Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Communism, communism, Steve & The Steve

Here's this week's Las Vegas Weekly column. Back to normal after last week's blowout edition, albeit it down here in Florida with my parents for the week assessing the damage left by Hurricane Jeffrey. More soon. -sf

Why Steve Wynn should—and shouldn’t—fear China

The Las Vegas media lately have spent a whole bunch of ink and digital space attacking and analyzing Steve Wynn’s suggestion that he might move his corporate headquarters to China. Much of that has been appropriate, but again and again writers go for the cheap shot—claiming irony in the notion that a capitalist like Wynn believes he can find safe harbor among “communists”—without understanding how geopolitically incorrect they’re being.

I know a thing or two about this. I lived and covered the Middle Kingdom for two years, I went back to cover the SARS outbreak, the opening of Sands Macau and the opening of Wynn Macau. I even attended a rave on the Great Wall in 2001 the night before then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin celebrated the 80th anniversary of “communism.”

So here’s the deal: Yes, the ruling group in China is known as the Communist Party. But no, China has not been a little-C communist nation for decades now. There is no wealth distribution to the masses, the state has increasingly ceded control over major industries to private or publicly traded interests and, best of all, not everyone is a comrade. In fact, only about 5.6 percent of the nation’s population are members of the Communist Party.

China today is more akin to a gigantic corporation I’ve for 10 years been calling PRC Inc. The CPC is the board of this, the world’s largest company, setting the rules and, no doubt, reaping an untold and unaccounted-for fortune from its operations. As would be the case in the U.S. if Wall Street and major manufacturers really had their way, China today offers unrestrained capitalism of the sort we saw in late-1800s America, before the existence of labor unions, antitrust laws and other restrictions on the free market. There’s little in the way of environmental law, work-safety legislation, even proper jurisprudence to adjudicate civil disputes or protect the rights of crime suspects the way we understand it. It’s the Wild, Wild East.

Wynn should certainly be wary of placing too much faith in the Chinese government, but not because it’s communist in the sense that one day PRC Inc. will seize his land and run his casinos. No, he should worry because ...

Read the REST at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

GOOD Economic News? Whaaa?

In economics, what goes down must go up sooner or later, right? According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's monthly data dump:

* Total rooms occupied in March is up 0.8% and year-to-date 1.4%
* Room rates even inched up 0.8% to an average of $93.23
* Auto traffic at the NV-CA border was up 6.2%
* Gaming revenues for the Strip were in 2.4% in March and -- get this -- 9.8% year to date.
* Visitation overall increased 0.7% in March, the seventh consecutive month of positive change.
* Convention attendance in March was up 5.2%, although it's still down 8.3% year to date. Evidently, though, a big tradeshow normally in April was in March this year, so it may mean nothing.

What it means: More people -- a modest amount, but Vegas must take what it can get -- are coming, they're even paying and playing a bit more, but they're driving. (Air traffic was down 4% in March.) Also, despite MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren's loftiest pre-opening predictions that CityCenter would be responsible for a large surge in visitation this year, there's no evidence of any impact whatsoever, large or small, as yet.

What it means to you: The end of the absurd bargain fire sale that has been Vegas for the past two years is within view. The rest of this year maybe the last time you ever can get Vegas this cheap again. It certainly won't be getting less expensive from here on out, except maybe in the downtown area where gaming revenues fell 10.6% in March.

On one last side note, the math continues to be spectacularly disastrous for Mesquite. Even with 9.6% fewer rooms available because of resort and tower closures, the charming Nevada-Utah border town's occupancy fell 6.5% and total room nights plummeted 15.7%.

BREAKING: Human Nature Gets 2 More Years

The good news: Human Nature, the Aussie group that does the wonderful Motown tribute show at the Imperial Palace and has been the Strip's rare breakthrough hit of the Great Recession, is getting two more years. A formal announcement is coming late Tuesday at the IP at which the guys will appear for a photo op with benefactor Smokey Robinson. Congrats!

The bad news: They're renaming the 653-seat showroom where they play as the Human Nature Theater.

OK, this is only bad news for me as I just through being taken to the woodshed by the population of lovesick middle-aged British women and gay men who make up Matt "Gossy" Goss' most dedicated fan base over my assault on the notion that someone like Goss has done anything to earn having a room named for him. That column, of course, compared his Robin Antin-engineered marketing and attitude unfavorably to the modest, harder-working guys from Down Under.

Ah, but I'm consistent! As much as I admire Human Nature, I'm not convinced they've earned in one year something that neither Frank Sinatra nor Liberace nor Elvis Presley ever had. A classier move: Brand it the Smokey Robinson Theater. He's earned it and he's connected to this act in a serious way. But they don't ask me, of course.

Even if I think giving Human Nature this honor is premature, however, they at least have done something Matt Goss hasn't done to deserve it: They became a bona fide Vegas success first.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Go See This

Really. You should. "I Oughta Be In Pictures" is a really interesting Neil Simon play being put on over at the Las Vegas Little Theatre, one of the community theaters around town. It's about 3 miles west of the Strip in the middle of Chinatown. This month they're putting on this dramedy about an L.A. writer whose long lost teen daughter shows up on his doorstep one day hoping to forge a relationship with him.

And, yes, there's a personal reason I'm shilling for this one. Not only is it a really well-done play, but one of its three stars is frequent Strip Podcast and Petcast guest host Amy Turner, in her first venture into Vegas community theater. Amy, at right being pawed by Gene Simmons, starred in many productions in Chattanooga, Tenn., including turns as Mama Rose in "Gypsy" and Golde in "Fiddler on the Roof." (Aside: Does that not just sound so, uh, special, "Fiddler" as played by Southern WASPs in the Deep South? I suppose it's no odder than Long Island Jewish groups who put on "Oklahoma!", eh?)

Anyhow, in this case Amy plays Steffi, the girlfriend of the L.A. writer whose long lost teen daughter shows up on his doorstep one day hoping to forge a relationship with him. I went with John Katsilometes to a full-dress rehearsal last Thursday and it's a very touching and funny show. The actress who plays the teen daughter, Rachel Lanyi, is a recent UNLV Theater School grad who is particularly gifted.

There are eight remaining performances, this week and next, at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. It's well worth your time.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Show is UP: Tom Smothers

Before you decide to skip this week's show because the Smothers Brothers seem like some long-since-relevant figure from the distant past, don't. Tom Smothers is a now-underappreciated pioneer of the highest order, as I didn't know until I read David Bianculli's "Dangerously Funny" about him. And right-wingers out there will probably enjoy his dissing of Jane Fonda and Howard Stern, so there's something for everyone! Enjoy! -sf

May 10: A Smothers Brothers Hour

The following is an abbreviated list of the people whose career lineage can be traced back to Tom Smothers: Bill Maher. Jon Stewart. David Letterman. Stephen Colbert. Weird Al Yankovich. Norman Lear. Steve Martin. George Carlin. Lorne Michaels. Penn & Teller. The Dixie Chicks. The Who. Simon & Garfunkel. Yeah, that’s all. All were either launched or deeply inspired by Smothers and his pioneering work as creator and co-star of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour from 1966 to 1969. That landmark show, which was yanked from the air in its third season after constant battles with CBS censors, blazed the trail and set the standard for a mind-boggling list of innovative comedians and social commentators. Smothers and brother Dick Smothers are the subject of the brilliant new biography, “Dangerously Funny,” by author and frequent guest host of NPR’s Fresh Air, David Bianculli. The Smothers Brothers perform at the Orleans on May 15 and 16, so we chatted with Tom Smothers about all the famous people he helped launch – and those, like Bob Dylan and Steve Martin, who he didn’t quite “get.” Plus, of course, Smothers has a few thoughts on Vegas then and now.


Buy tickets for the Smothers Brothers at the Orleans
Buy David Bianculli's book "Dangerously Funny"

A Sweet Mother's Day Video

My budding filmmaker niece, Arielle, made this sweet video for today. Those are my nephews and nieces in the Philly area. Happy Mother's Day everyone, and especially my new mom friends Molly Ball and Kathleen Hennessey.