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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
February 15, 2016
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Bonnie Springs Ranch Founder Passes Away
Bonnie Levinson was not a household name but the attraction she created in Las Vegas is a beloved bit of the city's history. Bonnie Springs Ranch opened to tourists in 1952 and grew to include an Old West town complete with gun fighting actors, horseback riding, a motel, a restaurant, a zoo, and more. The popular family-friendly attraction has been a favorite among several generations of locals and tourists alike. Levinson died last week at the age of 94. Read more about Bonnie Springs Ranch.
9. Wynn Moving Poker Room
As part of the big shopping expansion, Wynn Las Vegas will be moving its poker room to a new, bigger location in Encore. The new room will have 28 tables, each equipped with USB ports to players can charge their phones while they gamble, and a sports book window so they don't have to go too far to place wagers on the games that will be broadcast on dozens of televisions throughout the room. The new poker room should be open in May and the old one will stay up and running until then. It will become part of the new Wynn Plaza shopping complex that will extend out to The Strip. Read more about Wynn Las Vegas.
8. Luxor Evacuated Over Suspicious Substance
There were some tense moments at Luxor last week when housekeeping went in to clean a room and found a "suspicious substance" in it, a discovery that led the evacuation of three floors of the hotel. The fire department came to check it out and kept guests from rooms on the same floor as the room in question and the floors above and below it from accessing their accommodations. After about four hours they determined that the substance didn't pose a threat and let people return. Read more about Luxor.
7. Refreshed Britney Spears Show Now Playing
Now entering the third year of her residency at Planet Hollywood, pop princess Britney Spears has refreshed her show with new songs, new costumes, new choreography, and more. In a discussion with Robin Leach of Vegas Deluxe, Spears wants to stress that the updated production is not a full overhaul - many of the big set pieces that have become favorites are still there but they are surrounded with some new material designed to keep things fresh for both herself and for repeat audience visitors. Read more about Britney Spears show in Las Vegas.
6. Un-Lucky Dragon?
According to the Vital Vegas blog, construction on the Lucky Dragon hotel and casino has come to a halt as the project has run out of money. The 200 room, Asian-themed project sprang up quickly on Sahara Avenue, just west of The Strip, fueled by foreign investments that even the people behind the hotel said weren't going to be enough to finish it. Confident that they'd be able to raise the rest of the funds, they began building the hotel but now it seems as if they may have placed a bad bet. Could this become another partially built eyesore on the North Strip like Fontainebleau? There have been official comments about all this so we'll have to wait to see what the full impact is. Read more about Lucky Dragon.
5. D Las Vegas Owner Giving Away His Own Car
Derek Stevens is committed to his casinos. So committed, in fact, that he is giving away his own car to a lucky gambler at the D Las Vegas. Stevens' 2016 Shelby GT350 Ford Mustang is a 526-hp beast, of which only a few hundred are made each year. Although its stickers for around $55,000, people have been buying them at auction for double that so this is going to be a prize that could get even more valuable if the winner decides to hold on to it. There will be a semi-finalist winner chosen every month at the D Las Vegas from March until September and then one of those people driving off in the car. Read more about the D Las Vegas.
4. Women Driven Comedy Showcase Returns to Venetian
Lipshtick, the unfortunately named showcase for female comics, is returning to The Venetian for another run in 2016. Performances are currently slated from April through August with different comics taking the microphone at each show. On the docket are former View co-host Sherri Shepherd, creator of "2 Broke Girls" Whitney Cummings, Lisa Lampanelli, Loni Love, Nicole Byer, and more. Shows are usually on Saturdays at 9:30pm although the schedule may vary. Tickets are on sale now through Ticketmaster and start at around $40. Read more about Lipshtick.
3. Orleans Revamping Restaurant Lineup
As the hotel prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, The Orleans is changing things up by revamping its restaurants. Five new eateries will open at the hotel this year including Alder & Birch, a new steakhouse that debuted last week, and Ondori Asian Kitchen, which is set to open its doors in March. It's all part of a $30 million overhaul of the hotel and a push by its parent company, Boyd Gaming, to update restaurants throughout its hotel portfolio. More than a dozen new bars and restaurants are expected to debut at Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Sam's Town, The Fremont, and The California this year. Read more about The Orleans.
2. Jennifer Lopez Adds Dates
J Lo's show at Planet Hollywood has only been open for a few weeks but it has already generated enough strong reviews and box office receipts that they are adding extra dates and opening the rest of the year for ticket sales. New dates have been added in May and June and tickets are now on sale for performances in July, August, and December. I didn't get a chance to see the show in its first run (I probably have to wait until May when she's done with American Idol at this point) but everybody from local papers like the Las Vegas Sun to national outlets like People Magazine and Billboard are calling the show a success. Read more about Jennifer Lopez.
1. Stratosphere Giving Random Rewards to Players
If you head to the Stratosphere in the next few weeks, be extra nice to the people that work there - they might rewards you for it. Throughout February and March, The Stratosphere is giving out Random Acts of Rewards to visitors throughout the property at employees' random discretion, ranging from room upgrades to complimentary meals and drinks, casino play, and more. It's all a part of the hotel's "Taking Vegas Back" campaign, designed to keep the fun parts of the Vegas experience alive. Read more about The Stratosphere.TOP
The End of the Showgirl Era
The curtain came down on "Jubilee" at Bally's last week after a 34-year run. That's notable in and of itself, but the bigger story here is that it is, in many ways, the end of an era in Vegas entertainment.
"Jubilee" was the last of the Las Vegas showgirl productions, that category of entertainment that featured a bevy of beautiful women in sparkly costumes and giant head dresses parading across the stage. For a long time they were the core of the Las Vegas show scene, with every hotel trying to outdo the others with lavish multi-million productions.
The showgirl was not a Las Vegas invention. Revues featuring dancers in elaborate costumes got their start in Europe in the late 1800s at places with famous names like Moulin Rouge and the Lido. The first of these showgirls started showing up in the United States in the early 1900s as part of the legendary Ziegfeld Follies in New York, and later became popularized across the country in the movie musicals of the 1930s from people like Busby Berkeley.
So by the time the Las Vegas Strip started opening resorts in the 1940s, showgirls were a part of the productions that entertained early Vegas visitors, usually as the background to name acts.
That all began to change in the 1950s as the showgirls took front and center with extravagant shows launching at hotels up and down The Strip.
Among the more memorable productions were "Lido de Paris," which opened at the Stardust in 1958 and played for more than thirty years and was replaced by "Enter the Night," which ran another decade or so; "Folies Bergere," running at The Tropicana for more than 50 years from 1959 to 2009; "Splash," which played at the Riviera in 1985 until 2006; and "Hallelujah Hollywood," which was in residence at the original MGM Grand from 1973 until 1980.
That latter show closed to make way for "Jubilee!," which was supposed to debut in 1980 but fate got in the way.
Just weeks before the show was set to open a fire broke out at the MGM Grand that killed 85 people and heavily damaged the casino and other parts of the hotel. All of the "Jubilee!" production's costumes were destroyed.
The show finally opened in 1981 at a cost of $10 million and became famous for its huge cast of dancers (more than 60, larger than any other show on The Strip), and giant set pieces featuring the tale of Samson and Delilah, complete with a temple collapse, and the inaugural voyage of The Titanic, complete with a sinking ship.
Entertainment in Vegas began to change in the late 1980s and early 1990s, first with the rise of spectacle shows like Siegfried & Roy's illusions and EFX. Their budgets and special effects immediately made the traditional showgirl productions look antiquated. But things really got hard for the showgirl when Cirque du Soleil came to town in 1993. Their Mystère, which debuted that year at Treasure Island, completely changed the face of Vegas entertainment leading to a dozen different productions that were either Cirque or Cirque-like.
Over the last few years, focus has begun shifting again to the Vegas headliners like Celine Dion, Britney Spears, and Jennifer Lopez, leaving even less room for the showgirls on the crowded Las Vegas stages.
"Jubilee!" tried to stay relevant, including a makeover a couple of years ago that attempted to make it more modern (and got rid of the exclamation mark) but wound up just making it sillier. Reviews, including mine, were savage to say the least and the writing was on the proverbial wall.
Now that "Jubilee" has closed, there are no traditional Vegas showgirl productions left in town although there are still shows that feature them. The most noteworthy is "Vegas: The Show" at Planet Hollywood, which memorializes Vegas entertainment through the years complete with several showgirls strutting their stuff.
There is no word yet on what will replace "Jubilee" at Bally's but it's worth noting that the hotel is keeping all of the sets and costumes for now. There is talk of trying to stage a contemporary interpretation of a showgirl production but it is more likely that the showroom will get modernized so a headline act can be booked into it.
Couple Arrested for Having Sex on High Roller
That's the kind of headline that keeps me wanting to write about Las Vegas. And it's a story that just keeps getting better and better.
27-year-old Phillip Panzica III of Texas came to Vegas on the weekend of February 5 to get married. Things went downhill from there. After what he described in an interview as "four or five margaritas," Panzica got on board the High Roller observation wheel with 21-year-old Chloe Scordianos. The couple were the only ones in the 40-passenger cabin so alcohol-fueled decision making took over and the decided to start smoking cigarettes.
Security, which has cameras in each cabin, told them to put out their cigarettes. They did... and then started to have sex on the floor. Which is odd, because the cigarette usually comes after the sex, but whatever.
Mind you this is in broad daylight so everyone in the cabins on either side of theirs could see them and, according to reports, took cell phone video turning it into a real-life porno movie shoot.
Security kept telling the couple to stop but they didn't and so police were waiting for them after the 30 minute ride. Well, the High Roller takes 30 minutes, I don't know how long... never mind.
They were booked on charges of public sex acts, a felony.
Panzica sat in jail for two nights until his $3,000 bail was posted by... wait for it... his fiance Misti Bozant.
That's right, the woman he was having sex with in the High Roller was NOT the woman that he was set to marry THAT DAY! He and Scordianos reportedly had just met, perhaps during the margarita binge, and I guess having sex in public was just their way of skipping awkward small talk.
Stay classy Vegas.
Apparently this is not the first time people have been caught getting frisky on the High Roller observation wheel but according to the police report it has been happening more often lately, which the people who run The Linq think might be damaging to their reputation.
That's surprising to me. I mean, what else could their slogan "The Happiest Half Hour in Vegas" mean?
Show Review: JabbaWockeeZ Dreamz
As shows like "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance" move from buzzworthy mega-hits to comfortable middle-America television viewing, so too have JabbaWockeeZ made a move, both geographically and tonally. After a run of shows at the MGM Grand they started a residency in the big theater at Monte Carlo and since then have moved on to Luxor and now back to MGM Grand in the Beacher's Madhouse nightclub space with their new production, Jreamz.
As a bit of background, the hip-hop dance troupe got their big break on another televised dance competition, "America's Best Dance Crew" on MTV. Their gimmick was what set them apart - all of the dancers are covered from head to toe, including masks - but it was their talent in the street dancing style that allowed them to take the title.
Their original show in Vegas was a celebration of all forms of dance told through a hip-hop lens and it had a definite populist appeal that allowed it to reach beyond the B-Boy crowd that follows their every move. The production at Luxor had lots of crowd-pleasing moments as well, with a color pastiche of left brain vs. right brain exercises mixed with audience participation no-brainers to "Gangham Style" and "Harlem Shake."
This one has a more challenging concept in a lot of ways. On the surface it's about a dancer pulled into a dream world who hip-hops his way through a series of obstacles. Or something like that. There are no words so what it all really means is up to interpretation. But regardless, it's darker in tone and less colorful in execution - and I mean that literally.
Where previous shows have been all technicolor blasts, this one is mainly monochrome. Plain white walls are covered with video projections of rooms, outdoor scenes, or random graphics that are mostly rendered in black and white. The few times color is introduced, it feels muted and is quickly replaced by shades of grey again.
The crew of guys (are they guys? who knows?) specializes in street dancing from across the spectrum of hip-hop, pop and lock, and B-boy. Some of what they do is as ingenious and exciting as it always has been, for instance a piece involving the video game "Street Fighter" moves the action of the game into the real world with body movements and puppetry. But the rest of it is just variations on the same kinds of moves done over and over and often not with the kind of skill that I expect from a trained dance crew. One of the keys to this type of dance is the hard-hitting, exacting precision in which it is executed. Too many times the dancers were not quite in sync with one another and that's so unlike the JabbaWockeeZ that it was a bit jarring. In most of the numbers, the two leads were fantastic and the rest of the crew was just okay.
Sadly, even the more original parts of Jreamz - a human version of the 80s electronic game "Simon" for instance - don't hit the kinds of soaring heights their previous shows did. Bring back the stroll through dance's greatest hits starting with a hip-hop homage to Gene Kelly in "Singing in the Rain" and blasting through James Brown and '70s funk, and 80's rap styles. That was as close to genius as you can get in a Las Vegas show.
Having said that, their masked shtick is fun and often funny. The crew's blank-expression face coverings evokes a dancing version of the Blue Man Group especially when they are doing audience participation skits. Warning: if you are a pretty woman and you see them coming your way just go with it and try to have fun.
The first time I saw JabbaWockeeZ I had low expectations and was blown away. This time I had high expectations and was let down, but I still think this is the best purely dance-focused show in Las Vegas.