Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hitler on "Criss Angel BeLIEve"

Friday, March 20, 2009

ShowTickets4Locals.Com ARRESTED 3 members?!??

[UPDATE, 1:08 p.m. PT: Just got a blast that they've got Manilow seats available for tonight. What, not enough premium members wanted them? Or are members just scared they'll get arrested?!?]

I've laid off the free-show-tickets outfits around here for more than a year. In fact, I've removed them from the upcoming edition of my Random House guidebook because I didn't want to get unsuspecting tourists in any sort of trouble.

But what came out of ShowTickets4Locals.Com yesterday

The e-mail sent out to their members had a subject line of "What Happened Today With Manilow." Of course, I had to know! So I open it -- I usually delete email from ShowTickets because I just don't want or need free seats at Magic's A Drag -- and find a headline that reads: "Weeding Out The Cheaters."

I'm not going to show you the entire screed because it's really badly written. But from what I can glean, they offered free Barry Manilow seats to their "premium" members, those who pay an annual subscription. (Some members pay for dibs and better offers; free members usually get to see Magic's A Drag over and over and over again.) But some of those premium folks -- "you know who you are," they are scolded -- told their non-paying members about the deal and some non-paying members and even non-members replied to the offer.

"How did the Free Members find out about the tickets when we never sent them an e-mail blast? Seems we have some members who all work in an office together, and only one person pays for Premium status. When a show like the Manilow show is available, that person alerts all the Free members in the office that tickets are available, and they all start to call in for tickets. We also found one family member will pay to upgrade to Premium status, and alert all the other family members who are Free members when tickets become available. Some people who called us for tickets were NOT EVEN MEMBERS AT ALL! They were instructed by friends who were members to call and ask for free show tickets."

OMG! We never could have predicted THAT happening!

So anyhow, as I understand it -- this is where the email gets convoluted -- they had to take tickets away from those members who didn't qualify for them and redistribute them to those who did. Which seems sensible enough, except that this greatly upset the "ST4L Management." From now on, the note indicates, they will assign seats to premium members first as the situation demands and if a free member calls in before they're supposed to, they won't be put on the list.

Sounds good to me and I'm not sure why they didn't come up with that sooner, but this is where the note goes off the rails. Free members are warned that if they do this wrong, they'll find themselves not on the guest list when they show up for the show. "
You will be turned away, and if you make any type of commotion, security will escort you from the property," the Scum of the Earth is forewarned.

If that was it, I probably wouldn't be blogging this. But it's not, of course. The note suddenly takes an even harsher swerve with this:

If you claim tickets and attempt to sell them on internet web sites like Craig's LIst, you WILL BE PROSECUTED. We have already had 3 different members arrested for selling tickets in the past month, and we will villigently continue to catch the few bad apples."

OK. So:

(a) It's vigilant, not villigent (memo to GritsToGlitz.Com's Vocabulary Vixen!)

(b) I don't believe them because the logistics involved with getting the police to a casino to catch not just any scalper but one of their scalpers seems beyond realistic and it would require so much legwork on the part of the ST4L folks that it would be easier if they knew such a deal was going down to just yank the offender from that night's list. If it's true, show me the arrest reports. They'd be public record, so you don't have to worry about violating anyone's privacy.


(c) How does that work, anyway? You don't get your tickets until within about an hour of showtime and you wouldn't know about it until earlier that day. There's time to post a Craigslist notice about it, sell it, get the tickets and meet the buyer at the theater to hand off the seats? And this improbably sequence worth it to all involved? And three offenders have been caught in the past month? What, is Metro in on some sort of sting operation?

The note finishes up with more threats. Here's part of it:

If a box office contacts us and says you were causing even the littlest commotion, you will be deleted from our membership and your IP address will be banned from the system preventing you from ever rejoining under a different user name."

But I like the way it closes, with a plea to free members to "do the right thing" and upgrade to premium status. "There are a few spaces available," they write.

Come on, now. Nobody believes that crapolina. There are as many spaces available as there are people willing to pay for them and you know it. So that's at least two lies embedded in this email. I do wonder how they can be so righteous about obeying rules and doing everything so honestly and maturely when their own missives are full of anger and absurd fallacies?

And, also, I must ask you free members who are always being scolded, is all of this really worth free tickets to Magic's A Drag?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Random pix I haven't shown you

While dumping extra images off my camera's memory card and organizing stuff on my laptop, I came across a few shots I'd taken in recent months for this blog but never had a reason to post.

The first was this one from our suite at Trump a while back. I liked it because it struck me that for all the fanfare, the Fontainebleau is really just a humungous version of its little brother up the block, the Riviera.

See that? The Riv is in the foreground looking so itty bitty, but the shape's the same and so, to some extent, is the exterior. This also shows just how grotesquely large the F'Bleau is. It may make us forget how sprawling and imposing the MGM Grand is when all is said and done.

Meanwhile, one day I was coming west on Spring Mountain Road and I noticed this:

Fun, huh? Of course, Wynn Road has been there for many more years than Wynn Las Vegas. I don't know exactly how long, but it was already there in 1996 when I first moved here. But I've never seen anyone shoot the two signs together, so I did.

Over at Las Vegas City Hall one day, I learned about a little free museum they have that you have to ask the clerks to let you into. Most of the stuff is obvious -- old city maps and pictures -- but I'm thinking we're the only city in the world whose museum offers a collection of...

...mayoral Bobbleheads?

This one has nothing to do with Vegas, but "Lost" fans will appreciate that I was playing my Petcast co-host Emily at Word Twist on Facebook when the seven-letter answers were...

...OCEANIC and COCAINE. Makes you wonder if the fact that the name of the airliner is an anagram for the drug means anything to explaining what's happening on the show.

And, finally, just something nice to look at.

Who said the desert landscape around Vegas is boring or ugly?

LVW Col: Catch The Rising Stars

Here's this week's LVW column, a profile of sorts about Erich Bergen, who stars as Bob Gaudio in "Jersey Boys." I strongly recommend folks check out his one-man show at the Liberace Museum on 3/25 or 4/8. I'll be at the 4/8 performance.

Catch The Rising Stars
Some of the Strip's Broadway performers offer unique entertainment for locals


Erich Bergen has one of those clean-cut young faces that make you want to pinch his cheeks and mess up his hair. He’s all wide-set doe eyes and perfect manners and collared shirts, albeit in various stages of wrinkled, and there’s this straitlaced, innocent element that makes the kid a natural to portray the square who wrote “Sherry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.”

That’s why I’m a little startled when I sit in the empty showroom at the Liberace Museum during a rehearsal last week for Bergen’s two-nights-only benefit concert and the stuff that’s streaming out of his mouth is naughtiness and double entendres of the most delightfully vile manner.

I won’t give it away, exactly, because Bergen asked me not to, but the Jersey Boys star himself is wondering if what he’s just sung will “make everyone walk right out, it’s so disgusting.”

God, I hope not. If they did, they’d miss an up-close-and-personal opportunity—at a bargain-basement price!—to spend some time with a talent so impressive, so refreshing that he can’t possibly be long for the obscurity of a Las Vegas Strip musical cast.

Star power is something that’s very difficult to explain or describe, and it is not that Bergen is the best singer, the best dancer, the best actor or the best-looking performer in this city. But what Bergen does have is a youthful and affable presence, an ability to play with audience expectations of him, a willingness to take risks and a confidence that does not—at least yet—come across as arrogance. And he has an eagerness to perform and crowd-please this city ought to appreciate and take advantage of for however long we have him here.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

And the dominoes begin to fall

After months upon months of reporting that almost every major gaming company was on the brink of bankruptcy, the first has finally declared.

Arnold Knightly of the Review-Journal posted a piece a few hours ago indicating that the locals-joint king Station Casinos plans to file by April 15. MGM Mirage, Las Vegas Sands and Harrah's also are teetering on the brink. (I don't count Herbst Gaming and Tropicana Entertainment as a major interest upon whose fate Las Vegas as a whole depends, but technically they were first to bankruptcy, I suppose.)

Wynn and Boyd appear to be stable for the time being and Boyd, of course, is still in the market to buy Station assets. One wonders if Station ought to swallow its pride and take the $950 million or wait it out and give away more for less. It's not like revenues are going to get much better in the coming months.

Queen Celine's Re-ascension Imminent!

An extremely reliable source told me today an actual contract has just been signed between AEG Live and Celine Dion to return to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. She would start in "about a year," picking up the slack created by Elton John's departure this spring. This jives with this Hello! Canada report in which she's "ready for baby No. 2" and planning an 18-month break.

It's long been an open secret -- Robin Leach has been out front on this one -- that Dion has wanted to return once her tour is over. What is clear is that the throne will be a bit pared down whenever it happens, that rather than the elaborate "...A New Day" Cirque-style production, this will be a version of her tour.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Your Ad Here!!!

No, not here. Well, yeah, you can buy space on this evidently quite popular Vegas blog.

But today I spotted something I hoped and prayed was not what I thought it was. But then it turned out to be exactly what I thought it was. Take a look:

The Luxor, which has already sold their Strip/McCarran-facing side to Absolut vodka for a while in addition to promoting its own entertainment attractions, is now turning the ENTIRE pyramid into billboard space. Here's a closer look at what's there right now:

It's a viewfinder with the Welcome to Las Vegas sign in the middle. In other words, a placeholder. The gigantic equivalent of "YOUR AD HERE." Why not just write that? What, too tacky?

I quizzed Alan Feldman, the MGM Mirage spokesman, about this today. He was probably overwhelmed with media calls about the company's troubling fourth quarter loss -- and here's hoping he schooled some local reporters on what a "going concern" is before they get it wrong again -- but he replied via text message that, indeed, "all four sides are available." He also took the time to email me an article from the most recent MGM Mirage employee newsletter.

The article addresses both what's going on here and why they've decided to be abstract in the least subtle advertising format ever invented. I thought it might be interesting, so here it is:
Hard To Miss
The “buzz” on the new exterior graphic at Luxor
LUXOR – They seemed to appear overnight. Giant images of a camcorder viewfinder trained on the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign materialized late last week on two sides of the Luxor hotel. Drivers on both the I-15 and Las Vegas Boulevard no doubt noticed them. But did they understand them? Probably not, said Brad Goldberg, Vice President of Marketing at Luxor. And that’s ok. “It’s really designed to generate interest to potential advertisers and hopefully do more promotions on the exterior of the building,” Mr. Goldberg said. “The idea was, ‘Let’s make it thought-provoking and see what kind of interest we can generate.’” The camcorder graphics are a new promotion and partnership between Luxor and Skytag, an outdoor advertising firm that specializes in exterior building advertising. It’s the same company that did the LOVE Cirque du Soleil ads atop The Mirage and the Criss Angel ad currently on the front of Luxor. Tentative plans call for the images to be up for at least a month, perhaps longer. Stretching more than 20 stories high, they cover the south and west sides of the pyramid, which is largely new territory for advertisements, Mr. Goldberg said. “We’ve had a few images on the south side of the building before. We’ve never done anything on the west side. I’m hoping it will generate some additional interest on that side of the building,” he said. “We received a few calls from ad agencies even as they were still installing this, so it’s already working.” Aside from the revenue gained by selling
exterior building space for ads, the images often generate a lot of media attention. An outdoor ad for the NBA All-Star game a few years ago landed Luxor on the front page of the New York Times, Mr. Goldberg said. The hope is that these new graphics will garner similar coverage. “Our hotel is truly an iconic building in Las Vegas. Putting these images on that icon should certainly
attract some attention,” Mr. Goldberg said. “We’ll see what kind of buzz it generates."

I expressed surprise that the company would sell ads for things unrelated to anything going on inside the resort. That is, almost all wraps in Vegas to date have at least pimped out the building for a show or event occurring there. Feldman reminded me that the Luxor had done this before, and I remembered that, yes, they'd taken Absolut's money for this:

Feldman also noted that the Rio does it, too. It's true that the Rio did this...

...a couple years ago. But after that, Harrah's Vice President for Marketing Michael Weaver told me the company had decided never to do it again. "The signature shape and look of the building is part of the Rio's brand," Weaver said. "We feel we lose something if we do it too often and for products that don't belong to us." Thus, I believe they've wrapped largely with Penn & Teller stuff ever since. Not the best decision, but at least it's a boundary.

I suppose it's all just business and those of us who think it defaces the iconic nature of the buildings ought to mind our own business. But I wonder if the reason this irks me isn't just that they've turned this fabulous structure into huge billboards but rather that they turned them into EMPTY billboards. They can't even find advertisers in private? They can't just get the word out there quietly in the Madison Avenue world that the space facing the highway can be rented? They have to actually point out that there's nothing there yet?

And what if they can't rent it? What if it goes months and months without something up there, just like billboards in blighted neighborhoods do? Then it's just another vacancy, another emblem of Las Vegas' ongoing, disastrous slump. Forget quiet casino floors, closing showrooms and unsold condos. Hell, every time you pass that building by and there's no ad up, it will scream failure in a way that those others can barely approach. It's telling the world on the largest available canvas just deep in the shitter this town has sunken.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Split Decision on Fator

The morning paper featured an interesting contrast on the Terry Fator premiere on Saturday. On the front page, the Review-Journal's Doug Elfman offered a baffling declaration of the consensus of the "elite" crowd in attendance that the show was a knockout. Baffling, that is, because he and I were in the same room and I heard largely uneven responses. I would never pretend to speak for an entire audience -- especially one biased by free tickets and booze -- but Elfman chose to do so.

Elfman's sample was also tainted by natural human behavior. I've always found if you encounter a friend effusively happy about a performance, you tend not to want to disabuse them of their pleasure. It's awkward. Why would anyone want to take away another person's satisfaction? I had precisely that experience on Saturday with my friend Dave Berns, host of KNPR's "State of Nevada," who started the discussion with something like, "Wasn't that great?" Because I have no reflex for being polite, the best I could answer was, "Uh, it was OK." I recovered quickly by saying Fator fits a viable demographic of which I am not a member, a statement I do believe.

But an opening-night party didn't feel like an appropriate forum to start a debate over the merits of different bits I disliked so I, like some Elfman may have chatted up, chose not to expound on how hackneyed the Michael Jackson stuff was or how out of place the Obama attacks seemed. Most people stifle their own displeasure altogether and respond to those who enjoyed themselves with a smile and something like, "Yes, he's very talented." (Note to Berns: It could be some interesting radio to bring me and Elfman on KNPR to debate the show. Could be a fun regular segment when new shows open.)

It's also clear Elfman does not count me or Las Vegas Sun reviewer Joe Brown among the "elites." Brown's review was more mixed and hit many of the same points I did in my VegasHappensHere.Com post yesterday. It's one of those funny RJ-Sun moments when the front page says "Everyone who matters loves it!" and the Sun's headline says, "Mixed impressions!"

One thing everyone agreed about and felt the need to state -- including me yesterday -- is that Fator is a swell fellow who has been incredibly engaging to the media. And that approach has earned him an inclination among even those of us who had criticism to make some allowances and give him a chance.

And so, a thought: How might the Criss Angel experience have gone differently had he come across as friendly, humble and accessible rather than the Second Coming of Harry Houdini? If he seemed sincerely earnest to answer questions from the public's proxies as honestly as possible rather than threatening local columnists with violence or using his dating life as a fame-enhancer? How might it have gone had he not been given to outlandish, easily disproved boasts about his greatness, innovation and boffo sales? Would we have been more forgiving or patient when his show finally opened?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Few Thoughts On Terry Fator

Upon emerging from the grand opening of the Terry Fator show at Mirage last night, friends and colleagues were eager to know -- or maybe they were just making polite conversation -- what I thought. And I was reminded once again that there is a difference between what I think about a show and what I think about a show's prospects for Vegas success.

In this case, I personally found Fator occasionally enjoyable, occasionally grating, largely cliched and unnecessarily political. And I totally see why he will do excellent business provided tourists continue to come here and spend money on such things.

For one thing, he's got a clear sense of Middle America tastes and a sharp mind for marketing. Encouraging his audiences to take photos during the show, for instance, is brilliant. Just think of the legions who will show their photos to their friends or blog audiences (see?) or Tweethearts, thereby increasing Fator's fame. Well played, sir.

That said, some thoughts on the show itself. Terry Fator is a ventriloquist who, through puppets, can do singing impersonations that are occasionally spot-on but just as often require audience willingness to go with the illusion even when their ears don't hear it. When it works, it's pretty impressive. But, like watching a Cirque performer or an opera diva, at some point the audience gets used to the presented skill -- as astonishing as it is -- and becomes more interested in the content. This is especially so when you're watching for 90 minutes and not a 4-minute bit on the TV talent show from whence he emerged.

And some of Fator's current content is, in a word, lame. As a comedian, Fator hits mostly well-beaten softballs. For whatever reason he feels Michael Jackson needs yet one more round of mockery, the sequence is all of the obvious stuff you've heard a zillion times: The weird thing with little kids, the plastic surgery, the voice, the crotch-grabbing, the light skin. How difficult is it to make an audience giggle at this stuff? If you were presenting a new show on the Strip in Vegas, would this hackneyed material be a central portion of your act?

And then, when he does stray off the standard-issue reservation, he does so for two jokes about Obama that are unnecessary and polarizing. Vegas shows normally hew to a non-political bent, making fun of presidents for their mannerisms, their voices, non-policy stuff that turns them into the butt of late-night comics like Clinton's sexual peccadillos or Dubya's syntax mangling.

It's not that President Obama ought to be above mockery, but to hold up a puppet with a scared look on its face and have Fator say, "I've been scared since Obama was elected" is weird. Sure, some sullen right-wingers eager for any pop-culture attack on the new president will roar, but is it worth alienating many others who came to hear not simplistic political humor but a turtle singing standards? (And, yes, I think that jokes about Bush's policies in otherwise non-political stand-up comedy would have been equally inappropriate on the Strip and I can't recall ever hearing any.)

It's also kind of interesting that Fator is evidently quite the conservative but he didn't have any trouble borrowing, uh, liberally from one of the most overtly leftist Broadway shows, "Avenue Q." The Q character Lucy the Slut...

...becomes Vicki the Cougar.

The basics of the character are exactly the same, most notably in the voice and swagger. Granted, most in the audience won't be familiar with the source material, but it seemed like brazen theft to those who are. (And before you point to "Avenue Q" as a lefty political show that played Vegas, might I remind you that that may very well be one reason it failed? And that it was originally intended for Broadway, not the Strip?)

So what *did* I like? I enjoyed a lot of the singing. The ventriloquism is truly impressive. And the part where Fator pulled "The Hulk" Lou Ferrigno on stage and attired him as a Cher dummy was clever and funny.

I assume that normally Fator pulls a random married guy out of the audience, but it was opening night so he had to make use of certain stars in attendance. That also included the Commodores, brought on stage for a number.

There is a point late in the show when Fator relates an anecdote about a woman who tells him his Elvis sounds nothing like the actual King. He retorts to her that that is what Elvis would have sounded like if he sang with his mouth shut. Fator uses this to disarm his critics, but it's not a fair reply. Must we simply be in awe of someone else's talent just because we can't do it? Or can we say, OK, that's an interesting skill, but I'm not buying this or that and you're getting $10 million a year to sell it to me so I'm going to let you know?

I have interviewed Fator a few times and he is a very affable fellow. I expect he'll do well, I wish him well and I will recommend the show to certain segments of my audience when it makes sense. But I also think he can do better than this and I look forward to watching this show change and alter in coming years.