s Vegas4Visitors - Weekly Column for the week of July 27, 2015 by Rick Garman
Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

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Each week you can come here to get the latest news, the juiciest gossip, and the best reviews for the most fabulous city in the world, Las Vegas. Hey... it says "fabulous" right on the welcome sign!

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The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week

10. Reba, Brooks & Dunn Add More Shows

The country music extravaganza being put on by Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn at Caesars Palace is doing so well that they have decided to add two additional shows in December to keep up with demand. The new dates are on Tuesday, December 1 and December 8, which just so happens to coincide with the National Finals Rodeo that moseys into town every year. Two more shows may not seem like much to get worked up about but since they originally were only going to do a couple of dozen per year, it makes a difference. Read my review of Reba, Brooks & Dunn.

9. Boyd Gaming Celebrates 40 Years with $400K Giveaway

Boyd Gaming is celebrating its 40th anniversary by giving away $400,000 in a nationwide promotion. Starting Monday, July 27, guests can earn entries into a grand prize drawing to be held at Sam's Town in Las Vegas on Saturday, September 5. One winner will win a grand prize of $40,000, while 39 runner-ups will take home $10,000 each. Visit a Boyd casino like Orleans, Suncoast, Fremont, California, Sam's Town, or Main Street Station to earn entries - four people from each property will be selected to participate in the main event.

8. D Las Vegas Goes Coinless

When The D in Downtown debuted it made a big deal about its retro casino area on the second floor, filled with slot machines that took actual coins instead of paper tickets. All of those machines were recently replaced with newer, coinless versions, many of which came from the now shuttered Riviera. A spokesperson said the demand wasn't high enough and that the move saves them some serious coin (see what I did there?). The only thing left that still takes coins is the Sigma Derby horse racing machine and you will now need to take any winnings that you get out of it downstairs to the main cashier to redeem them. Read more about the D Las Vegas.

7. Crazy Girls Butts Statue Moving into Planet Hollywood

A bronze statue showing off some of the best assets of the women of the "Crazy Girls" used to be an iconic feature at The Riviera where the show played for years. When that hotel closed, they saved the statue and now it is going to be installed at the show's new home at Planet Hollywood Resort. The statue is being moved into place this week in the casino. Unlike the real showgirls, you are allowed to touch and take photos of these. "Crazy Girls" shows nightly except Tuesday at 9pm in the Sin City Theater on the mezzanine level of Planet Hollywood. Read more about Planet Hollywood.

6. Kabuki Shows Planned for Bellagio Fountains

The Fountains of Bellagio are getting a major visual upgrade for a few days in August as a Kabuki Spectacle takes over the iconic show. Called "Fight with a Carp" (no, really), it will feature giant animated projections broadcast onto the spray of the fountains as Japanese actor Ichikawa Somegoro fights off the fish of the title. The show is 30 minutes long and will take place Friday, August 14 at 9:15pm; and Saturday & Sunday, August 15-16 at 9:15 and 11:30pm. It is free but if you are planning on attending I recommend getting there early as prime viewing spots along the Strip railings will probably go quickly. Read more about the Bellagio Fountains.

5. More Downtown Vegas Closures

Downtown Vegas is booming but it seems like the boom is not strong enough for at least a few businesses. Last week the fun video game bar Insert Coin(s) shut down citing financial difficulties and this week two more establishments shuttered. The Bunkhouse was a live music bar that had just recently reopened after renovations while Bar + Bistro was a cafe at the Arts Factory. It is rumored that the latter is going to be replaced by another outlet of the popular Crown and Anchor British pub.

4. Mega Sundae Eating Challenge at Serendipity 3

Behold the Peanut Butter & Jelly Glazed Donut Ice Cream Sundae, which has three pints (!!!) of vanilla and strawberry ice cream, a 10-inch glazed donut, Oreo kisses, chocolate sauce, peanut butter sauce, raspberry sauce, whipped cream, and a cherry on top. July 19 is National Ice Cream Day and Serendipity 3 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas Vegas is celebrating with the debut of this super-sized eating challenge. Eat the sundae in 10 minutes without any help from friends and you get it for free, except perhaps for the out of pocket costs you will pay to your gastroenterologist. You can also just pay $30 and take your time eating it. Read the review of Serendipity 3.

3. Chef of Bartolotta Leaving Wynn Las Vegas

Devastating news in the foodie world: Chef Paul Bartolotta is leaving his eponymous restaurant at Wynn Las Vegas, a fine dining establishment that has widely been considered to be one of the best in the city. Unlike many eateries that have famous chefs, Bartolotta has been a regular presence in the kitchen overseeing not only the menu but the daily preparation. He's going to be replaced by Mark LoRusso who has been running Botero at sister hotel Encore. The hotel has not said, specifically, if this means the restaurant will change names but it's a pretty safe bet considering this statement in the press release: "It has been a staple of the Wynn culinary philosophy that the chef whose name is on the menu is the person who actually prepares your meal." Timing is TBD but LoRusso is expected to be manning the kitchen by early next year. Read my review of Bartolotta.

2. Neon Museum Launches Crowd Sourcing Campaign to Repair Historic Sign

The Desert Rose Motel was a Vegas fixture for more than 40 years, located on the south part of The Strip from 1953 until it closed in 1995 to make way for the Monte Carlo. The big, colorful neon sign that sat out front, topped with rose shaped lights, was rescued by the Neon Museum but has fallen into disrepair. Although they aren't going so far as wanting to fully restore it - the cost would be prohibitive - they do want to repaint it and put it front and center in the boneyard. They have launched an Indiegogo crowd sourcing campaign to try to raise the $50,000 they need to do the job and are offering rewards like t-shirts, tote bags, museum tickets, and even private tours to anyone who contributes. To learn more or donate, visit the Desert Rose repainting campaign on Indiegogo.

1. Fire at the Cosmo Pool

A fire broke out at one of the main pool areas at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Saturday, July 24. The blaze at the Bamboo Pool, located on the 14th floor at the back of the property, spread quickly through the artificial palm trees and turf, sending billowing clouds of smoke over the hotel and Strip.

Guests of the hotel report conflicting scenes of both panic and order. More than 100 people were estimated to be on the pool deck at the time and they ran quickly to escape the flames. People in the adjacent hotel tower had to walk down as many as 50 flights of stairs to get to the ground level and for many, by the time they did, the fire had been extinguished. One person was taken to the hospital suffering from smoke inhalation but there were no other injuries.

The Strip and Harmon Avenue by the hotel were closed for several hours while fire crews moved in to extinguish the blaze. Reports say it burned for about 30 minutes.

The bar, several cabanas, and furniture on the pool deck burned and there was some smoke and water damage to rooms adjacent to the pool but the fire never spread into the hotel itself. The pool and adjacent spa reopened on Sunday but two floors of the West Tower remain closed as of this writing - the rest of the property is operating normally. The cause of the fire is under investigation but reports are circulating that it started in a cabana, perhaps from a carelessly tossed cigarette, and spread quickly from there.


A Walk in The Park: How MGM Resorts is Reshaping the South Strip

The plan to revamp the space between Monte Carlo and New York-New York was already big - a pedestrian mall, restaurants, nightclubs, and a 20,000 seat arena - but it got a little bigger last week with the announcement that a 5,000 seat theater would be added to the project. The amped up vision will dramatically reshape the neighborhood and cause ripple effects for shows and hotels up and down The Strip.

Known as The Park, the development has been launching in phases since last year. The first chunk redid the front of Monte Carlo and added new restaurants like Double Barrel and Yusho along the Strip facing sidewalk. The front of New York-New York came next with the addition of Hershey's Chocolate World, Tom's Urban, and a Shake Shack outlet.

In between the two hotels, the road formerly known as Rue de Monte Carlo has now been renamed Park Avenue and is being realigned with a curving bend back toward Frank Sinatra Drive, which runs behind all of the hotels on that side of The Strip. A park-like pedestrian mall is getting built that will feature lush landscaping, water features, and 50-foot tall shade structures that resemble giant tulips. At night those structures will emit colorful LED sequences to light up the surroundings.

On both sides of Park Avenue along the pedestrian mall, more restaurants and nightclubs will be added including Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row, a restaurant and concert venue from the country music superstar; Cuba Libre, a restaurant and rum bar; a beer garden; the Robert Mondavi Jr. Wine Experience; and more.

The existing 1,200 seat showroom at Monte Carlo, which currently hosts the Blue Man Group, will be torn down to make way for a new 5,000 seat theater that will be accessible from both inside the hotel and The Park. Designed to compete against the Colosseum at Caesars Palace where Celine and Mariah perform and the Axis Theater at Planet Hollywood, which is home to Britney and JLo, it is expected to lure a residency (or three) from some equally marquee level talent.

The Blue Man Group will be closing at Monte Carlo on October 11 and then reopening in a much smaller, 800 seat theater at Luxor where the Jabbawockeez dance crew now performs. That show will be closing on August 30 and move to Beacher's Madhouse at MGM Grand in November. The Beacher's room will most likely be reconfigured to boost seating from the current nightclub setting of about 250. The Beacher's cabaret and nightclub experience will remain but only on Saturdays.

The Park culminates in its centerpiece, a 20,000-seat arena located along Frank Sinatra Drive at the back of the property. Done in partnership with event promotion behemoth AEG, the primary tenant is expected to be an expansion National Hockey League team - Las Vegas' first professional sports team if it happens - but will also host major concerts and conventions.

But the development may not stop there. Rumors abound that the entire Monte Carlo resort will get a top to bottom makeover that will probably include a new name. That has not been confirmed yet but MGM Resorts have been hinting at it for months.

The one thing you may note that is missing is gambling. There is no new casino space planned and in fact the new theater may chew up some of the Monte Carlo footprint. This fits in with the recent trend of developing non-gaming attractions instead of doing everything possible to get people to open their wallets at a slot machine.

The restaurants, clubs, and the pedestrian mall along Park Avenue are expected to open in early 2016 while the arena will host its first event in April of 2016. The theater is slated to open in the fall of that year.


Show Review: For the Record: Baz

It's rare that a Vegas show comes along that feels completely and wholly unique. Blue Man Group felt that way when they first arrived in town. The first Cirque production certainly turned the idea of what a Vegas show could be on its head. Absinthe and the sadly closed Vegas Nocturne definitely fall into this bucket.

But in my nearly two decades of writing about Las Vegas, nothing has felt as truly original, inventive, and exciting as For the Record: Baz, now playing at the Light nightclub at Mandalay Bay.

The For the Record Live series got its start in Los Angeles, when a group of friends began performing songs and dialogue snippets from Quentin Tarantino films at a small club. From there it blossomed into multiple shows, each of which honored the work of a director like Martin Scorsese, John Hughes, The Coen Brothers, and Robert Zemeckis.

This production, also originally staged in Los Angeles and then brought to Vegas by Cirque du Soleil, focuses on the films of Baz Luhrmann, specifically Moulin Rouge from 2001 starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor; Romeo + Juliet from 1996 starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes; and The Great Gatsby from 2013 also starring DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.

It takes the three stories and weaves them together as a mashup, connecting the thematic dots between the tragic love sagas in each - Gatsby's fatal attraction with the married Daisy; Christian's doomed infatuation with courtesan Satine; and, of course the children of the fueding houses of Capulet and Montague. The actors play multiple characters as they segue in and out of the high points of each story, giving even those with no knowledge of the films or the stories on which they are based enough to get them fully invested in the action.

It is the music, though, that is the star of this particular show with live versions of many of the pop and rock songs used to such great effect in the films. Just a few examples: "Lady Marmalade" mixed with Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit;" Candi Station's "Young Hearts Run Free;" Madonna's "Like a Virgin;" "Roxanne" by The Police; Prince's "When Doves Cry;" Elton John's "Your Song;" and "A Little Party Never Killed Nobody" by Fergie. These may sound like random songs but this is no jukebox musical - each not only fits with the mood of the story but they propel the action forward in exciting and often unexpected ways. It's a soundtrack brought to life.

True standout moments include "Everybody's Free," originally a 1990s dance hit by Rozalla, but here turned into a plaintive, yearning choral ballad for Daisy as she sees the things missing in her life; Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful" as a duet of sorts between Daisy and Juliet, each lamenting the unattainable loves in their lives; and the "Elephant Love Medley" from Moulin Rouge which incorporates almost every long song you can think of into one show-stopping thrill ride. And the show closing version of Florence + The Machine's "Over the Love" is nothing short of breathtaking - if you don't get at least a little choked up you're not human.

The cast is uniformly excellent - singing, dancing, and acting, both comedic and dramatic, at a level deserving of a Broadway run. I hate to play favorites with a company this good but Ruby Lewis, playing Gatsby's Daisy, and Steve Mazurek as Moulin's Christian command your attention every time they are in the room. The cast may change from time to time but if they are even half as good as the group I saw you're in for a huge treat.

The Light nightclub is the perfect setting for the production, allowing it to spill off of the small stage into and around the audience itself. Action happens in front of you, behind you, above you, and sometimes right next you as you become a part of one of Gatsby's parties or in the audience for a show at the Moulin Rouge. And don't worry about missing something important - they do a good job of focusing the attention where it needs to go with lighting and other cues.

My only disappointment in the production is that this version eliminated the bulk of the music and storyline of Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom from the original incarnation to make it shorter for a Vegas audience.

Which brings up my other potential disappointment, which is that this is such a un-Vegas show that I'm worried about whether or not it can have a long shelf life here. The three stories told are not the type that usually works in a town like this where audiences seem to appreciate mindless entertainment and musical comedy. Spoiler alert! Romeo and Juliet's romance doesn't end well, so not exactly a light, happy romp. A show like this is a risk in Las Vegas.

But with great risk comes great reward and those who choose to see this risky production will be rewarded with the most original, inventive, and powerful theatrical experience in Las Vegas.

For the Record: Baz
Light Nightclub at Mandalay Bay
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Wed-Mon 8pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A


Attraction Review: Graceland Presents Elvis

The hotel now known as the Westgate has a long history with Elvis Presley. Back in 1969, shortly after it opened as The International, The King started a residency here in the main showroom that lasted for years and encompassed more than 700 sold out shows. He even had his own palatial suite at the top of the hotel tower where he lived when he was in town and after his death a statue of the singer was added to the hotel lobby where it has been a favorite photo op for tourists.

Now, Elvis is back in the building in a major way with a partnership between the Westgate and the late singer's estate to create Graceland Presents Elvis, a 28,000 square-foot exhibition of his life and career. It uses photos, video, sound recordings, and memorabilia both big and small to tell his story - there are papers, original records, costumes, and even cars on display so there is a lot to look at.

It is set up more or less chronologically, starting with a look at Elvis' roots in Tupelo and his move to Memphis where he would begin recording. From there it moves into the Elvis Mania period, where appearance his appearance on the Ed Sullivan show sent him into the stratosphere of fame. His time in the army is examined as is Graceland and his movies. And of course there's an extensive section on his stint as a Vegas headliner.

Be sure to hunt for the table cloth on which he signed a contract with the International hotel to do the series of concerts that would reinvigorate his career.

Everything is presented elegantly, with soft lighting and thoughtful editorial content explaining the significance of the exhibits. This is museum quality stuff to be sure but I would have liked to have seen more of the interactivity that modern museums are employing to engage visitors. In the Hollywood section there are iPad style kiosks that allow you to watch movie trailers, scenes, and other footage from his various films but this is one of the very few places where you can actually connect with the history beyond looking at a bit of ephemera behind glass.

The most effective part of the experience are the sound snippets that play throughout the exhibit. You'll hear songs, naturally, but also some of Elvis just talking. For instance early in the Tupelo part, he reflects on his humble origins and it's interesting to hear that while looking at photos of his small home and various simple possesions from that part of his life.

To be sure you have to be an Elvis fan or at least have a passing interest in him to fully appreciate this exhibit, but even those who don't have any idea who he is should get a kick out of the '70s era bejeweled jumpsuits and items from his Graceland house that were the height of luxury then but look like kitschy relics now.

It's that latter category of people who might be the biggest problem for Graceland Presents Elvis. He died almost 40 years ago and his music, while certainly timeless and significant, doesn't have as much of a cultural impact on younger generations. Case in point: I visited the attraction during the Electric Daisy Carnival weekend, the busiest weekend of the year in Vegas when the city is overrun by 20-somethings ready to go jump up and down for hours to electronic music. I was one of four people inside the exhibit and I was the youngest of the bunch (and for the record, I'm not young).

What this means for its long-term viability is yet to be seen. Will it become another Liberace Museum, which was forced to close as the audience that remembered him got smaller and smaller? Or does the King's legacy continue to loom large enough that it can continue to draw audiences?

In other words, will this be a Heartbreak Hotel or will there be enough people who respond when Elvis says Love Me Tender?

Graceland Presents Elvis
3000 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Daily 10am-10pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B