Revamped “Thunder” Goes From ‘Strike-out’ to ‘Home Run’

Long-running male revue takes early lead as most-improved production of 2021…


Regular readers of Vegas Unfiltered Blog have probably figured out by now that this writer is an out-and-proud gay man. If you haven’t, my long-running “Hot Guys of Vegas” series should have tipped you off. Nevertheless, this column has never been focused on that aspect of my personal life. I just mention it now to give some insight on my perspective of male revues.

70392931_10220388769055015_4511553357046874112_o (1)

Clowning with the guys of “Aussie Heat”…

That being said, I’ve spent many a night with my friends at Aussie Heat and Chippendales. And I’ve deliberately avoided that misguided mess called Magic Mike Live (one of the worst major productions of any kind). The other that’s been high on my “Do Not Fly” list is Australia’s Thunder From Down Under at Excalibur.

May be an image of 10 people, including Sam Novak and people smiling

My first visit to “Thunder” was in December 2015…

If you’re curious as to why “Thunder” ranks so low in the hierarchy of Vegas beef-fests, the full review from 2018 is here. But I can give you the Cliff Notes version:

“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.”

Now, I experience no joy in publishing negative reviews, especially when the cast and crew are rarely to blame. “Thunder” being in a temporary venue at the time (their second-floor showroom was undergoing a desperately-needed re-fit) certainly didn’t help. But three years later, I revisited this “Outback throwback” on a whim and found myself having a fantastic evening.

20210317_175357

“Thunder” shares a revamped showroom with “Australian Bee Gees”…

Let’s start with the venue itself. The newly-christened THUNDERLAND showroom received a pretty modern retrofit. The odd two-level footprint is sadly unchanged, and the choice of furniture is somewhat curious (psuedo-IKEA, much like Mat Franco’s space at The Linq). But the current positioning of seats and tables has improved the sight lines. Moving video walls double as a stage curtain, bar service has received an overhaul (with optional online ordering), and the lighting/sound system booms like a beating chest. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Speaking of chests, the cast of Thunder is one pec-tastic bunch. Each is chiseled, handsome, and much better at dancing than the last go-round. And this is where I noticed the first major improvement…individual performers are given a chance to shine. Each guy is introduced after their respective showcase moment, removes their mask, offers a few words to the audience…and one even sings the rafters loose.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As for the ensemble numbers….my biggest gripe was the lazy choreography and cliched acts. Mercifully, “George of the Jungle” seems to have crashed into his final tree, and the vampires have retreated to their coffins. Replacing them are an uncomfortable SWAT team sequence in riot gear (too soon, guys) and a take on the 300 Spartans (meh). The rest is a top-shelf combination of musical hits, contemporary moves, and extreme athleticism that brings horney guests to their feet. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

It’s worth noting that the element of male audience inclusion remains unchanged since my last review:

“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.”

The show is specifically geared towards women, and the few guys in attendance are presumed to be supportive straight men (not tonight, fellas!). Hopefully the minds behind Thunder will catch up with the all-are-welcome Aussie Heat and realize that they’re turning away an untapped, lucrative market. Click here and here for more of my analysis on that topical subject. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New host Scott Reading is sass, class…and one sweet surprise…

Now for the best improvement of all….host Scott Reading. This bloke is just about everything you could hope for in a male-revue emcee. He’s sexy, charming, charismatic, funny, engaging, spontaneous, and downright fantastic. In other words, he’s everything that former front-man Marcus Deegan wasn’t:

Abrasive and short-tempered, Deegan seems to take delight in belittling rowdy audience members. 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 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.

37609814_10216288340022024_3706099585769275392_n

Yes, Marcus…that’s the exit door…

Who knows how many ticket-buyers failed to return thanks to Marcus and his abusive antics? But with any luck, he’s gone for good. Let’s hope that Scott Reading is a permanent fixture. He alone is worth the price of admission….and that’s before he unleashes a massive surprise at the finale.

With the recent sale of RIO Hotel Casino to Hyatt, there’s no telling when gold-standard CHIPPENDALES will return to Sin City…if ever. Thank goodness Thunder From Down Under has stepped up to the plate. It’s an early front-runner for “Most Improved Production of 2021”. And once COVID restrictions are finally removed, this generous serving of beef from the Outback will become a veritable buffet.

156909607_288189776004297_1941621493854164679_n

Australia’s Thunder From Down Under performs Wednesday through Monday at 9pm with additional showtimes on weekends. Click here for full schedule and to order tickets. Prices start at $70.95 (plus taxes/fees).

Photos: Sam Novak, Thunder From Down Under, Scott Reading via Instagram

 

Rant: I Don’t Need Your Approval To Have An Opinion


There’s always a price to pay for being honest…

For the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to write for a couple of different publications. One is an online ticketing site that publishes show articles and helpful visitor information (currently it’s in limbo). The other is a well-regarded print magazine found in the majority of Las Vegas hotel rooms, pre-COVID. It’s only available online for now.

When the pandemic upheaval is over and tourists return en masse (with luck), I hope to regain those freelance positions. They gave me the opportunity to learn, reach larger audiences, research unfamiliar artists and discover subjects that might otherwise have dodged my radar. They were also gainful employment, since this blog is a passion project, not a revenue generator.

QLifeAd1

Please read all precautions before proceeding…

Before accepting those jobs, I made it clear that I would continue maintaining Vegas Unfiltered Blog, which doesn’t always present things through rose-colored glasses. It felt necessary to make one thing clear: as a hired writer, I’d be wearing a different hat for them, separate from my personal site. When I’m paid to write for you, I work for you.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Well, not so fast. The arrangement was working well for all involved (at least to my knowledge) until Cirque du Soleil decided to follow Criss Angel – Mindfreak Live with an even worse abomination called R.U.N. It premiered in Luxor‘s showroom in the fall of 2019 to horrendous reviews from critics and audiences alike.

88363655_10222102325252849_8630595494067830784_n

As the fates would have it, I  was assigned articles on R.U.N. for each of my paid gigs. Having seen this travesty, I decided to delay my own review until the others were submitted. The paid pieces didn’t require my opinion…just descriptions, what the production involved, types of acts, specifics on the plot, where it was located, etc.

The funny thing about this is the subsequent negative feedback I received. For instance, some dim bulb going by the name of @butterpunker tweeted “I’ll be honest. After reading the online reviews and then reading your review, I’m less inclined to trust anything you write about shows anymore.”

Guess what, genius…they weren’t reviews!

Screenshot 2019-11-28 at 6.10.18 PM

Then I published an actual opinion piece, which you can see here. And yes, it was so scathing that I called R.U.N. “an epic disaster. An ugly, inconsistent, poorly-planned and sloppily-executed mess that lies there like a dead body in a ditch.”

So, my question to you is this…are people so stupid that they can’t tell the difference between a review and a so-called “puff piece”? A tourism magazine/website is there to present you with vacation options, then YOU decide what to spend your money on. A blog is a whole different ball of wax. But in this day of internet courage, emboldened armchair critics can hop onto Yelp and eviscerate a business from the safety of their laptop. Or call a critic out for doing the very thing he/she is meant to do.

Image result for shocked man at computer

After that stupid scene went down, a marvelous and professional editor at one of the freelance outlets expressed concern. He/she asked a few sensible questions and we discussed shows/celebrities/subjects to avoid in order to prevent future backlash. Very considerate and supportive, they were. And it felt wonderful.

There have been many times when I’ve been confronted, either online or in person, after publishing an unflattering review. I’ve been accused of causing harm to livelihoods, putting people out of work, and threatening the security of entire productions. Somehow the blame for a bad show often gets put on little old me.

Show business is one of high risk. The chances of being a part of something successful are very slim. For every thirty or so television programs that debut each fall, only a handful get a second season. Movie studios can spend upwards of $300 million on a film that ends up playing to empty theater auditoriums. Nothing is a guaranteed hit. That’s just the way show business works.

IMAG2882

In Las Vegas, it’s not unusual for twenty or more shows to give their final bows in any given year (2020 was a bloodbath, but that was different). When a production shuts down, it’s not the fault of the actors, set designers, lighting technicians or costumers. But small-scale blogger Sam Novak often gets the blame.

Yesterday, a colleague in the entertainment industry attacked me for my opinions on the terrible Star Trek: Discovery television series. He accused me of causing harm to the industry, the actors, the directors and the entire CBS All-Access platform. Wow, who knew I was this powerful? Yeah, right…

His next words were what got to me the most: “You better hope that you don’t rely on Paramount, Warner Bros, or CBS for anything, because they won’t like what you wrote”. To which I responded “Don’t put out shit, and you won’t get shit from me. Especially on a fledgling, failing pay site that’s already in its death throes and about to be re-branded.”

May be an image of 1 person and text

Apparently, I upset the cast and crew of Star Trek: Discovery…

I won’t compromise my integrity to please people in the entertainment industry. There are plenty of critics in Las Vegas who already do that. Most of them are high-profile names that attend nearly every function, often get onto the microphone themselves, and walk the line between journalist and celebrity. And they RARELY give an unflattering review.

I personally don’t care if people like my published critiques. They’re honest and brutal, whether favorable or not. I like what I like, hate things that suck to me, and I speak out to praise or warn. It’s my responsibility as an entertainment writer to share the emotions, reactions, and thought processes experienced from a meal/hotel stay/performer/activity.

In 2017, I was offered a position at an established tourism site. I accepted on the condition of full autonomy, so that I could be truthful about subjects that personally mattered and would hopefully have value to my readers. The webmaster agreed to that condition, yet of my first three articles, two were considered “too controversial” and she refused to publish them.

“We supposed to be encouraging people to come here and spend money” this Pollyana told me. My response was something along the lines of “You also have a responsibility to paint an authentic picture…and to honor your arrangement with your writers.” She scoffed, I walked, and within two hours, VegasUnfilteredBlog was born.

When I relocated from Oregon to Las Vegas, I promised to continue this column from the perspective of a visitor. Your discretionary income is too hard to come by, and you deserve to spend it wisely. I have no problem saying that The Vegas Room is an awesome supper club, The Garage is the best value for your cocktail budget, and Magic Mike Live is the worst pile of feces since….R.U.N. 

T1007MAGICMIKELIVE_C_HR

“Hey, over here! We’re the worst show on the Strip” – MAGIC MIKE LIVE

The late media personality Robin Leach was guilty of publishing lots of flattery and fluff in his final years. Public relations firms knew to give Robin an “exclusive” when they needed a boost for their client. I’m not Robin, although I certainly appreciated his flair when it came to arm candy. The guy never went anywhere without a babe on each arm. A cool and iconic man, but not an objective critic. May he rest in peace.

May be an image of 2 people, including Sam Novak and people smiling

Robin referred to me as “The gay guy from Oregon”. Funny man…

No amount of money is going to make me switch to autopilot. If you want your reviews and opinions to be thoroughly researched, deeply detailed and backed up by facts, Vegas Unfiltered Blog is the place to be. Thanks for being a loyal reader. Best wishes in 2021.

Hot Guys of Vegas: Andrew Diessner, Entertainer Extraordinaire


Multi-hyphenate entertainer is so all-around stunning that ya just wanna…

Do you remember that guy in high school who was seemingly perfect? Everyone loved him, he was the captain of every club and team, and somehow was also the teen that never got a blemish. He didn’t trip in the hallway or drop his books…and he had the body of a young physique model.

thumbnail_Screenshot_20200819-043121_Instagram

Yeah, every class has at least one of those, then we get older and those guys turn into “one of us”. Unless your name is Andrew Diessner…then you just keep getting better looking…and better at everything…with each passing year. Where do these people come from, anyway?

Well, in Andrew Diessner’s case, the answer is “humble beginnings”. The sizzling gentleman whom you see in the clip above is far removed from the overweight child who was bullied by his peers. It was through internal motivation that the multi-octave hunk who’s equally impressive in jazz, opera, pop, soul, and rock music was once an insecure boy who disliked his own reflection.

thumbnail_Screenshot_20200819-043201_Instagram

“I was bullied relentlessly because I carried a little more weight than most. Being a “husky” kid was brutal. Children don’t hold back from telling each other how they feel and digging it in with a double-edged sword. I will never forget how uncomfortable I always felt in my skin. I never had the Nike Jordans, or the cool baggy pants (which were TERRIBLE, by the way, lol).”

“I didn’t really fit in any specific circle in school, so I bounced around a lot. I was sort of the class clown for each clique. Unfortunately, the words and the actions of those kids stuck with me for a very long time.”

thumbnail_Screenshot_20200819-043532_Instagram

That’s why the Denver, Colorado native is drawn to causes that assist depression, addiction, suicide prevention, and childhood bullying.

“I still see that 12-year-old me in the mirror sometimes. I don’t want any child to have to go through that. I know it gave me thick skin, but some kids don’t ever pull out of it. That leads to substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and so many other terrible things. If I can start a program, a charity, SOMETHING to get the word out and make a difference, I would give it everything I got.”

“Giving it all” is the fiber that seemingly holds this 34-year-old, 5-foot 10-inch hunk together. Those in the Vegas entertainment field have had it especially rough, as the unpredictable nature of their work has been infinitely compounded by COVID-19. But Andrew once again looked inside, gathered his strength, and came out better in a variety of ways.

“During the beginning of the pandemic, I sort of let myself go. Sort of is an understatement. I gained 16 lbs. (172lbs to 188lbs). I got sick of looking at myself in the mirror and feeling sorry for myself because I was uninspired and out of work, so I joined a transformation competition that I saw posted on Instagram. It was with a newish app called Fitness Culture Training.”

“I always like a good old-fashioned competition, and I am pretty competitive by nature, so I figured, why not make some money while simultaneously getting my physique back? It was a no brainer for me. I ended up doing really well and probably making one of the best transformations I have had to date. I wanted to be ready for when the city came back…mentally as well as physically. I wanted to be hireable NOW…being confident in my skin and having a Vegas-ready body was imperative.”

With the amount of uncertainty ahead in the entertainment field, many performers have been looking into alternate and additional careers. It’s our harsh current reality where only the smart and pro-active may be able to cover their expenses while still pursuing their passions.

thumbnail_Screenshot_20200819-043314_Instagram

“Man, this pandemic has been relentless. I honestly didn’t imagine it was going to last this long. I lost all my contracts at sea, as I am a guest entertainer that travels with two 45-minute shows. I had plans of buying a house in May when all my contracts at sea were done. I wanted to start building solid roots here in Vegas and become more involved in the entertainment scene here. I had two weeks scheduled to fill in for Colin Cahill at Atomic Saloon Show that I was really looking forward to performing in as well.”

“Pretty much every opportunity was stripped from me overnight. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew that I would just have to keep a strong mental state. I haven’t been able to the entire time, but getting heavily involved in my transformation and digging into my passion for fitness, pulled me out of it. It was the healthiest option, and I was tired of feeling mentally and physically ill all the time. I knew I was better than that.”

“I am now starting online classes to become a certified personal trainer with ISSA, as well as a certified sports nutritionist, and transformation specialist. This has been a path I’ve wanted to explore for a long time, and there is no better time than now. It is something that I am very passionate about, and I am really looking forward to helping people change their lives.”

“To all the friendly people who laughed, pointed fingers and called me a fatty in middle school…love ya 😊 If you struggle with getting back into shape and you need some help and motivation…pm me. Helping you achieve your best self is my passion. Let’s do this together!”

I mentioned that Colin (Cahill) is known around town as “The Shirtless Singer”, yet Andrew is more of a white-shirt-and-bow-tie guy. I couldn’t help wondering if that was about to change now that the two of them are on a level playing field in the physique department.

Colin Cahill and Andrew Diessner (as “Blue Jackson”)

“Haha…Colin is the Man…and a dear friend of mine. He definitely has the reputation of losing the shirt on the stage, and I could never blame him. He looks fantastic! I have always been performing for a bit of a different demographic, so the bow tie and white collared shirt were necessary.”

“But it’s funny you mention that specifically because in my current desert photoshoot, I am walking with an open white collared shirt while removing a bow tie…sort of funny you mentioned it. So I guess you could say, that IS changing. I have worked hard for what I have, why not show it off more? Hard bodies sell. That’s just a fact.”

Watching Andrew perform, I was reminded of another handsome hunk with powerful vocals and a swaggering style…Grammy-nominated singer/actor/songwriter Cheyenne Jackson (Glee/American Horror Story/Descendants). I’ve spoken to Jackson several times, both in New York City and Las Vegas’ own Smith Center for the Performing Arts. I pointed out that he’d be great at playing Andrew in a biopic…and Diessner seemed to enjoy the comparison.

 Andrew and Cheyenne Jackson follow similar career paths…

“OMG this is too funny. It’s like you’re calling out everything in my life as it has happened haha…Cheyenne Jackson is one of my favorites. He did a show called Xanadu on broadway, and I played the same character, Sonny Malone, in the show when a theater did it in Colorado. I had a good friend of mine tell me that I should just follow his career moves because we were so similar.”

“I take it as such a huge compliment because Cheyenne is a major talent and a great looking guy. So, I would choose Cheyenne or Henry Cavil (to play me). Cavil has that steel jaw, great physique, and heaps of talent. Though, both of them have more hair than I do at this point. I may be going down a Statham/Willis/Johnson/Diesel route these days.”

With Halloween creeping up on us quickly, I inquired if that finely-tuned physique would get some exposure in the form of a gratuitous skin-baring costume. Perhaps something along the lines of Rambo or a superhero?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Those are all really great costume Ideas. Rambo would be fun because I could put on a wig with a bandana, dirty up the face and chest, throw some ammo over my shoulder, and a cigar in my mouth. I have always enjoyed action flicks and have the dream of one day being able to star in a few of my own. That is why Captain America would be a close second…Marvel…HINT HINT COUGH COUGH…next superhero? What a blast that would be!”

75450005_10105619779488843_718490858311122944_n

And what would he be wearing under those camouflage pants or tights? “Boxer briefs….always”.

After you’ve gotten on the subject of a guy’s undies and realize that you haven’t even covered some of the basics, it was time to backtrack a little. So I threw out some of those traditional interview questions about his background, stats and likes/dislikes.

72086170_10105517265692313_7301660066392834048_n

“I have been in Vegas for 4 years now. Originally, a relationship brought me out here 😬 Turned out, It was the best thing even though we are not together anymore (he’s currently single). There are so many performance opportunities for me here. I can’t wait until the city comes back.” 

68663479_10105413095140933_2260992448152993792_n

Dogs or Cats: “I grew up with both cats and dogs.  My preference has to be with dogs though. They are loyal, always happy to be beside you and be the companion you need. I prefer medium to large dogs, though I do have soft spot for the little ones. Cats turn on a dime and you never know what the hell they’re thinking…except you can guarantee they think they’re better than you lol I do, however, love watching cats get into trouble due to their curiosity.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hobbies: “Snowboarding, fishing, cooking, writing music, craft beer connoisseur, hiking, Jeeping, lake adventures (paddleboarding, boating, wakeboarding), raveling, being close to the ocean (snorkeling, jet skiing, scuba diving), trying new foods and drink, bar games (pool, darts), Texas Hold em…”

Charitable causes:Three Square (a Food Bank) is my favorite place to volunteer, Mondays Dark, and I am currently looking for more opportunities!”

Apparently, those opportunities include an audition video for Magic Mike Live, which I happened to discover on YouTube. And yes, he strips the shirt off at the end:

Dream role and collaboration: “A show I would love to star in…if we are talking about the stage, I would have to say Sweeney Todd. I LOVE the music and the character. It’s dark, it’s witty, and playing a loveable villain is always a good time. Duet partner…hmmmmm that’s a tough one…but I do love Anna Kendrick. So if you have some connections, throw them my info haha.”

“Otherwise, I would love to co-write a song with Brandi Carlile…What an incredible songwriter and singer she is. I can’t help but get emotional when I listen to her music. If we are talking here in Vegas…I really really really want to sing with Lorena Peril from FANTASY. She has a stunning voice, is downright beautiful, and has a heart of pure gold.”

As we brought our time together to a close, I mentioned that I found Andrew’s voice to be unexpectedly powerful. I inquired as to whether he felt that was due to physical or emotional traits.

78909819_10105634927646813_3167242599287226368_n

“I believe it to be both. I use the emotions that connect me to the song to emote power, volume, nuance, finesse, and whatever else is required of me vocally. And I’m lucky to have a voice that is versatile and can deliver different sizes of voice, as well as warmth and color. I studied opera theater in school, and I believe it gave me the training to be able to sing many different genres healthily.”

91064508_10105907708406983_1961550665465462784_n

As we soldier through the most trying time of our lives, being healthy is indeed at the top of everyone’s list. Thank goodness that awesome hunks like Andrew Diessner and fellow members of “Hot Guys of Vegas” can inspire us…while adding a much-needed helping of eye candy to our recipe for overall wellness.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Diessner social media, clips via YouTube…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’re Back! Sizzling Rumors and Facts On Beefcake Revues


Lots of news coming our way as Sin City prepares for its rebirth. A large chunk of this week’s is focused on the big hunks of male stripper shows. Let’s dive right in!

21688455_1442455259178648_6850885891702208708_o

The biggest story is the unsubstantiated rumor that Caesars Entertainment is intent on moving CHIPPENDALES from their custom showroom at Rio Las Vegas to the now-vacant OMNIA NIghtclub. As you’ve no doubt heard, there will be plenty of large, flashy venues collecting dust in the months ahead. What better way to maximize all that square footage than with social distancing-style audience setups?

83970795_10162776697000065_7383985067514658816_o

My insider source tells me that powers at Caesars Palace are gung-ho on the idea and are in talks with Chippendales’ New York City office to make it happen. My Chipps contact here in the city is unaware of the supposed negotiations but was excited at the prospect. An on-Strip performance space would be ideal for the gold-standard dance-and-grind, especially now that Caesars has announced the removal of parking fees from all of their hotel-casinos.

29744810_1902190493352901_3261924546802967681_o

Another advantage of being on Las Vegas Boulevard is that Chippendales could do a literal face-off (chest-off?) with their biggest competitor – Magic Mike Live. The poorly reviewed (at least by me) revue has finally confirmed their new home at Sahara. I have the statement below from SAHARA Las Vegas and MAGIC MIKE LIVE:

Both SAHARA Las Vegas and MAGIC MIKE LIVE! are committed to bringing the show to the property as planned. As phased reopening guidelines for the state are implemented by Governor Steve Sisolak, SAHARA Las Vegas and MAGIC MIKE LIVE! will adjust the show’s opening timeline in its new venue accordingly. We look forward to announcing more details and welcoming back our guests and audiences in the near future.

Despite my prediction that MML was dead in the water after COVID-19, the lastest is that the build-out of their custom venue will resume/continue. Look for a new opening date in perhaps early 2021. Let’s hope the show undergoes that long-needed retooling, too. Keep the guys, but ditch that insufferable female host.

98108501_10159845459379447_6040548073606742016_n

Aussie Heat is another possible “Phoenix” rising from the ashes. The independent (and superior) challenger to Thunder From Down Under had barely gotten acquainted with their new spot at MOSAIC On The Strip when the shutdown hit. Now they’ve posted a target return date of July 2nd (details here).

Host Adam Barr has confirmed the goal-date but told me that the virus situation will dictate if this plays out. No word yet on how the blatantly hands-on experience would address social-distancing guidelines, but the boys have nearly two months to figure that one out.

Screenshot 2020-05-23 at 8.59.57 AM

The shutdown has spurred creativity and online performances have taken hold. Chippendales was one first to the scene with Chippendales@Home, a virtual interactive party. Cast members of the show give you and your friends a personal pay-per-view performance using web-conference platforms like ZOOM.

86467854_3173193092711290_7366899099200651264_o

This Memorial Day weekend saw the debut of Men of Vegas Live, a weekly virtual male striptease. Overseen by Russ White and Garrett Pattiani, Men of Vegas Live features performers from the male members of Spearmint Rhino. Yes, the gentlemen’s club has gotten into men!

For the latest updates and news, be sure to visit/follow Vegas Unfiltered Blog’s official Facebook page

 

COVID-19 Aftermath – Shows Most Likely (and Least Likely) To Return


Taking a hard and painful look at the Vegas entertainment landscape as Sin City’s quarantine drags on…

As a devoted enthusiast of Sin City entertainment, it pains me to think of the hundreds of gifted performers currently out of work during the pandemic shutdown. Devoted to a volatile industry in which success is never guaranteed, many artists work multiple jobs and/or share living expenses just to get by. Combine this with a lack of adequate health care and spotty unemployment compensation, and it wouldn’t be surprising if many struggling entertainers decide to leave the city…or the industry altogether.

Sadly, there’s a likelihood that numerous residencies and production shows will decide to fold (or have their lifeline unceremoniously yanked) once the ramp-up begins. How this plays out is anyone’s guess, but I’ve been doing my own pondering on what changes lie ahead. Keep in mind that my conclusions aren’t in any way a reflection of quality…or lack thereof. Instead, I’ve considered factors such as pre-virus buzz, operation overhead (costs), post-virus marketability, name recognition, longevity, and brand loyalty.

AtomicSaloonShow2

I might be completely wrong on these predictions or right on the money. Your guess is as good as mine. We won’t know until it actually happens, but here’s my list of shows that might weather the storm. And those that I believe will most certainly blow away.

Very Likely To Return –

v_theater_dp_banner

David Saxe Productions – the long and colorful list produced by David Saxe amounts to a well-oiled machine. His self-named theater inside Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops and nearby V Theater churn out hits like Vegas! The Show, Zombie Burlesque, V – The Ultimate Variety Show and many more. Saxe is a master of efficiency and knows how to run and market his business. His children will survive just fine.

tour_img-2564848-98

ABSINTHE – (Update – reopened on October 28th with vastly reduced seating)

Spiegelworld‘s naughty alternative to Cirque du Soleil is an instant hit that would have celebrated its ninth anniversary on April 1st. The bawdy burlesque ABSINTHE has spun off two successful companion productions and shows no sign of slowing down. Relatively low overhead (an outdoor tent, pre-recorded music, and simple props) should help it to last through a sluggish restart (if that’s how things play out, that is).

Other Spiegelworld titles OPIUM and ATOMIC SALOON SHOW might not have it so easy. Their out-of-the-way locations inside expensive Cosmopolitan and Venetian/Palazzo might prove to be a bigger challenge in the long run. Cosmo‘s costly parking fees make OPIUM an easy pass for locals, too. (Update 5/19/20 – Cosmopolitan has announced its intentions to discontinue parking fees)

70185_phpqVnhsz_medium

“O” at Bellagio – Despite a mountain of debt that Cirque du Soleil is carrying, it’s unlikely that they’ll allow their highest-profile Vegas production to fold. Since “O” is synonymous with the Bellagio image (just like its outdoor fountains and seasonal conservatory displays) it’s easy to envision the resort taking ownership of the show if it came down to that (Steve Wynn did that with Le Reve). “O” is still a very popular draw despite two decades and thousands of performances. Not my cup of tea, but for many tourists, it’s a must-see.

830634859

CELESTIA – my insiders at CELESTIA assure me that the fledgling big-top production is on solid ground. STRAT Hotel Casino has a strong financial stake. which seems to be a common thread in the current make-or-break environment. Four-wallers (independent contractors) will suffer while casino-owned shows are likely to last. It all comes down to money.

Sex Tips For Straight Women from a Gay Man – This is an easy one to envision continuing. An extremely Vegas-y premise, an attractive local cast and very low overhead within an intimate theater setting. What’s not to love?

Solo and Lounge Acts – Our deeply-fractured economy is going to have a ripple effect on both consumers and the products they offer. Returning guests with limited discretionary income will most likely avoid the high-ticket attractions. That’s where one-man/woman shows come to the rescue.

With low overhead and a simple format, solo acts can offer solid entertainment and a retro vibe while passing the savings onto their audiences. Look for returning favorites like Mike Hammer, Murray Sawchuck, Carrot Top, Xavier Mortimer, Jen Kramer and maybe even the once-popular Gordie Brown to shine brighter in the spotlight. I anticipate that bloated, self-serving star vehicles like Criss Angel – Mindfreak Live and Mariah Carey‘s endless residencies will go down in flames, though. Darn.

vegas-abdul

1585005505884

Expensive mega-residencies could also feel the same heat. Last year people were forking over a grand or more to StubHub for Lady Gaga tickets. Who has that kind of money now? Even though Paula Abdul‘s lip-syncing stomp-fest at the Flamingo couldn’t warrant a $49 price tag last fall, her short-lived residency now seems like a million years ago. Look for a glut of similar shows (like Derek Hough: No Limit), along with the resurgence of intimate lounge acts, to tide us over until the economy…and Vegas…rebounds.

Say Farewell –

maxresdefault (3)

Blue Man Group (Update 6/30/20 The cast of Blue Man Group has been laid off by parent company Cirque du Soleil)

They’re old, tired, and as cliched as the fanny pack strapped around your cargo shorts. The trio of silent weirdos known as Blue Man Group is as annoying as those outdoor escalators that are constantly “under service”. Luxor‘s long-running production returned to the pyramid a few years ago, after more than a decade at Venetian and Monte Carlo. Now they’re in a much smaller venue and it’s easy to forget that they’re still around. Maybe COVID-19 will be the nudge that gets them to squeeze their final Twinkie.

human-nature-gold-1050x420

Human Nature (Update – permanent closure announced 6/10/20) –

It really upsets me to have this one on the list, but the Aussie quartet known as Human Nature appears to have been struggling for a while. I’ve been to the show a number of times in the past twelve months, and attendance has been anemic during each and every visit. Their live band has been downsized as a cost-cutting measure and the dancers were given a pink slip before that. They’ve also jettisoned the “Jukebox” format and returned to the Motown sound that put them in the U.S. limelight.

T1007MAGICMIKELIVE_C_HR

Magic Mike Live (Update – Sahara opening postponed once again to August 2021) –

                               We can wait even longer for this execrable slop to return….

The movie-inspired male revue received a scathing write-up from me upon its debut (deservedly so). Yet, the man-bashing mess, hosted by a shrill, leather-clad harpy who never shuts her f*cking mouth, somehow managed to become a hit. Still, the closure of Hard Rock Hotel sent the strippers dancers off into the sunset last year.

Screenshot 2020-04-13 at 5.22.31 AM

Audiences were promised a spring relaunch at the newly-rebranded Sahara Hotel, yet an official debut date was never set and tickets have yet to go on sale. The 360-degree format requires a custom-built arena that Sahara didn’t have, so costly construction was required. Alas, an insider told me that the venue’s build-out was halted many weeks before the shutdown, suggesting that the bump-and-grind may actually be over. Today’s visit to the official website reveals that the word “spring” was removed, most likely due to the shutdown. Or are revised negotiations holding things back?

During the interim, MML has gone global with residencies in London, Berlin, Sydney, and Melbourne, so a pricey Vegas space is no longer a top priority for the franchise. Sahara Hotel has yet to prove itself as a hip destination, as demonstrated by the premature shuttering of similar-themed Blanc de Blanc. Combine that with the perpetual postponements of nearby Fontainebleau/The Drew and Resorts World, and things are looking pretty dead for Magic Mike Live.

unnamed

Cirque du Soleil 

Update 6/30/20 – Cirque du Soleil announced today that they have filed for bankruptcy protection and have eliminated 3,500 jobs…

I know what you’re thinking – “But you just said that “O” was safe?!?!?!?!”. True enough. But in our new reality, Vegas cannot sustain six (already down from eight) of what is basically the same show…especially at $150 and up for decent seats.

According to FinancialPost.com, Cirque owes more that $1.25 billion to creditors. MGM Resorts operates five of their six Vegas shows and is known to brutally slice away expenses wherever and whenever possible. So who gets their trapezes pulled? I’m looking at KA, The Beatles LOVE, and maybe Michael Jackson ONE.

c4

Hanging In The Balance/Probably Safe –

MYSTERE – the longest-running Vegas Cirque show follows its own set of rules since Treasure Island operates separately from MGM Resorts. MYSTERE is smaller in scale and has the lowest ticket prices. The others have massive sets, live musicians, huge casts and expensive automation that requires an entire team of technicians to operate and maintain. SO…..overhead…

E_16_9

ZUMANITY – (Update 11/16/20 permanent closure announced)

Never a critical darling or fan favorite, but this one might not be in real jeopardy. It has many of the advantages that MYSTERE enjoys (smaller cast, intimate venue, lower ticket prices), and has already trimmed back its musicians and singers. But despite the adult-skewing format, ZUMANITY now pales in comparison to raunchy offerings from Spiegelworld. So once again, your guess is as good as mine.

le-reve-the-dream-wynn

Le Reve – (Update 8/14/20 permanent closure announced)

Wynn‘s signature production was never an out-and-out hit (some still believe it’s part of Cirque du Soleil fifteen years in), but it’s a critical darling and those who know it, love it. Le Reve is also owned by Wynn/Encore, which has deep pockets and an image to protect. When Steve Wynn’s own SHOWSTOPPERS was shuttered, massive shockwaves rippled through the entertainment community. That’s unlikely to happen again.

‘WOW: The Las Vegas Spectacular’ Celebrates Two Years on the Strip

WOW: The Vegas Spectacular – another budget-friendly production that hung in there despite the competition, WOW could in fact raise its profile and attendance numbers in the months ahead. Room rates at host hotel RIO start at a ridiculously-cheap $10 (plus resort fees/taxes) for the first half of May, so if the city actually opens, expect a pilgrimage to the aging off-Strip resort.

Sister production EXTRAVAGANZA missed its debut date at Bally’s last month and could possibly be in jeopardy. The cast of performers came from Israel and has yet to log a single hour in front of a paying audience. Housing the entire cast during quarantine is no doubt chipping away at the show’s reserves. Whether that could bring WOW down as well involves legalities that aren’t known to me. But from the outside looking in, it’s a pretty grim picture for EXTRAVAGANZA.

What are your thoughts, predictions and opinions? Feel free to add your comments or email me at Sam@VegasUnfiltered.blog.

New ‘AUSSIE HEAT’ Show Debuts at MOSAIC ON THE STRIP


Top-rated male revue brings the fun closer than ever at new venue…

BestOfVegas

Click HERE to read the BestOfVegas version of this article on their awesome site.

87169236_10156986836631778_8408871161781288960_o

They’re fun. They’re flirty. And they’ve never been more within reach. That’s because Aussie Heat, the sizzling hands-on dance revue from Down Under is now delivering their wild, sexy production directly to you…right on the Las Vegas Strip.

86349770_902826056817310_4909373075046268928_o

Aussie Heat‘s new location is MOSAIC ON THE STRIP, a historic venue directly across from Park MGM Resort‘s EATALY. Formerly known as the Tommy Wind Theater (and Empire Ballroom before that), MOSAIC ON THE STRIP is an entertainment fan’s dream. The lush, classy venue is ushering in its next era with significant modern upgrades thanks to new management.

87258739_908150736284842_3216826368926941184_o

Easily accessible from both sides of the Strip via a brand new pedestrian overpass, the independently-owned MOSAIC is a departure from the ordinary performance space. MOSAIC offers multi-level seating options to complement a nightclub-style vibe. A full-service bar/lounge welcomes guests before the curtain rises and hosts a free meet-and-greet party after every performance. There’s also a dedicated parking lot for easy in-and-out access.

As former contests of Australia’s Got Talent, the boys of Aussie Heat began their Vegas experience in a humble Downtown production called “Aussie Hunks”. Through the ensuing four-plus years, they’ve had a name change, amped up the excitement and outgrown their previous home at Miracle Mile’s V Theater. With hundreds of steamy performances under their loosened belts, Aussie Heat has deservedly earned great reviews and top rankings on both TripAdvisor and Yelp!. 

86457514_903638243402758_6163300171661705216_o

Host (and show owner) Adam Barr is excited about the next big step in their quest to be Sin City’s top male revue. “The props and sets are better. The costumes are hotter. Our cast has expanded to take advantage of a bigger stage. We’ve added fantastic new acts and even an aerialist or two. And it’s still all about the audience having fun in ways they can’t at other shows. Thunder From Down Under is great, and Chippendales paved the way for this type of production. But we’re the only show of its kind where all of the members began as trained dancers first.”

thumbnail_AH--Production-Shot-3000-1

As an independently-produced show, Aussie Heat has the luxury of specifically tailoring sequences to the talents of individual performers. Muscular six-foot-four stuntman Simon will be featured in an action-packed new movie-themed number. Former castmates from Cirque du Soleil have come aboard to show off their gravity-defying skills. And pop-and-lock king Lennie adds his signature moves to the latest chart-topping hits.

As always, Aussie Heat remains interactive, “hands-on”, and trend-setting in their embracing of male guests…and the LGBTQ community as a whole. Unlike at competing shows, guys are encouraged along with the ladies to participate in onstage games, outrageous group photos, and of course…lap dances.

So brace yourself and hang on for a very wild ride through the outback. As Barr succinctly says with a laugh “If you don’t like attention from male dancers, you just might be at the wrong #%!& show!”.

thumbnail_AH--Production-Shot-3000-2

MOSAIC ON THE STRIP is located at 3765 Las Vegas Blvd. Aussie Heat performs Thursday through Monday at 10pm. Ages 21 and over. Tickets start at $54.99 (plus taxes/fees).

Photos: Sam Novak/Aussie Heat

 

 

 

 

Chippendales Celebrates 40 Years of Sizzling Fun


Click here to read the BestOfVegas version of this article…

BestOfVegasSome 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.

20191215_203845.jpg

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.

20191215_210646

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”.

20191215_210453.jpg

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.

20191215_225453.jpg

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.

20191215_213221.jpg

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.

20191215_214814

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.

30704014_10156439208831108_6286915038452121600_o.jpg

                 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.

20191215_225507

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

79151046_10221262968789462_6404447690385522688_n

               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.

chipps4

                 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.

20191215_214928

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Guests don over-the-top fashions for Black & White Party.jpg

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.

Longterm supports Penn & Teller show their support for AFAN.jpg

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.

66595504_2657206657657272_4787720046237450240_n.jpg

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.

60901743_10161805311415113_6152290289286381568_n.jpg

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

 

‘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.

39928667_561234787643107_2303685436687515648_n

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”.

screenshot-2018-08-03-at-9-02-34-pm.png

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.

1019182357-1.jpg

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.

33066109_475555566211030_7319739799944822784_n.jpg

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…

Sahara-dome-e1476808808340 (1)

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.

sahara-dome-underside-e1476808828102

WP_20140823_024-960x540.jpg

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.

11401402_10206956752262990_4301092565757691797_n

11149477_10206956749502921_6622901963101550225_n

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:

sls-opening-labor-day.jpg

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…

10426119_10206956705381818_1615003121391331799_n

11407126_10206956712942007_3478017511122431291_n

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.

11428025_10206956704101786_734732490859429940_n.jpg

WP_20140823_013.jpg

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.

WP_20140824_048.jpg

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).

WP_20140822_081

WP_20140822_060

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.

264210_2109975274667_6128191_n.jpg

WP_20140823_079

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.

Sahara-casino-e1476808871135.jpg

WP_20140824_056

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?

monkeybar-slide1

monkey-bar-sls

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!

Photo4_1561604829423-HR.jpg

             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.
9386a45f7adf2c9e514751ed9eb15e69.jpg
                                               Casbar Lounge then…
61200718_2170300586339911_3783382196501348352_n
                           …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.

5d15ad8f74472.image.jpg

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.

WP_20140823_110

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

57964049_2126770594026244_7657782485241036800_n

                               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.

WP_20140822_074

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.

65800853_2231650823538220_1461398373771771904_n.jpg

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.

65921836_2231652676871368_4239153530268549120_n.jpg

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.

65769902_2231655890204380_9119601478045007872_n

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.

65390367_2231653530204616_8943371114394943488_n.jpg

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