Friday, March 19, 2010

The Interview WILL Be Televised!

OK, not TELEvised, webcast. But with video AND audio. So you'll be able to see and hear Miles and me live with Elaine Wynn and Johnny Avello from the Wynn's NCAA Tournament Party on UStream.TV on Saturday from 1-2 pm PT via this link. There's a chat room there as well, but I gather you have to get a free UStream account. We'll probably start the video and audio running a little early to make sure it all works, fyi.

Also, FYI, if you have an iPhone, UStream has an app for that. So you can listen and/or watch us on the go if you wish. Awful cool.

If you don't want to go uStream's site, you can always just watch/listen right here via this nifty player.

Online TV Shows by Ustream
We'll play the audio on LVRocks.Com from 5-6 pm PT and I'll be in the chat room for that.

Summary of Judgment: Bergen in 'Forum'

As I mentioned on Twitter and alluded to in that Jason Alexander post, while in L.A. I took in ex-Jersey Boys star (and my MJ tribute benefit co-producer) Erich Bergen in the full dress rehearsal prior to the two-week run of "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum." The show, now open, runs through March 28 at the Freud Theater at UCLA.

The show was very funny and well-executed, not all that surprising since all of its performers had impressive Broadway and TV credits. But I was especially gratified to see that my friend is getting stellar notices as Hero, the dopey love-struck Roman youth whose pining for an equally dumb and pretty young thing Philia sets the whole comedy plot in motion. Excerpts:

* The L.A. Times: "As the young master, Erich Bergen sweetly floats his high-tenor voice through the love-struck ballad 'Love, I Hear,' then twines it around doe-eyed Annie Abrams, as the amusingly dim object of his affection, in 'Lovely.' "

* Variety: "If it takes a smart actor to portray a dumb character, Bergen and Abrams must be the smartest thesps in town. Totally sweet and winning, they land jokes and physical reactions that have escaped generations of Heros and Philias, and sell the numbers with unexpected touches of whimsy."

* The Orange County Register: " 'Lovely,' Hero and Philia's love duet, is the ideal showcase for Erich Bergen and Annie Abrams, two young performers gifted with wonderful voices (you might have seen him as Bob Gaudio in the L.A. production of 'Jersey Boys')."

* Examiner.Com: "An up-and-coming rising star on stage is Erich Bergen as Hero, (most recently completing a three year run as Bob Gaudio in Tony winning Jersey Boys). Bergen, who performed, in his earlier youth, at Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Center, in New York, is a fresh, promising musical talent, a singer/songwriter, now at work on his debut album, to be released this summer. His vocal duets with Annie Abrams (Philia) are true show stoppers, and delightful diversions from the show's hilarious antics."

* Backstage.Com: "The evening is filled with scintillatingly funny performances [including] Erich Bergen's dewy-eyed romantic, Hero."

* Theatermania.Com: "Erich Bergen brings more than just boyish charm to the role of the innocent Hero."

It's really a terrific production all around and also stars Larry Rabin, who starred at Paris Las Vegas as Leo Bloom in "The Producers" as well as a performer from the dancing cast of Celine Dion's "...A New Day," though I don't remember who that was from what Erich told me. Anyhow, there's loads of Vegas stamped all over this show.

If you're in L.A. through March 28, go. Get tickets here.

This week's LVW col: Robert Earl

Here's this week's LVW column. The full Robert Earl interview will air on the podcast either next week or the week after, postponed by the live Elaine Wynn event this weekend. Enjoy. -sf

His name is Earl
He may have lost control of Planet Hollywood, but a wiser Robert Earl is no Vegas flop


Vegas is a tough town to break into. Because the gaming business is seen from afar as an easy-money racket, all manner of showboaters, dilettantes and charlatans believe all they need to make it on the Strip is money and an oversized ego. The story of those hubrists’ flops are both repetitive and legend.

That’s why I must stand up for a man I fully expected to fail, who arrived from—almost literally—another planet, with the kind of unearned bravado that so typified all the previous wannabes who became never-had-beens. He was loud and proud and believed that just because he knew other hospitality-related businesses he could conquer Sin City, too.

He fell short, ’tis true, and his Planet Hollywood resort is now being absorbed into the Harrah’s universe. But I’m here to say that, while it may seem otherwise, Robert Earl was no Vegas failure.

The fact is, Earl did everything he promised back in 2003, when he acquired the moribund, desperate, horrifically designed Aladdin for $800 million. He took a place with a theme rendered radioactive by 9/11 and spent $1 billion making it bright and accessible on the outside, sultry and hip on the inside. He vowed to deploy his star-laden Rolodex in the service of rebooting the Planet Hollywood brand and he did so beyond anyone’s expectations, with constant film premieres and those big beauty pageants and one ubiquitous mascot known as Holly Madison.

Earl formally lost control of the property last month as Harrah’s, which had bought up Planet Hollywood debt, commandeered the company. The enterprise was heavily financed and then beaten to a pulp by the Great Recession, the same situation faced by almost every operator in Vegas.

Unlike the others, though, the 58-year-old Brit ran out of time. He did nothing wrong, per se; that $1 billion he plunged into the transformation of the Aladdin to the Planet Hollywood was completely necessary to make the place viable. Earl just hit a bad beat and didn’t have the depth to weather it.

“In a nutshell, the days of individual entrepreneurs on the Las Vegas Strip, with the exception of Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, are over,” Earl said by phone last week from the CanyonRanch SpaClub in Tucson, lest anyone worry about his ability to make ends meet.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


A quick and heartfelt thanks to all of you who voted for this site as the best Vegas blog in the Las Vegas CityLife Best of the Valley poll. It was a genuine surprise to win, partly given that right up until the end there were people Tweeting that the site wouldn't let them vote. But we know this must've been real because I'm short on friends or fans over in CityLifeland; it's not hard to read the antipathy into the first phrase of this write-up, is it? So surely, nobody fudged the outcome on my behalf.

Sadly, we STILL don't qualify for a link from the little Nevada News Bureau site. I had asked Elizabeth Crum two months ago if they'd stick us in their blog roll, something that takes about 12 seconds to do. Her answer: "Our blogroll focuses on government, politics & business, so...not sure it's a fit." Evidently the business of gaming is not part of that "business" to which she refers. Ahh, well. Kinda like the U of A telling Obama he hasn't accomplished enough yet, no?


We're actually doing "The Strip" from the Strip for the first time on Saturday! The show will emanate from the Latour Ballroom at Wynn Las Vegas for a March Madness special featuring none other than (who knew?) college b-ball fanatic ELAINE P. WYNN. Also along for a chat will be Wynn Las Vegas sports book director Johnny Avello, the character who divines wacky odds on everything from American Idol to the Westminster Dog Show.

Miles and I will have a LIVE webcast -- link to be provided later -- from 1-2 pm PT while we're doing it. Then we'll also air it in our usual slot from 5-6 pm PT on LVRocks.Com. I'll be in the chat for that.

IMPORTANT NOTE: While we're doing this live on location, it will not be before an audience, per se. The Latour Ballroom is a March Madness Central this weekend, see?

We're going to have a spot to do our program off to the side. So you're certainly welcome to come on down and see us with Elaine and Johnny -- and pay the $25 a head cover to get in, you probably won't be able to hear us unless you're tuned into the site where we'll stream it from. And, again, I'll be on LVRocks.Com at 5 pm.

Kudos to Wynn Las Vegas new media guru Jade Bailey-Assam, who tweets at @WynnLasVegas. This was her idea and we're grateful she both thought of us and arranged for Mrs. Wynn as our guest.

Rebuttal: Wynn and Philly

The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a bizarre editorial earlier this month railing against the prospects of Steve Wynn getting a gaming license in Philly. The premise of their opposition: That Wynn would do something cheesy and low-brow. There was more to it, of course, so today the Inquirer printed this essay by yours truly:

Philadelphia is lucky to have casino mogul
Gambling critics ignore Wynn's highbrow record

As Philadelphia's gambling critics were jumping to groundless conclusions about Steve Wynn's plans for a waterfront casino in their city, Roger Thomas was musing about what it might actually look like.

Thomas is the visionary behind the look and feel of the Bellagio, Wynn, and Encore casinos in Las Vegas, as well as the Wynn casinos in Macau. Architectural Digest has named him one of the world's top 100 designers, and it gave him the prestigious gig of designing the backstage green room at the Kodak Theatre for this year's Academy Awards. That honor was the focus of my interview, but I also asked him about Philly.

"I've been thinking a lot about the history of Philadelphia," the Las Vegas native said. "It has one of the most important, oldest art museums in America, where the collection is presented like no other ... in period environments with furniture of the period, rather than being hung gallery style. ... They also have the Barnes collection, which, controversy aside, is the most important collection of post-Impressionist art, which is going to influence what we're going to do."

OK, so Thomas was already showing that he knows more about Philadelphia than the knee-jerk critics might suppose.

"Then I also look at the genesis of Philadelphia," Thomas went on. "No matter where you are in Philadelphia, you're always aware of the Federal period of architecture and the contributions of the Georgian period of architecture in England, and what that brought to institutional and residential architecture throughout the Eastern seaboard. So all of those things are combining in my head to form a new vocabulary to do our new project in Philadelphia."

Gosh, he sure doesn't sound like a scummy character looking to throw up some rundown slots box, does he? That was the purported basis for dismissals of Wynn by the Inquirer Editorial Board and others - that he would aim down-market.

But what's really behind the objections is the East Coast liberal elite's instinctive propensity to react badly to gambling. For some reason, the fact that the vast majority of casino-goers have no trouble keeping their spending within reason escapes these critics, who also tend to believe that poor people are stupid, defenseless, and without willpower.

Read the rest at here at Philly.Com. The comments are brilliant -- people telling *ME* I don't understand gambling. Ha!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cirque Peeps Discover The Friesster

Many of you who read this blog do not listen to the podcast. That's understandable; they are two different disciplines, two different means of taking in information and entertainment. That said, you're missing something. How much became clear when Fascination!, the Web's central repository for all things Cirque du Soleil, did the laborious work of listening to all of our Cirque-related podcast episodes and cataloging them in a feature. It's quite an effort but I can't find it anywhere on the Web except in the email blast that I get from Fascination!, so I thought I'd reprint it here:

Cirque in Your Ear

Las Vegas, Nevada-based Steve Friess is a freelance writer who writes
for a number of major publications. He blogs about Las Vegas on a
regular basis at VegasHappensHere.Com. He also
produces two podcasts, The Petcast (focusing on pets), and The Strip
with husband Miles Smith which focuses on Las Vegas
happenings. Archives of the podcast can be found at
(You can also subscribe to the
podcast on iTunes.)

The podcasts follow a standard format; "Vegas hot topics" between
Steve and Miles at the beginning with the interview in the middle.
The beginning banter can take awhile to get through but it's worth it.
Friess' interview style is that of an interested conversationalist,
who always does his homework and asks interesting questions of his
subjects. The candid answers he gets to some tougher-than-usual questions can be fun to hear. Many of his interviews form the basis of articles Fress later writes (and are referenced in show notes below each show.) Note that some of the podcasts contain explicit language, mostly from the hosts; the iTunes archive has them marked.

The shows are archived (though not very well organized) in reverse
chronological order. Shows from Jan 1, 2008 to current are on the
first page, with shows from November 24, 2005 to December 31, 2007 on
a second page available from a link at the top and bottom of the first
page. (There are even older shows on a third page linked from the
bottom of the second, but there are no Cirque-specific shows there).
Here's a list of their Cirque-related shows, in chronological order by
original airdate.

THE STRIP PODCAST - Steve Friess and Miles Smith

01/19/2006 - The fun Joey Arias, original Mistress of Seduction at
Zumanity talks about his early days in NYC. He also dishes on the
original Man2Man couple of Silverhut & King, about surprising the
Hilton sisters at the Premiere, and what kinds of rewards a job like
this can provide.

05/11/2006 - Franco Dragone - The always interesting Dragone talks
about going back to Cirque shows and shaking them up to bring emotion
back to the performers. Steve also gets him to discuss Cirque's first
meeting with Caesars Palace. Dragone also talks openly about Le Rêve
(which at that point had been opened a year) touching on the negative
reviews and what the pregnant women in the first performances of the
show actually meant. Finally he talks about the "A New Day" show with
Celine Dion and its development.

05/25/2006 - Cirque VP of Creation Gilles Ste-Croix has a funny story
about the LOVE premiere and Guy Laliberte getting stopped by security.
They also discuss his upbringing, the impact the Beatles had on a
young Ste-Croix, and the "symbolism of 4" in the show. He also breaks
the news (quite some time before it was officially announced) about
the Elvis show at Aria.

06/08/2006 - George and Gilles Martin, discussing the Beatles and LOVE
- Recorded about the same time as the KNPR interview we mentioned last
month. Done for an article that Friess wrote focusing on their
working relationship, the conversation naturally steers towards the
two of them and their process and dynamic. Goes into a bit of detail
about how the musical soundscape was first developed.

12/14/2006 - George Harrison's widow Olivia Harrison discusses LOVE.
The reclusive Harrison doesn't give many interviews so this is a coup.
There is a tantalizing tidbit about Guy's Grand Prix parties early on.
She also discusses an early potential location for the show (London
Battersea Park?). She discusses guarding George's legacy, and hearing
and seeing the show while keeping George in mind.

10/18/2007 - Two discussions about performing in Cirque shows in
separate interviews with "O" original cast and creation artist,
Russian swing diver Anastassia Dobrynina and "Mystere" bungee and
Korean plank performer Margalee Drolet. The "O" interview discusses
creation and Franco Dragone's irritation with the extensive
automation, and also features some soundboard audio from the show.
The Drolet interview talks about working in the Cirque environment and
coming back to the show after maternity leave.

06/26/2008 - Kyle Stokely, a 12-year old performer in LOVE. Also re-
listing of the George and Gilles Martin interview. Stokely talks
about how he got the part, what he does in the show, and what life is
like as a young performer. He also talks about the famous people he's
met as a cast member, including the surviving Beatles.

11/18/2008 - Guy Laliberte! - A short interview recorded outside (so
Laliberte could smoke). Friess asks some good questions about Criss
Angel, Cirque's dominance on the strip, and the investment in Cirque
by Dubai. Though short Laliberte speaks frankly.

03/10/2009 - A special video episode covering a day of Cirque Dance
Auditions in Las Vegas. First focusing on teaching the candidates a
section of dance from "Come Together" they perform it as a group and
in groups of 4 in the audition studio. Then comes improve, where they
are given a word and presented with previously-unknown music and must
react to it (an improv here based on the word "Chaplinesque" is fun).
The 9:20 video notes just 60 of the 400 dancers auditioning were

02/08/2010 - Cirque President Daniel Lamarre - This long interview,
recorded when Freiss was in Montreal to do a profile of Cirque
discusses a wide range of topics, and Freiss isn't shy about asking
tough probing questions. In a fascinating discussion, Lamarre talks
matter-of-factly about Cirque's business plans, the problems (and
possible solutions) with Banana Shpeel, Believe, and Zaia. He talks
about expanding into the "proscenium theater" market and the Kodak LA
show. He also breaks news about a show going into Radio City Music
Hall, and how the Dubai show is now on more or less permanent hold.
Highly recommended!

02/15/2010 - Franco Dragone (again!) - Another fascinating
conversation with the compelling Belgian director. Here Franco talks
about the history of why he left Cirque and what he thinks of their
expansion plans (not his style). He mentions he thinks Believes
problems are in the writing, and talks about the challenges of working
with Celine Dion and not overpowering her with the Dragone "brand."
He also talks about an upcoming arena show he's working on based on
"Kung Fu Panda" and his incredibly expensive Macao show "House of
Dancing Waters." Another highly recommended episode.

* * *

So thanks to Keith Johnson of Facination! for such a thorough review and such kind words. I've long been a fan of the Fascination! email newsletter, which I have subscribed to. I'm not real clear how I did it, though, since I can't find a link on the Fascination! site.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jason Alexander Hates You

I've spent the past three days running all over the Los Angeles region doing interviews and digging up public documents for what may turn out to be the most significant magazine piece I've done since I slept on the floor of a central China hut next to the puke pan of a woman infected with HIV by illicit blood sellers for this Poz piece.

Certainly, these conditions are far better. I've been crashing on Vegas travel freelancer Eric Gladstone's couch and taking down time in adorable cafes where that ubiquitous California species, the aspiring screenwriter, appear in great number.

So I should be sleeping right now because I have another crucial interview in five hours in Riverside, but I had a run-in tonight and can't get something out of my head.

Jason Alexander hates you.

You might recall that the Seinfeld star came to Vegas to perform his one-man show, "The Donny Clay Experience," in the Peepshow theater at Planet Hollywood. On media night, I was introduced warmly by Vegas-based publicists hired to promote the show as a significant journalist with several major outlets. Alexander's co-producer was friendly and told me we'd arrange a phone interview in the coming days.

Then it didn't happen. The Vegas-based publicists asked who I'd be using the interview for. I'd already run the question by editors at a few major national papers and websites but, quite frankly, Jason Alexander isn't of all that much interest anymore.

My answer: We'd do an episode of "The Strip" and some blogging here and, depending on what came out of the conversation, it was totally possible that it could go farther. Take it from Smokey Robinson, Joan Rivers, Hal Prince, Dennis Miller and Lily Tomlin, to name a few from the past eight months or so who have submitted to a thoughtful conversation with me only to find it used in a list of publications and venues around the world. There's no reporter in Vegas capable of attaining as wide exposure but sometimes, like when you're Jason Alexander and you're not that big a deal anymore, you have to do the interview first so I know what the story is.

A few days later, I finally heard back from the Vegas-based publicists: Jason Alexander doesn't do podcasts or blogs.


It was such a bizarre notion that anyone would simply dismiss any medium out of hand that I didn't believe it could seriously have come from Jason Alexander. I presumed it was his personal publicist or partners or something; the level of arrogance and ignorance it takes to say such a thing rarely comes from the celebrity himself.

It was also a demonstrable lie. Jason Alexander has been interviewed by poker bloggers and podcasts and Jason Alexander was interviewed by at least one Vegas journalist whose primary publication outlet is a blog, Robin Leach. Not to mention the publicity shot above? Found it next to an interview for a blog.

Anyhow, my interview never happened. The Vegas-based publicists asked me for data related to the reach of this blog and the podcast, which I provided. But the size of this audience didn't matter. Jason Alexander finished his run in Vegas and that seemed like the end.

Except then, tonight, it wasn't.

A good friend is starring in "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum" at the Freud Theater at UCLA. The show's run begins officially today, but on Monday was a full dress rehearsal. Serendipitously I was in L.A. and was one of my friend's guests. It's a fabulous production that features several Vegas-related actors including ex-"The Producers" star Larry Rabin and ex-"Jersey Boys" star Erich Bergen, so if you're around, totally take it in.

And guess who the show's Artistic Director is? Why, that fine thespian, Jason Alexander. What were the odds?

I had to talk to him. I really had to know whether the actor himself has killed our interview or if it was an overzealous publicity person's doing. And so, as my friend and I were parting, I spotted Jason Alexander putzing around on one of these scooters in the parking garage near his car. (Odd, I know.)

I approached. I reminded him that we'd met at his "Donny Clay" reception. I reminded him that I had been promised an interview.

"Yeah," he said. "I don't do that."

Do what?

"I don't do the blogs, the pod, any of that," he said. "I don't even like doing print anymore. They fuck it up even more than any of them."

Now I know you think what Jason Alexander is saying is that he hates me and my journalist ilk. Which is why I'm going to explain to you what he's really saying, and it's that he hates you.

Jason Alexander doesn't even know what a podcast is. Or, at least, he clearly doesn't know what mine is. We have in-depth, lengthy, serious conversations on "The Strip" that are posted virtually unedited. It's really hard to "fuck it up" -- by which someone like Jason Alexander actually means he'd be misquoted or taken out of context -- when the entire discussion is published.

No, no. All Jason Alexander knows is that it happens on the Internet. That's the only thing podcasts and blogs have in common. And the people who write blogs or publish podcasts couldn't possibly be competent professionals. As for the people who read blogs and listen to podcasts? Why, you're simply unworthy of the mighty Jason Alexander's attention altogether. Never mind that you're the people who care so much about Vegas and Vegas entertainment that you seek out such information, that you will go through the trouble of downloading a podcast, synching it and spending hours taking it in. You're precisely his potential ticket-buyer and he has no respect for you.

The anti-print-journalist bias is a bizarre extra. Once you've ruled out podcasts and blogs and all print media too, what's left? Television! And we all know how celebrity reporters on TV obsess over keeping everything in context and having serious, revelatory conversations!

Another peculiar thing about all this is that I can't figure out where his antipathy for the media started. Lousy reviews for his two post-Seinfeld sitcom bombs? Really? He's turned on all media because critics rendered their opinions? So far as I can recall, Jason Alexander has never had a scandal, never appeared in tabloids, never had to apologize for something that only celebrities ever have to apologize for. The media has had a lovefest for all things Seinfeld forever. When has he even been wounded in such a mortal way?

Oh well. I'm sure that if Jason Alexander ever reads any of this, he'll use it as proof that bloggers, podcasters and print journalists are all evil-doers out to attack and harm their prey. It won't matter that he lied about not doing blogs or podcasts, it won't matter that he's not basing his choices on the quality of the journalist or the size of the audience. He's a media bigot, and no sort of bigot comes to their bigotry rationally.

One more little thing. In the "Forum" program, Jason Alexander's blurb indicates that he will be bringing his "Donny Clay" show to Vegas "for an extended run." Except that his run is over and no future dates are scheduled.

In that UCLA parking garage, I asked him whether he'd be returning to Vegas.

"That is still yet to be determined," he answered with a doubtful look before scooting away. (Odd, I know.)

Hmm. If Vegas doesn't work out for him -- and as I've been told by P-Ho execs that they have no itch to have him back any time soon -- I'm sure Jason Alexander will have a Seinfeldian explanation.

It's not him, it's us.