AFAN Black & White Party Lights Up The Joint Once More


Epic fundraiser returns to Hard Rock Hotel this summer…

A lot of party-goers will be pleased to know that AFAN Black & White Party is back to its old stomping grounds for 2019. Last year’s move to Daylight Beach Club at Mandalay Bay probably wasn’t the success that organizers had hoped for. Attendance seemed to be lacking over previous installments and the overpowering heat did nothing to encourage attendees to stick around. Plus, it was a freaking marathon hike to the venue.

Guests fill The Joint for Black & White Party

The Joint concert venue at Hard Rock Hotel, along with a neighboring ballroom space, is perfectly tailored for the combination party/convention/performance/fundraiser event that everyone has come to know and love. There is ample free parking via two garages, providing easy in-and-out for those wearing elaborate costumes. And mercifully, it’s air conditioned!

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AFAN stands for Aid for AIDS of Nevada, the oldest and largest AIDS service organization in the state. Founded in 1984, the organization provides direct client service programs, food programs, prevention and education programs and community outreach. Their mission is to do so while promoting dignity and improving the quality of life of the individuals they serve. 100% of the proceeds from this event stay in Southern Nevada.

Guests don their best black and white, Credit_ Te Ann Lakeotes

The Black & White Party, now in its 33rd year, encourages attire in just those two colors, wearing as much as you want or as little as you dare. Expect outrageous fashions, group ensembles and themes galore. The 21+ gathering is decidedly “adult” in nature, so much of the live entertainment will skew in that direction.

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Emcees Greg Chase and Norma Llyaman have great energy together and are loved by the Vegas LGBTQ community. Announced performers include the casts of both Chippendales and Magic Mike Live, Australian quartet Human Nature, Westgate’s SEXXY, Rio’s WOW – World of Wonder, Little Miss Nasty, Tenors of Rock, Legends in Concert and Celestia. Longtime AFAN supporters Penn and Teller will be on hand as well.

General admission ($35) begins at 9pm on Saturday August 10th. Food will be provided by Pink Taco, Oyster Bar, BonaBatiste, Caked Cupcakes, Dunkin’ Donuts and The Hard Rock Pastry Department. Refreshments of the liquid variety will be poured by Tito’s Vodka, Ambros Banana Whiskey, Malibu, Beefeater, Altos Tequila, and The Long Drink Gin.

Strip entertainers perform at Black & White Party

VIP ticket-holders ($85) will be admitted one hour earlier and gain access to a reception of intimate entertainment, two drink tickets, champagne toast by Moet & Chandon, a complimentary souvenir photo by Most Organic Productions, and “VIP-only” bar access. Extra perks include photo ops and interactive décor from ByDzign, LV Photo, and Balloons with a Twist.

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The dance floor should be a swirl of black and white bliss thanks to the music of DJ Axis. Nearby Piranha Nightclub will host the official post-event festivities. And don’t worry about partying too hard. LYFT rideshare service has offered discount round trips to attendees by using promo code “BWPARTY19”, good for 15 percent off two Lux Black Rides.

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33rd annual Black & White Party will take place inside The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel Casino Saturday, Aug. 10 from 8pm to 1am. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased at afanlv.org.

Photos: AFAN, Piranha Nightclub via Facebook

 

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‘Aussie Heat’ Fires Up the Strip


The “other” Down-Under male revue is faster/hotter/better than you’d ever expect…

In the world of sexy productions, male revues get very little respect. Audiences unfamiliar with these productions may have had their perceptions tarnished by cheesy appearances on 90’s daytime talk shows. But today’s male revues are polished, contemporary and well-mounted stage productions. And they’re enjoyable by all adult audiences, not just breathless bachelorette parties.

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Naturally, their are noticeable differences in what they have to offer. Chippendales remains the gold standard with a cast of towering, beefy clean-cut hardbodies. Magic Mike Live wraps their slim young pretty-boys in a ribbon of female-empowerment with the unusual addition of a female host. Black Magic Live offers an African-American cast direct from Lifetime Television Network. Then there’s Thunder From Down Under, the long-running production at Excalibur packed with sweaty wild boys from “Oz”.

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If you’re wondering why Sin City would need another Australia-based male revue, then you haven’t seen Aussie Heat.  Two minutes into this daring production and you’ll know that it’s completely different from anything else in the city. You owe it to yourself and your friends to head over to V Theater inside Planet Hollywood Miracle Mile Shops and experience this stunning show right away.

While other male revues tend to recruit guys based on their looks/physique then teach them how to groove, the Aussie Heat hunks are established dancers and acrobats. Break dancing, flips, pop-lock moves and sensual grinds were already in their blood long before joining the troupe. It’s just so happens that their athletic bodies and handsome faces match their amazing abilities. It’s a surefire combination delivering thrills that can’t be topped anywhere. 

When not raising temperatures onstage, the Aussie Heat cast is actively involved in a number of charitable causes. The guys conduct dance classes and an annual fundraising show at Opportunity Village, a local organization dedicated to enriching the lives of disabled adults. They actively support the American Cancer Society via an ongoing “Real Men Wear Pink” fundraiser and participate at numerous events like AFAN‘s annual AIDS Walk and Black and White Parties.

Aussie Heat also carries the distinction of welcoming men to participate in their show. They promote equality for everyone and actively invite members of the LGBTQ community in their advertisements. They’re regulars at Pride events and have partnered with a variety of gay and gay-friendly organizations like QLife, a Vegas-based media firm now in its 41st year.

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Another thing that sets Aussie Heat apart from their comrades-in-bulging-arms is audience interaction. Billed as “The Most Hands-On Show In Vegas”, Aussie Heat is far from a “stand and model” production. Audience members vie for prizes via body-shot competitions and blindfolded lap dances inside the intimate showroom.

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Click HERE to continue reading…

 

 

The SAHARA Is Back – But Is It Too Late?


The iconic hotel gets yet another chance after the SLS debacle…

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The Sahara Hotel was one of the first casino resorts I stayed at when the Vegas love affair began. This was back in 2005, just when the landmark property was about to plummet to its lowest depths. Once a legendary destination, Sahara had become a place of despair. That being said, it still had its purpose as a value destination for those on a budget.

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In 2007, Sam Nazarian and Stockbridge Real Estate Group purchased the Sahara…and quickly ran it into the ground. My final stay in the summer of 2009 was so awful that I vowed it would be my last. Exposed electrical wiring, broken lamps, cigarette burns in the carpeting and furniture, golf ball-sized hole in the shower stall, broken bed frame, filthy casino restrooms….well, you get the idea.

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Nazarian locked the Sahara’s doors on May 16th, 2011, taping up a handwritten sign as his final farewell. To those of us who knew what he’d done to the place, this served more as a threat than a beacon of hope:

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When the property’s liquidation sale was announced, I flew in from Oregon to attend. We bargain-hunters and nostalgia-seekers were escorted onto the property in controlled groups, required to listen to a presentation before being unleashed to go exploring. Our guide told us that the hotel would eventually be re-opening under the name “SLS”. The fellow next to me said “S.O.S.? What kind of name is that for a hotel?”. If he only knew how prescient his question was…

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SLS Las Vegas opened three years and three months later. I was one of the first guests to check in on opening day….and just about everything went awry. No elevators in the parking garage, malfunctioning elevators in the hotel towers, being assigned a room that was already occupied, problems with the TV and more. Of course, all of these things were growing pains and could be easily forgiven for a newly-opened establishment.

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What couldn’t be overlooked was that the concept of turning a rundown north-Strip relic into an expensive knockoff of a Los Angeles hit was a fool’s errand. Nazarian and team had entertained the idea that LA residents would come to Vegas to experience what they already had at home. They packed the SLS with not one but SEVEN Hollywood-based Fred Segal shops, taking up every retail outlet within the resort. Within a year, they were all gone.

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Some things vanished even quicker that the Segal stores. An excellent new second-floor buffet was shuttered after only three months. LA-based Griddle Cafe lasted an entire five months before pulling out. Foxtail Nightclub was quickly shut down and LIFE Nightclub was gutted/converted into The Foundation Room (allowing for Foxtail’s pool club to reopen at night).

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The musical chairs within the building were shuffled as frequently as the execs in the boardroom. SLS Las Vegas was, without a doubt, a resounding flop from every perspective. All because it tried to be something it wasn’t and deliver something the city never needed.

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What Sahara really needed was another chance to be the Sahara again. Refreshed, revitalized, reborn as “The New Sahara”, perhaps….but NOT re-branded into an expensive luxury destination built on a rickety old foundation. The little nods to Sahara’s past had been peppered into the SLS decor, but this was essentially lip service to people like me…those who continue to embrace Sin City’s past.

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But the Sahara’s soul had been ripped out along with the theme, camels and that unforgettable neon porte cochere. It was replaced by bare concrete and a nearly-colorless, white/grey/black palette with bare ceilings, exposed duct work and a bar that looked like a boardroom full of monkeys. An artistic representation of reality, perhaps?

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Last week’s announcement that current owners Meruelo Group would be restoring the Sahara name was met with great fanfare (Scott Roeben’s VitalVegas.com readers knew quite awhile ago that this was in the works). It’s the hottest topic on Vegas message boards, Facebook pages and blogs like mine right now, so there’s interest in the old property after all.

Mostly everyone seems to like what’s been happening at the old/new Sahara. Meruelo has re-acquired a tower that had been taken over by W Hotels. They’ve restored full in-house operations and are putting a reported $100 million or more into additional renovations, much of them to address the despised flaws in the SLS room redesigns. Even the Casbar Lounge is back in a modern incarnation!

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             Sahara owner Alex Meruelo and wife Liset and name-reveal gala…

The company’s founder Alex Meruelo had this to say last week about the property’s future:

The SAHARA played an important role in the evolution of the destination. And, we are now responsible for shaping a new narrative. We are writing the next chapter in the city’s evolution, for the love of Vegas.
We are committed to delivering an intimate, unexpected and memorable visit for our guests. We want people who stay with us to say, ‘My God what an experience!’ because experience leads to memories. And, that’s what we want to create, memories and experiences you won’t forget.
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                                               Casbar Lounge then…
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                           …and now…(photo by Scott Roeben, Vital Vegas)
You can watch a video of the announcement by clicking here. The press release went on to say:
Alex Meruelo’s debut comes at a time when there are few sole proprietors left along the Las Vegas Strip. As a life-long entrepreneur with a track record of business success, Meruelo expressed his commitment to continual improvement and investment in SAHARA Las Vegas ensuring the resort remains both timeless yet modern so that guests will want to return time and time again.

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So yes, there’s plenty to be excited about The Sahara’s return. All signs point towards things being done correctly this time. But is it too late to matter? That depends on the final product and where it fits into the 2019 market.

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    World Tower room at SLS. Super-boring, oddly arranged, claustrophobic…

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                               New color scheme on current Story Tower room…

I have no problem in admitting that, just because of the name, I’m much more inclined to book or recommend a hotel called “Sahara” than “SLS”. After all, there is a major road and several current businesses in the area that are named after it. Sahara IS Vegas…it evokes the desert, a rich history and promises of an experience that “SLS” (that nonsensical clump of letters) never could.

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Many of us have complained about the removal of themes from Strip resorts. Then we lost our cool when office-bland City Center bleached out any hope of their restoration in the future. So if Sahara dares to restore its past Moroccan motif, even just a little, we owe it to Meruelo Group to support their audacity and daring.

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It’s reassuring to know that the new owners have already done a great job of returning Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort to relevancy. They’ve wisely appealed to a variety of guests from the frugal to the elite, managing to modernize that hotel/casino while acknowledging its rich 41-year history. That’s exactly what The Sahara needed to do all along.

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There are plenty of reasons to give the new Sahara a try. Resorts World and The Strat are drawing much-needed attention to those few blocks of the Strip. Sahara has its own monorail station, tying with Westgate for the most accessible of any stop on the line. Vital Vegas broke the news that foodie-favorite Bazaar Meats will remain and get expanded. He also reported they’re gaining an established resident production (the nauseating-yet-inexplicably-popular Magic Mike Live) that is sure to draw traffic back into the resort.

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So let’s hope that Meruelo Group continues their current audacious path for The Sahara. They’ve been running reduced booking rates, “No Resort Fee” and “Half-off Resort Fee” specials since taking over, have maintained free parking, attracted a variety of hip comedians and made the casino layout more appealing.

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With the right mixture of value, service and dining/entertainment/gaming offerings, The Sahara could become a standout destination that the current Las Vegas is sorely lacking…a fun affordable Sin City resort worth returning to over and over.

Photo By Denise Truscello

Sahara fans are invited to witness its rebirth and transformation via a newly-launched website. Follow the excitement and sign up for updates by clicking here

Photos: Sam Novak, Greg C., SLS/Sahara, Vital Vegas, KVVU-TV, Pinterest, The Publicity Lab, Denise Truscello

 

 

Inside “The NAKED MAGICIANS” at MGM Grand


Genre-bending illusionists reveal more than magic tricks….

Click HERE to read this article at BestOfVegas.com

There are some who say that Sin City doesn’t always live up to its name. Perhaps there is no such thing as shock value anymore? Well, don’t be so sure of that. A pair of bawdy Australian illusionists has arrived at MGM Grand and they plan to rip the roof off the resort by tearing away their top hats and tails.

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Unless you’re Mariah Carey, most performers would rather focus on their craft than how much skin they put on display But for Mike Tyler and Christopher Wayne, fans of The Naked Magicians wouldn’t have it any other way. These two handsome hunks are constantly goaded by audience members to “take it off”. And eventually, they do!

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Australian men are already recognized as some of the hottest on the planet – for proof, look no further than the success of Thunder From Down Under at the Excalibur. Add in the resurgence of the popularity of magic shows and Criss Angel’s sex appeal with the bawdiness of Absinthe and Opium, and it’s clear that the time is right for The Naked Magicians.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Despite a similar-sounding name, this is no Magic Mike LiveThe Naked Magicians actually have more in common with Mike Hammer’s Comedy Magic than any male revue. But where Hammer’s humor is insult-based, the Aussie boys’ focuses on sexual innuendo and in-your-face mayhem.

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Tyler and Wayne were perfecting jaw-dropping feats of illusion long before they decided to pair up and drop their trousers. When the boys went full-frontal and took their family jewels on the road, the response was unexpectedly overwhelming. Venues sold out in over two hundred cities around the world, and rave reviews poured in, ensuring that The Naked Magicians would eventually take their hit sensation to Sin City.

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If you haven’t already guessed, The Naked Magicians is an adults-only production. Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club blends the perfect amount of late-night intimacy to the proceedings – double entendre intended. An opening-night crowd on February 13th filled the venue, which is located at “The Underground” inside MGM Grand. A large percentage of attendees was gentlemen, a fact the duo joked about as they took to the stage.

Surprisingly, the magicians began their performance fully clothed, sporting flashy tailored suits that showed off their chiseled physiques. Despite a conservative entrance, their first illusion –  which involved a six-foot representation of male genitalia sailing through the crowd – shattered any concerns that these performers would play it safe.

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The rapid-fire performance is heavy on comedy, nearly all of it laced with some form of wink-wink humor. Bits involving a blow-up doll, cell phone hook-up apps, a crowd-made porno film, a “gay” straight jacket and other R-rated material fill the 90-minute show. It’s not long before the guys strip off their shirts, doing a little bump-and-grind to thaw out those chilly libidos.

As the guys’ off-the-chart charms electrify the crowd, more clothes fall away, and so do any apprehensions or uptight conventions. It’s safe to say that even straight-laced husbands in the crowd found this unusual form of entertainment to be “cool.”

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It’s worth noting that even though The Naked Magicians have gone “full-throttle” in places as tame as Salem, Oregon and Grand Rapids, Michigan, they’ve actually been forced to tone things down a bit for their Sin City run, as local laws prohibit total nudity in establishments that serve alcohol.

So, if encountering the “Full Monty” might have kept you from seeing the show, your worries have been covered. Just know that The Naked Magicians have found a new way to use a magician’s hat – and it doesn’t involve a rabbit.

To learn more about Mike Tyler’s magical talents, visit his website by clicking here

 

 

 

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


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

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

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

MOST OUTRAGEOUS – Miss Behave Gameshow

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

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

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

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

MOST IN NEED OF A FACELIFT – Carrot Top at Luxor

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

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

BEST DOWNTOWN SHOW – Mike Hammer Comedy Magic

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

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

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

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                                            Little guy. Big entertainment…

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

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

BEST VINTAGE VEGAS VIBE – Cocktail Cabaret at Caesars Palace

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

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

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

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

BIGGEST SNOOZE – Mat Franco: Magic Reinvented Nightly

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

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

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

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

FAVORITE TOPLESS REVUE – Chippendales/SEXXY (tie)

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

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

Runner Up – Zombie Burlesque

MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER – Opium at Cosmopolitan

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

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

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

SADDEST CAREER PATH – Gordie Brown (Hooters)

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

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

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

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

BEST LOCALS SHOW – Mondays Dark at The Space

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

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

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

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

Thunder From Down Under: Time To Toss Out This Outback Throwback


Long-running male revue needs to desperately up its game plan…

Maybe it’s just an off-season phenomenon. Perhaps it’s the temporary venue being utilized during their theater renovation. But more likely, being covered in dust has more to do with neglect than construction debris.

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Whatever the reason, Excalibur’s THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER is a relic in need of a serious upgrade. Out of touch with the times and suffering from a complete lack of production values, this by-the-numbers slog is about as erotic as a post-Halloween jack-o-lantern that’s left sitting on the porch to rot.

Much of the blame rests squarely on the muscular shoulders of Marcus Deegan, the host of this sad little time capsule. Abrasive and short-tempered, Deegan seems to take delight in belittling rowdy audience members. That’s totally unacceptable, especially in the type of show where getting wild is typically not only welcomed but encouraged.

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           Host Marcus Deegan will put you in your place. No fun allowed…

The past two times that I’ve seen THUNDER, Deegan’s stopped the show dead in its tracks to berate rowdy women. He’s gone so far as to blatantly tell them to “Shut the f*ck up”. On one occasion, he even came out during final bows to flip his middle finger at an audience member while mouthing “F*ck you!”…and it wasn’t done with a wink.

Such obnoxious treatment of guests might be tolerable if the show itself was a must-see. Unfortunately, this isn’t 1974 and Excalibur isn’t in remote Tonopah Nevada. Contemporary visitors to Sin City have every reason to expect flashy high-tech glitz but that just ain’t happening inside this sad little showroom at The Castle.

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Despite being currently housed in an abandoned casino-side location once home to the bankrupt Lynyrd Skynryd BBQ (which itself has been collecting cobwebs behind a wall for six years) the show is virtually unchanged from its usual upstairs location. With a plain black-canvas backdrop, awkward tables that resemble balance beams and rows of uncomfortable bar stools, it’s clear that no expense has been…er, spent to elevate your experience.

As for the show itself, it’s everything that the equally awful Magic Mike Live ridicules male revues for being. Packed with rote production numbers, Thunder will have you mentally scratching off each item from the list of cliches as it plays out on a cheap plywood stage. Erotic vampires? Yep. Law enforcement and military officers? Of course. George of the Jungle and a gorilla? Unfortunately, that’s here too.

Then there is the requisite songbook that every male revue includes: “Uptown Funk”, “Save A Horse – Ride A Cowboy” and a Michael Jackson number all get spun by the DJ, along with that brain-piercing Beyonce earworm “Run The World – Girls”.  The costumes are cheap, there are no sets to speak of and props are at a bare minimum. Choreography is decent but certainly not innovative.

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As for the performers, they’re an unremarkable lot that actually seem quite bored. Going through very basic movements with a minimum of energy or attention to synchronization, the cast projects a complete absence of sincerity…and a clear lack of engagement. These guys seem more interested in their gym memberships than creating a memorable experience for the audience.

One notable exception is Chad Homan, formerly of the far superior Aussie Heat at Planet Hollywood. The youngest member of Thunder, Chad’s also the best dancer by far. Smiling from ear to ear, he spins and sails through the air in ways the other guys could only hope to pull off. He also brings inclusive energy and audience interaction from his previous gig, even hugging male audience members (apparently a no-no here).

Speaking of that matter, THUNDER flounders next-to-last on my published ranking of male revues for their treatment of men. Guys are barely acknowledged here and host Deegan even says something to the effect of “This night is for ladies only…you won’t see your guys here”. Take away from that what you will. But in this era of inclusion, saying “Ladies ladies ladies” is another example of just how dated the Outback boys really are.

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                    Free tickets abound yet the showroom is nearly empty…

Perhaps it’s rather telling that, despite the proliferation of free tickets on MyVegas (the online game that awards real prizes) and various fill-a-seat services, Thunder From Down Under was roughly 75 percent empty last night. You’d think that with the current tidal wave of cowgirls here for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the venue would have been overflowing. Instead, it resembled a dried-up lake during a severe Aussie drought.

Let’s hope that when a newly-renovated theater debuts at Excalibur, the shopworn Thunder From Down Under also unleashes a fresh new version. Until then, it’ll continue to be a great big middle finger to the audience. So save your discretionary income for genuine grade-A beef like the Chippendales. Or maybe just a bargain cut of steak at your local Outback restaurant.

If you’re going: Thunder From Down Under performs nightly at 9 pm with an additional 11 pm show on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets start at $50.95 (plus taxes/fees) and can be purchased here

Photos/video: Sam Novak, Marcus Deegan/Thunder From Down Under via Facebook 

 

PEREZ HILTON -Breaking The Rules (and making some new ones) at Chippendales


The nation’s foremost social media “influencer” manages to make the outlandish seem easy in his guest-hosting stint…

I was one of many who were shocked when Chippendales announced notoriously-outspoken Perez Hilton as their next celebrity host. After all, the self-proclaimed “Queen Of All Media” was hardly forged from the same slabs of beef as previous guests like Tyson Beckford and Antonio Sabator Jr. So what gives?

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The answer is that the forces behind Chippendales version 2018 are ready to shake things up. With the absurdly awful Magic Mike Live biting into their sales and cutting-edge newcomers like Aussie Heat offering alternative takes on the male revue concept, it isn’t enough to just be the gold standard any more.

As I previously reported, Chippendales is one of several erotic male productions that have evolved in order to tap into the DINK demographic. What’s that, you ask? It’s the “Dual Income, No Kids” members of our society, which these days are widely represented by the gay community.

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With the passage of marriage equality, the need for gay-only entertainment options has largely melted away. LGBTQ tourists are now welcomed along with everyone else, so it’s common to see gay couples and groups attending male revues along with the ladies.

That’s why Perez Hilton fits so nicely into this hosting gig. Never one to shy away from controversy, the flamboyant Hilton is this generation’s Paul Lynde, Liberace or Siegfried & Roy. He’s way out there, yet approachable. Daring, yet somehow safe. A perfect mash-up of comedy, shock value and tongue-in-cheek humor to make your night on the town an only-in-Vegas experience.

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I sat down with Perez before the official opening of his debut last Friday. Decked out as a carnival barker in a spectacular Jeffrey DeBarathy-designed costume reminiscent of Britney Spears’ ensemble for The Circus tour, Hilton was surprisingly eloquent and soft-spoken.

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         The two of us at a performance of Spiegelworld’s OPIUM at Cosmopolitan…

When asked if he felt like a pioneer by being the first openly-gay host of a show that once prohibited men from attending, Perez seemed surprised:

Wait a minute….I’m gay? Who told you that? (laughter). Wow, I did not know that! So men weren’t allowed in the audience before…that’s interesting. But no, I can’t say that I feel anything like a pioneer. This is something that I’ve wanted to do for awhile and I’m glad we were able to make it happen!

“Now that you’ve been in rehearsals, gotten to meet all the guys and seen their inner workings (more laughter), were there any pre-conceived notions about Chippendales that were either confirmed or shattered?”

(sly grin) Hmmmm….there weren’t really any backstage shocks that I can think of. I know the show pretty well from coming so many times. And I’ve only been rehearsing since Monday so there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity to think about things like that when you’re focused on the work.

I will say that everyone here has been supportive of me and they’ve made it easy. It’s been so much fun and I’m eager to see how the audiences react. This is uncharted territory for me as much as them.

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With the pre-show party about to begin inside the adjacent Flirt Lounge, time was running short. So I was able to ask one last question – “What advice can you offer a small-time blogger like myself?”.

You need to know your audiences for every individual platform. The readers on Facebook are going to be a different group from those on Instagram. They want to experience different kinds of content, so you need to tailor each social media outlet to their expectations, not yours.

YouTube is the big one right now. You have to use video…and lots of it. People want to see for themselves what you’re up to. I have two YouTube channels and it’s a challenge to keep up with all of it, but you have to stay current and pump out new information all the time.

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                Ever-present mother Teresita enjoying Perez’s debut performance…

After fans (and the curious) had lined up and taken their seats inside Rio‘s custom Chippendales Theater, the countdown to showtime was interrupted by Perez himself. Appearing from behind the audience, the host stopped the show with a bit of impish playfulness before allowing the beefcake to be revealed.

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Throughout the evening, Hilton worked his way into the proceedings with his signature charm, playing emcee for a faux game show, busting in on performer Kyle Efthemes‘ “Purple Rain” shower sequence (yes, really) and holding an open forum for questions from the audience.

What could have been a train-wreck attempt at hipness from lesser media celebs (the flatliner response to Chester Lockhart and Scheana Shay’s short-lived stint at Sex Tips for Straight Women From a Gay Man comes to mind) turns out to be a brilliant move. And one that should bring in hordes of new fans to the long-running show.

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But don’t take my word for it. See the audacious Perez Hilton and his crowd-pleasing antics for yourself. Chippendales performs nightly at 8:30 p.m. with additional shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 10:30 p.m.

Perez Hilton’s Chippendales residency runs Thursday/Sunday nights through Sept. 2nd, 2018. Tickets range from $64.95 to $165.09 + tax and fees (18+) and can be purchased by calling (702) 777-7776. VegasFool.com is currently running discount rates as low as $39 for select evenings.

Photos: Sammasseur, Perez Hilton via Facebook, Chippendales