Mamma’s in Vegas Again. Oh How We Missed Her!

by DW Grant


She’s back! MAMMA MIA!

After a very long 5 year absence from The Strip the longest running West End/Broadway musical in Las Vegas history is on stage again, this time at the Tropicana Hotel & Casino.

From February 2003 to January 2009 the fun mix of ABBA songs, woven into a cute little story, made us wave our hands in the air and dance in aisles. It seems those 2100 performances were not enough, however, thank god, and now we can “ABBA” all over again.

Like the lyrics say:

Mamma mia, here I go again
My my, how can I resist you
Mamma mia, does it show again
My my, just how much I’ve missed you

MAMMA MIA! first took the stage in San Francisco, at the Orpheum Theatre, in November 2000, and blossomed out to Los Angeles, Chicago, then finally Broadway in October 2001. It is currently the ninth longest-running Broadway show. Back here in Vegas the show is dazzling us again, with the music, the fun characters, the 70s costumes, and addictive melodies. I guarantee you will be singing at least one ABBA song on the way home, and wake up with one on your lips the next morning.

The story is lite, cute, and simple. A girl living in the Greek Isles is getting married and wants her estranged dad at the wedding. She invites the three men who could be her father, they all show up at once, and the fun begins. And the fun continues, in and out of one ABBA song after another, until the mess is straightened out. The show is fun because of its simplicity, and because the performers seem to be having fun, just like the audience.

Some have criticized the show of being too “sitcom” like, but then praised it for its entertainment value. Until I saw this production I only considered MAMMA MIA! shallow pop fun, too, However, the show’s players handed me more depth than I expected.

MAMMA MIA! Las Vegas

Christine Sherrill, as Donna, the mother and one night lover of the three possible fathers, is marvelous, and oh so believable. Kimbre Lancaster, delivers the passion and innocence of Sophie, the daughter, in a very moving performance, as well.

Sitting stage side I was granted a close up view of the actors as they played their parts. Donna’s “Winner Take All” was rousing, and she looked and sounded like she believed it. I also saw tears in the eyes of Sophie when she sung “I Have a Dream,” and tears too when Sam and Donna sang “S.O.S.” Sam is played by Sean Allen Krill, and his energy and believability more than matches Ms. Sherill’s.

So when you’re near me, darling can’t you hear me
S. O. S.
And the love you gave me, nothing else can save me
S. O. S.
When you’re gone
How can I even try to go on?
When you’re gone
Though I try how can I carry on?
When you’re gone
How can I even try to go on?
When you’re gone
Though I try how can I carry on?

Welcome home Mamma.

MAMMA MIA! Las Vegas

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Show Review: Pageantry, Fireworks, And Knights On Horseback – Tournament of Kings

by Terri D’Richards

Seven Kings of Tournament Of Kings

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! – come one, come all to “Tournament of Kings” at the Excalibur — a throwback to the more themed era on the Las Vegas Strip. While newer properties have abandoned the Disney-like themes of their predecessors, and many of those existing previously have re-branded themselves, the Excalibur Hotel Casino retains its full on Medieval fantasy motif.

Jousting at Tournament Of KingsHoused in the dungeon level, TOK makes the perfect entertainment choice in keeping with King Arthur’s Roundtable theme. And speaking of Las Vegas in era’s past, folks don’t seem to tire of what’s arguably one of the last and best food/entertainment deals on the Strip. For less than the price of one ticket to many large-scale Vegas shows, TOK offers a complete, guaranteed-to-satisfy-your-belly meal served true to the period (this means no utensils) and full-length 75-minute show.

Midriff bearing dancing girls, shirtless muscle men and dazzling pyrotechnics represent the sort of show elements most visitors to Las Vegas expect from the self-proclaimed Entertainment Capital of the World. The aforementioned all make an appearance in the long-running Tournament of Kings dinner show (surprised?!) along with King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table jousting, feasting and merry-making.

On a recent Friday night, the 900-seat amphitheater was filled with spectators, some families with children, but just as many adults, several even decked out in period costume to fully immerse themselves in the interactive experience. The theatre seating is divided into sections. Throughout the various stages of the tournament, each section roots for the knight from the country matching their seating designation. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the audience members receive a brief instructional session from Merlin the Magician on the medieval style cheering methods used throughout the performance.

Mordred of Tournament Of Kings

The show features drum pageantry, dancing, singing, fireworks and knights on horseback competing in a variety of events. Adding to the drama, the evil Mordred and his dark knights invade the festivities kicking off an epic battle between good and evil. For an evening of food, fun and entertainment lets all raise our tankards to this tried and true Las Vegas staple, “Hear! Hear!”

Coronation at Tournament Of Kings

All Photos by Erik Kabik

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Show Review: The 80’s Show – Light-Hearted Nostalgic Fun

by Sarah Jane Woodall

The 80's Show

If you survived the 80s, you’ll want to check out this fun, new, interactive musical at Planet Hollywood. The 80s Show is an hour-long trip back in time to everyone’s favorite decade, featuring the crazy fashions, the unforgettable dance moves, and the amazing tunes that made the 80s such a fun, memorable era. It’s like stepping into a time machine – you’re instantly transported back to the days of parachute pants and synth-pop!

The 80's Show - The cool guy and the popular girl

The 80s Show plot revolves around the typical teenage American high school experience: the Average Girl has a crush on the Cool Guy, who only has eyes for the Popular Girl. The show follows Average Girl’s attempts to woo him away, with the help of her trusty (if not slightly nerdy) sidekicks, the Nice Guy and the Punk Chick.

Fun 80s song and dance numbers are interspersed without, and the show relies heavily on audience participation – be careful, you will more than likely be called upon to participate onstage! If you’re shy, better have a few drinks first – but not to worry; there is cocktail service in the theater.

All of your favorite 80s hits are revisited (and re-interpreted) over the course of the show – you’ll more than likely know the words, and find yourself singing along. Singing along, in fact, is completely encouraged – the cast engages the audience in just about every number, making this not just your typical show, but more of an interactive party! Everyone in the theater gets involved to some extent, and it’s a riot.

For a fun, feel-good, light-hearted evening of nostalgic laughs and jokes, check out The 80s Show. It’s a fun trip down memory lane that everyone will enjoy – from ex-Average Girls to ex-Cool Guys… and everyone in between!

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Show Review: Pin Up – Classic, Colorful, Lighthearted, and Sexy!

by Sarah Jane Woodall

Claire Sinclair of Pin Up in pink lingerie

Vegas buffets aren’t the only place to find cheesecake anymore! Fans of classic vintage pin-up style can now head over to the Stratosphere, where a new music and dance stage show called Pin Up is bringing sexy back, with a modern twist on a timeless style.

Claire Sinclair of Pin Up in stockings

Stockings, garter belts and sky-high heels are back in a big way as the girls of Pin Up strut their stuff in a series of sexy numbers showcasing classic femininity. 2011 Playmate of the Year and pin-up model extraordinaire, Claire Sinclair, presides over this fun romp through the seasons of the year, vintage pin-up style.

The calendar comes to life as each month is represented by a different cutie – a living calendar pin-up girl who dances and teases in a correspondingly themed number. You’ll see stewardesses (this was back before they were called flight attendants), beach bunnies and sexy baseball players… among other classic girly characters! Just about any fantasy you’ve ever had is brought to life by the sexy dancers who make Pin Up so much fun.

The show is backed by an amazing six-piece swing band, complete with horn section, playing energetic tunes scored by fellow Stratosphere headliner Frankie Moreno that will have you tapping your toe and itching to jump onstage and join the fun. If the music doesn’t get you, the dancing will – Pin Up showcases a variety of dance styles, all choreographed by Dancing With the Stars’ Lacey Schwimmer. The gorgeous dancers make it all look effortless – and the fun is infectious. They’re clearly having a blast!

Dance routine at Pin Up

Despite being a 10:30 show featuring a Playboy model, Pin Up is pure old-fashioned fun – lighthearted, colorful and sexy… without being sleazy. Tops stay on, but plenty of skin is bared and there’s lots to look at. Sometimes, the tease is what it’s all about… and Pin Up has that down pat. It’s a throwback to a more innocent era, when a pretty smile and a wink were all that was needed to rev a guy’s engines.

Sexy dancers of Pin Up

For a cute, retro stroll down memory lane, come check out the living dolls at Pin Up. And the best part about this cheesecake? It has no calories…so you can go back for as many helpings as you like!

Photo credit:
Marc Paulus (performance photos)
Jerry Metellus (Claire Sinclair studio photos)

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Show Review: Seth Grabel – Magic With A Serious Fun Factor

by Terri D’Richards

Seth Grabel on Americas Got Talent

Is he an acrobat? Is he an illusionist? Is he a dancer? Take your pick! Seth Grabel shows us all of the above and more in his Las Vegas show. Settled in at the intimate (with super comfy seats!) Wolf Theatre at The Clarion, Grabel shows off feats of amazement and grace presented with charismatic personality and style.

The multi-faceted performer gained notoriety as a finalist on season six of “America’s Got Talent” where he wowed audiences and judges alike with impossible escapes, grand scale illusions and acrobatic flash. Working within the confines of his current venue, Grabel makes the most of more up-close magic, such as sleight of hand and levitation. He even pulls off some nifty metamorphosis (when one person gets substituted out for another in a seemingly enclosed trunk), and other illusions.

Seith Grabel with sexy female assistants

All this combines with some surprising Cirque-like maneuvers for a unique blend of what the performer calls “Acromagic”. And a serious fun factor is never missing from the mix. Grables engaging demeanor works for all ages making it clear he’s having a good time — and so are we!

Grabel takes delight in adding a decidedly whimsical aspect to his presentation of the requisite tricks and illusions: a little pick-pocketing gag, ventriloquism, Barbie doll comes to life. Of course, none of this showmanship would work as well without the goods.

The magic is Vegas-worthy, and it’s not difficult to imagine Grable taking his act to a larger stage in the future, where he can once again incorporate some of those grander AGT tricks. Today though, it’s worth enjoying the opportunity to view this unique show at its current residence. Most likely the experience will make you want to go back and see the performer again when he does take his act to the next level.

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Show Review: V The Ultimate Variety Show – An Evening Of Excitement, Thrills, And Comedy

by Guy Chapman

Tamara's hoops at V - The Ultimate Variety Show

With so many shows on the Strip that focus on elaborate costumes, orchestrated musical scores and cutting edge special effects, it’s nice to see a show that really goes back to variety show foundations in covering solid entertainment in its purest form. For an evening of excitement, thrills, and comedy, show-goers will get to experience a truly fun outing in “V – The Ultimate Variety Show” at the V Theater in the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino.

MC Wally Eastwood juggles at V - The Ultimate Variety Show

Hosted by juggler extraordinaire Wally Eastwood (who was featured “America’s Got Talent”), a surprisingly diverse and entertaining variety of acts take place on the theater’s intimate stage. As the MC, Eastwood performs a variety of impressive aerial object-based feats that have to be seen to be believed. And if you like classical music played on a piano, it’s highly unlikely that you’ve ever seen it performed in the way it’s showcased here. I don’t want to give away any surprises but your mouth will open in awe.

Tap dancing brothers Sean and John at V - The Ultimate Variety Show

The performance seen for this review had a variety of fantastic talent. Among the numerous highlights of the show are the tap dancing brothers Sean and John, the Russian team of Iouri and Nikoli with an amazing hand balancing act, the Aerial Expressionists, that take their performance into and over the crowd, Melinda – The First Lady of Magic ,that will leave the crowds guessing at her mind-bending illusions, the Skating Aratas, a roller skating act that has to be seen to be believed, and the Argentinean comedy team, The Crazy Gauchos, that provides laughter through their unpredictable performance while bouncing witty banter between each other and the crowd.

Skating Aratas at V - The Ultimate Variety ShowEach new talent and team brings something new to the show, ensuring that no show is ever exactly the same, resulting in an evening that brings the best of the Vegas entertainment experience to one location while staying fresh. The show itself is family friendly, so it truly provides and all-ages type of experience that can be enjoyed by anyone looking for a “clean” show without concern of more racy elements. And for those that want a closer experience, show patrons can purchase VIP tickets that allow viewers to sit really close to the stage (and enjoy a little interaction in the show, depending on which performer needs a “victim” to participate).

“V – The Ultimate Variety Show” is a great way to spend an evening with the kids, or for someone who wants to get more of an “all in one” experience of what the Las Vegas Strip has to offer. Its diversity and accessibility make this a show that will definitely be remembered long after the final curtain call.

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Show Review: Defending The Caveman Needs No Defending

by D.W. Grant

Kevin Burke spears underwear in Defending The CavemanThis “Caveman” don’t need no defending. It’s a man’s show, with women encouraged to attend.

The Las Vegas/Broadway show, now playing at Harrah’s Comedy Club, is a hilarious evening of understanding “The Man,” his burps, scratches, sex, and beer drinking. After this show every woman will understand why men are not jerks, or #&*s, as is said vehemently at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of this show.

Kevin Burke has been soloing in this play for 10 years or more and it shows. His delivery is real and his connection to his audience is deep. More than a show, “Defending The Caveman” is like sharing a beer with your brother-in-law in his man cave. Man to man you can talk about women and scratch your loins without reproach. You can brag about your sex life, and complain about the “old woman,” knowing your boasting and whining won’t go beyond the cave walls. They won’t, unless some playwright decides he wants to make a Broadway show out of them.

It’s no wonder “Defending The Caveman” is the longest running solo play in the history of Broadway. It’s funny, irreverent, and the perfect date night show. It has also been performed all around the world, before more than 8 million people, in 30 different languages, in 45 countries.

The play’s writer, American actor and comedian Rob Becker, says the show is supposed to show that “men have emotions, but express them differently.” Indeed we do, and DTC shows them off well.

Most importantly after each show every man in attendance will be able to stand up with Kevin Burke, hoist his spear over his head, and declare “I am not a #&*s!” I did, but in much gentler words.

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Show Review: Rock Of Ages – Nothing But A Good Time!

by Sarah Jane Woodall

Mark Shunock and Justin Mortelliti - Credit Denise Truscello

Fire up the Aqua Net and dig out that sleeveless jean jacket – Rock of Ages has hit Vegas, and it’s bringing the ‘80s back! The latest musical to hit the Vegas strip hearkens back to the glory days of heavy metal – the days of mascara, muscle tees and mullets. If you grew up listening to this music, you will love Rock of Ages. And if even if you didn’t… you’ll have a blast. It’s impossible to sit through this show without smiling, laughing… and singing along!

Like many so-called “jukebox musicals,” Rock of Ages uses previously existing music to patch together a storyline – in this case, ‘80s hairband rock and power ballads, virtually every one of which you will recognize. It’s hard to believe that the music our parents warned us about has become so mainstream – but you’ll recognize many of these tunes from commercials, movies and general pop culture ubiquity. But what’s really amazing is how well this stuff holds up – as cheesy and dated as it is, this music still rocks!

Justin Mortelliti and Carrie St. Louis - High Enough - Credit Denise TruscelloRock of Ages’ plotline is little more than an excuse to skip from one familiar anthem to the next – boy meets girl at an L.A. rock ’n’ roll club. Both have dreams of stardom, which are threatened when an evil developer plots to tear down the club to put up a Footlocker. The troops are rallied, power ballads are sung, fists are pumped and lighters are waved in the air… and everything leads to a big crazy happy ending. It’s an old-school feel-good show – nothing too deep or artsy; just fantastically bombastic rock music, over-the-top costumes, truly inspired comedic acting and pure, unadulterated fun.

Rock of Ages is a Broadway-style two-hour show with a 7-minute intermission… .but you hardly notice the time passing, as everything is so much fun. The music is big, the hair is bigger…and the energy is GINORMOUS! Thanks to an exceptional cast, who are clearly having the time of their lives, along with an amazing live band, you’ll find yourself dancing in your seat. I challenge you to dislike this show; it’s impossible. The stage sets are impressively designed, and the entire theater has been given an ‘80s makeover, with vintage signage and posters and neon lights. Even the bartenders wear ’80s rocker attire – everyone’s in on the act!

If you’re looking for a no-holds-barred, tongue-in-cheek good time, look no further. Rock of Ages is probably the most fun you can have in Vegas with your clothes on – your shredded denim and snakeskin clothes, that is!

Rock Of Vegas - Full Vegas Company - Credit Denise Truscello

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Show Review: Recycled Percussion – “Junk” Instruments Meet Off-Beat Comic Sensibility

by Terri D’Richards

Recycled Percussion ladders and drums

With a Motley Crue meets Oscar the Grouch opening number, Recycled Percussion sets the tone for their show, blending dynamic Rock style performance, “junk instruments” (power tools are instruments — aren’t they??) and off-beat comic sensibility. They also have no objection to letting the audience share in the enthusiasm, as “the most interactive show on earth” makes sure everyone has their own drumstick and pot, pan or toaster to beat on throughout the proceedings. The results give a whole new meaning to “Rocking the joint”.

Recycled Percussion began building a loyal following from its inception in the mid-90’s, pursuing a path that eventually lead to a appearance on America’s Got Talent where they became the first non-singing act ever to place in the top three. Other television appearances on The Today Show, Carson Daly and The Soup followed as the group continued on a course leading to the Las Vegas strip.

Recycled PercussionFirst taking up residency at The Tropicana and later moving over to the AGT revue show at Planet Hollywood, Recycled Percussion now makes its home at The Quad (aka the newly rebranded/remodel-in-progress Imperial Palace). The band has taken its act to another level here, adding new material and production value, not to mention… Cookie Time! This incarnation of the show also provides more insight into some of the individual personalities and background of the group.

Charismatic Recycled Percussion founder Justin Spencer keeps the controlled chaos lively and in check while also maintaining his friendly rivalry with equally energetic percussionist Ryan Vezina. Prankish DJ Todd Griffin and no-holds-barred guitarist Matt Bowman complete the foursome. Together they form a tight-knit unit, treading a circuitous line between daredevil performance artists, over-the-top Rock musicians, and slapstick comedians.

The appeal succeeds in reaching a wide cross section of audience: female fans can’t ignore the hunk factor, males respond to the Rock ‘n’ Roll mixed with goofiness, while Moms, Dads, and kids can’t resist the family friendly atmosphere. Where else in Vegas – or anywhere – can your 8 year old bang on the table and it’s okay? Heck, even Grandma might give those lovable Recycled Percussion rascals a pinch on the cheek. Just remember to bring her earplugs!

Cast of Recycled Percussion bows

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Show Review: Million Dollar Quartet – Incredible But True

by Terri D’Richards

Million Dollar Quartet finale scene

Shake, Rattle or Roll but DO get yourself to a performance of “Million Dollar Quartet” for an unforgettable evening of Rock ‘n’ Roll history and live performance. Harrah’s newly remodeled showroom hosts the Las Vegas version of this hit Broadway and touring production, which gives audiences a fly-on-the-wall perspective into a once-in-a-lifetime event that took place December 1956: the convergence of 4 legends in Rock ‘n’ Roll history.

Million Dollar Quartet - Marc D Donovan as Sam Phillips

Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and… the one and only Elvis Presley came together for an incredible but true jam session at Sun Records in Memphis, the studio that launched all their careers. Partly fate, partly some manipulation on the part of Sun founder Sam Phillips, the night as depicted on stage provides background on each musician’s roots and personas, a glimpse into the music industry of the time, and musical hit after musical hit performed live on stage with drums and stand-up bass rounding out the ensemble.
Million Dollar Quartet - Felice Garcia as Dyanne and Tyler Huter as ElvisBut please do not mistake the premise as just another tribute show. Instead, be prepared for a reminder of how these original Rock gods created a template for the lexicon that still resonates with audiences of all ages today — the beats, the riffs, the delivery packed with true heart, soul and swagger.

A handsome and impressive stage set provides the necessary look and feel of the humble Sun Records studio. As the show opens, Sam Phillips has already sold off his #1 boy Elvis to RCA in order to keep Sun Records afloat. Now RCA wants Philips himself on their payroll, understanding only too well that Philips has tapped into a new sound and market that’s light years ahead of other industry execs at the time. But Phillips would rather remain at the helm of Sun Records and seeks to lock fast-rising star Johnny Cash into a contract renewal deal. Meanwhile, Elvis would love nothing more than the opportunity to work with his mentor Sam Phillips again. And just so it’s not a total boys’ club, Elvis’ girlfriend, singer Dyanne, has come along for the night.

Million Dollar Quartet, Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis

Will Cash re-sign with Sun? Will Jerry Lee make a hit record? Will Elvis get to work with Phillips again? Even the most casual Rock music historian knows the answers. But “Million Dollar Quartet” isn’t about learning how things turned out. It’s about the music! And it is in the musical performances that Million Dollar Quartet shines. Whether watching the acrobatic piano virtuosity of Jerry Lee Lewis, the distinctively mixed musical style of Johnny Cash, the guitar rooted passion of Carl Perkins or the King himself, Elvis – not to mention a couple of sultry, show-stopping female vocal performances by Dyanne – the show leads us to the inevitable finale that has audiences on their feet, in the aisles and leaving the theatre talking about how much feel-good fun and enjoyment they had at this show.
Million Dollar Quartet - Robert Britton Lyons, Tyler Hunter, Benjamin D. Hale

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