at each and every show. Many readers have asked me to recommend guy-friendly male revues, based on my personal experiences. Please note that this article in no way reflects the sexuality of the performers appearing in their respective shows.

So here they are, rated on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest.

MAGIC MIKE LIVE – 1 out of 5

Male revues

The stand-and-model troupe at Magic Mike Live disappoints on all counts…                

A stillborn offspring of Channing Tatum’s film franchise, Magic Mike Live really isn’t recommended for anyone. It’s a difficult slog to sit through and already my choice for the worst new show of 2017. The guys remain clothed for much of the running time, which is somewhat of a blessing in disguise (see below). Worse yet, a screeching female host makes the production nearly unbearable by squawking post-menopausal life lessons throughout.

Male revues

 It’s a bumpy road to Magic Mike Live. Don’t take it…         

Public relations insiders have told me that the team at Magic Mike Live has shown little interest in marketing to the lucrative gay demographic. There’s very little reason for me to doubt that, especially after on my own experience.

Men hoping to get a lap dance or a round of onstage excitement will leave feeling disappointed…and out of lots of cash. Drinks and tickets are quite expensive. On the upside, cocktail servers are attentive (not to mention especially attractive) and save the evening from being a total loss.

THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER – 2 out of 5

Male revues

Thunder From Down Under doesn’t rank high on the list for guys…             

The long-running Aussie revue Thunder from Down Under at Excalibur allows men to attend (as do they all), but don’t expect to get more than a fist-bump from the dancers as they work their way through the audience. The rough-and-tumble men of the Outback are dripping with testosterone, but only seem interested in sharing it with the ladies.

Straight men will find the atmosphere completely “non-threatening”. Don’t expect to see guys brought up onstage for any audience participation segments, either. But they CAN purchase a group shot after the show.

Said one former member of the troupe “Guys don’t go to ‘hen shows’ where we come from. We just aren’t used to that.”

Chippendales – 4.5 out of 5

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Chippendales is shy of getting a perfect score, but an absolute favorite…            

The grand master of all male revues, Chippendales still packs them in and keeps up with the times. There is a moderate amount of interactivity with guys during audience numbers and plenty of shout-outs to gay members celebrating birthdays and such. I’ve even seen a guy celebrating his 21st brought onstage for a free calendar.

Straight guys should find this one well within their comfort zone. It’s kind of like hanging out with the bros…and single straight men should have a good time in the Flirt Lounge before and after the performance, chatting it up with the female attendees.

What keeps Chippendales from achieving a perfect five-star rating is that, after attending dozens of times, I’ve yet to see a man brought onstage for any regular segments. If you’ve witnessed otherwise, be sure to hit me up in the comments.

UPDATE 12/3/18: Since the original publication of this article, the creative team at CHIPPENDALES has upped their efforts to be more inclusive. Gentlemen are frequently, albeit briefly, brought onstage now. However, the segment I’ve seen this happen in (and have been included in myself) is not exactly of an erotic nature. So, although the addition is most welcome and another move in the right direction…their placement on this list remains unchanged.

I’m giving Chipps an extra half star since the production is a huge public supporter of gay fans. They’ve even featured an openly-gay host or two. Gentlemen are welcome to purchase group photos with the cast, and you can chat with the guys one-on-one after the final performance of each evening.

Aussie Heat – 5 out of 5

Male revues

This upstart group takes on the big boys…and wins top honors. Not to be confused with Thunder from Down Under, the Aussie Heat show is a no-holds-barred fest of boy-flesh for men and women equally. Held in the intimate second-level V Theater 2 at Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops, Aussie Heat fills the space with abs, biceps, butts and pecs. No audience member is ignored, and that’s the case from beginning to end.

Men are regularly selected for an onstage lap dance contest where three participants are blindfolded. They’re then asked to identify a particular dancer based on other senses…including taste and touch!

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The Aussie boys spend plenty of time in the audience, often draping themselves across laps and inviting you to lick, fondle, rub and squeeze. Every dancer is an equal-opportunity flirt, besides being classically-trained performers in their own right. So this one is only recommended for open-minded straight men with a sense of adventure…and fun.

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I’ve written two previous articles regarding the willingness of Aussie Heat to entertain male audiences. They’ve even gone so far as to have their nightly after-party once a week in a short-lived gay venue nearby.

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Pre-show VIP experiences allow you to meet and photograph the guys in the prep room while they stretch and pump up their muscles. Photos with the cast are available for purchase after the show (proceeds go to Opportunity Village, a local charity), which can be as naughty as you want.

Men Of The Strip – 5 out of 5

Male revues

I debated whether to include Men of the Strip in these rankings, as the production is currently on hiatus. What started as a planned residency ended up as a 6-night stint in Vegas with a possible tour on the way. But since there’s a chance of it returning with a regular schedule, I’m listing MOTS here with the others.

Male revues

And Men of the Strip is certainly worthy of a gay male audience. Emcees address both genders in the audience with equal enthusiasm while lap dances and interaction are guy-friendly (cash tipping is allowed). Straight guys might be squirming in their chairs, but won’t mind hanging out with the worked-up ladies at the bar afterward.

MOTS ranks right up there with Aussie Heat in bringing guys onto the stage and into the action. If you want to see what I mean, check out the clip above from a performance at Hard Rock Cafe. Be aware that it’s not safe for work.

Black Magic Live aka Vivica’s Black Magic – Rating to be determined

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This one is a toughie, compounded by the fact that I haven’t actually seen it…or spoken to anyone who has. This all-black male revue, currently playing at Ron Decar Events Center after a stint at Tommy Wind Theater, gained notoriety when actress Vivica A. Fox angered members of the LGBTQ community in a radio interview suggesting that gays weren’t welcome to attend. She later apologized.

Fox and the show’s executive producer Jean-Claude LaMarre have entered a legal battle over the issue:

“As a result of Fox’s defamatory social media campaign, LaMarre’s customers canceled ‘Black Magic Live’ tickets and demanded refunds at shows” the suit states. VARIETY 6/5/17

It remains unclear at this point whether Fox is still affiliated with the production, as the official website refers to the show with two titles, one conspicuously removing Vivica’s name. A very well-known member of the media, who was previously in a Vegas male revue, wrote to me directly with this information:

The owners are actually very gay friendly. I know some of the cast too. Sweet guys. All very gay friendly as well. I’d hate to see them get shot down before ever given a chance.

If you’ve seen Black Magic, please leave your impressions in the comments or drop me a line directly.

Next up, I’ll visit Kings of Hustler and Men of Sapphire, two male-centric offshoots of popular female stripper clubs. I’ll examine their guy-guest policies and what to expect when attending. Click here to read it. 

Photos by Sammasseur, VivicasBlackMagic.com

 

 

 

 

 

MEN OF THE STRIP Hosts Gala Premiere

Fans and media converge for opening of Jeff Timmons revue at Hard Rock Live…


Revisiting the evening that fans and media converged for Jeff Timmons’ male revue at Hard Rock Live…

Men Of The Strip Premiere

The ironies couldn’t be any clearer. A fledgling show, years in the making, hosts a gala event just a few doors down from the casino that failed them. The new performance space shares branding with a hotel that’s home to a competing production.

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Both shows are spearheaded by heartthrob celebs, but only one bothers to show his face…and lots more. After many false starts and obstacles galore, Men of the Strip has landed on the Strip.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Male revues are just like actual men. They come in all styles, attitudes, levels of sex appeal and price points (just kidding about the last one…sort of). As ticket buyers for an adult-themed show, it’s up to you to decide which one scratches your particular itch.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

In the case of Magic Mike Live at Hard Rock Hotel, some fans of hunky productions are feeling cheated. My own review called it “delusional”, “fun-sucking” and “an overblown bomb”. Your very expensive ticket will get you inane blather from a shrill harpy “comedienne”, striptease dancers who neglect to actually strip, a so-called story line involving a waiter and a mystical unicorn (WTF?).

The real kick in the pants comes from an absentee star – actor Channing Tatum – whose only “appearance” in a show bearing his name is via an audio recording.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

At Hard Rock Cafe’s live-music Strip venue (next to MGM Grand Hotel), things are quite the opposite. All the pretense, social lectures and broken promises of Magic Mike Live have been thrown out the window. In their place are seven talented singers/dancers/actors who sound good, look great and actually take their clothes off.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Fun-filled production numbers involve plenty of audience interaction, selfie ops (the show is camera-friendly) and tipping with cash (something forbidden in casino showrooms). Most of all, the celebrity attached to Men of the Strip is in the house…and a big part of the show.

Jeff Timmons, the ageless and ab-tastic founder of vocal group 98 Degrees, has been intent on launching the next generation of male revues ever since his stint at legendary Chippendales. Jeff and I sat down to chat several times in the months leading up to this weekend. It’s clear that his passion for the project is boundless. Fortunately,  that enthusiasm comes through onstage and energizes the cast.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

MOTS’s tightly-knit production rarely slows down to let you breathe. The troupe makes its first appearance from the rear, hidden under sleek black helmets and leather gear. 

Walking in formation, they gather for a hard-edged sequence created by famed choreographer Glenn Douglas Packard (Michael Jackson, Pink, Whitney Houston). Packard, pictured below, is hands-on throughout the performance and also serves as emcee.

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Next up, singer Colin Cahill briefly goes mellow with an acoustic version of  Ne-Yo’s “Let Me Love You” that segues into a sultry chair number. Various takes on masculine fantasies follow, delivered with a lighthearted playfulness that MML doesn’t even strive to achieve.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Timmons was a crowd-pleaser at the show’s premiere on Friday. Not only did he debut a new song written especially for MOTS, but he got raw and sexy with an audience member in his own set-piece. Shredded to the max and tanned to perfection, Timmons tore off his shirt and flaunted a body that even Channing Tatum would envy.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Packed with die-hard 98 Degrees fans, the crowd went wild when band mate Justin Jeffre joined Timmons for their hit “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)”. Other surprise guests are sure to follow, as the singer has promised to feature his celebrity friends when they’re in town.

“Come Play With Us” is Men of the Strip’s marketing slogan. Splashed on billboards around the city, the ads promise a night filled with music, muscle, sweat and laughs. MOTS delivers on those promises throughout the show and well into the evening. The guys hop up on the bar after the performance and guests are encouraged to party, pose for photos and indulge in drink specials.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

The third-floor showroom offers amazing views of the Strip and boasts an outdoor balcony. Parking is available in the Showcase Mall garage behind the cafe for easy in/out access.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

If a party atmosphere is what you’re looking for in a male revue, steer clear of Magic Mike Live. Make your way to Hard Rock Live for Men of the Strip…on the Strip.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Update – Since the original publication of this article last July, Men of the Strip has gone on to tour the country. The show also achieved my highest ranking of guy-friendly male revues, tying with Aussie Heat at Planet Hollywood. The video clip below will give you some indication of just how gay-friendly the run at Hard Rock Live actually was. 

Cast member Tyler Froehlich, whom I featured in the piece Hot Guys of Vegas – Dad and sons, is now a part of the legendary troupe at Chippendales. He’s already become a fast favorite with audiences both in Las Vegas and when touring around the world.

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                        Tyler Froehlich, real-life soldier turned dancer…

Jeff Timmons has since toured with a reunited 98 Degrees for a series of concerts to promote their Christmas album. They’ll be returning to Green Valley Ranch this coming November 17th (click here for tickets). I attended a performance on December 23rd and the show was astounding. Don’t miss it this year.

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   Myself with Timmons, Mike Foland and Daniel Kouretas at 98 Degrees Xmas…

MOTS’s frontman Mike Foland has assured me that the groundbreaking production is planning another return, mostly like to be launched with a reality TV series tie-in. I’ll be the first to keep you up to date on any developments that cross my desk. 

– Sam

Photos and Video: [Sammasseur]