Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Poll: Douchebag of the Year

Tweeter @FunnyKeithLyle and I were brainstorming about who qualifies as Douchebag of The Year and I thought he was referring to an actual poll. He wasn't, so we decided to create one. Here it is. If you'd like to host this poll yourself on your site, email me your email address and I'll send along the HTML. It's easy and fun. Now vote. I left out women -- sorry, Carrie Prejean -- and people of too-local interest like Gov. Jim Gibbons. Enjoy and vote! The poll is to your right.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Harrah's Firesale Sale

Isn't she cute? Tacky, but cute, right?

Got her for $1 a week or so ago and have been meaning to catch up on my blogging about this. Over the Dec. 18-20 weekend at Paris Las Vegas, Harrah's put out a ballroom's worth of goofy wares at ridiculous prices to sell off excess inventories of tchotkes just in time for holiday shoppers seeking bargains.

Didn't hear about it? No, well, neither did I until the day before it was over. A listener/reader in New Jersey alerted me to the Harrah's version of that Wynn Warehouse event I covered here in November. I even inquired with a Harrah's publicist who told me that the event was for employees and not open to the public. Which was weird because these signs...

...were all over the shopping esplanade at Paris. It was, indeed, open to the public and, in fact, there was a similar one the prior weekend at Caesars Palace. I'm told the next go-around will be in May and that Harrah's generally tries to do them twice a year. I'm really surprised they don't promote this more to the Vegas public; they'd bring in hoards of bargain-seeking locals who might just stay for dinner or a hand of blackjack, y'know?

I made it with 15 minutes to spare until the sale closed that Sunday, which explains why most people are in line to check out in these images.

There was lots of leftover World Series of Poker garb...

...and merchandise from Harrah's properties all over the United States.

(Vegas peeps who may wonder: Paula Deen has her name on the buffet at Harrah's Tunica.)

Yet the big theme at this sale seemed to be Bette Midler-branded stuff. Every item - T-shirts, hats, mugs, shotglasses -- yes, Tim & Michele, I got you one -- and Christmas ornaments going for 100 pennies.

In case you're wondering what kind of discounts were going on, this... what some suckers/fans once paid for Bette Midler ornaments.

There were the odd, weird items, too, like seasonally-themed G-strings...

...and, uh, material for topiaries?

And apparently black people don't fancy these...

...for which they should be quite proud.

Anyhow, here's my loot, mainly stuff I picked up to put in the prize list for Trivia Question winners on The Strip Podcast. I spent a whopping $12 plus tax.

Oh, OK. I wanted the Kiss My Brass mug. And you just never know when Flamingo ashtrays are going to come back into style, do ya?

A 1-Minute ThePetcast.Com Funny

My ThePetcast.Com co-host Emily Richmond has a cat that's stalking her and her dog, Archie. See?

Hear more about this "problem" on Episode 221.5 of our show. Find it at ThePetcast.Com or subscribe via iTunes. Also on that episode, Emily unfurls her list of the top 5 pet-related stories of 2009.

The Show is UP: The Vegas Juniors

Here's this week's episode of "The Strip," a sorta double episode pairing up a Louis Prima Jr chat I did but never aired in September with a completely fascinating conversation with Sandy Hackett. No, really. The folks in the live chat on Saturday barely talked, they were so intrigued by the interview. You know it's going well when the source, in this case Hackett, exclaims, "My GOD you've done your research." Click on the date below to make the show play or right-click to save it and listen at your leisure. You can subscribe, too, (it's free!) in iTunes or in Zune.

Dec. 29: The Vegas Juniors...

...with Louis Prima Jr and Sandy Hackett

Nowadays if you’re the offspring of an iconic celebrity, you can get work regardless of your talent as the subject of a reality TV show or by providing vacuous interviews on red carpets. But some of those who were born famous actually spend their lives trying to both make their own mark on the world and protect the legacies of their parents. In this episode, we’ll hear from two men who have done just that, Louis Prima Jr and Sandy Hackett. Prima continues to try to rescue the dying Vegas lounge act that his father made so great and Hackett is a comic and musician in his own right whose Rat Pack production at the Sahara bounces off of his own family history with Frank, Dino, Sammy and Joey. Both have struggled with and enjoyed perks from their famous names and both speak openly about that mixed blessing as well as their fascinating Vegas histories.

In Banter: The Aria buffet, Phil Ruffin’s Bellagio play, the Build It Bigger on CityCenter, Forbes on Adelson and Ruffin, the MGM Mirage Xmas Day outage and more.

Links to stuff discussed:

Get tickets for Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show at the Sahara
Louis Prima Jr’s website
Sandy Hackett’s website
The site for Casino de Quebec
Wikipedia on Mary Healy and Peter Lind Hayes
HowStuffWorks on Discovery Channel’s Build It Bigger shows on Veer and Aria
Doug Elfman’s baffling Viva Elvis piece claiming there aren’t Elvis impersonators in the show
Forbes Magazine’s pieces on Sheldon Adelson and Phil Ruffin
VegasHappensHere.Com’s coverage of the Christmas Day outage at the main IT center of MGM Mirage
John L Smith’s column about Jim Murren’s baseball lie
Norm Clarke’s reporting on the legal tussle between the Rat Pack shows

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Guvmint Handout The R-J Loves

Rarely is there a day when the editorialists at the Las Vegas Review-Journal do not peer out at an unjust world through their extreme-libertarian lenses and find some form of government spending to bash as unnecessary or excessive or a result of our ever-expanding Nanny State.

And then, this morning on my driveway, I received the fruit of the R-J's very own guvmint handout: a 36-section, 576-page, 9-pound stack of newsprint that went almost directly into my recycling bin. Almost, of course, because I had to take a moment to look more carefully on your behalf at the sort of pocket-lining Socialism that Sherm Frederick, Tom Mitchell and the rest of the Bonanza Road gang are A-OK with.

What is it? Well, that's a printed list of every property and property owner in Clark County and their tax assessment. They do it every year. And, yes, all of this information is readily available to anyone who wishes to find it on the Clark County Assessor's website. You can go right there and find out exactly how much my house isn't worth these days. Knock yourself out.

No, no. You won't see anyone over there bitching and moaning about the $555,000+ waste of Clark County taxpayer dollars mandated by a 100-year-old state law. Nor will you see any reporting in the paper about how a change to that law to end this direct deposit into the local newspaper's accounts passed both houses of the Nevada Legislature in 2009 only to be vetoed by Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons. Strange that the R-J didn't rail viciously against the smaller-government-loving Gibbers keeping in place a system that flushes $800,000 in taxpayer money across the state down the toilet. How many teachers could we hire with that dough?

Keep in mind, this is a desperate state that has had to cut just about everything. The Stephens Media Subsidy, however, stayed in place. And the Legislature, which overturned Gibbons' veto a record 41 times, including to heroically grant me fake gay marriage, didn't bother with this one.

Why does the government spend all this money to print and distribute this material? For that we turn to April testimony from the Nevada Press Association, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Old Media which has in the first line of its who-are-we blather that members are "limited to newspapers qualified to publish legal notices in the state." It's their entire raison d'etre. You're not a worthy member unless you're on the take from The Man.

NPA Executive Director Barry Smith appeared before a Nevada Senate committee on April 30 to defend this silliness. According to the transcript, he repeatedly insisted that such public notices are an important service that helps keep the assessors honest and allows neighbors to detect mistakes, inadvertent or otherwise.

He also claimed that having this landfill-fill delivered is far more user-friendly than going on the assessor's website. That is actually a lie. The 576-page behemoth I received today lists everything in alphabetical order. I don't know most of my neighbors' last names and I suspect neither do you. But when I go to the Assessor's website and toss in any address, the site helpfully also lists several others before and after mine. See?

From there I can click on any of them and find out who owns it, how many bathrooms they have, what sorts of improvements they've made and so on. I can even see an aerial photo of the place. I keep pressing the paper I received today, but darn it if nothing ever seems to pop up!

Smith's performance in Carson City was the sort of thing that the R-J boys would be picking apart tasty limb by tasty limb if he weren't standing up for perpetuating their gravy train. He complains that government websites are too complicated and there are so damn many of them, so the people just can't find what they need themselves. Because, you know, the R-J is usually in the business of advocating for
government intervention on behalf of helpless and deliberately clueless average Americans.

Smith also waved this "survey" the NPA took that showed that -- surprise! -- 87 percent of respondents said state and local governments should continue to publish such notices in newspapers. In his testimony, though, he admits it was not a random-sample survey which means it also has no scientific value for use in making public policy. Also, the findings make no common sense.

My favorite, though, is when Smith argues that removing the newspaper from the equation also removes "third-party accountability." I guarantee you nobody at the R-J or any other newspaper actually reviews the information they publish for the county. This is an advertiser relationship; the newspaper is in no way acting as a fact-checking entity in this mix. Another lie.

Smith is also gravely concerned that the U.S. Census in 2007 found 47 percent of households with annual incomes of less than $25,000, 45 percent of Hispanic households and 40 percent of households where people have no college education have no Internet access. He doesn't bother to note that it's pretty unlikely those people even subscribe to the newspaper and that people that poor probably don't own homes, either.

And, as an aside, just imagine if that $555,000 a year went instead to provide subsidies to help make Internet access affordable which, in turn, could be used for all sorts of great purposes as opposed to the one purpose it is presently not accomplishing! The R-J Editorial Board would oppose such a cyber-welfare effort and tell people to go to the library to log on, right? Of course.

Finally, the R-J's subscription rate is about 170,000. (Probably less, but for the sake of argument, we'll be generous.) There are 2 million people in Las Vegas. This is a penetration of 8.5 percent. According to the Senate testimony, as much as 70 percent of residents have some form of at-home Internet access. That means that by a gigantic factor, the Internet is the more effective means of providing this information.

Ass. Paul Aizley, the Democrat who tried to change the law, told that Senate committee that the 2008 assessor rolls took up 456 pages of newsprint that required 40 million pages of paper and ink in 2008. The R-J has narrowed its margins, which may explain why this year's version is 120 pages heftier, but ultimately the outcome has to be similar. It's 9 pounds of newsprint times 170,000 and that's 1.5 million pounds of paper. Yikes.

I appreciate that that $555,000 is a goodly sum for the newspaper company and I would hate to see more colleagues lose their jobs. But, you see, I take them at their word when they write ad nauseum about being self-sufficient and about shrinking government.

Where's Glenn Cook or Vin Suprynowicz when it's their own salaries at stake? If they don't stand up against such waste even when it costs them and their company personally, I'll assume they were just faking their outrage -- as most people suspect anyway -- all along.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Strip + Petcast LIVE 4-6p TODAY

Step away from the leftover Christmas ham -- or bring some with you, we don't actually mind -- and listen live/join in chat 4-6p PT at LVRocks.Com as "The Petcast" counts down the top pet-related tales (get it? tales?) of 2009 and then "The Strip" holds JUNIOR DAY featuring interviews with Louis Prima Jr. and Sandy Hackett.

The schedule:

4-430p: The Petcast 2009 Countdown
430-515p: Play Sandy Hackett interview
5:15-6p: Miles and I do the normal parts of the show including a review of the Aria buffet, thoughts on the Jenny Holzer installation and more.

Join us, alright?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Another holiday snafu for MGM Mirage

[UPDATE #2: The snafu ended around 5:30 p.m. Friday, according to MGM Mirage spokesman Gordon Absher. Poster GoVegas33 at VegasTripping.Com, though, wrote at 5:20 p.m. that New York-New York continued experiencing problems.]

[UPDATE: @VegasRex reporting people at Monte Carlo are not able to cash out at slot machines. That goes beyond how Absher described the impact. He says he just lost the dollar he put in. But he was able to cash out OK at Aria. See VegasRex's pic of the "call attendant" readout at a slot machine at Monte Carlo.]

Poor MGM Mirage. They just don't get a break, not even on Christmas.

Today, an electrical outage at the main IT center for the company -- it's at an "undisclosed location," according to MGM Mirage spokesman Gordon Absher -- has led to widespread problems "at multiple properties." "The power outage knocked some systems offline. The generators kicked in and the systems are reloading and rebooting. It's a minor inconvenience for us at the operations level."

Absher said he's not sure what caused the outage, when it happened, which other resorts were affected or precisely what the impact has been. His understanding is that players are unable to cash out at kiosks and have to go to cages to do so. He said he's unlikely to be able to provide a fuller explanation until tomorrow.

I asked Absher if people sitting at the slots would have noticed anything had occurred until they went to the cash-out kiosks. He didn't know.

A source at Bellagio told me he was informed there was a car crash that precipitated the outage. Visitor Michael Howie, who Tweets at @mchl87, wrote at about 12:45 p.m. PT: "The slot ticketing system is down for Aria and Bellagio, maybe all MGM properties?" He followed that shortly thereafter with: "That means every slot play is a hand pay (slow and annoying) or if you do get a ticket out, you have to go to cashier."

In addition, blogger VegasRex Tweeted around the same time: "@Doh! The Aria Poker Room List Screen" This was his image:

Absher didn't know if Aria's poker-screen problem was related.

I asked VegasRex via DM on Twitter to let me know what he's seeing at Aria. He wrote back just now that the slots are working fine and he's going to check on the cashing-out process.

MGM Mirage seems to be particularly prone to these sorts of snafus. On Easter Sunday 2004, Bellagio suffered a massive blackout that lasted for four days. In October 2007, a problem with the Opera reservation system caused such huge problems for the internal room-booking system for five days that guests were being given keys to occupied or unclean rooms. And just this past January, another computer problem brought down the online reservations systems for all of their resorts for hours.

It's kind of amazing, really, that such a huge, sophisticated corporation would be so vulnerable. I don't recall ever hearing of such problems at any Harrah's resorts, for instance. It might be worth a closer look.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

When Gaming Execs Can't STFU

Here's this week's LVW col, which avid readers of this space recall from its draft form two days ago when it was posted for a couple of hours before I decided to expand it into a full column. Enjoy! -sf

Casino execs: Why all the hatin'?
Vegas collegiality only seems to work in times of plenty


"There is an unwritten rule within the gaming industry: Don't disrupt another casino operator's grand opening."

Review-Journal gaming scribe Howard Stutz's Sunday column about the decision by Boyd Gaming to issue its Station counter-offer on Aria’s opening day contained this hilarious line. It’s not hilarious because Stutz is wrong. He’s totally right. It’s hilarious because he wrote about Boyd’s untoward acts of last week, when he easily could have been talking about Sheldon Adelson, Donald Trump, Phil Ruffin, Steve Wynn or even George Maloof.

As Stutz wrote, Boyd did themselves no favors dropping a bomb that would've been front-page news on a normal day last week. But at least Boyd didn't try to steal the spotlight the same way Adelson, Trump and Ruffin did. Consider:

* Adelson gave his onceish-a-year in-depth interview to Forbes' Matthew Miller on Aria's Opening Day. It's a fascinating exchange in which Adelson goes on about how important his Forbes billionaire's list ranking is in a manner I've never heard any mogul speak. And as for CityCenter? "Even though there is a lot of publicity about it, I haven't heard anyone who's seen it tell me it is going to be a winner. They have no strategy. They have no obvious plan. If they try to compete in the travel and tour business, they will cannibalize all their other properties, like the Bellagio. They don't have a convention space big enough to make an impact. So they built it without a strategy. How ill-advisable is that?"

* Trump: He went on "Larry King Live" on Aria Eve to declare CityCenter ugly, "an absolute catastrophe." Norm Clarke of the R-J theorized that Trump was reacting to MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren's remark to me for my L.A. Weekly opus that the Trump tower in Vegas is hardly prime-time stuff. Either way, MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman had probably the most hilarious comeback of the year, telling Norm of Trump, "I can hardly imagine anyone's opinion that matters less than his." That didn't sit well with Trump, who couldn't bear to give his competitor the last word. He dashed off a hand-written note to Norm, who published it on Saturday, that read: "The CityCenter is architecturally unappealing -- It will be the biggest bust in the history of real estate -- good concept but badly designed and really badly executed. Too bad."

* Ruffin: The owner of the Treasure Island is painted in another Forbes piece out this weekend as something of a savior of CityCenter for buying the resort from MGM Mirage when they were desperate for cash. Ruffin's happy to play that role, sure, but then he drops this completely buried bomb: "They have so many billions of dollars of debt on that project. They are going to have to make so much money every month just to service that debt. That's going to force the MGM guys to go through a lot of pain again, and they'll have to renegotiate their debt but probably also sell off another property or two. I've got at least $500 million in cash and loans I haven't drawn down. And I'd love to own the Bellagio or Mandalay Bay." Shame, really, that he's putting Gilley's in the TI when it would've been so great where the underperforming Conservatory is, you know? But maybe he could get Cirque du Soleil to give him a "Cold Beer, Dirty Girls"-themed show for Mandalay Bay?

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Opening Aria IV: The Weird & Quirky

My apologies for the blurriness of that photo, but it required some quick work once I realized what I was, unbelievably, seeing. This image was shot on Wednesday at Aria during the VIP party and, yes, that is five of the guests having CLIMBED UP THE WINDOW for unknown reasons. Here's a clearer shot after the grinning guys in suits told them to get down.

Wow, huh? If a group of kids did that AFTER the place were opened, I suspect they'd be sternly removed from the premises. But these are VIPs, so whatever. Fun times.

I know you're likely sick of hearing about the Aria opening last week, but this is the post in which I point out all the weird stuff I observed or thought through the course of the big event. Like, for instance, Sirio Maccioni, the Starship Enterprise called and...

...they want their lighting fixture back.

Oddly, take a look at the ceiling design at the CityCenter model/sales office at Bellagio:

Kinda the same, right? Maybe it's a tip off. See, Jim Murren keeps saying he built an urban environment for urban living. He just didn't mention on what planet the model for his definition of urban life exists.

I took that shot above and this one below...

...on Thursday. A day after CityCenter had officially opened. And still people just stood there for long periods of time analyzing the model. Hello? It's open. Go see the real thing. It won't bite. Well, not literally, anyway.

Then again, with these guys running around Aria...

...maybe they should wait?

One of the most amusing things I saw after the opening were these croupiers...

...struggling -- and FAILING -- to open up the box that contained the chips at this craps table. I assume they worked it out, but not before telling these folks to go find another table for the time being.

And speaking of crap, this below is architect David Rockwell chatting with Aria President Bill McBeath at the non-ribbon-cutting opening ceremony earlier on Wednesday.

I wonder if Rockwell was laying out his plans for creating a matching gigantic vagina to go with...

...the enormous phallus he built -- and inexplicably sold as a "treehouse" -- inside The Crystals.

Surprising, really, that they'd go for such a sensational piece of male anatomy -- maybe this is why Dave McKee bizarrely declared the Crystals the next hot spot for the Vegas gay crowd? -- when the one Old Vegas element that CityCenter certainly wasn't shy about were the babes.

I think these were just decoratively on hand for the big party which, again, seemed to have had an extraterrestrial theme that nobody told me about...

...but this poor thing was brought along for Murren's big mid-afternoon NYSE closing bell-ringing event because...

...nothing says Wall Street like a freezing half-naked Vegas cocktail waitress shaking a commemorative cowbell!

By and large the Aria folks pulled off cleaning up the place all spiffy but it was sort of a lost cause since, of course, the place was overrun by smoke and smokers immediately upon opening.

But hey, it's cool with the U.S. Green Building Council and MGM Mirage's green czar Cindy Ortega told me for my L.A. Weekly piece, "The air will often be cleaner than outside air.” Often, perhaps, but not evidently 10 minutes after opening. Or maybe this is a commentary on Vegas' outdoor air quality?

This design on the glass doors...

...bugged me. I kept thinking they didn't get all the sticky stuff off of some decal or something. I mean, what IS the design supposed to be?

And, not surprisingly, this drawing on the wall by one of the CityCenter trams... NOT counted among the vaunted $40 million collection. What IS it? Naked people with birds? That says, "Take me to the Monte Carlo" to you?

We've all had loads of fun with the whole pocket park thing. Everyone takes a drink in the chatroom of the live recordings of our podcast whenever the term is used, double shots if it's Murren himself saying it. But the thing that I kept harping on pre-opening was that Murren would talk about sitting in the pocket park gazing at the Henry Moore and the Maya Lin just beyond that and yet there was no place to sit.

Well, I'm so ecstatic to report that there now benches! See?

Two of 'em! So now a total of about six people -- or four if they're Americans -- can sit. If, of course, they can get Murren to give up his designated seat once in a while.

Finally, I'm sure you're wondering what acerbic, geeky blogger types who make these sorts of obnoxious observations look like when they attend these sorts of things. Well, I've got the good on that, too.

There's DieIsCast.Com's Dave Schwartz trying his best to look cool in shades, Chuck from VegasTripping.Com shooting a photo of me and RateVegas.Com's Hunter Hillegas no doubt tweeting something earth-shattering.

Quite a hip bunch I run with, huh?

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Celebrity, More Puck

Here's this week's episode of "The Strip," a rare 30-minute sit-down with Wolfgang Puck in part of his space in Crystals. In addition, see renderings at bottom of the new Puck Brasserie, which opens at Crystals in January. Click on the date below to make the show play or right-click to save it and listen at your leisure. You can subscribe, too, (it's free!) in iTunes or in Zune.

Dec. 21: More Celebrity, More Puck

He can hardly keep track of how many restaurants bear his name, so he’d be forgiven if he found opening yet another one in Vegas to be run-of-the-mill. And yet Wolfgang Puck, seemed as giddy as ever as he inspected the construction site that will, in one month’s time, open as Puck Brasserie at CityCenter. Amid the hullabaloo surrounding Aria’s opening day, the 60-year-old restaurateur found time to chat with Steve about his childhood food memories, what the most famous celebrity chef in the world means by his “less celebrity, more chef” advertising tagline and why he’ll never open a restaurant in a Steve Wynn resort.

In Banter: A recap of the Aria opening, the latest on the P-Ho/Harrahs transaction, Wynn’s art purchase, Trump and Adelson’s CityCenter hate and more.

Links to stuff discussed:

Wolfgang Puck’s home page
See renderings of Puck Brasserie in Crystals
Wynn’s no-comment comment in the New York Times on his art buy
A VegasHappensHere.Com teleplay between the Steves
Listen to guest host Amy’s podcast, GritstoGlitz.Com
Forbes shows how bad Sheldon Adelson believes money is love
Flickr photo collections by Hunter Hillegas and Steve on the CityCenter opening
See special Strip video episodes of the Aria opening and preview of Viva Elvis
Read VegasHappensHere’s full coverage of the opening of Aria
The Strip Sense column about journo Tweeting
The Associated Press on the NFL’s decision to allow Vegas ads
Fox 5 Las Vegas on the recent Las Vegas sign vandalism

Renderings courtesy of Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group

When Tweeting Makes You A Twit

Here's this past week's LVW col. Enjoy. -sf

When Tweeting Makes You A Twit

As Garth Brooks took to the Wynn Las Vegas stage this past weekend for the first three shows of his planned 300-performance stint, I laid on my couch under two small dogs and three fluffy blankets wondering when the medicine my doctor had prescribed for the chills and aches was going to kick in.

I couldn’t be there, but I was entertaining myself by following the evening’s exploits on Twitter. But when the lights went down, several of my colleagues sent out whiny tweets of a similar vein informing the world that—gasp!—the Wynn folks were cracking down on “surreptitious tweeting.”

Maybe it was my fever-induced stupor, but I had a moment of clarity. Had I been there, I probably would have felt just as compelled as my pals to spend the show spitting out blurbs to my tweeps telling them what was being played, what Garth was wearing, when his wife popped onstage.

Instead, I was at home and not in the rat race, and it suddenly became very clear to me that what we have all become accustomed to doing in the past several months is wrong. Also, outrageous, rude and disrespectful.

And it must stop.

This concept of journalists tweeting during performances is, so far as I can tell, largely a Vegas thing. I’ve looked long and hard all over the nation and I can’t find a single instance of any respectable journalist tweeting during the openings of, say, Broadway shows. Certainly no movie reviewer or scribe would ever even think to try tweeting the play-by-play of a film he was reviewing. It just doesn’t happen, with perhaps the vague exception of maybe at big rock concerts where there’s lots of lights and noise and it’s customary to let the audience do whatever they want.

But to go into a small, darkened theater where people are on stage commanding the attention of the audience and where you’ve been told not to use your handheld devices during the show? That is an appropriate moment for journalists to ignore both good manners and the house rules and go ahead anyway and tap away on a glowing screen that is undeniably disturbing the intended setting?

How did we come to this? When did such insolence become okay, part of the job assignment? When did we journalists become such special people that we have the right to flout the rules?

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Opening Aria III: The Elvis Maybe-Mess

Back when I was lambasting MGM Mirage for the hideous and tacky Viva Elvis banner adorning the already tragic Harmon, CEO Jim Murren told me it was necessary to promote the show and build awareness. I replied that the one part of CityCenter he needn't worry about was his Cirque show. It seemed like a no-brainer. Everyone loves the music and Cirque's prior similar endeavor, Love, was such a knockout. They'd earned our trust, even despite their idiotic Criss Angel foray.

Oops. Murren knew something I didn't.

I'm not ready to declare this show an official disaster yet because it sounds from the coverage by Mike Weatherford that they have dramatic overhaul plans already in motion. Also, they didn't show the press the whole thing at the Dec. 15 preview.

What they did show us, though, is troubling. And you have to think that they put their best 15 minutes forward for the media, right? Here's my YouTube video of about a half-minute:

That number, the Blue Suede Shoes bit, was actually a good opening even if it does feature an Elvis impersonator on stilts. [Aside: Why did Doug Elfman write that there are no Elvis impersonators in the show when he attended this preview and saw this number?] And I loved the imagery of the two acrobats on the hanging guitar.

The trouble I'm sensing, though, is that this show is going to be incredibly literal and obsessed with Elvis the quirky celebrity instead of Elvis the groundbreaking musician. Notice that the people we saw from the Elvis background at that press conference were those responsible for the mass-merchandising of dead Elvis. Unlike with "Love," we never heard that they were using original tracks, remastering old music, bringing in the folks who created it, nothing. There's been no emphasis at all on the history of this music. They're certainly not going to win any Grammys for the cast recording of this.

The reason "Love" works is because Cirque trusts that we are aware of the Beatles and their significance and gets us to refocus on the wonderful music against some visually inventive tableaux. When you use song lyrics as decorations...'re tapped out of imagination. In this sequence, there are actors in superhero capes and tights running all over the place doing nothing in particular. If you know this bit of Elvis trivia, you get it. If you don't, you're confused. Nothing in Love that is biographical about the Beatles, by contrast, confuses anyone or leaves anyone feeling left out. Other parts they showed feature really uninspiring choreography and uninteresting visuals.

It's telling that the Viva Elvis theater didn't even bother to include speakers in the seats as Cirque did for Love and Ka. That showed that they aimed at providing a pitch-perfect acoustical experience for the guests. The big innovation at Viva Elvis is... bus-style seating with cupholders in front, not besides, the guest. Wow.

In fact, the whole theater is, to my mind, recession-era Cirque. They built this thing from the ground up technological gizmos? No folding or flying stage? Nothing transformative? Just a standard-issue proscenium theater that could, if need be, be modestly altered for some other show?

Ka, Zumanity and Love were all renovations of existing theaters -- EFX, Madhattan and Siegfried & Roy respectively -- and yet they really tricked them out or gave them appropriate stylizing. No tricks at Viva Elvis, except those cupholders.

It's no surprise -- and hard to fault them -- for going apeshit on the souvenir side of this.

Again, I look forward to seeing the whole show. I agree with Elfman that they shouldn't be charging serious money ($87-$149) to see the thing if it's clearly in preliminary form, but that's an ongoing argument that Mike Weatherford and I have been beating the drum about for years and nobody in Montreal seems to give a damn.

But the early signs are really not good. They clearly didn't care enough about this thing to really invest in the theater in a way that would make this anything more than a typical show experience. And coming from the folks who redefined the live show experience via their Vegas efforts, that's quite a disappointment.