‘EXTRAVAGANZA- THE LAS VEGAS SPECTACULAR’ EMBRACES SIN CITY’S SHOWGIRL LEGACY


Click HERE to read this article via the awesome BestOfVegas.com site and save $27 on tickets to EXTRAVAGANZA.

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The famed Bally’s Showroom on the Strip is often referred to as the birthplace of the iconic Las Vegas showgirl. Whether that’s true or not can be debated, but the classic Donn Arden production JUBILEE! performed there for an incredible 35 years. Now, the spirit of that famed revue and the showgirls themselves are set to return in a new variety show called EXTRAVAGANZA – The Vegas Spectacular.

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Set to premiere on March 14th, EXTRAVAGANZA – The Vegas Spectacular will feature an international cast of more than 30 artists and performers. It’s directed by Hanoch Rosènn, the creative force behind WOW – The Vegas Spectacular at Rio Hotel Casino. And while the two share similar DNA, EXTRAVAGANZA will lean a little less towards “family-friendly” and a bit more towards the sensual and passionate.

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Advance buzz on EXTRAVAGANZA has centered around an extremely sexy cast of athletic and graceful performers. Guests can expect to be mesmerized by thrill-inducing acts that feature aerialists, acrobats, comedians, ventriloquists, and dancers. Some of the most astonishing feats of Sin City’s entertainment heyday will return, too, including the infamous “Globe of Death”.

Fans of Downtown’s Fremont Street Experience will surely remember the terrifying “Globe of Death”, a gasp-worthy stunt in which several high-speed motorcyclists roar around at top speeds while inside a spherical cage. The “Globe of Death” ranks with CELESTIA‘s “Wheel of Death” as one of the most popular and frightening daredevil acts ever to be performed in the city on a regular basis.

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EXTRAVAGANZA will also include a salute to Vegas icons like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, this time via state-of-the-art hologram technology. LED video screen backdrops, elaborate costumes, and large-scale sets will transport guests through several decades of songs, dances, and variety acts that laid the foundation for contemporary epic productions like Le Reve – The Dream and Michael Jackson ONE.

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Director Rosènn was inspired by the success of WOW – The Vegas Spectacular (two years, over 1,000 performances and counting) to create EXTRAVAGANZA as a tribute to Las Vegas and its legacy of entertainment.  “The show is my homage to this amazing city – bringing not only tremendous and unique performers from all over the world – but, also, some of the most iconic and thrilling acts, as well as, the return of the classic showgirls, who made the Jubilee Theatre home for so many decades.”

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EXTRAVAGANZA – The Vegas Spectacular premieres March 14th. It will perform Thursday through Tuesday at 7pm with an additional 9pm show on Saturday. Click HERE to purchase tickets starting at only $48 (plus taxes/fees).

Photos: Caprio Media Design for EXTRAVAGANZA – The Las Vegas Spectacular

 

 

2019 – The Year in Review: ‘What The CL#@K!? – The Second Half-Dozen


A look back at the second half of a year filled with memorable and some truly bizarre happenings in Sin City…

In the first half of this column, I began the year at a vacant, frozen outdoor carnival and left you hanging with the world’s biggest buttcrack at a stadium that was beginning to resemble a giant toilet bowl. Brace yourself, though…things were just starting to get weird. This is going to be a long one…

When the intense heat of Vegas summers reaches its peak, residents often enjoy their own version of “snowbirding” by heading to milder climates. With this being my first July as a local, I took the cue and headed for a ranch in the mountains of Oregon. The cool, fresh air revived my spirits, but then it was time to return for July 4th festivities back at home.

July –

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July 3rd was when the world moved…literally. While sitting on my couch writing a column for BestOfVegas.com, I felt the house begin to rumble and sway. Wondering if I was having a stroke or seizure, I scanned the internet and read page after page of “Did we just have an earthquake?” postings on Facebook. Although the city was a little “shaken”, the day continued.

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The early part of July 4th came and went with the usual pool parties and firecrackers, then the sh*t really hit the fan. I was at AMC Town Square watching a horror film when the Big One hit. Halfway through the film, the seats started bucking and the rows of chairs were visibly moving. I captured a quick video of the theater evacuation (above) which was picked up by local TV stations, Telemundo and NBC News out of New York City.

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Evacuating the shopping complex in my car, I barely dodged a tree that fell onto the road, then braved the bridge over the interstate to get home. Neighbors were in a panic and my underground irrigation system was ruptured, but other than shaken nerves, there was no real damage. Nevertheless, some of us have been a little on edge ever since.

The LGBTQ community came out to witness the official opening of ICONIC Nightclub. The reborn party spot took over a venue once occupied by SHARE. Despite a strong start and plenty of effort to make it a great alternative to popular PIRANHA, the turnout wasn’t strong enough to cover expenses and ICONIC shuttered in just a few months.

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As a regular patron, I was really disappointed by the lack of support for ICONIC. Owner Adam Simmons went above and beyond to provide outstanding staffing and make everyone feel at home. ICONIC offered great cocktails (my favorite was “Cucumber Fantasy”), wild entertainment and what may be the most attractive crew this city has ever seen, all at very affordable prices. So kudos to Adam and husband Jason for what they brought to the scene.

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My trip to Oregon had caused me to miss the grand opening gala of FLIGHTS Restaurant at Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops. Fortunately, owner Alex Hult welcomed me and allowed me to experience the establishment’s fantastic food and beverage options for this review. I’ve been a regular ever since. I’m just glad I wasn’t under that fuselage during the tremor. It must have been impressive to see the safely-secured airplane “taking flight” for a minute or two.

Monsoon season arrived by mid-July but was supposedly weak compared to previous years. It’s not unusual for the Las Vegas Strip to experience significant flooding during summer downpours.

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Remember to NEVER park on the ground level in the Linq/Harrah’s area, as that spot is prone to violently flooding.

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          Scott Roeben (VitalVegas.com) joined the gang on his first visit to Golden Tiki

As neighborhoods around the city cleaned up mud and debris, I took a watery trip of a different kind…down the rapids and over the falls to the Land of the Lost. Actors Wesley Eure (Will) and Kathy Coleman (Hollie) of the classic TV series paid a visit to The Golden Tiki, where the legendary TV siblings were presented with shrunken-head replicas of themselves, courtesy of Branden Powers and his ever-expanding Cabinet of Curiosities.

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On a whim, I invited Kathy and Wesley to join me for another rip-roaring ride…this time to Chippendales. The expressions on the faces of my childhood icons as the men of Chippendales strutted their stuff were priceless! Performer/host Jayson Michael gave the stars a rousing introduction and the crowd loved it. Talk about surreal!

Lest anyone forget, the biggest WTF of the year…and perhaps the decade, remains the Grasshopper Invasion of 2019. The final days of July made worldwide news as Sin City was covered in a blanket of billions of migratory grasshoppers. The swarms were so thick that they showed up on weather radar as thunderstorms. Luxor‘s light beam acted as a beacon, creating a scene straight from the Bible.

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Was Sin City being visited by one of the great plagues? The wrath of God, perhaps? Well, according to the scientists it was just a side effect of the valley’s unusually most spring. Those same experts also predicted that the invasion would last for several weeks, which it didn’t. So I’m sticking with the “Ten Commandments” explanation.

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Allegiant Raiders Stadium was just about to complete its frame-out, casting an impressive shadow along Interstate 15.

August –

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Rio Las Vegas seemed to constantly be in the news. Will it be sold? (It was.) Will it be leveled for a new stadium? (Time will tell). But for fans of all things Star Trek, what mattered was whether the annual Official Star Trek Convention would return for another year (it did).

Once again, thousands of fans from around the world flocked to the off-Strip resort, which was transformed into the USS Enterprise. Just about every square foot of the convention hall was utilized for lectures, interviews, broadcasts, photo ops, virtual reality exhibitions, vendor space and a recreation of Quark’s Bar (formerly located at Las Vegas Hilton).

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That same weekend, the Las Vegas Hilton, now known as Westgate Las Vegas, celebrated 50 years of history and rebirth with a massive gala. I was honored and excited to receive an invitation. The event was held in the Grand Ballroom with live entertainment, a spectacular dinner, and tributes by Mayor Carolyn Goodman and resort owner David Siegel.

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I learned that August is apparently the unofficial month of hangovers, thanks to nonstop parties in Las Vegas. First up was the Annual Black and White Gala, a benefit for AFAN (Aid for AIDS of Nevada). This year’s event returned to Hard Rock Hotel (soon to be Virgin Hotel) after a so-so outing to Mandalay Bay’s Daylight Beach Club in 2018.

The adults-only soiree’s attendees are encouraged to wear black and white (as much or as little as they dare) while enjoying live entertainment and a variety of bites and cocktails provided by sponsors. Attendees including an array of performers like the cast of Sex Tips, members of Tenors of Rock and my main girl Endia Abrante of ShowgirlArrivals.com.

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Much of the decor was provided by Michele Rothstein‘s Balloons With A Twist. Michele recently became engaged to comedian John Di Domenico, best known as the World’s Greatest Donald Trump Impersonator.

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John provided the laughs at last year’s Mondays Dark year-end celebration and had proven to be a perfect foil for Ester Goldberg and Anne Martinez at Totally Outrageous Brunch. Congratulations to one of Sin City’s happiest couples and thanks to Michele for making the colors black and white even more beautiful.

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The next party was a media launch at Sugar Factory’s Chocolate Lounge for burlesque performer/singer Melody Sweets‘ new single “Flavor of the Month“. Guests included Amy Saunders of Miss Behave Game Show, fitness competitor/health coach Mandy White Eskelin and husband Sami Eskelin (Chippendales, sports fitness entrepreneur). My prolific colleague Chris Yandek of CYInterview.com posted this interview with Ms. Sweets soon after.

More festivities followed at Silverton Casino‘s VEIL Pavilion with the CFO of the Year Awards, sponsored by VegasINC and City National Bank. Next up was Havana Nights: Top Men of Success hosted by MyVEGAS Magazine and Blue Martini at Town Square.

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As for the Stadium, it had now come full circle…..er, “oval”.

September –

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Labor Day signals the unofficial end of summer, where the pool lines start to thin out and tourism drops. If all of that August party-going didn’t exhaust you, the final holiday of the summer surely would.

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I spent the evening enjoying the sounds (and sights) of DJ Nick Ayler, whom you may remember from this profile piece. Nick and I had a great time chatting (and downing tequila) between his sets at AVANT Lounge inside Iconic Nightclub. The crowd was a bit thin but the fun was certainly memorable.

Over at OYO (the former Hooters Hotel Casino), master mixologist Eddie Perales was keeping things smoking with his longtime partner and fellow cocktail craftsman Bobby G. You may remember Eddie from his many contributions to the Rio, Paris, and Westgate hotels, among others. He is also a world record holder in cocktail creation and a longtime Sin City resident.

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The newly-rebranded Sahara Hotel held a bubbly premiere for their champagne-themed adult variety show Blanc de Blanc. The men of Aussie Heat joined celebrities like SEXXY‘s Jennifer Romas, magician David Goldrake (who’s been teasing a Vegas comeback), BMX pro Ricardo Laguna, mentalist Marc Savard and musician Vin A. from The Bronx Wanderers.

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A pre-show gathering was held at the brand-new CASBAR LOUNGE before moving to the main event. Cast members from Thunder From Down Under and FANTASY enjoyed the performance from their VIP Premium-seating hot tubs. Yes, you read that correctly. Hot-tub seating for a Vegas show….why not?

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Just like the Star Trek Convention, this year’s Olympia Fitness Expo and Competition lured in thousands of devotees. Celebrities like Mark Wahlberg enjoyed top billing while Tropicana‘s own Chef Robert Irvine peddled his products and posed for pics.

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No matter where you looked, hot bodies and healthy lifestyles were on display. Vegas nightclub favorite and romance-novel coverboy Nick Bennett was busting his sleeves while promoting CELSIUS fitness and energy drinks, taking over for rapper Flo Rida from the previous year. I was unsuccessful in getting his shirt off for a pose, but there’s always Olympia Expo 2020

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Community-driven venue The Space was host to special fundraising event The Power of Pink and Purple to benefit the American Cancer Society. Organized by the big-hearted Logan Seven, the evening gathered those same tireless performers from Aussie Heat, SEXXY and David Goldrake along with Swing It Girls and “Pink” illusionist Kenneth Rex.

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Even though Monsoon Season 2019 was about to officially come to a close, the skies above Vegas offered one final reminder to never become complacent.

October –

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The tenth month of the year began on a solemn note, as it will continue to do so for decades to come. October 1st marked the second anniversary of the mass shooting across from Mandalay Bay. I happened to capture the above photo from the hotel’s rooftop Foundation Room.  You can spot the location across Las Vegas Boulevard as a darkened area that was once home to Route 91 Harvest Music Festival.

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No city does Halloween the way that Las Vegas does. Things get an early kick-off here, too. October 2nd saw the debut of SCARE at Town Square, an immersive and expansive experience to be shared by young and old. And best of all, there was an adults-only nightclub area, too.

The charity-driven UNDEAD MAZE rose once again, this year at Tivoli Village in the northwest section of the city. A passion project by tireless entertainer Shaun Friedrichs with ample assist from big-hearted Heidi Elkhill, it’s rated as one of the top haunts in the city.

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Hofbrauhaus on Paradise Road continued their annual tradition of Oktoberfest celebrity keg-tappings. The line-up this year included Zowie Bowie‘s Chris Phillips, Chippendales, Australian Bee Gees and Ricardo Laguna. If you’ve never experienced an evening at Hofbrauhaus, you owe it to yourself to visit. BTW, the talk is true….the staff paddles patrons on their birthday.

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Historic Mansion 54 in the Arts District kicked off costume parties with The Shade Tree‘s 30th Anniversary Mask Off Gala. The Shade Tree is an organization that provides sanctuary and support to women in jeopardy along with their children and pets.

Entertainment during the fundraiser was provided by the cast of Le Reve. PHo headliner Christina Aguilera made a brief appearance to accept an award. Amazingly, I missed seeing the superstar, as it was blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brief. Thank goodness the food by sponsors like Evel Pie, VegeNation, PublicUS and Le Thai was so memorable.

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Campy horror-comedy EVIL DEAD: The Musical made a “splashy” return to Las Vegas, this time with a significant upgrade. The onetime hit at V Theater had a two-week run as The Evil Dead HD Tour at The Space.

The community-driven venue was draped in plastic and outfitted with immersive high-resolution video “sets” that were used to brilliant effect. Rabid fans of the “Deadites” clamored for the front sections, where they’d be soaked in a spray of gore. How often do you see audience members exiting the theater while wringing blood from their hair and clothing?

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             This fellow was so soaked in fake blood that he threw his shirt in the trash…

November –

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The penultimate month of the year was a mellow one by any standards. No swarms of insects, not a single earth-shaking event…just a few new openings, a haloed moon and the return of one very bright star.

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Once again, The Space was THE place to be for noteworthy activities. While the best little theater in the city had been serving up gore and body parts just a few weeks earlier, now it was dishing out good old southern cooking and a night of unforgettable vocals.

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Demonstrating a level of class and warmth rarely seen these days, songstress Ruby Lewis made a triumphant return to the Vegas stage. The star of BAZ and Marilyn: The New Musical brought her one-woman show for a single-night event that was treasured by fans. Offering a clever mixture of prose, memories, laughter and towering vocals, Ms. Lewis and her band reminded everyone that the best performers are never too great to lose their sincerity.

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Ruby greeted guests with a crock of her own black-eyed peas, turkey, and cornbread, then joined them after the show for pictures and hugs. Self-proclaimed “divas” like Mariah and Madonna could learn a vital lesson from this classy young woman – R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

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ARIA opened KALOLOGIE, the very first and only medspa located on the Strip. Housed within the hotel’s expansive spa, KALOLOGIE offers treatments like body contouring, laser skin treatments, injectables and get this…..IV hydration therapy.

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So if the effects of Vegas partying take their toll on your face and body, you can still return looking better than when you left home. We in the media were treated to a flashy shindig with free B12 shots and a bag of goodies to take home. I’m addicted to my FOREO sonic skin cleansing device.

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ARIA was also one of the first hotels to officially kick off the holiday season. Their culinary artists from Aria Patisserie created a life-size gingerbread house in the main lobby, along with a counter to purchase hot beverages and sweets. I happened to be there when the pastry chefs were gathering for official photos, and they seemed deservedly proud of their work.

Beloved charitable photographer Noel Dahl presented yet another beautiful fundraising calendar, this time to benefit Amor Peludo Animal Rescue. Featuring adorable kittens, pups and hot male celebs like Ryan Worley, Adam Barr, and Gerry Haro, the event took place at Lazy Dog Restaurant in Town Square.

Alas, Mr. Dahl was once again the victim of higher-than-thou patrons who found his artistry to be offensive. A few faint-hearted Sin City parents complained to management that photos of shirtless men were in view and demanded that the fundraising display be removed.

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You may recall this article that I penned detailing Noel’s work being dragged through the mud by parents on local television. These are the same hypocrites who choose to raise their children in a city where prostitution billboards roll down the streets. To them, I say “Go f*ck yourselves”.

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Speaking of billboards, this riotous monument to failure was spotted along I-15 and the Desert Inn overpass at the tail end of November. Apparently, the abrupt closing of KAOS right after Halloween left no contingency funds for pulling down the advertisements. That meant we had to continue looking at the smelly remnants (aka “Cardi B”). Don’t let her roofie and rob you, guys.

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The always colorful Golden Tiki brought the month to a memorable close with their annual Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Traditional Peanuts favorites like jelly beans, pretzels, toast, and popcorn were served on a pingpong table while a pair of naughty parrots sang dirty limericks and farted overhead. Only in Vegas, friends….

December –

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The month of December was bitterly cold by Vegas standards. Just like in February, the snows arrived on a recurring basis. Roads to Mt. Charleston, the Red Rock scenic driveway and interstate to Los Angeles were closed to traffic, leaving thousands of motorists unable to reach their destination during the height of holiday travel. Luckily, the city has thousands upon thousands of extra hotel rooms in what is always the slowest tourist season of the year.

The days leading up to Christmas turn Sin City into a bit of a ghost town. The only real activity comes from the residents, who go about their business as usual. Shows and restaurants go on hiatus, casino workers use their vacation time and hotels drop their rates to the lowest of the year. For those looking for a quiet, affordable getaway, mid-December in Las Vegas is bliss.

While the resorts took advantage of the downtime to dive into construction projects and improvements, the tireless members of The Bronx Wanderers were adding more shows to the schedule. In addition to special Christmas performances of their residency at The Linq (moving soon to Harrah’s showroom), breakout star Vin A. was spearheading a collection of three holiday spectaculars around the valley.

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I was fortunate enough to attend A Very Swingin’ Christmas at M Resort on December 21st, where Vin was joined by studly guitarist David Braun and patriarch Vinny Adinolfi. A crackerjack band, members of the Beach Boys and other talented musicians made for an unforgettable night that I hope will return next year.

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One entertainer who won’t be back is funnyman Jeff Civillico. After a decade of shows on the Strip, Jeff has decided to step off his unicycle, put down the juggling balls and focus on other ventures. The handsome comedian has been outspoken with his frustration at casino management over lack of support for entertainers. So he’s decided to step away from the Vegas stage. We’ll miss him.

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Russ White of QLife Media and The Charity Gurus was able to provide me with one final photo of Allegiant Raiders Stadium construction for the year. He took it from his condo in Veer Tower, part of CityCenter complex on the Strip.

Over at Rio, WOW – The Las Vegas Spectacular celebrated two years and 1,000 performances. A post-show party at CHAYO was attended by cast, crew, publicist Michael Caprio and the creator Hanoch Rosènn, who flew in from Israel to attend. Mr. Rosènn was incredibly kind and complimentary regarding the article I’d published on the show a few weeks earlier. During the tumultuous times for live entertainment productions, it’s wonderful to see WOW‘s success.

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Venetian/Palazzo is gearing up for another success of their own. Continuing their tradition of opening new restaurants at the close of the year (Matteo’s, Mott 32), my favorite luxury resort gave a sneak peek at Majordomo Meat and Fish. The latest offering from Chef David Chang is a massive undertaking located on Palazzo casino’s northwest side.

The invitation-only gala was attended by my wonderful colleague Allison Duck, hunky FREEZONE bartender Ric James Naughton and KTNV personalities JJ Snyder, Jason Dinant and Micah Manalo along with talented singer Brandon Nix (Magic Mike Live, Rock of Ages, Velvet Elvis). Majordomo Meat and Fish is open daily from 5:30opm to 10:30pm.

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At last, New Year’s Eve was upon us, so it was back to Westgate Las Vegas for their annual gala. This year’s attendees included FOX5 Emmy-winning anchor Jason Feinberg, the cast of Soul of Motown and prolific go-to photographer Ira Kuzma accompanied by his lovely wife Marie.

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After an incredible dinner, dancing, east-coast ball drop and entertainment throughout the resort by classy crooner Mark O’Toole and David Perrico’s Pop Strings Orchestra, the party moved upstairs via private elevator to Westgate’s famous Versailles Sky Villa. The rooftop mansion’s outdoor deck provided the perfect location for fireworks viewing of both the Strip and nearby STRAT Skypod.

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From there it was off to Charlie’s, a country-western bar near Orleans Casino that has somehow become a destination for local drag queens. They hosted a costume contest into the wee hours that was as funny as it was outlandish. And that’s how 2019 came to a close…as oddly as it began. Because nothing says “New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas” like cross-dressers and barechested muscle boys. Happy 2020, everyone!

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This year-end wrap-up is dedicated to the memory of my little lady Daphne, who passed away on Christmas Day.

 

 

 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: AFAN, Piranha Nightclub via Facebook

 

‘Celestia’ Comes to Earth By Way of the Vegas Strip


New astral-themed production opens at the STRAT…

Anticipation’s been as high as the massive tent erected on its behalf. An announced January premiere came and went, as did competing tent show Fuerza Bruta. But after many delays and hoopla galore, CELESTIA has finally come to Earth…and landed on the Las Vegas Strip.

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CELESTIA is the first large-scale entertainment offering under the STRAT’s new ownership and name. As the iconic hotel casino continues its evolution from Stratosphere into a decidedly more hip and relevant offering, CELESTIA has become an inadvertent keystone of their new image and business model. Naturally, a lot hinges on its success.

Last week’s official premiere was flashy and epic in scope. Celebrities like BMX pro Ricardo Laguna and entertainers from all over the city enjoyed signature cocktails and delicious bites at a pre-show reception. Then guests grabbed boxes of popcorn before heading into the main tent.

The cavernous performance space, which is beautifully landscaped on the exterior, looks even larger thanks to colorful motion projections of the cosmos. Stars twinkle in every direction and colorful astral bodies spin and glow. The stage is arranged proscenium-style, an unusual departure from the typical circus-in-the-round.

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But CELESTIA is more than the traditional three-ring spectaculars of your childhood memories. As a live band pumps out the arresting opening number, a large international cast appears from all directions. Still more plunge downward from unseen platforms, filling the air and stage with wonder.

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A threadbare premise follows central character “Celestia”, a star who’s taken the physical form of a young woman. Hoping to learn about artistry and human emotions, Celestia journeys through our world accompanied by a pair of comical sidekicks. Of course, this story line is just an excuse to present a variety of colorful and jaw-dropping acts.

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The fledgling production is beautifully mounted with snappy pacing, memorable costumes and a very attractive athletic cast. Contortionists, aerial artists, archers and knife-throwing wizards fill every square foot of the wide, neon-lit stage. Performers run through the aisles and leap onto platforms scattered throughout the audience, making for great photo-ops along the way (the show is flash-free picture-friendly).

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Fans of The Greatest Showman will enjoy seeing Russian Bar athletes The Sandou Trio. America’s Got Talent finalists Sergey and Sascha bring their stunning head-to-head balancing act to Vegas crowds as well. A spectacular sequence on the Wheel of Death will have you alternately hiding your eyes and raising your voice with cheers. Mounted of a massive scale, this finale rivals anything Cirque du Soleil can offer.

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Speaking of Cirque, you may wonder where CELESTIA fits into an already crowded entertainment landscape. Click here to continue reading… 

Photos: CELESTIA, Sam Novak

 

 

 

 

2017 In Review – Ranking The Resorts


There’s something for everyone when choosing a hotel. But not all of them deserve your business…

Best Luxury ResortPalazzo

Best Worst Vegas 2017

The Venetian‘s more contemporary sister property has what it takes to satisfy your luxury needs without overt attempts at “hipness” (Cosmopolitan) or coasting on a previously-established reputation (Bellagio).

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The Palazzo offers easy access from Las Vegas Boulevard, free parking, spacious rooms, flawless service, gorgeous common areas, lush pools and an airy, high-ceiling casino. Visitors can indulge in top-notch lounges (check out my write-up of the new Rosina Cocktail Lounge), restaurants, shops, the famous Canyon Ranch Spa and the Best Overall Show in Vegas (BAZ: A Musical Mash-up). You can learn more by visiting my full write-up here.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Palazzo is easily my choice for best five-star accommodations in Las Vegas.

Most Improved ResortWestgate Las Vegas

My relationship with Westgate (aka the former Las Vegas Hilton) began three years ago….and was rocky to say the least. An unflattering article I had penned for VegasChatter.com got a very professional response from a member of the team in charge of transforming the aging off-Strip giant into a newly-born destination.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

“Give us another chance. We’ve got great things happening here”. That was the message, in essence, of the Westgate Las Vegas representative. And he wasn’t just tossing some pretty words and glitter in my direction. Promises were kept…and I’ve been back many many times since.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

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The current state of Westgate is one of gloriously-restored elegance. Brass has been polished, gorgeous chandeliers have been restored, the marble flooring is immaculate and guest rooms are all modern and sleek.

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The property has recruited some of the finest chefs in the city to operate an admirable line-up of new restaurants (see my monthly series of profiles to learn more about the people behind the dishes). Then there’s the glorious new Serenity Spa, an extension of Westgate’s acclaimed facility in Park City, Utah (you can see my detailed experiences at Serenity Spa here).

Serenity Spa Westgate

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Every Westgate staffer from valet to reservations to the hostess at Sid’s Cafe will offer their name and ask you for yours. There’s a vibe throughout the casino that’s palpable and contagious. You’ll feel that your patronage and presence are appreciated…and you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

You can expect lots of new entertainment offerings to take up residence at Westgate this year (Barry Manilow is coming back!) and you can continue to enjoy free parking as a hotel/casino guest.

By the way…don’t be put off by the off-Strip location. A convenient monorail station at the FRONT of the hotel (not far in the rear like everywhere else) can get you from your room to center Strip in a matter of minutes.

Re-think your ideas of how a 2018 visit to Las Vegas should be. Give Westgate a try…and prepare to be wowed.

Steepest DeclineRio Las Vegas

Best Worst Vegas 2017

A short decade ago, the Rio was one of my favorite places to stay and play. There was a vibrance throughout the resort that made it worth the visit. These days, it’s just a sad red-and-blue stepchild of the Caesars family, mostly forgotten and seemingly just hanging on.

The restaurants are nothing to brag about, Masquerade Village is still a giant echo chamber, Kiss by Monster Mini Golf turned out to be a dud and the once-legendary Carnival World Buffet now operates on limited hours. At least there’s still the wonderful Chippendales and new WOW – World of Wonder to keep me stopping by for a few hours.

Miniature stages throughout the gaming floor used to light up regularly for songs and dances by “Bever-tainers”. Now those performance spaces sit empty and ignored (a current cocktail server told me that “most of them are broken and just don’t work anymore”). The stage and overhead tracks for once-popular Rio Show In The Sky also remain, dusty and forgotten.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

An unpleasant odor permeates certain areas of this hotel, uncomfortable reminders of the Legionnaire’s Disease incident that affected numerous visitors last year. Guest rooms and common areas are maintained with indifference. The conditions of the fitness facilities and spa areas have badly deteriorated as well.

There are better places to choose than Rio Las Vegas…and the ever-rising mandatory resort fee (currently $34.01 per day, up from $18.99 plus tax in 2016) does nothing to make me want to book there again. After a lackluster stay in mid-December resulted in my complaining via email and phone to the manager, I cancelled my next visit (which was scheduled for the very next week).

Staffers at Rio seem to be going through the motions of their chores across the board, much like the team at Sahara did in the years leading up to its closure. Which brings us to…

In The Throes of DeathSLS (the former Sahara)

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Driving towards the north Strip property once know as Sahara, you’d be hard-pressed to know exactly what the name is. The sign reads SLS at the bottom and a giant twinkling W at the top. Why, exactly? Because this is a property with an identity crisis…and no good reason for existing in its current state.

SLS Las Vegas answers a question that nobody in their right mind would ask: “What would happen if you whitewashed (literally and figuratively) a heavily themed historic property, filled it with Vegas-lite duplicates of Los Angeles dining/nightclub favorites, then tried to lure the L.A. millenials over the state line?”.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

The answer is “not much”. There’s no reason for the hip L.A. crowd to come to Vegas for inferior copies of what they already have. Nevertheless, the combined arrogance of Sam Nazarian and SBE led to betting heavily…and losing…on a proposition that was never going to work.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

All seven Fred Segal stores were shuttered, along with LIFE Nightclub and an excellent buffet that lasted all of three months. SLS promised to reopen the buffet in early 2015. I’m still waiting.

If only SBE has taken a cue from Westgate and honored the Sahara‘s legacy with a little updating instead of throwing it out the back door, they’d probably be sharing a different place on this list.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Someday, logical will prevail and SLS (which sold off a portion of the resort to the W hotel chain…that tower now operates as a separate entity) will be reborn once more as “The New Sahara”. Until that time, you can consider SLS to be as good as….

DeadLucky Dragon

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Here’s another resort with no good reason for existing. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing worthwhile to offer guests, the Lucky Dragon announced the closure of its casino and restaurants just yesterday.

This has got to be some kind of record. After only 13 months and one day of operations, a brand-new casino resort has shut down everything but the tiny little hotel. Employees have been sent packing only four days into the new year…a sad start for them and a bad omen for any hope of Resorts World actually making an impact on the north end of the Strip.

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It was clear after a highly-touted early opening that just a few months into the year, Lucky Dragon was anything but lucky. Restaurants Pearl Ocean and Dragon Alley were reworked along with the high-limit areas of the gaming floor. The excitement of a brand-new hotel casino had completely fizzled, and by the time I visited in late mid October, at least one restaurant was shuttered and the entire complex was virtually empty.

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As the financials are reworked and optimistic press releases tout a full reopening of Lucky Dragon, expect the northern face of the famous Las Vegas Strip to continue fighting some really persistent blemishes. And one big blue tumor.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Abandoned Fontainebleau Resort                         

 

Photos: Greg C., Sammasseur

 

 

 

 

 

 

“WOW” is Wet Outlandish Whimsy on a Grand Scale


Rio’s water-themed production salutes the heyday of Vegas variety….

If you’ve read my show reviews and columns through the years, you’re probably aware that I’m not a fan of the direction the Vegas entertainment has headed. You know the kind I mean…manufactured talents clogging up enormous venues with their auto-tune warbling. Has-been “divas” sleep-walking and lip-syncing through high-ticket residencies for an enormous paycheck. So-called “celebrity DJs” with their creepy mugshot-style billboards peppering the main roads of the city. It’s all garbage!

Sorry, folks, but Vegas was built on the backs of real talent. If you don’t know or don’t remember what that is, you can check out the amazing musical BAZ at Palazzo, where singers can dance and dancers can sing. And they combine their complex roles with superb acting, offering wide-spectrum talent from every member of the cast.

In recent years, an assortment of variety shows have sprung up that remind us of the glorious era of Vegas. Dancers, singers, circus acts and comics zipping on and off the stage in a constant barrage of whimsy to thrill and dazzle. WOW – World of Wonder is the latest of these, and it’s definitely on my list of must-see-again thrills.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW is a rare commodity on the Sin City entertainment scene. It dares to be simultaneously silly, chaotic, retro and modern while offering high-tech amazement. WOW wears its randomness on its sleeve, starting here and jumping over there. You never know who will be coming onto the stage, creeping up behind you, descending from the ceiling or rising from the depths.

If some of that sounds a bit like Le Reve, you’re right. There are plenty of moments in WOW that resemble Wynn’s signature production, along with Absinthe, Mystere, Vegas! The Show and the sadly-defunct Vegas Nocturne at Cosmopolitan’s Rose.Rabbit.Lie. I offer those comparisons as compliments, as all have been personal favorites.

What differs with WOW is in the presentation, starting with the venue. Rio‘s refurbished Crown Theater will definitely elicit a “wow” from your lips. Not necessarily from the seating arrangements (which are a bit dated and not-quite-lush) but from the main stage and panoramic video panels, which are absolutely gorgeous and impeccably utilized.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Dazzling moving images of waterfalls and intensely-colored landscapes resemble Wonder Woman’s “Paradise Island” and Ariel’s undersea kingdom. Atmospheric sound design adds to the effect, creating significant anticipation for the show to begin.

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The thin plot line involves a nerdy fisherman, badgered by a harpy’s voice into catching something for dinner. Hunkering down in his yellow slicker, he casts his line into the water.  Of course, his baited hook is just there to grab the audience and take them on a journey to the fantastic.

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What follows is a hodgepodge of circus acts, peculiar talents, humorous bits and large-scale production numbers. Some are familiar, like the skating act from Absinthe and V – The Ultimate Variety Show. Others offer talents you’ve surely never seen before.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

That in itself would work just fine…if the individual acts didn’t play to drastically different age groups. For instance, a sexy sequence with three lovelies swimming inside a clear glass bowl (similar to Zumanity but without the toplessness) is geared toward adults. But it’s preceded by a lengthy Pirates of the Caribbean spoof that’s best appreciated by children.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW follows the classic set-up of having smaller acts draw your attention while the big set pieces are setting up behind a curtain on the main stage. One moment an Italian chef is spinning plates on the streets of old Venice.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The next, a hot-bodied group of dancers is strutting their sexy stuff to popular and classic music. Just wait until you see the salute to Singing In The Rain, wherein the raindrops actually form the shape of umbrellas. Clever!

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

All of it is superbly done and most is highly enjoyable…and really, really random. But that’s what’s great about variety shows, especially in our era of short attention spans. As they say about San Francisco weather, if you don’t like what’s happening, just wait a moment.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Perhaps that’s why Riviera’s SPLASH and Bally’s JUBILEE!, a pair of Vegas classics, lasted for decades.  The format also allows for frequent refreshing, so each visit is sure to yield a unique experience.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The epic production numbers were my favorite aspect of WOW, especially a jaw-dropping ballroom scene aboard the Titanic. Your entire field of vision is filled with the ship’s interior, rising waves seen through the windows and a cast of dancers that is suddenly engulfed in the deluge. This obvious nod to the legendary sequence in JUBILEE! takes the experience much, much farther. Hold onto your life preserver!

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

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My least favorite act involves Guinness World Record holder Dickson Oppong of West Africa. This large fellow has the unique ability to guzzle huge amounts of water, then spray it as continuous stream from his mouth. Although fascinating, it’s also a bit disturbing. Germ-aphobes may wish to avoid sitting in the splash zone.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

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More entertaining is a bit involving statues who become fountains too…in a funny, clever way. The gag builds layers of whimsy until it segues into another a trio of swimmers. I’d have like to have seen the statues go on a bit longer first.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Sadly, the comic-relief character that opens the show has solo moments that go on way too long. He also gets worked into too many of the other acts. Mostly wordless, his child-like bits involving a clap-along and a series of boo-boos make for excellent bathroom breaks. But he’s still more entertaining than the creepy, annoying clowns of O.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Some acts would be more at home in a traveling circus but don’t necessarily translate well to an evening Vegas production. Perhaps the fact that WOW comes from overseas (Israel, in fact) helps to explain why it feels so offbeat. The weirdness isn’t the same as Cirque du Soleil‘s French humor…nor is it as annoying. But a little fine-tuning for Vegas audiences might do WOW a whole lot of good.

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I also had issues with some clumsy sound cues and abrupt changes in volume that distracted from the performances of a uniformly excellent cast. As the show is relatively new (it opened just last month), things like this should eventually be worked out.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

But that’s a small complaint when compared to the scale of talent and visuals represented here. The 30-member international cast is beautiful and overflowing with skill. And they have one goal in mind – to leave you saying “WOW”.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The success of any variety production depends largely on whether you’re drawn into the premise. WOW succeeds in capturing your imagination. It grabs you from the opening moments, twirls you around, lifts you up and doesn’t let go until the final bows.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

It’s classic Vegas variety entertainment on a grand scale.

WOW – World of Wonder performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm with an additional 9pm show Friday-Sunday. Tickets start at $49 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here. Travelzoo currently has discount tickets from $39 with no additional taxes/fees. Click here to access this offer, good through 1/7/18.

Photos: Diane Lynn, Sammasseur