Saturday, April 26, 2008

BREAKING: Tina Turner To Tour, Oprah Hearts the CP Toilet

I'm just in from the taping of the May 8 "Oprah Winfrey Show" at Caesars Palace where Tina Turner announced she's going back on tour at age 68 for the first time in eight years. Tickets go on sale on May 12 for a tour that kicks off from Kansas City on Oct. 1.

I must say, I'm a little confused about whether there was an embargo on that news. The woman who prepped the audience told the thousands who filled Cher's new performing home, Caesars Palace's Colosseum, not to tell anyone. But a group of us journalists were invited to attend -- including Robin Leach, the L.A. Times columnist/blogger Richard Abowitz and Review-Journal columnist Doug Elfman as well as the local CBS affiliate that airs "Oprah" -- and I was given no preconditions whatsoever.

So, that said, Tina's going on tour having been prodded, she said, by Sophia Loren to stop lolling about her Swiss home and go back to work. But first, Cher came out to perform "Take Me Home" in a shredded blue dress with a matching blue headpiece and about a dozen dancers in 1970s outfits including, unlike the all-female Bette show, a few male dancers. Later, Tina did "Nutbush City Limit" on her own and then the two divas -- Oprah, being Vegasy, called them "a pair of queens" -- shared the stage for a rousing (is there any other version?) "Proud Mary." Cher looked particularly fetching in a shiny red mini-dress and a long-straight-black-hair wig.

The "Oprah" show also includes some video of Cher with designer Bob Mackie showing a few of the 17 daring costumes she'll sport when she opens in Vegas on May 6. There's a body-length Indian headdress, something Cher refers to as "Cleopatra comes to Caesars Palace" and a "warrior goddess" look she'll don for the Pat Benatar classic "Love Is A Battlefield." Cher said the show will span her pre-Sonny career and include the Sonny & Cher tunes "It's The Little Things" and "The Beat Goes On" as well as a rendition of the Sammy Davis Jr. standard "I Gotta Be Me."

Cher also went on a bit about having dated Tom Cruise, which I hadn't heard but which has been out for a month or so and has a lot of online skeptics scratching their heads about when this could've been and how nobody would've known it until Cher said it. It's further baffling because Cher told Oprah about some incident where Cher and young Tom went to a restaurant in New York, I think, and some waitress turned out to be an old schoolmate of Tom's who, Tom told Cher, wouldn't have spoken to him back in the day. I suppose that's possible since Tom crew up in Syracuse, but kind of amazing nonetheless.

The most interesting stuff, though, was what Oprah rambled on about OFF CAMERA. First, she'd just come from visiting Tom Cruise's home in Telluride, Colo., where she rode on a snowmobile with him and spoke of his firm buttocks and how hot he was to grip as they took their spin. "You're like, 'Take me home, Tom,' " she enthused. There was no discussion of Suri or Katie, but someone shouted out from the audience something related to Cruise's infamous I-love-Katie meltdown because Oprah replied, "I didn't jump on his couch." Good to know. She said that episode airs May 2.

NOT as good to know, but perversely fascinating nonetheless, was Oprah's lengthy aside to the crowd about the high-tech toilets in her Caesars Palace suite. As it happens, the thing lifts the lid automatically when you enter the bathroom and, she explained in shocking detail, it is capable of washing and blow-drying your butt and other parts. "I swear, I gotta get one of these on the show and show everybody," she said. "I'm coming back here! I'm cleaned up AND cleaned out!"

I wondered what she was referring to, so I Googled "butt-cleaning toilet" and found this. There. We're done. Oprah, you need not ever speak of this again. In fact, please, please, please don't!

That said, quite a fun show. I was a little worried in the beginning when it seemed every Vegas cliche was coming into play -- "Viva Las Vegas" blared as the audience prepper came on, there was much to-do about the Tina and Cher impersonators in the audience and the prepper did lay that tired "What Happens in Vegas" line. Yes, she got it wrong. She must've read Christina Binkley's book.

Friday, April 25, 2008

This week's Weekly Column

Here's this week's Las Vegas Weekly "The Strip Sense" column, a look in part at why Danny Gans IS a risk for Steve Wynn, and likely a bad one. But the part of the piece that drew Richard Abowitz's attention on his blog today was the look at the risk that Cirque is taking with Criss Angel...

Risks With No Rewards
The Perilous World of Vegas Entertainment


Alrighty! Finally some real action!

After a year of surefire success stories announced for Vegas, from Bette and Cher to the Elvis-themed Cirque du Soleil show, there is finally a sign on two significant fronts that some genuine gambling is going on with Vegas showrooms.

The first piece of news, that Steve Wynn is dumping Spamalot and bringing over Mirage headliner Danny Gans, has been received by most as a sign that the granddaddy of Vegas innovation has given up on experimentation after two successive Broadway flops.

It was cause for fellow Weekly scribe Richard Abowitz to conclude on his LA Times blog that “Vegas is all about playing it safe.” A fellow on my blog commented of Wynn, “It’s like he went out on a limb, took a real risk, retreated to the same-old.” Hunter Hillegas of wrote, “Wynn got burned by Broadway (and an O derivative), so he’s going back to the tried and true.”

But even if that’s how Wynn sees it, he’s actually quite wrong: The Gans move is extremely risky precisely because it is a horrible idea. And you know it’s a huge risk when you consider how likely it is to be a mammoth embarrassment.

Read the rest HERE

Take a WILD guess

Last week, I went over to the Bellagio to check out a little media shindig held for Richard MacDonald, a famed figurative sculptor who has a new store immediately outside the "O" Theater. The connection is that in some cases, MacDonald has used Cirque gymnasts in his work.

Anyhow, the work is certainly impressive and worth browsing. But it's also quite expensive. So I figured I'd throw it out there for y'all to take a stab at this. How much you think this piece retail for? It is an image of Rudolf Nureyev, proably about 3 feet tall.


This Is How We Do It

Ahh, Vegas. Gotta love a city where they do a big groundbreaking flanked by Cirque du Soleil performers (below all the way left)!

There's Mayor Oscar Goodman and a couple others shoveling some symbolic dirt to mark the groundbreaking of Union Park, a $6 billion development that I wrote about at great depth in the New York Times on Wednesday. (Made it up to #11 on the Most E-Mailed Stories list that day, natch.)

Here, in fact, is the mayor clutching a copy of that story as he speaks to Valerie Miller of the Las Vegas Business Press. I'm told he read from the piece at his press conference earlier in the day. (Probably not the parts where Valerie's boss predicted the economy could slow down some of the project, but...)

...and some sorry ballerina-looking person in a pose because the Nevada Ballet Theatre is to find a new home at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts to be built at Union Park...

...and here's celeb-chef and Union Park hotelier Charlie Palmer making some remarks, one of I think 43,222 people who got to do so...

But the BEST part is that wherever Goodman goes, gin is sure to follow. Here were our alcoholic choices for the evening, the Mayor's Martini, the Loutini and the Union Park...

You can click on the picture above to make it bigger and get the recipe.

But the big, baffling question -- which I totally forgot to ask the Mayor when he greeted me because I was disoriented by how he was so happy with me and I thought maybe I was getting a street named after me -- was: Where the &$&@! were the showgirls? Man, they really DO want this Union Park thing to be respectable!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

BREAKING: Station Casinos Lays Off 70

(UPDATE: This replaces the earlier post with a fix on the numbers.)

Station Casinos is laying off about 70 employees at the corporate level including some managers and support staff. It's not as eye-popping as the 400 that sources had cited earlier, and there's no way to officially say whether projects are delayed because other than Aliante Station, "we haven't announced any timetables for any other projects," said Lori Nelson, the corporate spokeswoman.

Aliante Station, at the extreme north end of the Las Vegas Valley, is due to debut later this year.

It's not terribly surprising that Station would be tightening its belt. Although they're not a public company anymore and don't have to report earnings in the manner they used to, the LVCVA's reporting for January and February 2008 show a gaming-revenue decline of 3.8 percent for the non-Strip Clark County and -- and this is shocking -- a 15.3 percent drop for the Boulder Strip. That's probably a good reflection on how Station's doing because the only two casinos of any significance over there are Boulder Station (owned by Station) and Sam's Town (owned by Boyd.) And the demographics for Boulder Station are an awful lot like that for the Palace, Texas and Santa Fe Stations.

Still, 70 people a company the size of Station is kind of the equivalent of the 440 middle managers fired by the mammoth MGM Mirage.

Off to the dentist now.

Anti-Recession Vegas TV Spots: Thoughts?

This week, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority launches a $12 million, three-month national TV ad campaign to combat the recession. They're called "Vegas Right Now" and they're interesting for a few reasons. But first, click here or on the image below and watch 'em. They're not even up on the LVCVA site yet.

A few things jump out. First, it is -- and I confirmed this -- the first time that the LVCVA's ads recommend specific Vegas places and shows instead of the more general destination sell. In these three 30-second spots, they reference Love, Prive, McFadden's, Moon, The Bank, Barney's New York, Wynn Esplanade, Miracle Mile Shops and "new restaurants by" Mario Batali, Alessandro Stratta and Wolfgang Puck. Any thoughts on these choices?

Second, I sent this around to an email list I have for people who have said they would be interested in being potential sources in my stories (email me if you want to be added) and some folks thought the Don't-Think ad in particular is a little insensitive to people in economic turmoil.

And third, I just think it's funny that they chose to put these guys in nice suits outside, uh, Binion's, while the voiceover talks about fabulous shopping.

Can you see these guys with a fried twinkie and a 99-cent shrimp cocktail?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Show is UP: Steve v Steve

This week's podcast, featuring a certain Vegas visionary, is now available! Click here to hear it or or right-click here to download the file. It should arrive in iTunes feeds at around 9 a.m. PT on Thursday as always.

Find out what Steve Wynn's planning for his golf course, how he's weathering the recession and much more. In Banter: Powerful people are listening, Harrah's IS punishing the R-J, Criss Angel has not repented, the "What Happens in Vegas" trailer is actually good, Andrew Lloyd Webber is writing a batty "Phantom" sequel and more.

Show links:

The Al Phlipp and the Woo Team band that gave us our special music can be found here
"Las Vegas" Executive Producer Matt Pyken's IMDB profile is here

Pyken's new show, "Knight Rider," can be found here
That god-awful third-ever episode of this program, then called Vegas S&M, is here
Steve's Harrah’s ad-halt blog entry is here
The trailer for "What Happens in Vegas" is here
See the tasteless headline for Richard Abowitz' Criss Angel-Norm blog item here
Read the biz
arre plans for Phantom II here
The R-J's piece on the Westin giving the money back is here
The R-J's coverage of Las Vegas Sands on trial is here

The site for Town Square is here

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What's Wrong With This Screen Shot?

This is from the official Harrah's website. Do you see anything surprisingly wrong? Here, I'll give ya a hint.

Let's see how long it takes them to fix it...

The New Downtown Las Vegas?

My long, long, long, LONG awaited piece on a massive new development (including the Frank Gehry building, model at right) immediately west of downtown Vegas called Union Park that could radically alter the future of the city's aged urban core -- or accelerate its demise -- is finally out. It's a huge display piece in Wednesday's New York Times, with color pictures and a map and everything.

To give you some idea of how long I labored on this, I interviewed Oscar Goodman back in January. Then, for some reason, I developed a weird block and kept putting off writing the story as the months flipped by. Bad. There's always something else to write.

Anyway, I'm quite pleased with the results. Check it out here. It's the longest piece I've ever written for the Times.

What's Next For the Wynn Golf Course?

Find out that and a LOT more tonight on the live edition of "The Strip" at 7:05 pm PT. Join us at LVRocks.Com for the show and live chat.

Or wait until Thursday and grab the podcast edition. Your call.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Punctuation of the Strip

After two weeks of the serious business of analyzing Christina Binkley's messy Steve Wynn bio, I went a a little whimsical this week. You can hear Wynn's reaction to the Encore-punctuation question on this week's upcoming episode of the Strip as well as more news on his plans for redeveloping the golf course. Join us live on Tuesday, 7-8 pm PT, at LVRocks.Com, or grab the podcast on Thursday.

Now, here's this week's Weekly col...

What's in a Dot: The Punctuation of the Strip
by Steve Friess

At some point when I wasn’t looking, they slapped the word “Encore” atop the new building that stands beside the tower for which Encore is the, uh, encore. The original, of course, is Wynn Las Vegas, or “Wynn.” (heretofore written as “Wynn Period”) as it reads in script on it and on bottles of water and God only knows what else.

It kind of disappointed me, that “Encore” sign did. There was no punctuation to chew over. In the process, it seemed to be undermining the very notion that this new building was a continuation of some sort of thought or concept begun by Wynn Period.

You probably think I’m a grammar geek. Guilty. But punctuation is very, very important in Las Vegas. Almost nothing, not even a dot after a name, is done without a great deal of thought. When Steve Wynn decided to make his building read Wynn Period, he was making a point. This was his big comeback after Kirk Kerkorian and the MGM crowd snapped up Mirage Resorts and, with it, the Bellagio, which had been seen up till then as Wynn’s crowning masterpiece.

In 2005, his new building screamed Wynn Period as if to say, “This is the Wynn. Period.” Wynn once told me as much, explaining it was a subtle way of saying that this is the definition of his embodiment as a resort, the ultimate. As subtle, that is, as you can be on top of a 42-story building and so many bottles of water.

There are other ways up and down the Strip that punctuation comes into play in an important way.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Has Harrah's Stopped Advertising in the R-J?

A week ago, we were under the impression following interviews with folks from Harrah's and the publisher of the Review-Journal that the decision by Harrah's not to give their guests the R-J and not to allow the newspaper to be sold on newsstands was a cost-cutting measure amid trying economic times.

It was not, Harrah's spokesman Gary Thompson said, a result of the tough coverage the paper has committed on the issue of building permit problems and the like.

Publisher Sherm Frederick assured in that interview with me as well as in a quote in his own newspaper that if Harrah's was upset with the paper, they'd let him know it. Maybe he was too busy correcting nonexistent errors in other people's publications and picking out juvenile names to call writers with whom he disagrees, but it looks clear he missed this memo. It's not a surprise that someone who just discovered that newspapers ought to offer blogs -- but doesn't bother to equip them with the standard RSS feeds -- would be a little clueless.

Harrah's has not had an ad in the newspaper for at least the past four days and probably longer. I only started noticing when I realized the entire Neon section -- the Friday entertainment guide usually saturated with show, restaurant and nightclub ads -- was Harrah's-free. I went back to look in all the papers I still had in my house, and there was nothing. I waited to look at the Sunday newspaper before I posted this and all I found there was one ad from the Harrah's Foundation, a charitable arm that by law must operate separately from the company's marketing, and something taken out by the Nevada Hotel & Lodging Association for the Epicurean Affair, an event coming at Harrah's-owned Flamingo.

No Cher ads. No Guy Savoy ads. Nothing about Pure, Bette Midler, the Rio's revamped and locals-beloved buffet. Nada.

The result of tough economic times? Perhaps. But the Las Vegas Weekly, published by rival Greenspun, carried expensive full-page ads for the VooDoo Lounge (Rio), Risque (Paris) and Pure (Caesars Palace). Anyone out there with a copy of CityLife want to tell me whether Harrah's has any presence this week in that weekly published by the R-J's parent company?

So, is the newspaper being punished? It seems obvious, and that's sad because the journalism in this case has been very important and has made the city safer for millions of tourists. It may be painful for Harrah's, but it's not the newspaper's fault they made so many disastrous mistakes.

But a newspaper that has lost 7.2 percent of its daily circulation since 2006 and is now at the same Sunday circulation level as a decade ago despite the valley's having added more than 1 million new resident ought to worry anyway. What if Harrah's finds out that not advertising in the R-J makes no difference? Might other companies realize that this is one great way to save some dough? You know, in these trying economic times?

And more importantly, will the publisher even notice while he's thanking his shrinking print audience for a "nice" circulation gain?