Chestnuts, Snowfall and Stars: ‘A Vegas Room Christmas Cast’ Pt. 2


Conclusion of my two-part look at casting the brightest event of the holiday season….


Remember that feeling you had as a child? All through the month of December you stared at the calendar, counting down the days until Christmas vacation. Then came the unbearable anticipation of the big morning under the tree, with all of gifts, hugs from family and friends…and of course, a fabulous meal.

Now that we’ve gotten older, those emotions tend to be forgotten. But this year, more than ever before, our inner child is longing for those feelings of joy, comfort, and celebration. The one place in Las Vegas that you’re sure to find them this holiday season is at The Vegas Room.

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If you’ve missed my previous articles on A Vegas Room Christmas, you can read them by clicking here and here. You’ll learn about this magnificent production and the fabulous brunch or dinner that accompanies each performance. But let’s continue with the remaining members of the stellar cast, picking up where we left off last week.

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                                                                      Ruby Lewis

RUBY LEWIS – Is it unfair of me to state in this section that Ruby Lewis is one of my favorite performers of all time? Probably….but there are really no words to describe my affection for this gifted young woman. No matter where she goes or what she’s doing, you’ll most likely see me in the audience.

In a city full of inflated egos and self-importance, only a performer as humble and genuine as Ruby Lewis would prepare a pre-show feast of home-cooked greens, black-eyed peas and ham for her fans. This is one southern gal whose mama raised her right (thanks, Eve).

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                 I had the honor of sharing the BAZ stage with Ms. Lewis for a day…

I first encountered Ms. Lewis when she came to Mandalay Bay for the brief initial run of BAZ. Ruby’s stunning vocals brought audiences to their feet through her portrayal of “Daisy Buchanan”, debutante and heartbroken soulmate of one “Jay Gatsby”. I challenge you to watch this clip without getting goosebumps…and some tears in your eyes.

After a stunning leap to Broadway, Ms. Lewis returned to BAZ at Palazzo, played the lead in Marilyn! The New Musical at Paris Hotel Casino and hosted her one-woman show at The Space. You can catch Ruby and partner Ian Ward when they grace The Vegas Room stage for three consecutive Thursdays beginning October 29th.

Luke Striffler

Luke Striffler – If Ruby Lewis is the star atop the Vegas Room Christmas tree, then actor/singer/comedian Luke Striffler is the holiday eggnog. Smooth and bright with great body and a little kick, this is one Christmas cocktail you’ll want to sip all season long.

Luke charmed audience at Fremont Street’s D Hotel Casino in the popular Friends: The Musical Parody. He’s also created excitement with roles in Hairspray, Avenue Q. and Forever Plaid. Although born Stateside, Luke’s career took hold when he moved to London, where he starred in the featurette The Morning After with husband Joshua Berg. Two of Luke’s biggest breakthroughs were a role in the famed EastEnders BBC series and a semi-final placing on Britain’s Got Talent as part of The Kingdom Tenors.

Sin City gained more than just another handsome face when the multi-talented activist returned to the U.S. Once the pandemic shut down all live entertainment, it was Luke who created Performers Outlet: Covid-19, a support group for entertainers. The initiative provides encouragement, ideas, and opportunities for artistic collaboration while weathering this seemingly endless pandemic.

Janien Valentine

Janien Valentine – You know that you’ve achieved “entertainment royalty” when you’ve been immortalized by artist Neal Portnoy. That’s why people around the Valley wake up to a cup of Janien Valentine every day. Janien was “Portnoyed” by the famed caricaturist artist, who created a line of fundraising products to assist out-of-work entertainers (learn more by clicking here).

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Ms. Valentine plants her boots firmly in a variety of musical periods. She can belt out today’s top hits, pay tribute to ballads of years past, then roar back in time to the Strip’s Golden Era. An all-around entertainer with incredible dynamic range, Janien blends the flavors of Ann-Margaret and Celine Dion with a sprinkle of Lola Falana and a dash of Tina Turner.

The native of East Amherst, NY is well-known to audiences through her work with The Scintas. She’s the principal vocalist of the musical trio Poperazzi, and you can drink in her scintillating energy at Bellagio‘s Mayfair Supper Club. Ms. Valentine returns this Christmas season to The Vegas Room after a splendid showcase in August. 

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                                                                 Michelle Johnson

Michelle Johnson – If the warm, fuzzy feelings of the holidays could take human form, I suspect they’d look a lot like Michelle Johnson. There’s something about the style, elegance, and comforting voice of the “First Lady of Jazz” that makes you want to reach for a brandy snifter and settle in by the fireplace for a crackling-good show.

The multi-award winner has graced Broadway stages, television screens and venues throughout Las Vegas. She’s collaborated with artists as varied as Barbra Streisand, Sheena Easton, Elton John, Clint Holmes, PM Dawn and Josh Groban. 

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For many, a Michelle Johnson performance is synonymous with the holiday season. That’s why her “Vintage Christmas” at The Smith Center quickly sold out last December. Alas, that amazing venue for the arts has been shuttered indefinitely due to the pandemic. Fortunately, fans can still get their Christmas fix of the starlet at The Vegas Room all through December.

A self-described “introvert” who confesses to wrestling with stage fright, the accomplished singer/songwriter/producer/author nevertheless exudes confidence and charisma with every pitch-perfect note. Ms. Johnson’s solo shows are teeming with  humorous anecdotes and honest reflection that somehow make her feel like an old friend. In other words, she’s exactly the kind of person that you’d want to spend the holidays with.

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Ben Tucker and Emma McGirr –

What’s a musical production without a pair of professional dancers? The Vegas Room has broadened their vision for “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” with the addition of Emma McGirr and Ben Tucker. The real-life couple is part of Nevada Ballet Theatre, and have performed “The Nutcracker” both locally and for the Schrader Youth Ballet Company in Parkersburg, WV.

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Two years ago, McGirr and Tucker founded Ballet 120, an innovative dance company whose goal is to make the artform of dance accessible to larger audiences via social media platform. They do so by creating brief, innovative video performances like the one below.

Emma and Ben plan to marry on January 2nd of next year. A Vegas Room Christmas marks their first professional appearance at the venue.

Check back with Vegas Unfiltered Blog in the weeks ahead for more information on A Vegas Room Christmas, including community efforts related to the event. Follow this link for complete information on pricing, schedules and reservations. The Vegas Room is located at 953 East Sahara Avenue E-18 in the historic Commercial Center complex. 

Get ‘Portnoyed’ With Sin City’s Philanthropic Artist


Famed caricaturist Neal Portnoy donates talent and funds to furloughed Las Vegas performers…

Update 7/12/20 – In addition to the wonderful effort that Portnoy Gallery has put forth to assist entertainers in the community, this year it will be hosting a benefit for St. Jude Ranch for Children. The announcement from Dorothy Cannata Portnoy is as follows:

We are excited to announce our Annual Christmas in July event and Raffle Fund Raiser. Limited tickets for social distancing during event and unlimited virtual tickets available. The day will be broken down to 4 sessions each having different raffle prizes and one grand prize at last session including all who bought tickets Pick the group you like best or all. The virtual tickets are set up the same way. Click here for full details. Looking forward to a great day of supporting St Jude’s Ranch for Children.

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Donations of household items are also being accepted – you can request a copy of the wish list from Dorothy Cannata Portnoy by clicking here.

UPDATE5/17/20 –  Neal Portnoy messaged me to let me know that my oversized mug had been “Portnoyed”, too. The honor is overwhelming…and I’m thrilled that he made the decision to include me in this illustrious collection. You can obtain yours and help the unemployed entertainers of Las Vegas by clicking here.

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                                                         Hey, my mug is on a mug! 


For many entertainers, the benchmarks of success are seeing their name in lights and perhaps, someday, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But you’ll know that you’ve really made it when your likeness has been “Portnoyed”.

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Neal Portnoy is a successful artist who specializes in caricatures (or “cartoon portraits”) of famous performers and sports figures. His Portnoy Gallery in Las Vegas is a veritable shrine to pop culture and the entertainment world. Its centerpiece is the Wall of Honor, a collection of Portnoy’s most revered work.

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Once a year, the Gallery holds a red carpet induction ceremony that’s attended by public figures, prominent athletes, celebrities and one very special doggie. Neal’s background as a baseball player and sleight-of-hand entertainer gives him a unique insight that few artists possess. His portraits, most often created with felt markers, capture the dedication of his subjects along with their humor, talent, and charisma.

Working with felt markers is a unique and challenging medium. As Neal explains it:

Markers…unlike oils, unlike acrylics, unlike water colors…is a stain. You can change colors in water colors, acrylics and oils, and kind of put what you want down. But with marker, every line you put down, stays down.  If I make a mistake, I make it into something else…’cause every line is an expression.

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When it comes to being charismatic, the Massachusetts native exudes a wonderful degree of warmth and confidence. It’s easy to understand why some of the most powerful names in entertainment have entrusted their images to Neal. From members of the Las Vegas Raiders to Barry Manilow, Freddy Mercury to Aretha Franklin, each work of art is timeless and unforgettable.

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My first opportunity to chat with Neal was earlier this year. It was at the Summerlin birthday party of influential power-player Mark Messina, where I shared a table with the artist and his charming wife, former New Yorker Dorothy Cannata Portnoy. During our conversation, Dorothy told me that she is the gallery’s Director. She also tirelessly assists her husband in his efforts to support the local community.

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The Portnoys invited me to their studio to check out Neal’s collection. Alas, a certain pandemic became headlines soon after, placing my visit on a to-do list for when life returns to normal. In the interim, I’ve researched the gallery via websites and social media. There I learned about a heartwarming effort that the couple and Mark Messina have created to assist out-of-work Vegas entertainers.

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As you may recall from last week’s article on the Mondays Dark Live Stream Telethon, the residents of Sin City are unparalleled when it comes to taking care of their own. That’s why Portnoy Gallery has decided to donate 50 percent of sales from Portnoyed.com:

Las Vegas has been hit particularly hard due to quarantines and venue closures.  Our entertainers have been among the hardest hit.  We would like to give back to the community, by providing our out of work entertainers 50% of proceeds from our current online products.  Please browse our store for your favorite Las Vegas entertainer, and together we can help them get through this period.

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Up for grabs are 76 uniquely-designed coffee mugs, each featuring a beloved Vegas celebrity. Musicians like the Bronx Wanderers, Niki Scalera, David Tatlock, Mark O’Toole, Michael Shapiro, and Zowie Bowie can join your coffee break, along with comedians Carrot Top, Mike Hammer, and John Di Domenico. Even Messina and my colleagues Gabe Ginsberg, Chet Buchanan and Johnny Katsilometes have their mugs committed to a mug.

To obtain one or more of these uniquely Vegas collectibles (while simultaneously fueling the movement to keep Las Vegas entertainment alive) visit this link. Until the gallery reopens, you can browse and purchase prints of Neal’s creations by clicking HERE.

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Portnoy Gallery is located at 1537 W Oakey Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89102. Phone 702.685.2929 for more information.

Photos: Neal Portnoy, Dorothy Cannata Portnoy, David Orlov, Dianne Davis, Jonathan Scott

 

Bring the Excitement of Vegas to Your Home with ‘Virtual Experiences’


‘Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition’ and ‘Chippendales’ are just two of many Sin City favorites to enjoy under your own roof…

So, you’ve binge-watched every Netflix series and reruns of “FRIENDS” are making you want to hit the “unfriend” button. What’s a quarantined Vegas junkie to do? Well, if you saw yesterday’s article on the Mondays Dark Live Stream Telethon, you know that Sin City is doing its best to make you happy…while keeping its own artistic muscles in shape for an eventual ramp-up.

As efforts to assist furloughed entertainers are underway, you’re undoubtedly going through your own form of Sin City withdrawal. Now you can gather your fellow Vegas fans (following social-distancing guidelines, of course) and organize a virtual party for honest-to-goodness Las Vegas experiences. They’re brought to you by the same people who make your in-person visits so memorable.

TRAVEL BACK IN TIME AT TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBIT

Followers of my contributions to Las Vegas Magazine and BestOfVegas.com know that I’ve penned several articles on TITANIC: The Artifact Exhibition. This self-guided attraction is the biggest collection of recovered articles in this world. Inside are splendid recreations of the decks, staterooms, cabins and more. Immersive special effects allow you to experience the freezing air, feel the throb of the massive engines, and listen to voices from the past.

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TITANIC: The Virtual Experience, is a newly-launched 3-dimensional tour of Luxor‘s 25,000 square foot attraction. It’s accessible on computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The virtual experience is available at two price levels – the Light Version for $5 and the Full Version for $15. Both price levels are accessible for one week and can be renewed at the point of purchase. Options include these benefits:

Light Version – $5

  • Virtual walkthrough of the 13 galleries inside the 25,000 square feet exhibition
  • Detailed information and photos of each artifact on display
  • View what life was like aboard the “Ship of Dreams” through full-scale room re-creations of the Grand Staircase, Promenade Deck, Veranda Café, and more
  • View the largest piece ever recovered, a 15-ton portion of the Ship’s hull
  • Learn about conservation and recovery efforts of the artifacts recovered from the ocean floor

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Full Version – $15

  • All offerings of the basic tour experience
  • Audio tour available in multiple languages
  • Exclusive video content
    • Dive Expedition 2010 – Video of artifacts as they are being recovered from the wreck site at the ocean floor
    • Dive Expedition 2010 – Video of curators on board the recovery ship discussing the artifacts immediately after they were pulled from the ocean floor
    • Dive Expedition 2010 – Video from Titanic’s wreck site, including underwater footage of the Ship’s bow, stern, vast debris field, and more
  • Animated timeline of Titanic from the point of striking the iceberg to the sinking
  • Additional facts and information about Titanic, the wreck site, artifacts, personal stories of her passengers and crew

For more information, visit Titanic.live.

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If you’re looking for something a little less “educational” and a lot more “titillating”, then perhaps you might want to investigate Chippendales@Home, a new interactive virtual experience. Chippendales@Home allows you and your squad to hang out and party with the world-famous hunks live in your own homes.

Chat, flirt, play games, get or give a virtual lap dance – you’ll get to know the Chippendales performers in your own intimate group setting as they host your party making sure your night is special and memorable. Each 30-minute party will feature at least two Chippendales cast members and utilizes the streaming platforms ZOOM, House Party, FaceTime, and Google Hangout.

In addition to Chippendales@Home, the brand has been cranking out online experiences as people are urged to stay inside. Recent digital offerings include at-home workouts with cast members, Instagram Live chats with alumnus of the brand, and light-hearted digital content such as one of its current cast members performing a lap dance for a 12-pack of toilet paper.

As a limited-time thank-you to those who are keeping us safe and healthy, Chippendales is offering Chippendales@Home free to health care workers and first responders. Ticket-holders whose shows were postponed also receive the experience free of charge. For more info or to arrange your own virtual party, visit this link or call 866-CHIPP999.

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If you’re a fan of the long-running SUPERNATURAL series on CW Network, you were probably excited for the annual convention at RIO Las Vegas in March. Sadly, the virus was just beginning to spread and some of you might have opted to avoid the crowds and wait for next year’s star-studded gala.

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Now in an innovative move, Creation Entertainment has scheduled a virtual SUPERNATURAL convention with the participation of three fan favorites. Beginning Saturday, April 18th and running through Saturday, April 25th, director Richard Speight, Jr. and stars Lisa Berry (Billie) and Ruth Connell (Rowena) will host a series of Q & A sessions, chats, tarot card readings, invocations and more.

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What makes this event unique is that a portion of proceeds will go to charities and non-profits like Meals On Wheels, St. Michaels Hospital (Toronto) and Random Acts. For some sessions, participants are asked to pay what they can. Auctions will be held to join in on events designed for a limited number of fans.

To register for the SUPERNATURAL Virtual-Con, click HERE. Participants should create user accounts on the platforms ZOOM and StageIt in advance. Creation Entertainment also brings the official Star Trek Convention to Rio Las Vegas each year.

Whitney Phoenix Strikes a Chord at Bellagio Las Vegas

In addition to these large-scale offerings, there is a wide variety of concerts, intimate performances and live chats being broadcast, as well as the at-home workouts and dance classes I told you about right here.

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Bellagio‘s beloved lounge pianist Whitney Phoenix and singer/actress/comedienne wife Marianne LeMoine Phoenix (50 Pounds From Stardom) shared this marvelous evening recently.

Whitney also took to the keyboard for a solo set while Marianne fielded requests from viewers:

The smooth and classy Craig Canter has been giving regular performances from his own virtual lounge that he calls  “The Piano Room”:

Westgate‘s favorite crooner Mark O’Toole brought us some big band highlights. He sent video clips and updates from the cruise ship he was “stranded” on for an extended time, hoping for a port to disembark at and return to the States. Combine that with canceled flights and missing luggage, and it’s safe to say that poor Mark endured the kind of adventure that movies are made about.

Despite weeks of madness and uncertainty, Mark took a break from relaxing to assist in beloved artist Neal Portnoy‘s efforts to raise funds for out-of-work performers. Portnoy created a collection of custom mugs, each featuring a local entertainer immortalized in the artist’s unique style. Get yours by clicking here, and check out this extremely funny video:

The marvelous David Goldrake, whose IMAGINARIUM magic production at Tropicana garnered my “Best New Show of 2018”, has been entertaining internet audiences with a series of tricks and lessons:

If you know of any other Vegas virtual experiences, online entertainment or events that you’d like to be added to this article, please leave a comment or email me: Sam@VegasUnfiltered.blog