Saturday, September 5, 2009
The show's dark until Friday but Earl won't be there anymore when it resumes, Lynn writes. The rest of the juicy post:
"Depending which story you choose to believe, either Mr. Turner refused to take a requested pay cut as business is a bit slow right now, or Earl, of the inflated ego, went off to do a cruise ship gig, saying something like "I don't know how long Voices will run and I need to keep my other options open." Perhaps by NEXT Friday we will have the accurate information. What we have been told is that, for the immediate future, the show will reopen on the 11th with Ms. Misalucha at the helm. There will have to be lots of changes in advertising. If you have a pair of sharp scissors, you may want to join the team to help cut Earl's face out of all the photos and ads, and lop that "S" off the word Voices."
I just tried to confirm this report but it's Saturday and nobody from Hilton PR's team is around. A box office reservationist told me when I pressed her about whether Turner would be in the show upon its return, "As of now, Earl Turner is still officially in the show, but there is no guarantee that that will be always be the case."
I was intrigued by Lynn's "of the inflated ego" snark. I hadn't really been all that aware of Turner until he and his folks turned out to be the only people involved with "Las Vegas Celebrates The Music of Michael Jackson" to make significant comp demands or refuse to promote the event in the press.
Something tells me that if Turner really does depart for wetter climes, an interview with the lovely Ms. Misalucha -- an arranged entertainment marriage if there ever was one -- could be very illuminating.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Well, thanks to KLAS-TV's willingness to provide their raw footage, we now have this. You can download it from TheStripPodcast.Com or watch it on YouTube:
Because it's news footage and not a static shot, obviously you miss a lot and there are strange camera motions and focus-unfocus bits. But it certainly gives you a flavor of what we all saw and why Elijah's dad's phone has been ringing off the hook since the Today Show used a snippet in a report on the benefit.
I don't have much time -- still laboring to get back on track after the benefit -- but I've had these images sitting on my desktop waiting for their blog moments. When better than a Friday of a holiday weekend?
First of all, someone needs to tell Google Maps...
...that the Boardwalk Hotel is no more. Isn't it odd what they have on the map and what they don't? Miracle Mile Shops is there but P-Ho isn't? Boardwalk is there but that gateway to CityCenter, Monte Carlo is MIA? Was the Boardwalk ever the most significant landmark in that area of the Strip?
Next, here is yet another reason...
...to love Holly Madison.
I had to be at the Hard Rock one Sunday recently when Rehab, the original Sunday pool party, was going on. Beyond how impressed I was by the crowds...
...I was also amused by the display case.
And as if the implants weren't enough, they have these T-shirts:
It made me wonder. Other than the sexual connotation of "I rubbed one out," I can't think of any other connotation. Am I missing something or is this simply a single entendre? Why not just write, "I spunked in the pool at Rehab" or something? Same thing, no?
I was stuck at a light up on the north end of the Strip the other day and wondered as I stared at this billboard...
...whether Arthur Weiner gets many calls these days.
And, finally, a little license plate fun. Or something. Is this...
...not offensive to Jews? What does it mean, anyway? My instinct is that's code for "Jew for Jesus," but I'm a little surprised the Nevada DMV would OK the use of a slur on a license plate.
My wild, wacky, journalistically complicated Michael Jackson benefit journey
By STEVE FRIESS
From that, the Las Vegas Sun let Erich write an essay about how the King of Pop had influenced him, and then he tweeted something vague about wanting to do a tribute show. Norm Clarke reported it as a concrete plan, and I called Erich to find out more.
But there really wasn’t any more. He had an extremely ambitious idea and an aim—to raise money for public-school music-education programs—but he knew not exactly how to go about it. As we discussed it (we’d become friends since my column about him this spring), he asked me to help him. I did not hesitate. I was suddenly co-producer of a benefit that, at that point, we thought would maybe fill the Liberace Museum showroom.
Whoa! Aren’t I a journalist? Aren’t I duty-bound to stay out of the news, not to make it, to observe and analyze, not to participate?
Read the REST at LasVegasWeekly.Com.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Someone in Montreal was paying attention. Within a couple of hours of my posts appearing, look what happened:
They done gone and bought up the two domains I referenced and, I imagine, other variations! This is obvious action-reaction. It's unclear to me, though, why they're not cloaking their ownership if they don't want people to know who owns a site, also standard cyber-behavior for companies of this size.
Meanwhile, Cirque spokeswoman Ann Paladie wrote me back on my request for confirmation: "We're not ready to announce the show name at this time. Thank you!!!"
P.S. Robin Leach interviewed director-creator Vincent Paterson the other day and got some terrific bits on the content of Viva Elvis, which opens in December.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Tomorrow, I open up in my Las Vegas Weekly column, but there's more that didn't find a home or deserved more detail than I had space for there. Ready?
1. The Earl Turner Fiasco. I should have known that Earl Turner, the co-headliner at the Las Vegas Hilton of whom I'd heard little previously, would be a headache when KCEP's Patricia Cunningham tried to get him on her radio show. KCEP is a black-oriented FM radio station and Cunningham wanted Turner to come on to discuss the MJ benefit. Turner refused, I was told, because she had never seen HIS show. Yeah, that's the spirit, Mr. Turner! (Clint Holmes ultimately did the spot.) But it only got better. His producer, Angelo Giordano, called us the night before the show to demand 15 comped seats. We refused this request -- no other performer even requested more than a pair of comp'd seats and many paid full price for several more -- but decided to offer him the seats for $20 a piece as a good-will gesture. At that point, we had sold out of all but the $129 seats, so this was a heckuva deal. Giordano agreed to this and was asked to pay when he picked up his seats at the box office, but when he arrived at the box office he became upset that he had to pay anything and walked off. Result? Fifteen seats that could have raised $2,000 for Las Vegas kids went empty. Nice. [As a post-script, though, Turner and his co-star, Lani Misalucha, performed wonderfully in the show.]
2. Ready For His Close-Up. Or Something. We got a call one day on our Skype line from someone who said he was a casino host at a major hotel asking about the show. I called back thinking maybe he wanted to discuss what we could do for high rollers. Not so much. Rather, the guy tells me, "I do an awesome Moonwalk! I do a better James Brown, but my friends tell me my Moonwalk is pretty awesome." When I explained that this wasn't that kind of show, he was confused and deflated and I felt badly, so I told him to email us his YouTube clips and Web information and we'd take a look. His reply: "Oh, I've never actually performed on a stage before. I thought this could be a great place to get started!"
3. The Girls Will NOT Be Ignored. As the prior anecdote indicated, we heard from lots of acts who wanted to participate and my co-producer, Erich Bergen, carefully selected what would end up in there. (My contributions in idea or organization, by the way, included the Las Vegas Mass Choir, the Green Valley High String Quartet, Lion King representation and the Zumanity singers.) By far the most insistent and bizarre, however, was the lady out of New Jersey who manages The Girls, a trio of female singers who made absolutely no sense to include in a showcase of Vegas or Vegas-relevant talent. Erich let them down politely, but the manager kept coming back via email, more hysterically each time until this:
"Michael is and will always be the King of Pop not merely because of his skill, talent, and the execution of his performances, but specifically because he, more than any other performer truly loved his fans and people. That love was real and not just to impress others. His tribute should be ditto. He would've selected The Girls to perform. He was just that kind of a guy. He was real. He would not shove them away with a thanks but no thanks response. ... He would want The Girls to pay tribute to him, not merely the 'big names.' The Girls are heartbroken and feel additional hurt because Michael is being remembered under 'glory and pomp' and his real fans whom he adored are left out of the tribute."
Erich again replied that it wasn't personal, it just wasn't a fit. The manager quieted down for a few days before sending along this: "Do you know of other places where they can perform?"
4. CUL8R, VH1. At the outset, it seemed like working with VH1's Save The Music Foundation could have benefits. They have a big name and marketing potential and what they do -- provide funding for music educators' salaries -- was in line with what we wanted to accomplish. Except there arose a few serious problems. Besides for the fact that they were very bureaucratic and almost required us to beg them to let us give them our money, the representative told us they do not provide any funding for Nevada schools. Not only that, but if we pledged to raise a certain amount of money and we fell short, Erich and I would be legally obligated to make up the difference. But the kicker was when we suggested that we give some of the money to VH1 and some to the Clark County Public Education Foundation. VH1 would absolutely not be involved in any event for which they had to share in revenues. In fact, they wouldn't even allow us to have an instrument drive -- to collect slightly used instruments for local schools, an idea that didn't ultimately pan out -- in conjunction with something they were branding. And so in the end, they missed out on tens of thousands of dollars as well as all the international publicity we generated. Oh well. Keep all that in mind the next time the VH1 Divas concert returns to Vegas.
5. Hello, My Name is Erish. The beauty of press releases is that they're written down. Even better, when they come on the computer, you can even cut and paste the parts you like if you're that sort of journalist. So explain, someone please, how Erich Bergen became "Erish Bergin" in this ridiculously written piece? Yes, my name gets misspelled, too, although he (accidentally?) got it right once, anyhow. But better yet, given how I have repeatedly stated I was only a casual Michael Jackson fan, where would this fellow possibly have come up with this quote attributed to me: "I’ve been a huge fan of the Michaels music since I was a child."
6. Husband of the Year Joe Jackson: I told most of the story of my encounter with Joe Jackson, father of Michael, the day it happened. But there was one little bit I left out. When we met, I told him I was sorry for his loss. He thanked me. I asked how his wife was faring. His response: "She keeps bursting out in tears every so often all of a sudden, but I keep telling her if she'd only gone over there [to Michael's home] to check up on him like I kept telling her to, he'd still be alive today."
Sept. 3: The Next Big Li'l Thing
In Banter: MJ benefit follow-up, Earl Turner's peeps are jerks, McKee's Carmen Electra infatuation, MGM Mirage's condo issues and more.
Links to stuff discussed:
Elijah "LilElijahJ" Johnson’s website
Dave McKee’s blog is Stiffs and Georges blog
Coverage by John Katsilometes and Norm Clarke of the Michael Jackson concert
Cinevegas’ podcast of the Moonwalker Q-and-A
VegasHappensHere.Com breaks the Viva Elvis title for Cirque’s new Aria show
McKee’s Carmen Electra infatuation
VegasHappensHere.Com on Bill Lerner’s Union Gaming Group report on MGM Mirage condo pricing
MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren’s CNBC interview
VegasHappensHere.Com on all the dirt behind the MJ event
The Myspace site and homepage of "Jersey Boys" star Travis Cloer, whose gorgeous cover of "The Music and Me" closes this episode
...would seem to seal it. Ta-da! I wondered how much Cirque had to pay to buy it, but Whois says they have officially owned VivaElvis.Com since December of 1999?!?! Or could that just be when the domain was created by whomever owned it before?
I'm surprised, though, that this...
...are still up for grabs. Although not for long, methinks.
There was loads of coverage of the MJ tribute benefit concert itself but precious little of the Moonwalker screening and Q-and-A that I helmed in conjunction with Cinevegas later that evening. That surprised me because this was, essentially, the coming out party in Las Vegas for Vince Paterson, the creator-director of the next Cirque du Soleil production on the Strip based on the music of Elvis. Paterson was the choreographer for a bulk of the film and took questions from me and the sell-out crowd alongside actress Kelly Parker.
Nobody's quite sure how any of the other elements of CityCenter will fare, but it's this show is widely seen as a the closest we come these days, even sight unseen, to a surefire hit.
Only one little problem: There's no officially announced name for it and it opens in about 15 weeks. In all the literature, even on the Aria and Cirque websites, it's known as "the Elvis show." Even when Cirque made a big media to-do of the cast's arrival at McCarran, they didn't have a name.
So I asked Paterson as we were about to begin the screening. And he answered. As far as he knows, the show shall be forevermore known as: Viva Elvis.
I searched the Web. The only place where this configuration is written as it pertains to Cirque is on, of all places, this Yelp.Com page. Odd, that.
So, Viva Elvis. Not terribly creative, to be sure. But we had a similar "huh?" when they named the Beatles show "Love." In fact, you'd have to reach all the way back to "Zumanity" and "O" to find Cirque names that anyone instinctively responded by saying, "Oh, cool!" I thought some sort of double play on the initials LV and how they sound when you say them out loud -- ell-vee -- might but fun. But I suspect this stuff is as much subjected to what copyrights are available as anything else, as we learned from MGM Mirage's adventure with the name Aria.
Oh, and one other thing. I asked Paterson during the Q-and-A -- which Cinevegas will be posting as a podcast any day now -- whether he had heard much chatter about Cirque doing a Michael Jackson-scored production. Paterson would be the logical guy for such a project, having known Jackson for decades and having appeared in "Beat It" and "Thriller" and having choreographed "Smooth Criminal" and countless others.
His response: "I'm not allowed to talk about that."
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
On Sunday, he wrote a column about an incident in which an R-J ad boss was told by Sen. Harry Reid: "I hope you go out of business." The paper's editorial writers haven't been too kind to Harry, least of all Frederick himself.
That column has received an enormous amount of attention, with links from Drudge and The New York Times as well as lots of yapping on Fox News. And rightfully so. It was a ridiculous statement for a powerful U.S. senator to make, especially given the condition of the overall economy and the print media. For all the press-bashing coming from the right, I've never once heard a prominent right-wing politician state out loud, "I wish The New York Times would go out of business." Ever.
Yesterday, Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston attempted to take apart Frederick's moment of attention in his daily e-mail newsletter under the headline: "Great Marketer, Horrible Journalist, Clumsy Demagogue." He asked: "Was this just a shameless, disingenuous and pathetic cry for attention (please, please read the RJ) using a polarizing national figure to do so? Or was this a sincere concern about a powerful senator threatening to put a newspaper out of business?"
I agree with Ralston that Frederick, in his piece, framed the Reid remark as a "threat" when really it wasn't one. He didn't say, "I'm going to see that you're shut down." It was an inappropriate opinion; Reid now says it was a joke so if so it was an inappropriate joke. The most powerful senator in the nation should not be running around expressing (or even harboring, frankly) a hope that the media ought to be stifled and that hundreds of people should lose their jobs just because he's feeling assaulted by some of its writers. As journalists, that should be instinctively offensive.
Yet Ralston went too far here. I honestly don't believe that Frederick wrote his piece to increase readership in some permanent way. I think he felt he had a good, provocative topic and that's what columnists are supposed to exploit. Ralston, too, writes provocative columns (as do I), but I doubt he does so with a calculation of how much national ink he might receive or whether more people will buy the paper that day. That's the cliche about reporters; people in journalism should know better. If Frederick thinks one column is going to change the fortunes of his publication, he's foolish, but I don't believe he thinks that.
This particular passage of Ralston's I found weird:
"Today, Frederick is bragging on his blog about the thousands of responses. He may honestly think that thousands of people read his column. He may not understand that the column, for obvious reasons, was linked by Drudge, thus generating that volume of response. He may actually be that obtuse - history and my own experience says he is. But it is the national media attention - even The New York Times blogged about it and Fox News is understandably orgasmic - that generated the response on the RJ site."
Well, hold on a second. Why so dismissive of garnering links from major publications? Why is that somehow an invalid means of increased readership? Does Ralston himself not make note when he gets into the national press? If his site gets more traffic when he's on "Rachel Maddow," does he shrug it off or find it gratifying? Could it not also be said that Ralston was attempting, by firing off such a harsh assault, to stick his own head into the spotlight that Frederick has obtained in this instance? And if so, isn't that just how this game is played by folks on every side of the spectrum?
It also struck me as strange for Ralston, later in the piece, to attack the R-J's news pages for significant bias against Reid. They extensively covered the publicity stunt/re-election effort known as a Green Energy Summit recently, for instance, and for a so-called right-wing paper they've given fairly even-handed and prominent coverage to President Obama. Sure, they're covering Reid's foibles, too; he's a very controversial and undeniably locally unpopular figure and if the coverage didn't reflect that it would be inaccurate.
Furthermore, I've been friends with both former political writer Molly Ball and current one Ben Spillman and I find them both to be painstakingly fair and sincere journalists. I doubt, for instance, that Molly and Sherm would agree on much of anything politically, knowing her as I have, and that's saying something. If he were vetting his political writers for biases that line up with his own, he's doing a lousy job.
No publication -- especially in this city -- gets a pass on ideological purity in its news or editorial pages. I'm totally with Ralston that the R-J has failed to cover the Sen. John Ensign sex scandal with the gusto it deserves, but there are other stories that the R-J owns that the Sun hasn't addressed and plenty that I've broken that neither paper has touched. And the Sun certainly has its political biases that absolutely do bleed through from time to time in the way pieces are conceived, written and displayed. Because writers are given more liberties at the Sun and allowed to be more analytical, I submit it probably happens more at the Sun -- and that's OK, because the Sun has created a niche for itself that allows for that.
To clarify and summarize: Yes, Frederick was exploiting the situation. No, Reid didn't "threaten." But yes, Reid deserved to be called out for the remark any which way because the remark was the biggest sin of all that transpired here.
Tonight, Elijah and his father, Carl, join us in studio for this week's episode of "The Strip." We'll learn where they came from, what it was like for him on stage on Saturday and what happens next for him, given that he's only in Lion King until October. (And yes, that's breaking news. We'll ask why.)
Listen live at 7 p.m. and feed us your questions from the chat room at LVRocks.Com. Or wait until tomorrow night for the podcast version to appear at TheStripPodcast.Com and in the iTunes feed.
One programming note: We'll be doing the interview segment first thing at 7 p.m. PT because Elijah is due at Mandalay Bay for "The Lion King" by 8 p.m. Then we'll take care of the other elements of the show and I'll edit the podcast back into the regular format.
Photo: Denise Truscello, Wire Image
Monday, August 31, 2009
The new version of Googling yourself is to search Twitter for your name. Every so often -- and particularly following a big story or event -- I look to see where I'm popping up. I try variations on my name and its spelling, etc. But until tonight, I'd never just tried the last name by itself: Friess.
I know these are redundant, but it just cracked me up so much! @Skylarrxoxo (above) just wants me. @Casealase just ate me.
@fnkyLO thinks I'm yummy.
Apparently I go well with shrimp...
...and smothered in cheddar!
These were all in a row.
I come in waffles, I get soggy and, clearly, I'm French. And while I'm considered "bomb ass" when @Ezzylocc gets me at Del Taco, I have no idea what @Ogata_ci is saying about me other than that apparently I'm part of an Outback Steakhouse slogan.
Can you tell I need to get away from the pooter for a while?
The motivation for journalists to singlehandedly destroy the economy, evidently, is that bad news increases newstand sales. Odd, that, since newspapers make very little off newsstand sales and most of their money on advertising and if people have no money they can't buy the stuff in the ads and the stores close and, well, the whole cycle is much too maddeningly, ruinously logical for this guy!
Alas, today the highly credible Bill Lerner of Union Gaming Group, which analyzes business trends using -- gasp! -- market data, came out with a new report. And it's all pretty bad news. Like this: "Quite simply, sales have been almost non-existent." And "We note that condo-hotel projects are seeing fewer than four units close each month, while condo projects fare even worse at fewer than two units per month."
Oh, and this: "Our data would suggest that MGM needs to cut pricing as much as 50% (or even more) in order to close units at CityCenter." (He does go on to say that they could probably get away with slicing the price 30 percent.)
Yowza. Actual data. I can't find a place to link to the report online, but it's 23 incredibly depressing pages that ought to come with a dose of cherry arsenic or a shotgun or a syringe of propofol or something.
Does the aforementioned real estate agent suggest journalists not report this stuff? Probably. If we do, that's a scandal!
His show has been deemed by every professional critic as an unredeemable mess, Cirque du Soleil's announced "fixation" plan for the production has evidently stalled out and his personal antics have alienated him from even his most trusted advisers. Yet there's some evidence that Criss Angel and his show, "Criss Angel BeLIEve" are settling in at the Luxor against all odds.
Amongst them is the photo above, proof that, in fact, the belly-up bar at Luxor has been rebranded as "Criss Angel Liquidity." In my July 30 post, I mocked Angel for having referred to it vaingloriously that way when, according to MGM Mirage F&B spokeswoman Andrea Brown: "They are NOT changing the name of Liquidity, but Criss will be making appearances every Friday and Saturday night beginning Friday, Aug. 7 at Liquidity." The capitalized "NOT" was her emphasis via email, not mine.
Turns out, they were. Another MGM Mirage spokeswoman wrote me today after I received a scathing comment on that post noting that I was an ignoramus and all that jazz. Stephanie Heller of MGM Mirage wrote: "At the time that Andrea spoke with you there were no plans to change the name but that has changed. The bar is officially Criss Angel Liquidity."
Well, clearly someone had such a plan. Angel has put six of his motorcycles around the bar and appears there regularly, as Andrea wrote. (According to the signage, Angel appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in fact.)
But, any which way, it's an interesting development. Take that, coupled with Angel's Tweets regularly and joyously announcing packed houses for the show, and what you get is some indication that far from leaving town, Angel may be finding his groove. Who knows how accurate Angel's Tweets are -- at least one insider told me that Angel doesn't know how to distinguish between a sold-out house and a full house, between paying customers and a papered audience -- but for MGM Mirage to rebrand its central watering hole in his honor means they must be fairly confident that he's sticking around. He did make it all the way up to No. 4 on the weekly TicketNews.Com rankings of Vegas shows last week, although he was MIA on this week's list:
Still, just when you might think the corporate parent would be distancing themselves from the controversial star who bellowed cuss words at the vermin Perez Hilton from the stage, they've actually chosen to hug him even tighter. They must know something we don't know.
I write this somewhat tentatively. It will be interesting to see if the hotel's signage changes to reflect this rebranding. So far, it hasn't...
...but clearly this all came about pretty quickly. At the moment, the only things indicating it's Criss Angel Liquidity are large stand-up posters as shown atop this post. They're easy to remove.
Wow. I'm sorry I didn't blog yesterday after the Michael Jackson tribute benefit and all its ancillary activities, but I've had my mom and two of my sisters here and yesterday we all had a celebratory lunch with Erich's family. But we did it! We raised $100,000+ for music education programs and put on a dazzling show.
I'll write more later, but at the moment Miles forgot his phone and I have to take it to him at work, then take my mom and sister to the airport. Also, I have to write my column about the event. So the fun hasn't stopped. But I leave you with this:My very first Flickr photo album.
And here's my favorite shot:
'Nuff said. Well, not really. But for now.