Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mob Museum In The D.C. Crossfire

[Update: Norm Clarke led today's column with this very blog post and Barack Obama was asked on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos about comments in my NYT piece. The prez-to-be responded: "We don't want is this thing to be a Christmas tree loaded up with a whole bunch of pet projects that people have for their local communities."]

If you couldn't tell from this bit of screen-shot imagery...


...from this Thursday post, I was working at the time on a piece that appears in today's New York Times about the flap over whether federal stimulus money should go towards the $50 million Mob Museum planned for the old federal building in downtown Vegas. (Yes, the thing is technically called the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, but its website URL is, in fact, TheMobMuseum.Org.) LV Mayor Oscar Goodman and others don't see why not, but both Democrats and Republicans say that's the sort of localized project that would start making the stimulus package look like a Christmas tree.

For the piece, we obtained two renderings of the museum, which is supposed to open in 2010 but for which only $15 million of the $50 million budget has been raised. In the NYT today, they published only one, so I thought I'd provide both here, courtesy of Dennis Barrie, the creative director. (Barrie also did the International Spy Museum in DC, the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland and the Woodstock Museum in upstate New York. He was also arrested for displaying those naughty Mapplethorpe pictures in the late 1980s in Cincinnati.)

In addition to that, I had one terrific quote from the mayor that I was unable to include in my story but is sure to tick off more than a few arts lovers around town. I asked him to explain how he came up with the idea for the mob museum. He noted that the deal with the federal government for the deed on the old post office and federal building, where some of the landmark Kefauver hearings took place in 1950, was that it be used for a cultural/museum attraction.

Said the Happiest Mayor Alive:

"I’m saying to myself, although my mother was a great artist, nobody’s going to come to downtown Las Vegas to look at paintings, they’re not going to look at watercolors, they're not going to look at porcelain, they’re not going to look at miniature trains. What will they look at? They’ll look at something that’s really embedded in history, that makes us unique and distinctive from any other city, that has a historical nexus, a keystone because of the Kefauver hearings, and I said, 'A mob museum!' And I think it’s a natural."

Is he right?

Bad, AOL News People

I just went to look at my e-mail and was stopped by this new headline out front on AOL's home page...

Can't see it? How about now:

And I'm like, "Whoa!" Did something break when I wasn't looking? The biggest new hotel being built on the Strip right now is either Aria or Fontainebleau. I hadn't heard of any delays in either of those.

Alas, you click on the link and it takes you to a 4-day-old Reuters story about the shorning and delays for The Harmon, which was never supposed to have more than 400 hotel rooms and had lost its 200 condo units because of construction mistakes. In fact, oddly, at 400 rooms, The Harmon actually qualifies as the SMALLEST new hotel to have been built on the Strip in as long as I can remember. Sure, it's a piece of the largest construction complex, CityCenter, but this headline is bad.

Just saying.

Way to go, Joe S

Twice in recent weeks I've fallen into reading long, really interesting and well-researched pieces in the Las Vegas Sun before pulling back to see the byline. And in both cases, the byline has belonged to none other than Joe Schoenmann, the writer whose work I have pilloried several times over the past year on this blog because of lengthy, shocking and still-unexplained corrections.

Well, it appears the Joe's gotten his mojo back. Both his piece this morning about controversy surrounding the expansion plans of this weird old bar in rural Goodsprings, Nev., and his Jan. 2 look at the fury of pet owners who can't get their animals back at the Lied Animal Shelter were first-rate and, so far as I could tell, required serious amounts of legwork. The second piece, in particular, was a topic so observant yet unexamined -- animal shelter workers can be put in harm's way by angry, emotional pet owners -- that it never even occurred to me or Emily to discuss the notion in 188 episodes of "The Petcast." Hopefully we will soon, though.

This is really, really good news. I don't know what happened to Joe to have him produce the kind of stuff that resulted in those really gruesome corrections, but I repeat what I said the very first time I had to point out problems in his coverage: Until then, he had been one of my favorite and most creative local writers and one of the few I could see giving me a serious run for my national freelancing money if he ever decided to try.

Keep it up, Joe. I would've pointed out the Lied story sooner but I usually wait until I have something to say about a few items in the media before making a post of it. Sadly, there's been so little that's really stood out to me lately. Then I find myself two weeks in a row quite impressed by a story by not just the same reporter but by the very one who has received so many barbs here. Hooray.

P.S. to the R-J: As I wrote this, I received two breaking-news Twitters to my cell phone. I'm sorry, but the fact that the AFC divisional playoff is tied at the half and the fact that UNLV and Texas Christian are playing today are not breaking news. Or news at all. Who on Bonanza Road thinks otherwise?!!?

Friday, January 9, 2009

This Week's LVW Col: One Hot Mamma!

Here's this week's heartfelt LVW "Strip Sense" column on, yes, the MM! closing. Hope you like it.

One hot 'Mamma'!

Honoring an often-mocked, but ultra-entertaining, Vegas production as it says goodbye



There is a nasty rumor going around that as the last numbers began to swell through the Mandalay Bay Theater on Sunday at the final performance of Mamma Mia!, I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket to dab away some precipitation flowing from my eyes. I would like to inform everyone that I had spent the entire weekend laid up with a head cold, and there could be other explanations for why a hard-bitten journalist would need a Kleenex to regain his composure.

If that’s a non-denial denial, then it probably comes from the fact that I am in some sort of bizarre disbelief over the fact that this show is finit, that there will be no further chances to link up on the Strip with Donna and Sophie, Sophie’s three possible dads and a cast that somehow managed to make a decades-old catalog of ABBA songs into a meaningful soundtrack for my current, 21st-century life. I mean, here I am at 4 a.m. feeling the need to write about it when another perfectly good column for this week has already been in the can for days.

But, yes, it is true that I am a bit at bay. For some reason I don’t quite comprehend—it was still making money, damn you!—Mamma Mia! is gone, its last “Waterloo” gloriously and gratuitously belted by actors in bright spandex performing at the end, concert-style, the one song everyone needed to hear but nobody could figure out how to weave into the story.

I don’t often attend closings in Las Vegas, but then again the shows I love this much don’t tend either to last long enough to merit a closing of any emotional heft (Avenue Q, Madhattan) or to ever close (Mystère, Kà, Love). Siegfried & Roy never got a proper send-off, of course, because it went down amid tragedy and controversy; Wayne Newton leaves but always comes back; and I probably would’ve attended the finale of Céline Dion’s … A New Day if I hadn’t been out of town, but it wouldn’t have been the same.

And why not? Well, for one thing, I don’t worry about Céline Dion. She’s Céline Dion. She came, she conquered, she left in a shower of roses and plaudits and celebrity audience members, a red carpet and a new album and a world tour before her, not to mention a standing offer to resume making megabucks for Caesars and AEG Live whenever she deigns to return. The show-biz universe may have been skeptical at the onset that she could fill 4,000 seats a night for all those years, but she proved those skeptics wrong within the first few weeks and never looked back. Plus, if she needed a bump, she could always show up on Larry King Live.

No such luck for Mamma Mia!, which required constant love and attention to keep it noticed amid the cacophony of only-in-Vegas offerings that barrage visitors from the minute they book their rooms to the eons it takes to collect checked baggage at the airport. (As I write that, I wonder: Is there a deal with the resorts to move luggage slowly at McCarran to give advertisers around those carousels their money’s worth with a captive audience?)

Sure, the show was always mentioned—and always shall be, given its historic success—in stories about Broadway coming to the Boulevard. And it does receive due credit for having kicked off a more successful but less often noticed trend, the modern-day respect and interest by Vegas resorts in catering to female tourists after decades of this being strictly a hetero male’s fantasyland.

Yet, if Céline departed as a head of state would, Mamma Mia! went out the way it always operated.

Read the rest HERE

Somebody likes Criss Angel Believe

ImageIt's always interesting to take a look at those reviews that run dramatically contrary to the vast majority. If they're done well, you have to respect the writer, as was the case of Encore dissenter Tony Illia of CityLife, whose piece I linked to and mildly examined the other day. He gave his opinion and his reasons and you didn't have a sense that he had an axe to grind. He was just calling it as he saw it.

When it's done badly -- and especially when it's an excessively laudatory review of something that most serious critics not just didn't like but despised -- it raises questions about the writer's motivations. Certainly, there is the true possibility that someone actually loves some piece of art that nobody else enjoys. And there's a lot of joy for some reviewers in seeing their names below an advertisement blurb, so they'll corrupt their commentaries for that end. Or maybe it's something else.

Thus we come to the curious case of Travis Michael Holder who gave an off-the-charts rave review of Criss Angel Believe at the Luxor for EntertainmentToday.Com. The strangest thing about this review is that he began by essentially declaring pretty much the entire Vegas-reviewing press corps incompetent. To wit, this is the start of his second paragraph:

he reviews of Cirque du Soleil’s sixth and newest permanent Las Vegas extravaganza, Criss Angel’s Believe, which opened Halloween night at the sadly un-Egyptifying Luxor Hotel, have been decidedly mixed. For me, the problem is that most critics have forgotten to wipe away all those nasty expectations and have failed to keep that slate clear as though they’ve never seen a Cirque du Soleil production performed before."

Uh, Mr. Holder, the reviews haven't been "decidedly mixed." They've been "decidedly horrendous." Your positive review was the only one that the creators of the online Cirque-fan newsletter Fascination could find that was even remotely kind. They excerpted yours after providing links to negative reviews from the UNLV Rebel Yell, the Toronto Star, the L.A. Times,Bodog Beat and the Las Vegas Sun. And, again, Mr. Holder, if you're going to hop into the brains of all reviewers who disagree with you and explain to the world their either crooked or inept methods and motives, be prepared to hear my suspicions about yours.

In a minute, though. First, I need to show my readers what a sycophant you sound like. Here's some more of this review:

"Guaranteed, if this had been the first exposure to the continuously stellar work offered by the Cirque—or, for that matter, a first look at the individual style and signature talents of Criss Angel—those same writers would have been sufficiently awestruck."

Guaranteed!!! Here's some more:

"Angel says Believe is the culmination of a lifelong dream and frankly, I for one think he should be proud as hell for what he has accomplished along with the inimitable sanction of the Cirque’s unwavering and unrestricted support for the innovative methods its artists need to create. ... Don’t let anyone tell you different: this is a haunting one-of-a-kind production that truly defies anyone’s expectations, even the creators’ original concepts, I’m sure....[The plot leads to a] gorgeously psychedelic hallucination inhabited by demonic forest creatures of all shapes, sizes and robotic functions on a sweepingly dark and grandly atmospheric set..."

Mr. Holder has a strange theory as to why the critics AND AUDIENCES were so hard on this and it goes like this:

"This must also be the problem for a lot of patrons not in the business of writing about theatre but instead perhaps, as diehard Cirque du Soleil fans, think Angel’s in-your-face style of non-traditional roughhewn sleight-of-hand gets in the way of the company’s lyrical dreamlike splendor, while the generally rabid Angel fans must equally feel balletic rabbits and Eric Serra’s ethereal musical score have nothing to do with watching their Joe Pesci-voiced rockstar-y Goth-dripping New Yaawk-bred cult hero let himself be run over by 20-ton industrial steamrollers. See, again: if no one had any preconceptions of what to expect, I’m convinced no one would be disenchanted with Believe for a minute."

Well, ain't real life a bitch? Both Cirque and Angel have developed reputations and brands. This show fails to deliver the better sides of what either is known for. Both sides are counting on said reputation and brand to propel ticket sales. It's why they believed that people would want to come to the show and precisely how they built hype for the production. But when reviewers and fans of either don't find that which they have come for, it's not Cirque or Angel's faults. No, the whole world just doesn't get it.

Except here's the strange thing. After several paragraphs of fellatio-level praise, even Mr. Holder shows that he understands why so many people don't enjoy this production. A few lines earlier it was defying anyone's expections, something to be wholeheartedly proud of, etc. Mr. Holder is nothing if not colorful and descriptive in his account of what happens in the show.

And then, suddenly, he's being honest. Mr. Holder calls the tricks "surprisingly, all fairly standard illusions." Angel's acting needs work because he is "not yet someone who has found his sea-legs as an actor." Mr. Holder even mocks Angel's "Lon-gah Island-tinged accent" (as one who has such an accent, I must say that it's "Lon-giland") and compares it to the Tony Curtis "Yondah lies da castle of my fadda" thing.

After that, Mr. Holder returns to blowjob mode, referring ot Angel's "exceptional talents, unstoppable imagination and streetwise charisma" in concluding that Believe will someday belong in the Mystere-O pantheon.

So what's going on here? I actually do not believe that Mr. Holder was trying to get his name in a marquee. I went looking around at who Mr. Holder is. He has a website and here's his resume.

Mr. Holder is a performer, writer and artist. That resume is impressive. He's been around show business a very long time. Certainly, he's no break-out star, but anyone who has that much in his vitae deserves respect. And I suspect that Mr. Holder has been in his share of things that earned plaudits and that were viciously savaged. That's the nature of the beast with a resume that varied.

So here's my conclusion: Mr. Holder feels sorry for Criss Angel. I actually do, too, but I wouldn't allow that sympathy to cloud my recommendation about how other people should spend hundreds of dollars. But Mr. Holder didn't spend that; he was comped as most of the media is in these circumstances. Mr. Holder didn't have to take that into account that he had just spent money that could go for a few hours at the craps table or a nice dinner.

It is Mr. Holder, not the rest of the press corps, who was unable to set aside his preconceptions and biases. And his bias is towards encouraging and lauding anyone who takes the enormous risk of getting up on stage before thousands of people to entertain them. He knows how hard that is and he probably knows what it's like to be torn down by people who have never taken that chance.

But Mr. Holder also knows that this show does not achieve greatness. He admits as much when he ackowledges that the tricks are run-of-the-mill, the faux-sponaneity is jarring and the acting is lousy. It's a magic show. What's left after you run through all of that?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Show is UP: Mamma Mia! Exit Interviews

This show was a helluva lot of fun to do. Those of you who missed the live version will have to wait till the annual August outtakes episode to hear me explode in a cursing fury at the &$*holes who do the show after us for talking loudly in the next room while we were in our closing minutes. It wasn't the first time and I was in no mood. But, hey, that's the kind of thing the live crew gets. But the podcast version is still great and you can hear it by clicking on the date below or right-click to download it and listen whenever you want. Or subscribe via iTunes here or via Zune here.

Jan. 8: Mamma Mia! Exit Interviews

The skeptics – including Steve -- said it would never work. A two-act, full-length musical scored by decades-old pop songs telling a convoluted story about parenthood and spandex could never, possibly succeed in Las Vegas. But succeed “Mamma Mia!” did, emboldening another half-dozen or so musicals to believe they, too, were Strip-worthy, only to find out that what Mamma Mia did so effortlessly was actually quite a feat. But all good things must come to an end, and on Sunday, Mandalay Bay said goodbye to Donna, Sophie, her three possible dads and the rest of the cast. We, however, aren’t done yet. Tonight we have live in the studio Brad Grey and Tim Tucker, the only two actors who stayed with the show for its entire, record-breaking Las Vegas run.

In Banter: New Year's Eve fireworks sucked, CityCenter's hiring, Stratosphere's laying off, The Harmon's in limbo, Tamara's stalled and Paris' empty showroom is a blessing.


See Tim Tucker's website here
Hear Steve euologize Mamma Mia! on KNPR by clicking here
See more on CityCenter's Harmon stall here
See rants from Fox viewers about the lousy NYE fireworks here
See the last blog post about Tamara at Venetian, now stalled, here
See more about Stratosphere's restaurant woes here

When Will Obama Be OK By MSWord?

Is it possible to teach Microsoft Word a new word? As in:

It's a very small thing, I know, but I just hate seeing that little red squiggly line under Obama. Arrgh!!! There it is again! Blogger does it too! See:

I mean, I don't get a squiggly line under Reagan or Clinton or Quayle or Kerry. I do get one under Biden. And under Kefauver. So I'm not claiming racism or partisanship here. I'm just wondering how long it will take before the 44th president of the United States is not viewed as a misspelling.

Just wondering.

How Much Does CityCenter Cost? Nobody Seems To Know

You might recall a while back I puzzled over the size of CityCenter. Is it 67 acres? 66? 76? MGM Mirage settled that with a statement that they were going with 76 acres and since they get to draw the boundaries on their own property, 76 it is. Has a patriotic ring to it, too.

But how much is CityCenter costing? Several reports yesterday about the shorning and delaying of The Harmon now-not-condo project used a variety of figures.

A little history. Project CityCenter started out at $5 billion, way back when it was first announced in September 2005. It became $6 billion by February 2006 when they added another 1,000 condo units, mainly because Vdara grew larger. About a week later, it became $7 billion when some infrastructure costs were added in. By earlier this year, the highly credible Bloomberg News started using $11.2 billion. It's also a figure I've used. Yesterday, Robin Leach decided it's $13 billion, a figure nobody has ever officially suggested. In fact, the link at the end of Robin's post is to a Las Vegas Sun story that uses $9.2 billion.

It's not just journalistic confusion, though. Nobody actually knows for sure. Here's an emailed statement I got from MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman this morning: "The safest apples-to-apples would be our previously stated $9.2b less the just announced $600m in savings."

Uh, OK. So now it's officially $8.6 billion?

I called Feldman. Yes, $8.6 billion is now the official number. But what does he mean, apples-to-apples?

"The reason why you have big differences is like $9 billion and $11 billion is because the $11 billion includes things that the $9 billion never included. Bloomberg uses $11 billion because at one point that appeared in a filing because there was a valuation placed on land. It was speaking about the value of the project, not the cost of the project."

In other words, that 76 acres is seen to be worth about $2 billion. That makes sense in 2007 or early 2008, anyhow, after the Elad fools paid $1.2 billion for the Frontier's 35 acres in a less desirable location. It's probably come down since then but is academic anyway because nobody's selling the land under CityCenter. Yet, anyway.

Feldman went on: "This is a number that you need to understand is moving. We continue to bid stuff, we continue to get new pricing. We talk about these numbers as if they're fixed but they're really not."

Understood. But $13 billion?

"I have no idea where Robin got that number. Respectfully, I've never heard it."

Keep in mind, Robin was the guy who pegged the Treasure Island sale before anyone. So maybe he knows something.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Somebody dislikes Encore

Well, I'm sure more than one person does. But since I had yet to read anything in the media that was seriously critical of Encore Las Vegas and its design, I thought I'd post the link to Tony Illia's Las Vegas CityLife critique in which he states that Encore lacks "restraint."

A few excerpts:

Wynn, always the pitchman, believes it's his greatest achievement yet. "Intimacy and richness is the difference with Encore," says Tom Breitling, the former Golden Nugget owner-turned-Wynn employee. "It's really like a boutique hotel." But nothing about the 653-foot-tall, 2,034 room mega-resort seems small or boutique-like. ...

...There is an island bar that somewhat resembles a circus merry-go-round, with four TVs and six gaming tables. There are also daybeds, lounge chairs and a sunglass-cleaning service....

...The main casino is drenched in bordello red,...

...The building is a type of large brown package, nay, present, waiting to be opened. But one architect called it a UPS truck turned on its side....

...The attention to detail is stunning, albeit excessive....

...Encore is trying too hard to impress. Every square inch is adorned with a texture, pattern or contour. There are no blank spots that simply let you breathe and experience the space. The composition is overwrought, too tightly packaged together. It can be suffocating. Encore is a sensory overload. Wynn's need to dazzle and overwhelm guests doesn't always pay off. ...

And, to be fair, he closes with this trying-to-end-on-an-up-note bit:

That said, Encore improves upon Wynn Las Vegas in many ways. The main entryway off Las Vegas Boulevard is much better. Guests pass through the front doors into an uplifting double-height space with diffuse daylight, trees and flowers. Casino corridors have natural light, which is a bold but pleasant surprise; sunlight has long been an industry taboo. The floor-level backwall is also entirely glass, allowing sunlight inside, blurring the line between indoors and out. The retail promenade, meanwhile, is wider and more leisurely than Wynn Las Vegas, which seems cramped at times. And the rooms are splendid. The mood is more relaxed, less kinetic. Glass-encased showers, deep tubs, floor-to-ceiling windows, and plasma TVs in both the bed and bathrooms encourage a pampered, lazy attitude. Rooms have couches, ottomans, writing tables and wireless Internet access as well as fine art prints and safes.

Contrast this to the glowing reviews by UNLV's Dave Schwartz in the Business Press and the Christopher Reynolds of the L.A. Times, the paper whose architectural critic once said the Wynn Las Vegas' theme was "midrise office tower in Houston, circa 1983."

I'm not saying Illia's wrong or that his opinions are invalid. I'm just posting this because they're almost the only critical thing I've seen written about the new resort.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Strip is LIVE tonight with Mamma Mia! Alums!

We're live tonight to record this week's "The Strip" with two guests in-studio, Bradley Gray (left) and Tim Tucker (right), the only two members of the Mamma Mia! cast to remain with the show throughout its entire six-year run. Plus, news from Vegas and all the other cool stuff we do.

Join us starting at 6:45 p.m. PT for the live show and chat with other listeners at LVRocks.Com or wait until Thursday for the podcast. Your call.

Wynn or Adelson want Frontier land?

[UPDATE: Howard Stutz, the only R-J reporter whose blog is worth a damn, has this up this morning about the Adelson-Elad thing. He's as dubious as the rest of us.]

Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Bill Lerner issued this analysis this morning in his regular emails:

Bloomberg has picked up an Israeli newspaper (‘The Marker') story which reports that Las Vegas Sands will swap shares for Elad's 35 acres on the Strip. This site is located directly across from Wynn's Encore. Wynn has previously indicated an interest in this land via a similarly described swap for shares, valued at a fraction of the $35m/acre that Elad paid. Perhaps LVS is being confused for WYNN by this Israeli paper. However, if LVS proceeds with this transaction, the company would be issuing more stock for future 'greenfield' development in an environment where it has been impossible to raise capital to complete their original development pipeline. Similar to its recent primary equity offering, this transaction as described would be further dilutive. Furthermore, LVS has contiguous land in what we call its 'toilet bowl' site, which is 18 acres behind its Venetian/Palazzo/Sands Expo center in Vegas, so in our view the Elad site makes strategically less sense.

Make of it what you will. I didn't find the Bloomberg story, but I did find this Reuters piece from two hours ago in which one of Elad's main partners denies any deal pending with Las Vegas Sands or Adelson. As Lerner says, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It also doesn't make any sense for Wynn, who has all that free land behind him on the golf course to develop, to go picking up the land across the street unless he really, really, really wants to control the view and the price was ridiculously cheap.

Gosh, there are an awful lot of moving parts on the Strip these days, aren't there?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Rumor Patrol: MGM Mirage

I got MGM Mirage VP Alan Feldman on the line today for this AFP piece on the start of hiring of the 12,000 or so employees for CityCenter. As usual, some interesting stuff didn't make it into the story.

I happened to be calling Alan after buzz on the Web had reached a fever pitch that (a) the company was this/close or even done with a deal to sell off the Mirage resort, (b) the Light Group has been pushed out of management of the Harmon hotel-condo and (c) plans are afoot to halt construction on some portion of CityCenter, most likely the aforementioned Harmon.

It seemed worthwhile in that cacophony to publish Feldman's direct responses to those issues.
(a) Mirage: After reiterating that as a publicly traded company that must seriously consider any serious offer to buy any of its assets, I asked if there was any credible offer now pending on this or any of the MGM Mirage properties. His careful, inconclusive response: "There is nothing of which I am aware." That said, he also made light fun of my question as well as that of "one of your colleagues from the local newspapers who called me breathless about the sale of the Mirage. And I asked him, 'Did you get the press release?' And he said, 'No, I didn't get a press release!' And I said, 'That's because there is none.' "

(b) The Light Group and The Harmon: On this, a bit more of a solid denial. "Nothing has changed. The Light Group is the managing entity of the Harmon. There’s been no discussion otherwise on the part of the company."

(c) A CityCenter Delay: "When Boyd made a decision to put a hold on Echelon, that gave everyone pause. Obviously we’re paying very close attention to what’s going on. We’ve also had to deal with structural issues. Some rebar had to be redone at the Harmon. That’s probably added to the rumor mill. We’re going to be make certain that CityCenter is the best it possibly can be when it opens. To the extent that any other decisions are made, we’ll make them and let you know in due course."

Oh, one more thing. On the condo front, there are about 2,400 condos for sale at CityCenter. About half are reserved with 20 percent non-refundable deposits. They've gotten virtually no new ones reserved in the fourth quarter of 2008. So is there danger that if they don't sell more of them they won't be able to fund the rest of the construction?

"We’re not one of these companies running on such thin margins that we need to close on these units to make these projects work. We’re on pretty solid ground and this is real estate that’s not going anywhere. As Las Vegas goes, this is still beachfront property.”

Get it? Beachfront property in Vegas? He made a funny. He also provided a lot and a little bit of information at the same time. Thoughts?

Reason No. 456,011 Why ReviewJournal.Com Sucks

Every week about now, I prowl the Web for discussion topics for the banter portion of "The Strip," which we record on Tuesday nights. Beyond reading the dead-tree versions of the local newspapers, I regularly look to certain sites for inspiration and perhaps some news I missed. Among those, I always visit Hunter Hillegas' Two Way Hard Three (and congrats to HH for his Best Vegas Blog Trippie!!!)...

...Robin Leach's Vegas DeLuxe..

...Dave McKee's Stiffs & Georges...

...and Richard Abowitz's Moveable Buffet...

I used to also look at NormClarke.Com, but it doesn't seem like he posts any news there that's not in his print columns.

And then there's this...

That's the R-J's megablog. The DREAM TEAM. It says so. A multi-disciplinary blog that has eight different contributors. Eight highly trained roving eyes unearthing all sorts of interesting new wrinkles, some too big to wait for the next day's paper and some too small to have a home in print. Something to keep us coming back again and again.

The total number of new blog posts from the DREAM TEAM in the past week? ONE. Uno. 1. Yi. Un. Ehad. The hot scoop? Channel 8 has a new weatherwoman! Well, that couldn't wait until morning, huh?

To which I say: WTF? I praised this Vegas Voice idea back in August, when I called it "the consistently updated and interesting Vegas Voice blog." At that point, I was finding some real bits of news on there. But I've broken more news on this blog in the past two weeks than the EIGHT of them have broken combined on theirs since then. How is that even possible?

But hey, we're gonna all have ol' Nate Tannenbaum on our smart phones pretty soon reading us the newspaper, right? Can't get much more cutting edge than that! Woo hoo!

And hey, LasVegasSun.Com. Quit your giggling. You're not doing much better, and you people have real pros running your dot-com show over there who should know better. Sure, you're up to speed on political blogging, but your Culture Blog breaks no entertainment news, your Gaming & Business blog hasn't had a new post in 27 days and my pal Joe Brown, who just last week praised me in his one-year retrospective so it pains me to say this, hasn't offered up a blog item in 17 days and counting.

Hey, guys and gals in the dead-tree press. Get with the program or you'll end up on here:

Shape up or don't bitch and moan when your jobs disappear along with your circulation and your web traffic. And I say this with love. Really.

P.S. to the ReviewJournal.Com nitwits: First-quarter UNLV basketball scores are still not "breaking news." Stop sending me Twitters that say so.

Stratosphere's Fancy Restaurant Cuts Staff Hours?

While I was waiting to go on KNPR's "State of Nevada" program this morning to eulogize Mamma Mia!, a guy named James called in during a discussion of the economic downturn to report that half the employees at the fancy, rotating Top of the World Restaurant at Stratosphere have been informed this week they'd be going part-time indefinitely. (The Stratosphere spokesman has not returned a call for comment yet.)

What was interesting about this wrinkle was that Dave Berns, the host, quizzed the fellow about the cause. (Hear it here.) Stratosphere was bought about a year ago by Goldman Sachs, the troubled NYC investment house. Berns asked James if weaker business or the banking industry mess caused the cutbacks. James doesn't know, but his responses were interesting:

"December is typically slow anyway, that's always been a slow month for us. But I think one of our mistakes was, we raised our prices dramatically here once that takeover was taken. I don't know who made that decision, but I think that that was a driving force. ... We knew that something was coming but this was pretty dramatic because half of us are now on a part-time basis."

James said management said they'd get more hours if business increased. He's clearly distraught:

"We all were numb. Flat-out numb. ... We figured it would be a few of us would have to go, not half. ... We thought we were going to be OK. We're one of those premier restaurants that people want to go to because of our beautiful view ... We always have a draw of people no matter who comes to Vegas. We didn't see it coming. We were kind of blindsided."

This situation raises some interesting questions about the impact of the recession in this particular arena. It's strange that the Goldman Sachs folks jacked up the prices at Top of the World when they did; it reminds us once again what bad business decisions know-it-alls in New York make when they don't understand the Vegas market. (Yes, that means you, Elad.) Goldman Sachs has maimed the only golden goose they acquired in the transaction and who gets to suffer? James and his colleagues.

But, beyond that, restaurateurs are in an especially awkward position in this environment. Hotel rooms and show tickets can be discounted, but by and large there's no such thing as getting a 20 percent off coupon at Picasso or the Eiffel Tower Restaurant. And it is almost impossible to DROP prices on the menus, partly because the cost of ingredients and labor usually does justify the current food prices. (They make the big bucks not on the $150 prix fixe meal but on the 2,000% markups on alcohol, as I understand it.)

What's more, even if a restaurant did lower its prices, how would they tell anyone? Can you see Guy Savoy running coupons in What's On or Aureole taking an ad out in the R-J to announce such a thing? Once a restaurant has a reputation for its price point, it seems impossible -- and, long-term unwise -- to alter that perception.

No, the only realistic way for restaurants to cut costs is to dismiss some of its staff and, perhaps, close sections of its dining area. Hence, James and his colleagues are screwed.

That said, there is one other way. Caesars food headliner Bradley Ogden was on KNPR's State of Nevada last May with a shocking admission: He's taking the same money for smaller portions at some of his restaurants, although he seemed to avoid saying he does at at Caesars. "Rather than serving a 12 oz steak, you serve a 10 oz steak," Ogden says within the first four minutes of that show, linked to above. "For the same price?" Berns asks. "Yes, for the same price."

That strikes me as cheating. On the other hand, I'm not sure which is worse, people with money getting a little bit less food or working-class people losing their jobs. Sucks any way you, uh, slice it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Bye, Bye, Mamma Mia!

And so the most successful Broadway musical ever to come to Las Vegas closed last night with an excellent final performance in which the actors clearly were trying to control their emotions and get the job done. I snapped these above from the 15th row and was amazed at how well they came out. (Read my "Mamma Mia" Mea Culpa here, btw.)

They didn't make any statements at the end of the production, much to the disappointment of many in the audience, but there were some moments during the show when it the actors and actresses behind the roles seemed to be winking at us about the occasion.

They did, however, have a party. Of course. This time, it was up in the HoB Foundation Room.

Here's a pic that a friend shot of me. I know it's unflattering, but I'm sick and bloated from all those chocolate Santas that were supposed to ward off this cold, so...

I really wasn't feeling like sticking around, but I loved the show so much and I really wanted to see Tina Walsh, the original Donna in the Vegas production who is now Madame Giry in Phantom. She made it over after her show was over. (To bone up on why I'm so mad about Tina, read this old LVW col.)

Here she is with Carol Linnea Johnson, who closed the show in the role that Meryl Streep ruined.

Here's Tina being chatted up by Robin Leach and then posing with Tim Tucker, one of our two guests on "The Strip" this Tuesday night.

And here's a few of the other actors. First, there's Victor Wallace, who opened the show in Vegas as Skye, the boyfriend of Sophie, and later returned to the cast as Sam, one of Sophie's possible dads. Yes, in a six-year span.

And here's Robin Baxter, who played Rosie, one of Donna's two friends. She's very, very funny.

But, alas, the party must come to an end. I was reminded of this when I saw this... the Mandalay Bay parking garage.

Good luck to the former cast. And thanks for a great ride.

My 'Mamma Mia!' Mea Culpa

I've finally caught Miles' dreadful cold -- this is Day 3, which evidently is Hock Big Green Loogies Day -- but I'm going to soldier on tonight and get over to the finale of Mamma Mia! at Mandalay Bay.

In honor of that closure, allow me a Mamma Mia! mea culpa of sorts. At the media opening for the show in 2003, uberpublicist Dave Kirvin walked up behind me and said, gamely, "'One Hot Mamma'...question mark? How about 'One Hot Mamma'...exclamation point?" He was referring to this:

That's the headline for my Newsweek piece published six years ago next week about Vegas' first big swerve towards musical theater. You can read it by clicking here.

Kirvin, always genial, was needling me about the doubt engendered in that headline. I, of course, hid behind the fact that I don't write headlines, and the piece itself was a balanced -- and really short -- look at the fact that Mamma Mia! was going against established Vegas norms, that there was nothing in Vegas show history to say that it would.

Well, we all know now how that turned out. Mike Weatherford has an interesting tribute in today's Review-Journal in which he says that the ABBA-scored show was never a Cirque-like hit but marched on triumphantly week after week, month after month, emboldening all the other Broadway fare that arrived thereafter to fancy itself Strip material.

If I regret anything, it's that I failed to understand for a very long time the real emotional pull of what I referred to in that Newsweek piece as a "plot [that] is easy to ignore." The more times I've seen this show, the more numbers in it have affected me. "Knowing You, Knowing Me" reduced me to tears during the period after the end of my first marriage. "Slipping Through My Fingers" is poignant to me now as my Little Brother, once 6 and now somehow 18?!?, ships off to Air Force boot camp in three weeks. And "Winner Takes It All," before being utterly destroyed in the cinema by Meryl Streep, made me comprehend what a Sarah Brightman-caliber treasure Las Vegas had in Tina Walsh, the original Vegas Donna who now plays Madame Giry in "Phantom."

So, Mr. Kirvin and the rest of you, congratulations and, of course, thank you for the music. And to my readers, I do hope you'll join us on "The Strip" on Tuesday night at LVRocks.Com for a live interview with the only two members of the "Mamma Mia!' company who made it through the whole six-year run.