2019 – The Year in Review: See It or Skip It?


A quick-reference guide for current shows and my take on their worthiness for your hard-earned discretionary income…

With all of the productions that have come and gone in 2019, it’s tough to know what is playing, let alone what to see. This is the most complete list of titles I could compile as of 12/22/19. The guide includes only shows that I’ve actually seen, along with three categories to help you decide. Where possible, I’ve provided a link to my reviews, which can be accessed by clicking on the colored letters.

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DON’T MISS IT!!!!

ABSINTHE“Daring burlesque variety show continues to amaze in its 9th year”.

ATOMIC SALOON SHOW“You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe and you’ll most definitely be titillated.” 

AUSSIE HEAT – The ‘other’ Down-Under male revue is faster/hotter/better than you’d ever expect.” 

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BEATLES LOVE by Cirque do Soleil – “Remains one of the most spectacular and satisfying shows in town.”

BARRY MANILOW – “Try not to get choked up.”

BRONX WANDERERS –  “Handsome and talented collection of musicians and singers brings down the house with every performance.”

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CELESTIA“Beautifully mounted with snappy pacing, memorable costumes, and a very attractive athletic cast.”

CHIPPENDALES – “It’ll melt your inhibitions…and the ice in your glass.”

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DAVID COPPERFIELD

DRAG BRUNCH – “The perfect opportunity to lose your gender-bender virginity.”

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FANTASY – “If you’ve enjoyed FANTASY in the past, you’ll love it even more the next time.

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HANS KLOK – “A breakneck theatrical experience that will leave you slack-jawed and gasping in wonder.”

HUMAN NATURE: MOTOWN AND MORE – “will have you humming all night and dancing in the aisles.”

JEN KRAMER MAGICa collection of tried-and-true favorites delivered with a next-generation spin.”

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John Caparulo MAD CAP COMEDY- “an unforgettable evening of gut-busting hilarity.”

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LE REVE: The Dream – “manages to be both intimate and epic. It’s my personal favorite in the city.”

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MIKE HAMMER COMEDY MAGIC

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MISS BEHAVE GAMESHOW – “An experience that you can’t have anywhere else…and that’s what Las Vegas is all about.”

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MURRAY THE MAGICIAN

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MYSTERE by Cirque du Soleil

OPIUM – “will have you gasping for days. Don’t let ANYONE spoil the surprise.”

PURPLE REIGN

REDNECK COMEDY MAGIC

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SEX TIPS FOR STRAIGHT WOMEN FROM A GAY MAN – “a fast-paced evening for open-minded adults of all persuasions.”

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SEXXY 

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TENORS OF ROCK – “An international confection of rip-roaring vocals, boundless energy, and a live onstage band.”

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TOURNAMENT OF KINGS

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V- THE ULTIMATE VARIETY SHOW

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VEGAS! THE SHOW

WOW – THE LAS VEGAS SPECTACULAR“an unforgettable adventure through the oceans of time.”

ZOMBIE BURLESQUE

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DON’T DO IT!!!

BLACK MAGIC LIVE – a cheap, chaotic disaster unworthy of your time and money.”

CRISS ANGEL MINDFREAK – “continues to regurgitate up our collective pipes and spread noxious odors throughout the Vegas valley.”

MARIAH CAREY – “Santa didn’t hand out coal this year…he gave away tickets to Mariah.”

MAT FRANCO: Magic Reinvented NightlyMat Franco is about as dull as a dead rabbit.”

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R.U.N by Cirque du Soleil – “you’ll think you’ve wandered into a high school production of West Side Story”.

TERRY FATOR – “Terry Fator is a log jam that just won’t flush.”

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THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER – “a great big middle finger to the audience.”

IF THE PRICE IS RIGHT

AUSTRALIAN BEE GEES

BLUE MAN GROUP 

CARROT TOP – “the exact same jokes and gags for over a decade”

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CHERRY BOOM BOOM – “Costuming is top-notch, the choreography is consistently impressive, and some sequences are downright breathtaking.”

CRAZY GIRLS

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GEORGE WALLACE

KA by Cirque du Soleil

LEGENDS IN CONCERT

MAC KING COMEDY MAGIC

MARC SAVARD COMEDY HYPNOSIS

MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL

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NATHAN BURTON MAGIC

‘O’ by Cirque du Soleil

PENN & TELLER

POPOVICH COMEDY PET THEATER

POTTED POTTER – “a face-paced and humorous retelling of the wizarding-world saga.”

RAT PACK IS BACK

STEVE CONNOLLY – SPIRIT OF THE KING 

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X BURLESQUE

XAVIER MORTIMER’S MAGICAL DREAM – “technology blends with meticulous choreography and precision timing to jaw-dropping effect.”

ZUMANITY

More of my 2019 Round-up in the days ahead…

 

 

Hanging By A Thread – Sin City’s Huge Entertainment Dilemma


Fuerza Bruta’s shocking failure suggests a troubling future for large-scale productions….

Several years ago I penned a two-parter for Vegas Chatter entitled “Four Walls and a Dream”. In it I explored the difficulties involved in launching a new show in today’s corporation-run Vegas. Gone are the days when casinos supported their own entertainment. It’s up to productions themselves to “pay the rent” via an arrangement known as four-walling. And that quite simply is why most new shows are gone before you’ve ever even heard of them.

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That article was inspired by Jeff Civillico, a dynamic young entertainer whose star was already on the rise. His “Comedy In Action” afternoon show at Linq Hotel (then known somewhat absurdly as The Quad) was working hard to make a name for itself. Yet the resort where he rented showroom space had little interest in helping “Comedy In Action” to succeed.

Civillico was on the hook not only for the room and production costs, but also for supplying the advertising materials to display around the property. Yet Jeff had little control over where they’d be displayed….if at all. I’m not sure if he ever worked out his issues with parent company Caesars Entertainment, but Comedy in Action still performs once a week at Paris Hotel Casino.

I learned a lot about the current state of Vegas entertainment while researching that piece. There was plenty of response from performers, producers, directors and public relations people when it ran, too. But after the shocking announcement that Fuerza Bruta would be shuttering only four weeks into a six-month stint, I realized two valuable facts:

  1.  There is no magic formula to ensure that a show will be a hit.
  2.  The current state of Vegas entertainment is more volatile than ever before.

If you haven’t heard of Fuerza Bruta, then congratulations. I’ll pretend to make a check-mark in the air and we can continue on down the list. But first, allow me to say that less than one week ago in my rave review for Fuerza Bruta for BestOfVegas.com, I called it a “Sin City game changer”. I also inaccurately claimed that it was “poised to redefine entertainment on the Strip”. Oh, my… (click HERE to read the original review).

 

 

Just after I’d sent the piece off to the editor, I received an email from Fuerza Bruta’s public relations firm regarding the Vegas run.

FUERZA BRUTA will perform its final show at Excalibur Hotel & Casino on Sunday, April 7, 2019. The acclaimed production, which has been seen by more than six million spectators in more than 34 countries and 58 cities since its launch in 2003, will continue to impress audiences from around the world as it prepares to make the move from Las Vegas to MGM Cotai in Macau in June 2019.
Tickets for the remaining Las Vegas performances of FUERZA BRUTA are now on sale and available at any MGM Resorts International box office, online at Excalibur.com or by calling (702) 597-7600. Refunds for tickets purchased for shows at Excalibur after April 7 will be available at the point of purchase.

It took awhile for the shock of this announcement to subside. I could have been embarrassed that I’d been so far off in my predictions. Instead I was angry that the so-called “City of Entertainment” had chewed up and spit out yet another piece of great entertainment.

 

 

All but one of my friends who had seen the show were absolutely dazzled by the balls-to-the-walls audacity of it. During three separate viewings, I’d stood alongside (and chatted afterwards with) cast members from shows like Chippendales, Le Reve, Zumanity and Donny & Marie. They’d come as I had to see if the enthusiastic pre-opening buzz was deserved. And every one of them was delirious, if not downright envious, of the incredible visuals and creative sequences that Fuerza Bruta was able to pull off inside a tent erected on a parking lot.

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That positive word-of-mouth alone should have been enough to bolster tickets sales. If performers from some of the top shows in Vegas loved it, then it was a must-see, right? Not so fast. Depending on who you ask, it turns out that paid tickets for the show were averaging 50-80 sales per performance with the rest comped (freebies). But if all of those people love it, then they’ll recommend it to friends and attendance will build, right? Well, that would take time….which the powers that be weren’t about to grant.

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Fuerza Bruta was located just outside of Excalibur, which is owned by MGM Resorts. MGM runs nearly half of the major resorts on the Strip. So why weren’t they supplying the capital to help fund operations and allow for attendance of this remarkable show to grow? Four-walling, of course! If Fuerza Bruta failed, all Excalibur would have to do is pull down the advertisements and sweep away any remaining evidence of where the tent had been.

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Realizing that readers and friends who’d planned on seeing the show would never get that opportunity to do so made me angry. I took to social media to vent my frustrations. “What the Hell is wrong with Vegas? Nothing worthwhile stands a chance anymore!”

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Well, thank goodness for the reach of Facebook and Twitter, because my steam-valve post brought out lots of sensible responses from performers in and around the Strip. Mike Hammer of Mike Hammer Comedy Magic at Four Queens was the first to chime in:

You can blame it on this city all you want but they didn’t understand the fundamentals of running a show in this town. It comes down to poor marketing strategy. First of all the show has a name that is not memorable. I live here and can’t even pronounce the name. No way most people from the Midwest are even going to know what the show is. Also, it’s pretty hard to sell a show when you can’t even describe it. Everyone I know that has seen it, including has never described it in one sentence. They didn’t even leave enough time to build up a buzz.

Bad timing of when they opened too. Slower time of the year with March madness and spring break. Again, this a producers decision. They weren’t even selling 50 tickets so how can you blame it on this city?

Again, people that don’t get the VEGAS market. If they didn’t plan enough money to survive six months of marketing, they just were not ready. I wish the best of luck elsewhere where they know what they’re doing. I love VEGAS and it’s been a home to me for 16 years. I’ve seen shows come and go and most of the time it’s the producers or management fault.

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Enoch Augustus Scott, host of long-running hit Zombie Burlesque at Planet Hollywood’s V Theater also took exception to my finger-pointing at Vegas:

There are a million possible reasons besides fat Americans to account for this. Injury. Bad accounting. Or it could be the standing up. People stand and walk around Las Vegas all day along. Sometimes the only chance they get to sit is dinner or a show. Also the Las Vegas show demo skews older. Also people from all over the world come to Vegas. Cirque has been able to grow as big as they are by catering to and attracting an international market base. So you really can’t blame fat Americans on a show not running. Clearly the producers did not understand the landscape or have enough capital to go the 6 months. Happens all the time. Producers come here with a hope and dream and without a business plan or the necessary investment to run a show long enough for it to become a success. It is poor craftsman who blames his tools and even poorer performer who blames his audience. Literally.

While I agree on much of what Enoch says, he also had added “It was always meant to be a limited run. Calm down everybody.” Correct, but that limited run was for six months with the hope of an extension. Four weeks was clearly a failure with deeper implications.

 

See, that’s the problem with having so many choices in one city. Without brand recognition, a famous headliner or a simple-to-explain concept, your middle-American Vegas visitors just won’t make the time for it. Hence we’re inundated with magic shows, impersonators, topless revues and lots of “Circus Day Solay”.

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It’s interesting to note that Fuerza Bruta played in New York City from 2007 through 2016. That’s over 3,000 performances! But we’re talking about an entirely different demographic over there. Visitors to NYC book their tickets to Broadway hits months…and sometimes a year or more…in advance. They’re also a more sophisticated crowd that makes Broadway entertainment part of an elegant evening that includes fine dining while wearing tasteful and carefully-selected outfits.

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But in Las Vegas we’ve got 1) no backing from the host hotels, 2) no opportunity to build brand awareness….and 3) a group of visitors not exactly looking for high art to go along with their yard-long daiquiris.

I went poking around other social media outlets to see how people were reacting to the news of Fuerza Bruta’s sudden shuttering. Always-reliable VitalVegas.com had quickly published an article announcing the closure, and it was a comment from reader ExVegasLocal that caught my eye:

I was “this close” to buying tickets to see Fuerza Bruta for an upcoming trip. It looked like a really cool show, but I was on the fence because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be jostled in a crowd from one side of the room to the other for an hour. In the end, I decided not to bite.

No matter what Vegas thinks about itself, it’s not really that forward thinking/avant garde. Neither are its visitors. Hence the constant replication of one thing that works until it’s completely overdone. Another Cirque show/night club with one syllable name/shopping arcade in front of a hotel/pool party/CVS pharmacy anyone? Now that’s more like it.

Vin A., one of The Bronx Wanderers, had a humorous reaction to my post…one that was also deeply insightful:

Well THAT was obnoxiously fast 😢 i didn’t even get to see the freaking thing! Wtf? Need a low low overhead to survive out here. Why all the one man shows live on forever and a few small cast things barely squeak by. It’s tough as hell out here. You play here for the prestige, and you tour for the money that carries you through your losses out here. That’s the future.

Raja Rahman of the musical magic duo Jarrett and Raja added his own thoughts to the situation:

It’s never about the quality of the show. It’s the $$$ behind it. Ugh. The cycle continues. After our experience, I’m convinced this business model is crap. Any business needs time to ramp up.

“Our experience” no doubt refers to the troubles Jarrett and Raja encountered at various showrooms throughout the city. They’ve had to deal with four-wall scenarios and abrupt closures at downtown’s Plaza Hotel, Hooters Casino and Stratosphere. Even though these gentlemen are residents of Las Vegas, they often find it sensible and more lucrative just to take their talents on the road.

Actually, it’s a pretty common thing for Vegas shows to go on tours. And often they never return. A few years ago I shadowed a production as it searched for a suitable venue on the Strip. After months of meetings and hassles, they decided on a major casino with a troubled showroom history. Sadly, their production would just be another casualty in a long list at the historic south-Strip hotel.

An opening date was chosen, tickets were sold, sets were constructed and advertisements went up throughout the casino and outside. But after being frustrated by resistance and lack of support from the hotel’s regime, the producers abruptly decided to throw up their hands, walk out the door and take the show on the road without doing a Vegas residency.

It makes no sense. It’s like they don’t want you here. Why should I put up money and then fight with the people who I’m paying rent to? After all that, if I’m lucky I’ll sell two hundred tickets a night in Las Vegas. We could take this show to other places where entertainment like this isn’t available and sell out two THOUSAND seats a night. And those places roll out the red carpet for us.

And that’s exactly what he did. A show designed for the Vegas Strip had to leave the city in order to survive. And the showroom they walked away from still remains empty two years later.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but greed always puts short-term profit ahead of long-term goals. Let’s use BAZ as an example. That innovative musical was brought to Mandalay Bay from Los Angeles by none other than Cirque du Soleil. The launch occurred during an awkward time frame in which ownership and business models at Cirque were being radically altered. Cirque abandoned BAZ in no time and without their support it closed after only six weeks.

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      BAZ was the perfect blend of sass, class and contemporary pop culture…

That’s when the Sands Corporation stepped in. Recognizing the many benefits of having a fantastic and unusual show on their property, they forked over the money to retro-fit the Palazzo Theater and supported BAZ’s run for two years. BAZ was never going to be a huge hit, but it was a prestigious project that brought a great deal of class and pride to the Venetian/Palazzo family.

So on one side we’ve got performers stating from personal experience that the four-wall business model doesn’t work. And on the other we’ve got these huge corporations that just don’t care. Working within the confines of the current system, what can be done to help a show succeed?

Well, if there was an answer to that, then at least a few of the dozens of shows that died in 2017 and 2018 might still be around. And that theoretical answer still wouldn’t apply to an existing property like Fuerza Bruta. So should it have been the responsibility of the PR firm to suggest “Hey, your show isn’t going to work here without a bit of overhaul”? Unlikely….they’re a third-party agency being hired by the show to spread awareness and buzz….nothing more. And who tells their boss on the first day that people might not even want their product?

Besides, public relations firms work mostly within the industry, reaching out to people like yours truly and much larger outlets such as TV networks, magazines and newspapers. They can tailor an existing ad campaign to make it Vegas-centric, but a risky top-to-bottom re-do for one stop of a tour? Not gonna happen…and we’ve already decided that there’s no magic formula for success, so why even try to change what’s worked everywhere else on the planet?

Should the PR firm have at least suggested a name revision for the show? Again, that would have understandably been met with resistance from a product that’s already a worldwide brand. And yet, a temporary re-naming to “Fuerza Bruta – Brute Force” might have eliminated some confusion and put a few more arses in those non-existent seats. Even the wise folks at Wynn eventually decided after several years to officially change the name of  Le Reve to “Le Reve – The Dream”. Because, you know, French is hard!

So just how much is in a name? Maybe the folks at the Strat should be asking that question right about now. No doubt they are sweating, because their delayed-delayed-delayed tent show Celestia, which was supposed to open on January 30th, is suddenly looking at an even more troubled future.

Celestia, now set for a May 1st debut (even though tickets are still not up for sale), may have an edge over Fuerza Bruta simply because it’s a show created specifically for Vegas. But we can justifiably counteract that advantage with the simple fact that it’s way at the troubled north end of the Strip and not the heavily-traveled Excalibur/MGM Grand/Tropicana/New York NY intersection where F.B. failed.

Celestia can also boast having some Cirque du Soleil DNA in its genes….and a few years ago that might have mattered. But now it’s time to recognize something really scary: Cirque du Soleil is facing genuine trouble here in Las Vegas. I’ve been told by people behind the scenes that MGM Resorts is quietly preparing to shut down all of their Cirque shows by the end of 2020.

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                             It’s my blog, I’ll be dramatic if I want to be…

While that might sound like absurd conjecture, there is plenty of evidence to back this rumor up. For one, huge productions like KA, ZUMANITY and Beatles LOVE are now advertising on Groupon. Yes, Groupon…the place where you go to buy discount Botox treatments and personalized make-up bags.

 

 

In my Vegas Chatter days, Groupon was a clear indicator that a Vegas attraction was struggling badly and would soon be gone. If you don’t believe me try to visit Eli Roth’s GORETORIUM. That’s not always the case anymore, but with must-see shows like LOVE, it’s an embarrassing way to put butts in seats.

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Hundreds of empty seats during a Friday performance of Cirque’s “Beatles LOVE” 

I recently attended a Friday-night performance of LOVE and was shocked that the massive auditorium was perhaps 40 percent filled. Hundreds upon hundreds of empty seats. And that’s apparently been the case for most of the Cirque shows for awhile now.

Vital Vegas stated in May of last year that Cirque’s 2017 capacity had been running at around 50 percent. With the removal of free parking to Nevada residents and a continued drop in tourism, that number would look even bleaker in the first quarter of 2019.

MGM Resorts numbers bear out rumors Cirque shows running at 50-60% capacity in Vegas: 3.6 million Cirque tickets sold in 2017, 9,890/week avg. per show. At 10 shows per week, that’s 989 sold with avg. capacity of 1,700.

Vital Vegas was also one of the first to report that Cirque Vegas was undergoing huge layoffs behind the scenes as part of a massive cost-cutting measure:

As they say in show business, “Holy crap!” Cirque du Soleil has reportedly informed all their Las Vegas shows (excluding “Mystere”) all department heads (lighting, sound, wardrobe, etc.) will be let go Apr. 17.

7:19 PM – 23 Mar 2019

He followed that up with an even more troubling tweet:

Hearing at least one well-known Cirque variety act was spotted auditioning at another (non-Cirque) show in town, presumably due to safety concerns related to Cirque layoffs.

12:48 PM – 31 Mar 2019

So, department heads have been axed, individual shows are being consolidated under one umbrella and performers are supposedly jumping ship to save their own skins. Does that sound like Cirque du Soleil will be around much longer to you?

In November I visited the Vegas Cirque du Soleil headquarters for a profile on Kim Scott, their Senior Manager of Sourcing and Partnerships. In her twelve years with the company, Scott had spearheaded shows like KA, Beatles LOVE and Criss Angel Believe.

During the interview, Kim had proudly spoken about being “responsible for maintaining our position in the industry as a leader in live entertainment safety standards, and position(ing) Cirque du Soleil as an employer of choice.” Yet one week after the article was published, Ms. Scott notified me that she was leaving Cirque to start her own consulting firm. I was astonished…and a little concerned.

Scott had also mentioned at the time that Cirque was busy creating a new show for Luxor in the theater vacated by Criss Angel’s Mindfreak. Raise your hand if you’ve heard anything about that one….I certainly haven’t.

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          Wanna go gaga over Gaga? It’ll set you back about a grand….

If a major brand like Cirque is struggling, new shows can’t afford to open and dozens of existing productions have disappeared, what will the future of Las Vegas entertainment look like? I have three answers: pricey headliner residencies, sports teams and celebrity DJ’s.

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       This….person…was just hired by Palms Resort to the tune of $60 million…

I don’t think anyone’s unaware of the Golden Knights or the new Raiders stadium. And who isn’t buzzing about Lady Gaga‘s two new shows at Park MGM Theater? Katy Perry, Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Aerosmith and more are settling in for extended gigs. Throw in Marshmello/Calvin Harris and their ilk for the club kids and that’ll probably cover nearly every major kind of entertainment in the city.

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           1.8 billion dollars is the projected cost of the new Raiders stadium…

Oh, those little one-man shows will probably survive. And the strippers most likely will never run out of poles to swing from. But for productions shows, you’ll just have to head Downtown to the Smith Center. That venue for the performing arts will continue to host nationwide touring productions for short-term runs. Las Vegas will just be another stop on the schedule…no longer unique.

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               “Closed. Refunds will be available at the point of purchase.”

Clips and photos by Sam Novak. Except for a few from…wherever….

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Hot Guys of Vegas – Humanitarians and the Humane


The latest of my series on the good-looking men who make Las Vegas a better place to live…

Hard to believe so much time has passed, but it’s been five whole months since my last entry in the “Hot Guys of Vegas” series! Since we’ve just come out of the “Season of Giving”, it only seems fitting to salute this current crop of hunks. One way or another, they’re all doing their part to make Las Vegas more live-able, either by promoting businesses, supporting worthy causes…or sharing their love for the animal kingdom.

Ricardo Laguna – Pro BMX rider/ TV personality

 

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                                                          Ricardo Laguna

Where you’ve seen him – sporting events, magazines, community functions

There are very few people in Las Vegas who haven’t encountered Ricardo Laguna. This stunning man has been a resident since the age of thirteen. When he’s not emceeing an event, helping with a charity or enjoying time with his family, he’s flying through the air on his BMX bikes. Sometimes he’s doing all of them at once.

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           Raising funds for the NSPCA at Vegas Indoor Skydiving Tunnel Jam…

Ricardo’s known for his charisma, community efforts and undying love for the city he calls home. He also owns an eye-catching wardrobe, thanks in part to friend Ricci Lopez-Hammargren at STITCHED Men’s Haberdashery (more on Ricci soon). But underneath those gorgeous clothes is an equally stunning body. In or out of a shirt, Ricardo Laguna is always dressed to impress.

Several children’s charities are close to Ricardo’s chest…er, “heart” . You may find him doling out ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s “Free Cone Day” to benefit CASA Foundation or fighting childhood obesity via Jump 4 Joy Foundation. But whatever he’s doing or how high he soars. Ricardo Laguna eventually ends up with his feet…and his wheels…firmly on the ground.

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Noteworthy traits – defiance of gravity, ability to great cheese on his abs

 

Mike Foland – entrepreneur/reality TV star/entertainer

 

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                                                          Mike Foland

Where you’ve seen him – E!’s Men of the Strip/FLO Advertising/Chippendales

Mike Foland might not be a household name…unless you’ve seen him as the smooth-talking “Money Mike” in E! Television’s Men of the Strip movie event. Nevertheless, Mike’s presence is felt in just about every corner of Sin City. He’s a man on the move, just like his awesome FLO Advertising mobile digital billboards that you may have seen this blog displayed on.

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Foland is one of those guys that everyone seems to know and love…and rightly so. He has his hands in so many operations and activities that it’s hard to describe exactly WHAT Mike does…or just how wide his interests are. Along with the advertising business, Foland works behind the scenes to create new Vegas entertainment, is a member of the National Addiction Center Treatment Alliance and owner of Sunshine Sober Home in Florida.

Mike’s remarkable background is just as varied. The West Palm Beach FL native began as a wrestler which segued into an MMA fighting career. Somehow along the way he managed to become a member of the world-famous Chippendales. No shortage of testosterone in this guy, that’s for sure.

Mike says his dancing days are far behind him now, but love for animals will always be a part of him. Very much a cowboy at heart, Mike enjoys farmer life and outdoor activities. Fishing, boating, hiking and diving are all part of what makes this rugged hunk a real “man’s man”. But deep down inside and underneath that ever-present cowboy hat, Mike Foland is a true softie.

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Noteworthy traits – gentle demeanor, major masculinity

 

Jeffrey Frischmann – showroom manager/animal rescuer

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                                                    Jeffrey Frischmann

Where you’ve seen him – Mike Hammer Comedy Magic/Spirit of the King

If you’ve had the good fortune to attend one of the two sterling shows at Four Queens Hotel Casino, chances are you’ve met young Jeffrey Frischmann. This handsome, soft-spoken boyish gentleman presents himself with a demeanor and elegance reminiscent of the showroom maitre d’s of yesteryear Vegas.

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                  Jeffrey joins Steve Connolly onstage at Spirit of the King

Jeffrey usually wears a wacky logo t-shirt under his dark blazer. which adequately represents the dual personality of this outstanding guy. Jeffrey’s quite formal on the outside but life-loving and adventure-filled within.

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You’d be hard pressed to find a photo of Mr. Frischmann by himself. He’s always with…or holding…someone or something he loves. Married to lovely Ayin with two-year-old daughter Farrah, this family shares their home with some other very special members.

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Jeffrey and Ayin are actively involved in providing homes for French bulldogs. As part of Nevada Frenchie Rescue, the couple has been instrumental in relocating pets from other areas into better situations…and have adopted several of them as well. Of course, they’ve experienced many tearful farewells along the way, but Jeffrey knows that the pain is worth the rewards.

This aficionado of all things retro-cool loves to hit up antique shops with his pal Carrot Top, listen to rock music on his vintage record changer and play pinball with pals. During the scorching Vegas summers, Jeffrey heads out to Lake Mead for swimming, boating and diving. In the winters, there’s snowboarding to keep him fit.

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Being Mike Hammer’s right hand man means that Jeffrey is ever-present at fundraisers and charity functions that Hammer hosts and attends. Most notable is a series of annual Mike Hammer Celebrity Go-Kart Races that have benefited a long list of charities.

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However Jeffrey spends his days, you can always find this great guy charming his guests at the Four Queens Showroom five nights a week. Making people smile comes naturally for Jeffrey. He represents his generation VERY well.

 

Notable traits – tough-guy tattoos, boyish grin

 

 

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.

Las Vegas and the Australia Connection


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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                       Russel and myself after one of his Vegas performances

Russel sees a definite connection between Las Vegas and Australia:

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

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

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

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

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              The Australian Bee Gees celebrate all things disco at Excalibur…

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

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

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

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

MAGIC OF JEN KRAMER Is Delightful, Frothy Fun


Award-winning illusionist brings laughter, surprises and boundless charm to Westgate’s Cabaret Theater…

P.T. Barnum has one of the most memorable legacies in entertainment history. His recent resurgence in popularity, thanks to “The Greatest Showman“, reminds us that despite decades of change in entertainment culture, the master of deception had universal ideas:

“The noblest art is that of making others happy”. – P.T. Barnum

In the world of magic shows, there is an extremely familiar collection of illusions that most entertainers fall back on: card tricks, disappearing/reappearing, nail-biting escapes, “mind reading”, audience predictions and the classic saw-a-lady-in-half are all favorites. What makes or breaks these acts is how they are presented….and whether or not the entertainer is indeed a great showman. Or in this case, show person.

Much has been made in other media about the disproportionate amount of male magicians. I won’t belabor the point other than to say that it’s refreshing to see a lovely young lady front and center as the headliner of a magic show. And Jen Kramer has certainly earned her place on a Las Vegas stage.

Magic of Jen Kramer

Already familiar to fans of television shows like Masters of Illusions and Penn and Teller: Fool Us, Ms. Kramer has risen quickly through the ranks of the magical boys club. Think of her as a “Hermoine Granger” to David Goldrake‘s “Harry Potter”. Despite a young age (she graduated from Yale University in 2014), Jen’s already received honors such as the Merlin Award and Female Magician of the Year 2016 by the International Magicians Society.

Ms. Kramer kicked off her new residency at Westgate Las Vegas just last week. I attended on the second evening of what might be considered a soft opening. Despite a couple of minor technical gaffes, it was a fast-moving and altogether enjoyable 70 minutes. The intimate Westgate Cabaret is the ideal location for Jen’s illusions, many of which rely on detailed sleight of hand.

Magic of Jen Kramer

What Magic of Jen Kramer lacks in large production values is made up for with plenty of comedy, audience participation and charm. Kramer brims with enthusiasm for her craft, drawing the audience into her prestidigitation with a magnetism that Criss Angel could only hope to match.

Kramer’s ability to engage her guests is quite noteworthy. I immediately fell for this young performer, despite know nothing about her background or achievements. What followed that evening was indeed a collection of tried-and-true favorites, but delivered with a next-generation spin.

Magic of Jen Kramer

While the show could actually use some theatrical bombast, it’s off to a solid start. I’ll avoid describing individual illusions (nobody likes review spoilers, anyway). Instead, lets boast about the fact that Jen was able to pull off the near-impossible by stunning me with a few tricks that I’d never seen before (the Rubik’s Cube is still haunting me). That in itself makes this production worthy of the admission price.

The family-friendly show is suitable for all ages and an early start time makes it a perfect pairing for dinner at one of Westgate‘s adjacent restaurants (yes, that’s a blatant plug since I’m a known fan of their dining offerings).

Magic of Jen Kramer

Surprise me once and you can consider me a fan. Do it twice and I’ll call you amazing. Jen Kramer astounded me numerous times in her new residency. So I guess you can label me a “groupie”. Being a fan of Vegas magic acts, that can be considered high praise.

Magic of Jen Kramer performs Wednesday through Saturday at 6pm. Tickets start at $19.99 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here or purchased at the Westgate Box Office. 

Photos: Jen Kramer, Westgate Las Vegas, Beckett Studios, Sammasseur