Friday, June 20, 2008

Dear MGMMirage.Com Peeps...

I was looking up times for the Jay Leno Midwest flood-victim benefit shows on June 25 and June 27 for a piece I'm doing for the L.A. Times and look what popped up atop the pop-up window!

Brothers, Siegfried & Roy are gone. We, too, miss them sincerely. But it's been almost five years. It's time to fix your HTML. Really.

Try it yourself! Click here. Then click on "headliner tickets." Yes, it morphs a split-second later to something else. That's why this screen shot is so lousy -- I had to do it really fast. But still. Something tells me you're going to be much, much faster about purging all evidence of Danny Gans come the winter. Also, when was "O" ever at The Mirage anyway?

And, speaking of Bellagio, congratulations on finally shutting off that annoying music at Bellagio.Com and MandalayBay.Com. Now take care of that at MGMGrand.Com, too, will ya? Still, not so sure the whole "who-will-you-be" thing at MandalayBay.Com works. The voice cuts off rather abruptly, leaves users a little disoriented. I'll play with it a little more, though.

One final thing: Don't tease me! You know I love, love, love anything related to Las Vegas and podcasts. So when I saw that y'all had a "podcast" for the MGM Grand, I got all giddy. Until I subscribed and listened to them.

Huh? Twelve-second recitations of the names of your shows or acts? Five-second identifications of the chef at your restaurants? WTF? Why bother? You folks should be embracing this medium to provide news, tourist tips, giveaways, interviews with stars, chefs, executives... oh, wait. Never mind. Who would ever listen to such nonsense?


Mamma Mia Spoofs Cirque - Very Funny

I hoped to play this audio on "The Strip" next week, but I don't think it's clear enough for that. So instead, here's a reasonably good quality YouTube video of the uproarious number performed by cast members of "Mamma Mia!" in Vegas during the annual "Ribbon of Life" show at Paris last weekend. The show raised $300,000+ for the HIV/AIDS charity Golden Rainbow; it's my favorite charity so and, if you enjoy this, I urge you to drop them a few bucks by clicking here.

The lyrics are below the video. All are courtesy of Greg Kata, a Mamma Mia performer who wrote and directed the number. The background here is that MM is due to close this winter after six years.

"You Gotta Get a Cirque Show"

(We hear the following in blackout)

See that girl...
Watch that scene...
Diggin’ the Dancing Queen!

A voiceover says the following:
"After almost six great years at Mandalay Bay, Mamma Mia!'s reign as the Dancing Queen of Broadway Shows in Vegas has come to an end. MGM plans to occupy the theatre with a brand new spectacular from Cirque du Soleil featuring the music of none other than BRITNEY SPEARS!"

(The curtain rises on an audition. We see several Mamma Mia! Cast Members talking about the fate of Broadway in Vegas)

VOICE 1: I can’t believe the show closed.

VOICE 2: I know. What are your plans?

VOICE 3: Well I want to stay in town. But Broadway shows don’t work here.

VOICE 4: I don’t get it. Avenue Q, Hairspray, The Producers, Spamalot...they all won the Tony for Best Musical and barely lasted a year here in Vegas.

VOICE 5: And don’t forget about We Will Rock You and Saturday Night Fever.

VOICE 6: Can we though?

VOICE 7: And now Mamma Mia! I can’t go back to waiting tables.

VOICE 8: I know. I only came to this audition because the thought of going back to retail makes me want to vomit.

VOICE 9: Look at all this talent though...there’s gotta be a job for us somewhere in Vegas!

From USL a woman clad in a skintight unitard has been eavesdropping on the previous conversation. She turns to the group and addresses them:

ROBIN: Take it from me honey. If you want to work in Vegas, all you need is talent!

CAROL: You’ll pardon me, but having talent is not enough. What you need is a show that’s gonna make your talent special.
“You Gotta Get a Cirque Show”
Sung to the tune of You Gotta Get a Gimmick

You can belt half your face off
Do a scene from Chekhov
Dance ‘til your feet are worn down
But you gotta get a Cirque Show
If you want to stay in town!!!

You can write a little ditty
Improv at Second City
Dress up like Madonna in drag
But you gotta get a Cirque show
If you don’t want to die a hag!

You can sing, you can dance, you can “sort of” act
Vegas don’t give a shit!
So I sing, and I dance, and I really act
But I do it in a split!!!

She then does a really bad split / acro combination

I headlined MAMMA MIA!
Then MGM said “See Ya!”
Broadway West’s a thing of the past
So get yourself a Cirque Show
And your career can really last!

A man who has also been overhearing this conversation enters the stage. He is wearing only a Speedo and possibly some goggles.

She can sing, she can dance, she can sometimes act
She’s a real Triple Threat
Me I sing, and I dance, and I try to act
But I do it when I’m wet!!!

He pours a bottle of water on himself and tries very unsuccessfully to do synchronized swimming

I can fill a Speedo
Swimming nightly at “O”
So what if chlorine killed all my hair?
‘Cuz if you get a Cirque show
Girl, you’ll never have a care!!!
Robin, who has been patiently waiting her turn, interrupts. She is wearing a sequined leotard and tights.

They can sing, they can dance, Lord knows they both can’t act!
That won’t buy you milk.
I don’t sing, I don’t dance, I don’t even act.
But I rock out on the silks!

The silks lower from the grid. She attempts to fly, but its obvious she does not have the strength. Eventually, the silks “break” and fall to the floor.

So I can’t get off the ground yet
It beats wearing a hair-net
And serving tourists burgers and fries!!!
Go and get a Cirque show
If it takes a hundred tries!!!


Come join the circus
They’ve got jobs in surplus
Broadway shows won’t make you a star!!!

You’re more than just a dumb ho
When you book a Cirque Show
Take a look how different we are!!!

If you wanna be cool
Dive into a big pool!

If you wanna rock it
Tear your shoulder from its socket

If you wanna be hip
Learn to do a backflip!!!

Get yourself a Cirque Show
And You...Too...
Can Stay EMPLOYED!!!!!!!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Caan: NBC Sacrificed "Las Vegas" for the NFL

On this week's episode of "The Strip," actor James Caan confirmed a long-held suspicion of mine that the doom of the successful TV soap "Las Vegas" was the move to Friday nights to sate the NFL. NBC had just paid big bucks for Sunday Night Football, but the NFL nonetheless managed to bar the not-so-mighty network from promoting the show during Sunday's games.

"Their thoughts were that we’re not allowed to even mention Las Vegas according to the NFL," Caan told me. "Like God forbid somebody should gamble. I mean, I didn’t know that people gamble on football! So they put a show there they could promote, Sunday night for Monday and moved us to Friday, which is like a death sentence."

There's much more in that interview, including Caan's complaints about the creative problems with the show and his explanation for why he appeared on it in the first place. Plus, he disses his own new film, "Get Smart," and he offers his thoughts on "Honeymoon in Vegas" co-star Sarah Jessica Parker's status as a star.

Click here to hear it or right-click here to download the show and listen whenever you want. Or subscribe via iTunes here or via Zune here:

Here are this week's show-notes links:

Download the Deutsche Bank look at Vegas building progress here
James Caan's Wikipedia page is here
Watch him make Kathy Bates "eat it!" on YouTube here
Find out all you want to know about CineVegas here
See the site for Xanadu The Musical here
Find our chat with Mel Brooks here
Read the R-J piece on their room tax poll here
Hear the disastrous George Wallace show here
Read about whores giving people gas here
The LV Weekly's take on the Hank Greenspun flick is here
See our coverage of the I-Bar's Microsoft Surface tech here
Read Steve's USA Today piece about Fontainebleau's Apple plans here

This Week's LVW Col: Cirque Has Class

So here's a piece I would never have known about except that a loyal listener and reader works at Cirque and mentioned it - Cirque has a special school at its HQ for its show kids.

On a related note, 12-year-old "Love" star Kyle Stokely will be in the LVRocks.Com studio on Tuesday night to be interviewed for next week's "The Strip," which honors the second anniversary of "Love." We're also getting the show's artistic director, I believe. Should be fun. Join us from 7-8 pm PT at LVRocks.Com.

Also, check out the photo with the piece on the Web. I did NOT realize that my name was on the whiteboard behind the photo of the boy.

Cirque Has Class
Why the famed troupe holds the answer to fixing public education


Back when I first arrived in this city in 1996 to cover public education for the Review-Journal, the very notion of schools and Vegas elicited sardonic guffaws from people I knew in other cities.

They mocked the notion of children growing up in the shadow of Sin City and actually asked whether there were classrooms inside the casinos.

In the subsequent years, I’d learn that there are, in fact, very serious problems with the schools in Clark County. Beyond the abysmal test scores and high dropout rates, I’d discover trying to teach journalism at UNLV that a great number of students who earn Millennium Scholarships from the state for graduating with a B average are, nonetheless, functionally illiterate.

What I didn’t expect was to discover the ideal classroom—the answer to all these woes—on, of all places, the Las Vegas Strip.

Okay, technically, the ideal classroom is off the Strip, just south of McCarran Airport in a small, yellow-walled room overflowing with books and art projects and, most important of all, a sort of happiness and earnestness that accompanies real learning.

And the half-dozen boys who attend this school get to do so because they are full-time performers in Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles-scored production Love at the Mirage. In other words, they owe the very existence of the Strip a debt of gratitude.

Read the rest - and see that photo - HERE

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Downtown Sights and Ruminations

I had to head downtown today to do an interview at the spankin' new and hyper-green Molasky Corporate Center, the state's first building to be certified LEED Gold. There were lots of interesting things about it, from the insulation made from old jeans to the hardwood flooring that comes from old phone poles to the fact that the parking garage floors were named "Conserve" and "Solar" and stuff like that.

My favorite thing, though, had nothing to do with the carbon footprint. It was this unusual bit of public art, a mammoth chess board that people can actually play on.

From the top floor, we could look down and see the mile-long train on the Union Pacific tracks of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Evidently, they're in town. I hate the circus. It made me sad to think that all those poor animals were idled in those train cars in 100+ heat and I couldn't do anything about it. Sad. Say what you will about Las Vegas, this is the city that proved that you make billions staging cruelty-free circuses starring - wait for it - humans!

And finally, a question: What the heck is up with this discoloration at the Golden Nugget?

Anyone know?

UPDATE, 4:05 pm PT: Justin McVay, the Golden Nugget's publicist, writes in that they're testing out different facade looks in trying to decide what look to go with for their new 500-room, $150m tower due to be finished in late 2009. The blue crane in the foreground of the photo is part of that. It's fascinating -- and surprising -- that they'd use the actual building to test out looks. That's a pretty big experiment, and even so I can't get my head around what it would look like writ large across the tower.

MGM Mirage To Build In China's Armpit

MGM Mirage announced this morning a joint venture with a Chinese company to build a mixed use facility in Tianjin, a very industrial port city about an hour from Beijing. The plan includes two towers that includes a luxury hotel, residential units, a spa and, of course, convention space. Oh, and a 350-room MGM Grand Tianjin plus 50 SkyLofts and 60 residences.

What will definitely be missing? GAMING! The Chinese government won't allow it anywhere other than Macau, at least not yet. Hence we have the MGM Mirage's first step towards moving on globally from casinos. Remember, CEO Terry Lanni recently suggested they might split the company and have one arm focused on hospitality? This would seem like the first significant stop, which surprises me because I thought they'd build some more MGM Grands in the U.S. first.

But here's the real thing. I've been to Tianjin. It's a gross place. Awful. See? Polluted like Beijing, but no culture, no important historic monuments, nothing but an overcrowded port. The third biggest urban area in China, with 10.2 million people. Evidently the city is so low on the totem that, while the 2008 Olympics are being shared amongst several lovely northeastern Chinese cities including my favorite, Qingdao, (home of the Tsingtao brewery, yay!), Tianjin gets just one small role, some early-round soccer matches. I will admit that the Olympic stadium built there does look sensational -- in renderings.

I even have a Starbucks mug from Tianjin from which I am sipping my morning coffee. I love it. That's the best thing I can say about the town. The reason you've never heard of it is because there is nothing touristy about Tianjin. It would be like opening up in Trenton.

So why, why, why is MGM Mirage staking their first overseas non-gaming venture there? I don't mean to doubt the potential profits to be had and I suspect the city has offered an unbeatable tax deal given that this could put the place on the map for the West in a small way. But if they wanted to make a splash, why not Beijing or Shanghai or Xi'an first? Maybe even an MGM Grand Lhasa?

I'm sure they've done their market research and the level of development and investment isn't really that huge, especially at Chinese labor prices, but I'm just puzzled they couldn't come up with something more glamorous out of the gate.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Last Week's Las Vegas Weekly Column

Sorry, I didn't post this last week for some odd reason. Here's this week's Las Vegas Weekly column, looking at all the money Las Vegas has lost because Nevadans banned same-sex marriage.

Nevada's gay duh
Leaving millions on the table in the name of -- ready for it? -- morality


Next week, when Californians start allowing same-sex couples to legally marry as a result of a recent state Supreme Court ruling, the Golden State will reap a massive financial bonanza that should go a long way through the summer toward softening the harshest impacts of an ongoing recession and record fuel prices.

Over the border in Nevada, the folks running those little gambling joints along Las Vegas Boulevard will meanwhile be crying in their red-state beers. Because of the utter hypocrisy, stupidity and basic mean-spiritedness of the Silver State’s electorate, Las Vegas will miss out on untold millions of dollars in tourism spending that could’ve been for being on the forefront of the coming gay-marriage tsunami. If there’s anything casino bosses despise, it’s leaving money on the table.

This column is not about the morality of same-sex marriage. Of course, I know well from personal experience that two men or two women can love one another as honorably or dishonorably as any man and woman. The notion that any couple’s relationship has a bearing on the validity and strength of anyone else’s lives is so idiotic on its face that it doesn’t even deserve a serious response.

Nor ought it be necessary to note that for 70 percent of the voters in a state that has done more historically to undermine the sanctity of marriage than any other locale in human history to believe they have a moral imperative to protect children from having two moms but not prostitution and bare asses on taxi cabooses is so laughable that I urge you to stop reading now if you don’t see why. I don’t want such morons in my audience.

Yet, voters here in two successive elections did just that, the rigamarole required to alter the Nevada Constitution. For the first time, the document had discrimination added to it.

No, this column is about the cost that that irresponsible and bigoted decision has wrought on the state.

“We estimate that over the next three years, the California decision will generate $700 million in spending on weddings, so obviously Nevada is missing out on a piece of that pie,” said Gary Gates of the University of California School of Law, who studies the demographics of American gays. “We estimate that this will add more than $50 million in taxes to the state’s coffers and create more than 2,000 jobs. The unique position in Nevada is that Vegas is clearly known for weddings. That’s an easy fit.”

Or it would’ve been.

Read the rest here

A very cool then-and-now document

Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Bill Lerner issued a fascinating document today examining the state of Vegas construction. Some of it is hard-core business jargon, but most of it is pretty interesting even for those of us lay-junkies. The best part are the pages of before-and-after photos of various Strip projects. Like this of the new Caesars tower:

I've gotten permission to post it for you to download. Click here to grab the pdf.

The Strip is LIVE tonight w/ JAMES CAAN

Join us at 7 pm for the live version of "The Strip" featuring a fantastic and newsworthy chat with James Caan tonight! Plus, news from Vegas, the trivia question, a new poll and, as always, the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week.

Come to LVRocks.Com and chat with fellow listeners! As always, if you can't make it, hooray! Be that way. Grab the podcast on Thursday.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Congrats, Patti LuPone!

Miles mocked me when I got excited that Patti LuPone was coming to Vegas back in November 2007. Now we're both thrilled we had her on "The Strip" -- when she hinted at something big she had coming up. She didn't want to talk about it because she didn't want to jinx it, but it turned out to be the role in "Gypsy" that tonight won her her second Tony Award for Best Actress on a Musical.

Congrats to her! In honor of that triumph, we've reissued that episode of the show in the feed. You can hear it here or right-click here to save it and hear it whenever you wish.

EXCLUSIVE: What FB's iMac Screens Will Look Like

(UPDATE, 6/16, 10:42 a.m.: I had posted links to an older version of this demo. I just updated the links to direct you to the new ones. They're largely the same file but this one does seem to work faster and better.)

My USA Today piece on the Fontainebleau's $15 million deal to put Apple iMacs in every room appeared on Friday on the cover of the Destinations section. You can read that here.

But here's a fun bonus: There's a Flash demonstration of what "iFB," as they're calling it, does that I'm able to share exclusively with you folks. Mac users can click here to download it and PC users can click here. They're ZIP files that open up as applications, but I promise you there is no spam in there.

And if you don't want to download anything, here are a few screen shots. Click on any of these images to make them bigger and more readable.

This is a close-up of the personalized greeting...

Here's the main screen:

And another screen with your local weather, etc.:

And, finally, here's a little sneak peek of the restaurant line-up for the Miami property, which reopens after a $500 million renovation this fall. Some of the same restaurateurs are coming to the $3 billion Vegas property as well as more.

One of the coolest parts of the FB-Apple thing that is new from my USAT piece is the idea of a touch-screen wayfinder board in the lobby of a resort that gives you personalized directions. Methinks the days of a deliberately confusing resort layout that forces guests to wander in circles in the casino -- Binion's Horseshoe comes to mind -- are over.