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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
January 26, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Roseanne Barr, Caroline Rhea Among Lipshtick Lineup at Venetian
The second season of Lipshtick, the comedy series at The Venetian featuring female stand-ups, has booked a pretty impressive lineup of stars. Roseanne Barr will be doing dates in February, April, and June; Caroline Rhea and Elayne Boosler are doing a double-header in March; Whitney Cummings is playing in March and May; and Jennifer Coolidge is doing sets in February and in April. The sets run only on weekends on select dates. Learn more about Lipshtick.
9. Wynn's Salary
Big gasping headlines were seen regarding the information divulged by Wynn Resorts that chairman Steve Wynn was getting his salary cut - from $4 million a year down to $2.5 million. What is lost in that, however, is that his pay package now includes a "performance based equity component." What does that mean? If the hotels do well, he gets a bigger bonus than he did before and considering that Wynn Las Vegas is the most profitable hotel in Vegas, earning the company $528.2 million... in one quarter! Wynn is believed to be worth about $3.5 billion. Read more about Wynn Las Vegas.
8. Omnia Nightclub Details
The big new nightclub at Caesars Palace doesn't have an official opening date yet - they are still just saying "spring 2015" - but there's a new rendering, new details about what it will be like, and a lineup of superstar DJs out now. The focal point of the club will be a 4-story domed dance floor that they are describing as one of the biggest in Vegas, ringed by VIP boxes on the mezzanine level giving the whole thing a European opera house feeling. The DJ list includes Afrojack, Armin Van Buuren, Krewella, Nervo, and Nicky Romero among others - to translate for non EDM fans, that's a pretty impressive lineup. The club replaces Pure and part of the spaces once taken up by munchbar and part of the poker room. Read more about Caesars Palace.
7. DJ Kaskade Residency at Wynn
One of the biggest names in electronic dance music is setting up shop at Wynn Las Vegas. Recording artist, producer, and DJ Kaskade has signed for a residency at XS Nightclub and Encore Beach Club at the hotel, returning to the stomping grounds he reigned over back in 2010 as one of the first resident DJs at a Vegas club. In case you aren't familiar, Kaskade is one of the top DJs in the country, having remixed songs for everyone from Lana Del Ray to Beyonce and has been nominated for four Grammy Awards. The residency starts January 30 and runs on various dates through June at least. Read the review of XS nightclub.
6. Medical Marijuana in Vegas
After several years of legal maneuverings and process implementations, legal medical marijuana is finally ready to start rolling (see what I did there?) out in Vegas and around the state. This is mostly designed for residents of the state with serious health conditions but Nevada is unique in that its dispensaries will honor the medical marijuana cards from other states. So if you have one from California, for instance, you can take it to the pot shops in Vegas and get served. Restrictions on use include no smoking in public places, don't drive while high, only 2.5 ounces may be purchased every 2 weeks, and please don't try to take it home with you through the airport - that's a good way to get arrested. The first dispensaries should be open within the next few weeks.
5. Shania Twain's Vegas Show Headed to CD/DVD
If you never got a chance to see Shania Twain's show at Caesars Palace, don't worry - you'll be able to see it from the comfort of your own home. The country superstar will be releasing a CD and DVD of the concert series "Still the One" on March 3. Here's the catch - you can only get it at Walmart, which has an exclusive on the title. Twain's run as an official resident artist at Caesars in December but she will be coming back for a short run of shows later this year.
4. MGM's Popular StayWell Rooms To Be Added to Other Hotels
An entire floor of the MGM Grand is dedicated to what they call StayWell rooms, accommodations that are designed to combat both the things that Vegas tries to do to you and the things you do to yourself in Vegas. Among the features are healthier snacks in the mini-bar, a HEPA-standard air purification system, a special water purification system, a vitamin C infused shower, electromagnetic field protection, dawn simulator alarm clocks that wake you up gradually, and more. The rooms are so popular (despite their roughly $30 per night premium) that the parent company is planning to expand them to other hotels including Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, and Aria to name a few. No dates have been released on the rollout. Learn more about the MGM Grand.
3. What's Next in Tech
MGM Resorts is planning a bigger push into technology in 2015 at all of its resorts by expanding the ways in which guests can interact with the hotel and the casino without every having to, you know, talk to anyone. Mobile concierge services will be broadened at the company's properties like Bellagio and Aria to allow guests to make dinner reservations, buy show tickets, reserve pool lounge chairs, and order drinks directly from their mobile phone. Rooms will be modified to feature Bluetooth features that will allow you to stream your own music through an in-room sound-system, while high-end suites will get iPad-style devices that will allow you to order room servce and request housekeeping among other options. And in the casino, they are introducing electronic table games with touch screen tops, some of which are already in operation at MGM Grand and The Mirage.
2. André Rochat Celebrates 35 Years in Vegas
Although many celebrity chefs have restaurants in Vegas, few of them actually spend much time in the kitchens of those eateries. Not so with André Rochat, a Vegas treasure now celebrating 35 years of restauranteur excellence in the city. Rochat opened his André's restaurant in Downtown Vegas in 1980, the only truly gourmet restaurant in the area at the time and one of the few to focus on high end French food anywhere in the city. It became widely beloved by both tourists and locals. The original has since closed but there is an André's at Monte Carlo and another Rochat creation, Alizé at The Palms, which I (and many others) consider to be one of the best restaurants in the city. To celebrate, the restaurants will be offering specials throughout the year including 35% off all wines for early evening reservations. Congratulations Chef Rochat on 35 years! Read the review of Alizé.
1. White Castle Arriving in Vegas This Week
Vegas' first White Castle will finally open on Tuesday, January 27 at 2pm. It'll be located at the Casino Royale, the small, low-budget casino in between Harrah's and The Venetian. The burger joint has a cult-like following in other parts of the country so everyone is expecting big things from this little place - like long lines. Is it worth it? I have to admit I never joined the WC cult but I'm probably going to be in the minority on this one.
Show Review: Showstoppers
Every great Broadway show has at least one - that song that brings down the house; stops the show. But you can't have a show full of nothing but show stoppers, can you? Apparently Steve wynn thinks so, hence this production in the Encore Theater at Wynn/Encore.
Wynn has heavily involved in the development of the show, with the concept born at a birthday party for his wife where entertainers performed back to back Broadway hits. That idea was translated to the big stage with a big orchestra, an even bigger cast of singers and dancers, lavish sets, extravagant costumes, and enough vocal vibrato and broad smiles to power the lights every hotel up and down The Strip. It practically dares you not to tap your toes, hum (and or sing) along, and smile right along with them.
There is no storyline - this is not a jukebox musical like Rock of Ages or Mamma Mia! where existing songs are inserted into a plot with characters and dialouge. Instead you have a few lead singers who take on the bulk of the multi-character duty with the occasional introductions either live or via a "Voice of God" narration done by Steve wynn himself. While it is his show and his hotel and he can do anything he darned well pleases, his pre-recorded bits are superfluous at best.
There are some incredible songs here: "Razzle Dazzle" from Chicago; "Wilkommen" from Cabaret; "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" from Annie Get Your Gun; "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy. Some are done as full-fledged production numbers with big sets and costumes such as "The Game" from Damn Yankees done with a locker room full of baseball players while others are done with just a singer or two, an orchestra, and a curtain. With performers as talented as these, it actually works both ways.
But all is not top hats and high kicks here. While all of the songs included are classics, to some degree or another, calling every single one of them "showstoppers" is a bit of hyperbole. "A Little Brains, a Little Talent" from Damn Yankees is a fun little ditty but a showstopper? Not really. Especially when you compare it to something as truly ovation worthy as "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago. Done with a simple jail set reminiscent of the movie version, the "He had it coming!" refrain echoes loudly with five talented women explaining their crimes in lurid, funny, and sexy detail. Of the twenty or so songs, I'd place about half of them in the "showstopper" category and the rest as merely good songs.
There's nothing wrong with a merely good song until you start thinking about all of the stuff that got left out because of its inclusion. Most of the music here is from the classic era of Broadway - roughly the 1940s through the mid 1970s - and all from American composers. Even if we agree to that relatively restricted canvas, where are "Tonight" from Westside Story and "Tomorrow" from Annie as examples. And that's before we even start to talk about the musical greatness achieved in the last 30 years or so - Rent, Spamalot, Wicked, Avenue Q, Hairspray just to name a few. If all of the songs in "Showstoppers" truly were showstoppers I'd feel less like things had been missed, but as it stands some of the numbers come across as filler in between the truly big numbers and the show as a whole feels a little "old" instead of the "timeless" it is going for.
The genius, however, of this particular production is that songs can be easily swapped out for different ones fairly easily. In fact, a couple of weeks after I saw it they added "If You Can See Me Now" from Sweet Charity, a tune that I think absolutely qualifies as a showstopper.
Of course with a cast like this it would be hard to go wrong no matter what song was inserted. They are among the most talented singers, dancers, and musicians on any stage in Vegas these days and the sets, choreography, and costumes are all dripping with the money and attention that Mr. Wynn obviously wanted to throw at it.
The show has room to grow and will probably settle into a nice groove as a reliable night of entertainment on The Strip. I look forward to seeing how it evolves.
Preview: The Grand Bazaar Shops at Bally's
The transformation of the front of Bally's from a bland moving sidewalk to a brightly colored marketplace is almost complete. The hotel has set February 26 as the opening date for the Grand Bazaar Shops, a collection of stores, eateries, and random entertainment that takes up the bulk of the space between The Strip and the front doors of the hotel.
The first phase will see about half of the facility's 150 outlets open and there are both recognizable brands and independent stores included.
If you're in the market for something fresh to wear, there are about a dozen apparel stores including a new branch of the Bettie Page boutique, selling slightly scandalous women's wear; Rock and Religion, the UK retailer that mixes edgy with eclectic in their fashions; and Superdry, a contemporary clothier that has over 500 stores in 46 countries.
The health and beauty category has another dozen stores including another Vegas outlet of the popular LUSH Cosmetics and a standalone shop for Bloomingdale's staple Brilliance New York, whose hair and skin care products are infused with diamonds, rubies, and pearls.
There are more than 20 stores falling into the "accessories" category such as Uggs & Toms footwear, Havaianas flip flops, Swatch watches, Swarovski Crystal, and no fewer than three sunglass boutiques. That seems like a lot of sunglasses to me, but I guess the desert sun is bright in Vegas so maybe it'll work.
Other retailers include a Disney Fine Art shop, a couple of phone accessories stores, and some pet care boutiques plus a lot of others that you have probably never heard of. I know I haven't.
For food, there are a couple of dozen small, mostly snack and quick bite eateries including a new branch of the Sugar Factory sweet shop, the Honolulu Cookie Company, Katana-Ya ramen dishes, Del's Lemonade, and something intriguingly called the Waffle Bar. I'm especially interested in the latter.
There will also be a new branch of the popular Tix4Tonight discount show ticket service.
One of the most talked about features of the new shopping complex will be the Times Square-style, Swarovski crystal ball that will drop every night amidst music and special effects. They are calling it the Crystal Starbust and the primary reason people like me are talking about it is because we continue to insist that Crystal Starburst is the best stripper name ever. It's like a futuristic stripper name; she's a space stripper! I think I may have just written a movie.
Sorry, I'm easily distracted.
The rest of the Grand Bazaar Shops will open as tenants move in throughout the spring and summer.
It's worth noting that the entrance to Bally's will still be accessible via the elevated walkway. You'll pass through the Grand Bazaar Shops, go up an escalator, cross over the top of the valet parking area, and into the hotel where you go down the escalator into the casino.
I'll have a full review of the Grand Bazaar Shops sometime after they open.
*Any Sheila E. Fans out there?
Random Vegas Factoids
Las Vegas was a town built on the concept of excess. Pretty much anything you want you can find and you can usually find it in massive amounts 24 hours a day. Heck, just look at the hotels. There are more than 150,000 hotel rooms here, more than any other city in the world. 11 of the top 20 largest hotels on the planet are here, including the top two - Venetian/Palazzo (which is billed as one integrated resort these days) and MGM Grand.
But what about the more esoteric bits of excess. MGM Resorts sent out a "Vegas by the Numbers" list that has some pretty interesting factoids about just how "much" this city can consume.
Start at the MGM Grand. There are nearly 7,000 rooms in the property (if you count the Signature towers, which they do) and that means a lot of pillows to be fluffed every day by housekeeping. How many? According to their report they serviced 7,982,550 pillows during the 2014 calendar year.
Two Vegas shows have signature moments that racked up some impressive numbers for the list. The Blue Man Group at Monte Carlo shot out 267,436 rolls of toilet paper at the audience during 2014 and Boyz II Men handed out 5,472 roses at The Mirage to lucky ladies (and a few men).
Food is a big deal in Vegas, obviously, and MGM Resorts' restaurants served a lot of it. In 2014 there were 729,753 pizza slices served at Shawn McClain's FIVE50 Pizza Bar at Aria; 96,719 pounds of crab legs cracked at The Buffet at Aria; and 360 pounds of caviar spooned at The Buffet at Bellagio.
One of the city's most iconic attractions was busy in 2014. The Fountains of Bellagio performed 11,336 shows during the year.
If you are planning on participating in your office's Oscar pool you may want to pay attention to the following story - it could help you win big.
Johnny Avello, the Director of the Race and Sports Book at Wynn Las Vegas, has released his annual odds on who will win at this year's Academy Awards ceremony. The reason to pay attention is because he recently did the same thing for the Golden Globes and every one of his top picks won. He usually does pretty good but there are always a few surprises - this year he nailed them all.
His picks for the Oscars are pretty much the same as those for the Globes and those wins seem to have solidified the frontrunner status for several of the contenders.
"Boyhood," which won the Golden Globe for Best Picture Drama, is leading the Oscar's Best Picture race with 2-5 odds. That's way out in front of second place "The Imitation Game," currently at 7-1. The Golden Globe winner for Best Picture Comedy or Musical "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is in third place at 9-1 and everything else comes in at also-ran status. The worst odds are going to the controversial "American Sniper," which Avello is putting at 75-1 to win the Best Picture race, making it a true longshot (I really crack myself up sometimes).
The two actors who won the Drama and Comedy slots at the Globes are duking it out for the top spots in the Best Actor race at the Oscars. Avello is giving a slight tip to Michael Keaton for "Birdman" at 5-6 odds over Eddie Redmayne in "The Theory of Everything" at 11-10 odds. Everyone else is far down the list with Benedict Cumberbatch at 20-1 for "The Imitation Game;" Steve Carell at 30-1 for "Foxcatcher;" and Bradley Cooper bringing up the rear for "American Sniper" at 75-1.
Avello thinks that Best Actress is a runaway for Julianne Moore and her role as a professor diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's in "Still Alice." He's putting her at 1-9 odds, which trounces everyone else in the race including Reese Witherspoon for "Wild" 8-1; Rosamund Pike for "Gone Girl" at 25-1; Felicity Jones for "The Theory of Everything" at 40-1; and Marion Cotillard for "Two Days, One Night" at 60-1.
Parenthetically, Amy Adams, who won Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes for "Big Eyes," was not nominated in the Oscar Best Actress category, which may help to explain the no-contest odds in favor of Moore.
Down the ballet we have more Golden Globe winners favored to win the same prizes at the Oscars with J.K. Simmons in the lead for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Whiplash" at 1-5; Patricia Arquette predicted to bring home the Best Supporting Actress trophy for her work in "Boyhood" with 1-7 odds; and Richard Linklater ahead of the pack for Best Director for "Boyhood" at 1-6 odds.
Of course all of this is just for fun; you can't actually bet on the Academy Awards in Las Vegas yet. For a long time it was illegal to place wagers on these types of contests but that changed a few years back with a ruling by the Nevada Gaming Commission. The problem is that the ruling came with a lot of strings that the casinos haven't figure out how to work with yet, mostly involving insuring that no one could cheat. Unlike a sporting event, for example, the outcome of the Academy Awards is known by at least a few people before the winner is announced and could, theoretically, be influenced by vote buying or intimidation. Until the casinos can insure that this kind of hanky-panky won't occur - something that is mostly out of their control - they won't be able to take best on the Oscars anytime soon.
The Oscars will be broadcast on February 22, 2015 on ABC.