Friday, February 11, 2011

This week's LVW: Cher's Meek Goodbye

I expected to be slammed hard by the Cher partisans, but instead it's the Celine-lovers who are circulating this week's piece with relish. Still, I can't seem to unseat Peggy and her effing planets on the LVW's Top 10 list of best-read pieces. Hmmph. A pox on Peggy, if that's even her name. Anyhow, here's the piece. Happy weekend! -sf

Why Vegas can’t wait for Celine Dion to return

Prediction! Someday soon, Cher will be on a red carpet or on Piers Morgan’s show and someone will ask about her recently ended run at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. Cher’s response will be some variation not of nostalgia, pride or gratitude but of snarky relief that it’s over and a disclosure about what a bear that gig was.

How do I know? Well, I don’t, but at Cher’s finale on Saturday I had the sense that she could not be out of there fast enough. There was absolutely no emotion, no sense that this was a special occasion, no affection offered for the city and resort that had just deposited serious coin in her overflowing piggy bank. Heck, she didn’t even say goodbye when it was all over, instead high-fiving some band member and then disappearing out the back door of the Colosseum stage. She seemed so disengaged, in fact, that she didn’t even grab a sailor’s hat from the audience to cavort with in her penultimate number, “If I Could Turn Back Time.” For those unschooled in The Cher, that would be like the pope forgetting communion.

She’s not the first to depart the Colosseum with more shrug than ceremony.

Read the rest at

The Show is UP: Hi, Sierra!

Here's our second kitchen-table show, this time broadcast via UStream when we did it live. We'll probably do our next live show on Monday night. As always, you can subscribe to The Strip (it's free!) in iTunes or Zune to get the latest show and various specials. Enjoy. -sf

Feb. 10: Hi, Sierra
REISSUE: Sierra Boggess on The Strip in 2006

If you rack your brain hard enough, you’ll still fail to come up with any star of the Vegas stage quite like Sierra Boggess. We’ve had plenty of hugely famous people perform and countless formerly famous people attempt to revive careers here. But Boggess is singular as an actress whose first big break was in a Vegas production, “Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular”, and who has then moved on to star in a major Broadway production followed, now, by opening the Phantom sequel “Love Never Dies” in London’s West End. Now the 28-year-old is about to return to Broadway as one of the most in-demand ingénues of her age. We visited our little Sierra in her dressing room in London last week, and we’ll play that conversation for you today.

In Banter: Our London sojourn, the Twitter Twerps drama, Super Bowl TV ad drama, Cher's odd goodbye.

Links to stuff discussed:

Steve’s Flickr page of London pix
Alex Hull’s Buzz Lightyear drawing
The British Airways menu image
London Club’s Empire Casino in Leicester Square, London
The Twitter Twerps Column
Our first interview with Sierra Boggess from 2007
Broadway.Com on Sierra's Rebecca reading
Sierra Boggess nominated for Olivier Award

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why Wynn Really Closed Alex

Oh, dear.

I just got through listening to Steve Wynn on a conference call with gaming analysts and shareholders regarding earnings, which were robust thanks, of course, to China. I'll get back to that in a moment.

First, though, some breaking news. It's Marilyn's fault. Asked about how new Wynn Las Vegas president Marilyn Winn Spiegel was fitting in, he sang her praises and offered this example:

I remember one conversation I had with Marilyn was about six weeks after she came. She came to my office and said, "You know, Steve, we have tremendous success with nightclubs and our very popular, hip restaurants. I think our steakhouse, SW, is the most successful restaurant in Nevada." She said, "The public taste has changed. We have a five-star restaurant, a Michelin-star restaurant, a five-diamond restaurant in Alex. People don't want to sit for three hours and eat dinner that way anymore. I'd rather repurpose that restaurant. I know that you love the idea that one of the restaurants has all those Michelin stars, and we've got three of them in the building. This one in particular, this gourmet kind of restaurant, I'm not sure we can't use that space more effectively in another way." And frankly I would have never questioned that restaurant on my own. Marilyn made me question that restaurant and she was right. It's a simple example of that was something she brought to my office that I would have missed. There's been more of that sort of thing.

So there it is. Yes, John Curtas, Alex was sacrificed on the altar of the nightclub set. By my calculation, Marilyn would have come to Wynn with this idea in late December and Alex was shut down not a month later. Spiegel came to Wynn from being a regional president for Harrah's. She's intimately involved with what's become of the Rio as well as Caesars Palace since the company took it over. I shudder to think of what she might have done with Bellagio's Conservatory had she been in charge back in the day. What a waste of non-money-making space! I fear Wynn is losing touch with his own philosophy that not everything needs to make money in order to add something intangible to the overall package that is his resorts.

If I were Paul Bartolotta, by the way, I'd be hugging ol' Marilyn even closer right about now. Seriously.

Meanwhile, the earnings call was fascinating, too, for how disturbingly, uh, solicitous Steve Wynn is towards the Chinese government. He said the Macanese authorities are very involved in the design of his resorts there by telling him what they'd like to see. You think even they buy that?

And then, a bit later, he said this:

About six weeks ago, Mr. Wen Jiabao (the Chinese premier, left) came to Macau and he said he hoped that the prosperity that was being enjoyed by the resort industry in Macau was being shared by the workforce. That was followed immediately by public comments by the (Macanese) chief executive. When our company hears those kinds of comments, we don't wait for a week or a month, we respond instantly and we increased the line employees ... by 6 percent. We were the first to do that not because we wanted to be first but because we respond directly to leadership given to us by the government. that's an important part of our strategy, of our identity in that community. Our job is to constantly refresh the notion that we are humble, proud and grateful to be allowed to be part of that scene and the way to do that in China is to take good care of your employees.

Why if I didn't know better, I'd think Mr. Wynn got ahold of the talking points of the Democratic caucus in the Nevada Legislature or the Culinary 226! Can you even imagine if Brian Sandoval or Barack Obama weighed in on what he might do with his profits? It gives me a headache, imagining it.

I know he's saying this stuff for the benefit of the Chinese media. But it is still very peculiar to American ears, especially knowing his list of grievances with the Obama Administration and others. He's bowing to Chinese demands because the nation can confiscate his business overnight if it so chooses. That's all.

WOW: Blue Man Group Heads To Monte Carlo

[UPDATE: MGM Resorts says BMG will play at Venetian until September 2012 before moving to Monte Carlo. Also, she says Jabbawockeez' contract is over in April and they'll decide then whether to renew it.]

Wow. No really. Wow.

I'm in awe right now. A press release just came over announcing that Blue Man Group will leave The Venetian and heading for Monte Carlo in fall 2012. That's 2012. Twelve.

It's astonishing news for a number of reasons. First, BMG started out at the Luxor in 2000, then moved up the street in 2005 to The Venetian. Now, after nearly six years there, they've found a third home and it happens to be back in the original fold, MGM Resorts. I'll have to go back and look, but I thought the Luxor gave them up to make room for Criss Angel, so that would have been a MGM decision and not some remainders of the pre-merger Mandalay regime.

So BMG appears to be one of the most indestructible brands in Vegas history and that's funny because nobody ever really talks about them. I can't think of another production of this scale that has hopscotched through three major Vegas resorts. Keep in mind, this is a show with a rotating cast that presently does two shows a night every single night.

Somehow, nonetheless, it keeps trucking along even as other productions cut and alter their schedules because of the economy.

Other questions follow:

* When does BMG depart Venetian? The release doesn't say and tickets remain on sale through this May.
* What becomes of Jabbawockeez? Does this imply it's not doing so great?
* Does this ascertain that the Cirque-Michael Jackson sitdown production will land at Mandalay Bay, as has been expected ever since The Lion King's departure at the end of 2011 was announced? There's really no place else left for it other than Excalibur or Circus Circus, right?

I suspect BMG will be much happier at Monte Carlo where, as was the case at Luxor, it can be the dominant, most visible attraction on the property. At Venetian, it was one of so many productions and the resort was only nominally involved in promoting it. MGM Resorts takes a much more hands-on approach to that and, really, there's not much else happening at the Monte Carlo.

I also predict that BMG will be heavily marketed as a sort of second-show for neighboring CityCenter, which has 6,000+ rooms across three hotel-ish buildings and just one theater option. At the same time, it gives those folks two bombastic (in a good way) options and nothing more mature or sedate.

Anyway, if MGM believes BMG still has some serious life in them, then boffo to them. Can't wait to hear the new tagline, too! BMG was once "Live From Luxor" and never really had an alliterative moniker for the Venetian. (We on The Strip had recommended Vivacious at Venetian, but nobody cared.)

So perhaps it'll be Madness At The Monte Carlo? Can't you see that on the inevitable building wrap?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

NFL: We Forced Fox To Spike Station Casino Ads

NFL Spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed a short time ago that following my inquiry about the planned Station Casino ads that the Review-Journal reported would appear during the Super Bowl on the local Fox affiliate, the sports league forced KVVU to pull the spots. Station was slated to buy five 30-second ads for a total cost of $360,000.

Responding to my email asking about the decision, McCarthy wrote me:

Correct. We had a conversation before the game with Fox which informed the station it could not air the spots.

I had raised the question of whether such ads would violate the NFL's policy prohibiting Vegas-related advertising during NFL games and especially the Super Bowl. Evidently, it did.

Review-Journal gaming reporter Howard Stutz had said earlier today on Twitter that he didn't think the ads violated the NFL policy because they didn't show gambling or even the exterior of casinos, "just people." The policy states:

Only tourism destinations (e.g., Nevada, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe) are permitted. The prohibition of ads for specific hotels, casinos and other institutions that house gambling will remain in place. Ads may not contain any gambling references or imagery. For example, an ad for Las Vegas tourism with footage of slot machines, dice, cards, or a wide shot of Vegas strip and casinos would not be permitted. However, an ad for Las Vegas tourism with pictures of golf, swimming pools, and performers would be ok.

The content of the ads must comply with the networks’ standards and practices and also meet our standards for being suitable for a mass audience.

But Station did run an ad tonight -- on the post-Super Bowl episode of "Glee." I just posted it on YouTube and it clearly advertises "specific casinos" and sort of makes allusions to gambling. See for yourself:

I continue to be surprised that Station hasn't put the ads up on YouTube or their own site, given that this could become a news story that could garner Station lots of free airings of its commercials on EVERY network as well as plenty of sympathy from Vegas locals.

Still Developing...


OK, folks. We've figured out how to do this, so we will be recording our show at 8 p.m. PT on Monday evening and you can watch and listen via UStream by going here:

When you go there, you'll see this:

Our guest is Sierra Boggess, formerly of "Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular" and presently the star of the show's sequel, "Love Never Dies." Miles and I visited her in her dressing room at the Adelphi Theatre in London's West End last week.

We'll also talk about Cher, the Super Bowl, our London trip, the Twitter Twerps dramas and more. So join us or wait for the podcast version, probably out on Tuesday. That's your call!

Las Vegas Hilton Fire Revisited, Minus The Gay Stuff

The lesser-known of the two big Vegas fires - the Las Vegas Hilton fire that killed eight people -- turns 30 today, so the Review-Journal's Brian Haynes sat down with the Philip Cline, who is serving life for the crime.

It's a breezy read and a fascinating piece of Vegas history, but I was surprised that Haynes never addresses directly with Cline the big question: Was he having sex with another man in an 8th floor elevator lobby when the fire ignited from a marijuana cigarette? If not, why'd he say so?

That was one of Cline's earlier stories and, even though his story has changed repeatedly over the years, that's the version that the now-retired homicide investigator still clings to, according to Haynes' report.

That incident was incredibly harmful to gay Las Vegans, who felt scapegoated at the time -- especially when Cline's name was also floated as a possible suspect in the MGM Grand fire that killed 85 that prior November. Cline now tells Haynes that he sparked the fire on his break while smoking a pot cigarette mixed with cocaine and dipped in PCP. It ignited the curtains, he claims. He doesn't say whether there was anybody else there, and Haynes evidently doesn't ask.

If there wasn't, why did Cline say that in his initial confession? Did he really think, back in 1981, that claiming to be having a gay tryst in a public place would engender some sort of sympathy from the cops or a jury? Isn't it more likely, in fact, that the jury might have been even harder on him -- giving him life for eight deaths even though the jury foreman tells Haynes he doesn't believe Cline meant to hurt anyone -- because of the gay element to the matter? That sort of prejudice was pretty common back then.

Meanwhile, on an unrelated note, there is this fascinating tidbit in Haynes' piece about Cline's current life:

He works sorting casino playing cards and repackaging them to be sold to tourists.

Did you know this? Those packs of used playing cards they sell at the gift shops are make-work for Nevada prisoners? Why? The resorts don't have people to do this? Or is this a brilliant little way for the resorts to avoid having to pay someone a proper wage?

Do KVVU's Station Ads Violate NFL #SuperBowl Policy?

UPDATE: On Twitter, the R-J's Howard Stutz says he saw one of the Station ads and they don't show gambling or building exteriors. Did Station cut ads specifically to be NFL-compliant?

According to this morning's Review-Journal, Station Casinos is launching a massive marketing campaign that kicks off with this newspaper wrap to your left and five 30-second, $72,000 spots during today's Super Bowl.

What the R-J didn't bother to explore is whether today's $360,000 TV buy violates the NFL's big ban on advertising of Vegas casinos during the Super Bowl nationally or in any local market. To wit, here's their policy, as of Dec. 2009:

We notified our network partners that we will not object to ads airing during our games for any tourism destination, including Las Vegas.

We consider it a reasonable modification of our policy that still protects our interests.

Only tourism destinations (e.g., Nevada, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe) are permitted. The prohibition of ads for specific hotels, casinos and other institutions that house gambling will remain in place. Ads may not contain any gambling references or imagery. For example, an ad for Las Vegas tourism with footage of slot machines, dice, cards, or a wide shot of Vegas strip and casinos would not be permitted. However, an ad for Las Vegas tourism with pictures of golf, swimming pools, and performers would be ok.

The content of the ads must comply with the networks’ standards and practices and also meet our standards for being suitable for a mass audience.

That doesn't say anything about advertising during local air time, but R&R Partners veep Rob Dondero told me last week for my AOL News piece on the topic that that, too, is forbidden. In fact, R&R, which manages the $70 million campaign for the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, said they did an end-run around the NFL's national Vegas/casino ban on advertising by buying time on local affiliates. The NFL got pissed, he said, and this year for the first time the local affiliates didn't even call to try to solicit Vegas business. (Local ad sellers frequently are unaware of the NFL's rules, Dondero said.)

This matters because KVVU will enjoy one of the largest Super Bowl viewerships in the nation, owing to the influx of some 300,000 tourists watching on the local feed across the city. Of course, they're here to gamble anyway so perhaps that's a lost cause and not worth the NFL's enforcement muscle. But keep in mind how furious NFL brass were last year when images of the Monte Carlo and the Strip sneaked into this spot:

I've got a call and email out to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy to see if the Station buy breaks the rules. Will update as appropriate, but I suspect he's mighty busy today.

As for me, I don't need Station Casinos to encourage me; I'm off to place my annual Super Bowl bet at Boulder Station, as always. Still really torn; now thinking of going for the Packers and the under. Which is exactly opposite of what I planned on earlier this week. Ugh.