Saturday, June 27, 2009

An Extraordinary RI Statehouse Experience

Usually, these state capitol posts begin with an image like this:

...but the best photo taken at the statehouse in Providence yesterday was this one:

That's me up here... the the spot where that chandelier is attached to the ceiling.

This time, I went to the Rhode Island statehouse as both a tourist and a journalist. The day before, I learned about a racino in Lincoln, R.I., called Twin River that is going bankrupt for a list of reasons that I'll get into in a later post. But I pitched a piece on it -- it was the nation's first racino and now they're trying to get rid of the racing part -- to the New York Times and the piece runs in Sunday's papers.

So when I went to the statehouse, I did so in part to check it out as is my thing but also to meet with the state officials and politicians. And when the governor's spokeswoman, Amy Kempe, agreed to take me on a private walk up a spiral staircase to the top of the dome, I could not possibly refuse.

This is what it looks like looking down:

Here's that staircase...

...and here's the first thing you see when you enter the secret door:

On the way up we were able to go outside and see the city:

That's the top of the dome of one of the two houses of the General Assembly. For some reason, I didn't take many photos of the Senate or House, but I did like these chairs in the Senate:

All in all, the Rhode Island capitol was among the most beautiful and impressive I've ever seen and I'm not just saying that because I got some nifty special access. Everything is sensational marble and design. Here's the entry landing and, yes, there was a tour group of Buddhist monks this time around. (At the Massachusetts statehouse, we ran into a gaggle of Chinese tourists!)

There was plenty of quirk. This was a nice sentiment... (click on image to enlarge)

...but why was it in the men's room?

This piece of artwork was from the people of Liberia...

...who thank Rhode Islanders in that little tag for their assistance during a civil war there. What did the Ocean Staters do, one wonders!

There were statues all over honoring the military, but this one honoring the Navy was one of the gayest looking things I've ever seen...

...and this one for the Air Force looks female even though it was gifted to the state years before women could be in the branch.

In one of the old meeting rooms, this sign was found:

One wonders if Dana gets a lot of calls from people unsure how to get out without opening the door!?!?!

And finally, I would agree with this book title, "Rhode Island: A Genial History,"...

...especially given that this is a state on the forefront of religious liberty and was the first place for Jews to live free in America as you can see...

...except that then I noticed that the Legislature is about to put a referendum on the state ballot to ask voters whether they ought to -- get this -- change the state's NAME. You see, the full official name of Rhode Island is...

"Rhode Island and Providence Plantations." Why? Because apparently Rhode Island is made up fo two former British colonies. One was called Providence Plantations because, uh, it was sort of a clearinghouse for the slavery trade.

Who knew, huh?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

This week's LVW col: LuPone's Showstopper

So I'm in Rhode Island for family travel and, as usual, I've stumbled across a great Vegas-related story that I'm working on but can't discuss yet for the NYT. And so it goes. But here's this week's "Strip Sense" entry on the Patti LuPone incident at the Orleans -- with comments from several other Vegas show folks including Rita Rudner, who was also at the show. Enjoy and Happy Thursday! -sf

LuPone's Showstopper

When the Broadway diva chastised a texter, it highlighted problems with Vegas audiences


The last thing I posted online before the lights came down for the start of Broadway legend Patti LuPone’s concert on Sunday was this: “Realized I’ve never been in the Orleans Showroom before. Lumpy seats. Wonder how Patti will react if I tweet her show.”

It was a joke, of course, that harked back to her onstage explosion in January in New York when an audience member during a performance of Gypsy was shooting photos. “Stop taking pictures right now!” she shouted, breaking character and halting the show to berate someone who later turned out to be a sanctioned journalist. “You heard the announcement, who do you think you are? How dare you?”

That was the stuff of YouTube glory, but it also struck a nerve among anyone who’s ever been in a showroom or a movie theater and had the comfort and focus provided by darkness disrupted by someone’s electronic this-or-that. The Gypsy incident is so legendary that you would think that anyone who knew enough about LuPone to turn out to see her at the Orleans over this past weekend would be aware of it.

Except it wasn’t. About halfway into her Gypsy in My Soul show in Las Vegas, the two-time Tony winner was winding up to launch into the number she made a classic in her Tony-winning creation of Eva Peron in Evita, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” The lights were down, her eyes were shut, her arms were out as she was working herself into the character, when, suddenly, she stopped her 10-piece orchestra.

“What were you doing?” LuPone asked some dumb schlub in the third or fourth row. “I promise not to be mad at you. Just tell me, what were you doing—videoing? Taking photos? Texting? I really want to know.”

It seems he was sending a text message. Ka-boom!

Well, sort of. Her reaction was far more measured than her freak-out in New York and, thus, probably a lot more effective. She even sweetly said to the man, “I’m not going to yell at you, I don’t think.” But she did give him an earful about how she’s on “a campaign” against this sort of behavior and said, “The thing is, the people who text, they don’t seem to understand that we can see you. If you really need to do that, why don’t you just leave?”

He did not do so. He kept his piehole shut and hoped the storm would pass. It did, but not before something else happened: Several people in the audience stood up and applauded.

I admit, I wasn’t one of them, but mostly because I was too busy recording the goings-on in my brain so I could report them as faithfully as possible later without the assistance of the electronic recording devices that A.) would have made LuPone completely lose it and B.) I realized then I had become entirely too reliant upon. Also, I was rejoicing that I had witnessed such a brilliant diva moment with my evening companion, who works as a backstage show manager, and with the Las Vegas Sun’s Joe Brown, who was also in my row.

But God, LuPone really nailed it and hit on something that so many performers in Las Vegas and elsewhere struggle with, a dramatic lowering of audience standards and etiquette.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Postcard from the Massachusetts Capitol

The problem with really big capitol buildings is getting a decent photo of oneself with it, especially when your significant other is driving endlessly around the jammed block in the mist in a maddening traffic city so you can run inside and indulge your nerdy fetish for such edifices. You're then at the mercy of friendly passers-by and it gets hard to be picky about whether the shot is any good. So this, above, is the best I could do for this entry of Steve's Capitol Adventures: Boston.

As many of you know, I have this thing for state capitals and the seats of government, the capitols. I believe I've been to at least 29 capital cities but only a few years ago decided that the goal will be to have photos of myself with all of them. Since this blog began, I've hit St. Paul, Juneau, Salt Lake City and Boise.

The Massachusetts capitol was beautiful and had some interesting quirks, too. From the outside it's large, sprawling and surprisingly modern-looking aside from the golden dome...

...but inside you're hit over the head with the region and the building's historic significance from Paul Revere to John Hancock to former Mass. Gov. Sam Adams.

The self-guided tour sheet was full of interesting information. There are double-doors, for instance, that I did not photograph but which are only ever opened on three occasions. One had to do with transporting flags, another was the last time the governor leaves the building at the end of his/her term (although the sheet said "his" which ex-Gov. Jane Swift probably doesn't appreciate) and, third, whenever a sitting U.S. president pops in. The last to do so? Taft. Isn't that strange, seeing how the 35th president was from the state?

Massachusetts is evidently very, very proud of its...cod. And why not! Both chambers, House and Senate, have cod statues hanging from their ceilings.

Here's the state Senate chambers and its cod...

...and here's the House and its cod:

One thing I found interesting and different about the Senate chamber was that the 40 senators sit in a circle, just like we did in Miss Laviani's 2nd grade class at Split Rock Elementary. Seriously, I've seen lots of these chambers and they're always lined up so the members face a lectern and a presiding officer. This seemed more equitable. I bet they get lots more work done and treat one another nicer, right? Take another look:

Here's the dome...

...and this hall they only built 19 years ago where they hang the flags from all the cities and towns in the state...

...and the Chinese tour group taking phoots of one another.

I was particularly crushed to realize it's been so long since I lived in China that I don't even remember how to ask in Chinese where they're from anymore. And yet I can still say, "Hello, Panda" and "I'm tired, very tired, extremely tired." Weird.

Also weird is that ex-Gov. Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential loser, allowed such an unbecoming official portrait:

Badly hung, too. Couldn't find 2012 Republican presidential loser ex-Gov. Mitt Romney's portrait, though. Hmmph.

I did locate the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Room, which was comforting. No telling what goes on in there, but evidently it's always Christmas!

And, finally, the other kids in Miss Laviani's class would appreciate that I got a photo of Civil War Gen. Joseph Hooker and his horse.

Turns out, it's not as sophomoric as I thought. After I left, my pal David Steinberg, an esteemed journalist and president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, wanted to make sure I had taken that very shot. Steinberg said this really was the guy who gave his name to the world's oldest profession. Alas, that appears to be the stuff of legend. But it still makes a good endpoint.

Tomorrow, we'll check out the Rhode Island capitol! Can you even wait???

Wynn's Hot Water Outage

TMZ.Com had some interest scoop today that I'm surprised none of us Vegas bloggers came across. It seems that guests at Encore Las Vegas on Saturday had no hot water. Mr. Wynn signed this extraordinary letter that you can download. According to it, here's how they tried to make amends:

"In the event you need access to a shower, we will make our Spa Facilities at Wynn available to you on a complimentary basis. In addition, I have instructed my Operations team to apply a $50 credit to your hotel folio."

$50?!? That's it? When the boiler broke down at the condo I rent out and my property management company dragged its feet in fixing it until I gave them holy hell on behalf of my renter, I gave my renter a four-day rent rebate. Granted, I didn't have a swanky spa to send them to, but the Wynn spa is a pretty hearty hike from the Encore room tower. Plus, what a bother to paying Wynn customers using the spa.

This passage is fascinating, too:

"For 40 years, I have been developing and operating resorts and I have never experienced a problem such as this. These complexes are designed by engineers, who craft systems to help us avoid critical failures. ... As such, we are all embarrassed and deeply sorry for the inconvenience this has likely caused."

Of course, had Wynn owned the Bellagio a few more years, he would have presided over a far greater "critical failure," the Easter Sunday 2004 power outage that would go on for four days and cost MGM Mirage somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million in lost revenue. If he gets the credit for having built the space, then he also gets the blame for the design flaw that allowed the entire power grid of the resort to be so vulnerable.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No LIVE show tonight

Miles and I are flying to New England today for a family wedding in Old Lyme, Conn., so no live show tonight. I will probably post an interview in the next day or so as this week's episode as I'm sitting on a couple that are coming close to their sell-by dates. Stay tuned. Also, follow us through our trip -- we'll be in Boston, Providence, Newport and Old Lyme -- on Twitter if you care. Hey, some of you do! :-)

Lupone Responds to NYT blog on Vegas incident

The New York Times' theater blogger, Dave Itzkoff, wrote up a post yesterday based on Vegas reports the Patti LuPone incident at the Orleans on Sunday night when she halted the show to ask an audience member to stop texting. It was the second similar incident, the first being a more explosive and startling one in January during "Gypsy."

The headline of the June 22 NYT post: "Another Show-Shopping Moment (Not the Good Kind) From Patti LuPone."

Patti was not amused! In a post today, the blogger published LuPone's reaction:

Dear Dave Itzkoff,

Your story about my stopping my concert in Las Vegas on the New York Times ArtsBeat blog was forwarded to me.

I found the tone of your report very snide and feel compelled to write you to ask – what do expect me, or any performer for that matter, to do?

Do we allow our rights to be violated (photography, filming and audio taping of performances is illegal) or tolerate rudeness by members of the audience who feel they have the right to sit in a dark theater, texting or checking their e-mail while the light from their screens distract both performers and the audience alike? Or, should I stand up for my rights as a performer as well as the audiences I perform for?

And do you think I’m alone in this? Ask any performer on Broadway right now about their level of frustration with this issue. Ask the actor in “Hair” who recently grabbed a camera out of an audience member’s hand and threw it across the stage. Or ask the two Queens in “Mary Stuart” (Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer) how they react to it.

I find it telling that my story elicited 47 comments from your readers while a few other stories on the blog elicited a handful, with many getting 0 comments. It certainly touched a chord with people, almost all of whom sounded like audience members, who share in my frustration with what threatens to become standard behavior if no one speaks out and takes action against it.

This has been going on in my career for 30 years since I starred in “Evita,” and, you’re surprised I stop shows now?

Sincerely, Patti LuPone

Itzkoff then asked the NYTimes.Com readership their view. As I write, Patti is winning the argument 19-1, with many commenters saying they don't even care for her but they agree that audience members have become very rude. (My Las Vegas Weekly column this week addresses the matter further.)

The one commenter who didn't agree so far wrote: "I paid my money, and I’ll do damn well what I please as an audience member. If I want to talk or tape or film, ehtier [sic] out in the open or sereptitiously I will do it."

Well, good luck to this bozo who doesn't care about anyone's rights or pleasures but his own. Not even Itzkoff is arguing that line, he just wondered if a performer mid-performance is the right person to address the problem.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Breaking: Lupone Dresses Down Texting Audience Member in Vegas

She did it again!!!

Patti LuPone, the two-time Tony winner who exploded on stage on Broadway earlier this year when someone in the audience took a photo during "Gypsy," halted her one-woman performance in Vegas tonight to stop an audience member from texting right when she was winding up to sing her showstopper "Don't Cry For Me Argentina."

As LuPone was about to begin the song she made into a classic as the original Eva Peron in "Evita," she stopped and ask the man to stop what he was doing. She kept her cool and even told him, "I'm not going to yell at you, I don't think." Then she proceeded to kindly berate him -- she was sweet but terse -- and say she was on "a campaign" because such behavior is distracting and insulting to performers.

"The thing is, the people who text, they don't seem to understand that we can see you," she said. "If you really need to do that, why don't you just leave?"

With that, several audience members stood up and cheered her. There are clear signs outside the showroom warning against phone or camera use and an announcement before the show started.

"It's only the minority of people who do this," she said. "And the thing is, it's the light of it. The other people around you have got to be pissed off, too."

Yours truly suddenly had this overwhelming urge to text but managed to contain myself, all the while wondering how I could get out early to get my car out of valet before the rest of the crowd so I could write this post. I did Tweet some of this when waiting for my car, though @TheStripPodcast.

I'm glad I didn't leave too soon, though, because she came out for her encore with a disposable camera and took photos of the crowd and the band, an obvious homage to her freak-out on stage in "Gypsy" in January when she angrily bawled out someone at the performance taking photos. It turned out that the person was actually a credentialed photojournalist. (Since I totally spaced it on this one when I interviewed Patti for "The Strip" podcast last week, read Joe Brown's profile of Patti from the Sun for more from her on the New York incident.)

One last thing: LuPone did two nights at the Orleans. She did not berate anyone during Saturday's show, so it does not appear to have been a "bit."

To hear what happened in New York in January, watch this:

This time is different, of course, because it was a solo concert. In New York, she had to break character and halt the narrative to speak to the audience.

P.S. The Orleans show was AWESOME. But that's almost besides the point now, isn't it?

[UPDATE: My colleague, Las Vegas Sun entertainment scribe Joe Brown, posted this version. He had the advantage of being able to hear better; I could only hear her once she got going on the poor texting schlub. So for the complete tale, also read the LasVegasSun.Com post by clicking here.]

Mass panic at Bellagio on March 27?

The Review-Journal's Howard Stutz did a fine job illuminating some of the machinations behind the curtains at MGM Mirage in late March when CityCenter dangled perilously on the brink of bankruptcy. In fact, between that piece and Arnold Knightly's piece in which Harrah's CEO Gary Loveman defends the decision to go private, today's business section is full of important comments by which we will be measuring the success and failure of the corporate powers-that-be in town for a while.


This dramatic detail in the MGM piece is quite baffling and difficult to believe:

Inside MGM Mirage's corporate headquarters at the Bellagio, Chief Financial Officer Dan D'Arrigo sat at a conference table with company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jim Murren. They were waiting for word that a majority of the company's banks were willing to let MGM Mirage make the payment.

Suddenly, the floor-to-ceiling windows aligning the spacious office that once belonged to Bellagio builder Steve Wynn began to shake.

News helicopters from Las Vegas' television stations were hovering overhead, waiting to capture the exodus of construction workers when the CityCenter site was shuttered.

"It was pretty surreal," D'Arrigo recalled.

I bet! So surreal, in fact, that it's hard to conceive of how this could possibly have actually occurred without the helicopters coming so close to the building that thousands of guests who were much higher up and thus closer to the choppers didn't freak out and stampede out of there. I don't recall hearing about that, did you?

As it happens, I'm married to an expert of sorts, the executive producer of one of the local stations, so I asked whether it made any sense to him. My partner was dubious. Unless the helicopter was actually landing on the building, it wouldn't make it shake. That happens at the Miles' studio, for instance, but that's a pretty little building, not the massive fortress that is one of the largest resorts in the world.

Beyond the legal air-space issues involved with a helicopter coming so close to any structure that it would make it tremble, it's also questionable that the local TV news stations would have their helicopters hanging out over CityCenter for any length of time anyway. It just costs too much. It's possible they were grabbing some fly-by footage, but to linger is not a terribly effective use of scarce resources -- the local TV stations get only a certain amount of fly time each month before they have to pay extra -- when they could be over CityCenter in minutes if workers were suddenly streaming off the job site. Or, since this was occurring in the morning, could it be the choppers were just observing traffic conditions on I-15 as they are wont to do?

Finally, there's a logistics question here. I could be wrong -- and I'll happily correct myself if so -- but the corporate offices at the Bellagio have no real view of CityCenter. They are located back by the art gallery near the pool in the middle of the resort. If they even face south -- I just can't remember and this photo doesn't help me much -- they surely have a pretty lousy sightline of CityCenter, what with the Spa Tower and Cosmopolitan standing in the way. For news helicopters to be so close to those offices in the inner sanctum of a place like Bellagio that the windows would shake would mean even they were in exactly the wrong place for whatever shot they were supposedly seeking.

My suspicion is that someone heard a chopper or two, maybe even saw it, and drew the conclusions that Stutz reported D'Arrigo as claiming. It's not a big deal, just something that the more I thought about today, the more I wondered about.