Updated December 25, 2019 - 11:17 am
The Kats! Bureau was unstoppable in 2019, similar to Lamar Jackson running the two-minute offense or Enoch Augustus Scott powering through the fantastic “Zombie Burlesque” at V Theater.
Once again, we close the year with a blast of C02 cannons and a burst of golden confetti with my own awards to the those deserving figures in VegasVille. These honors are well-thought out, taking several minutes to conceive, delivered with a dash of mirth and — as always — are non-binding.
Kicking it off, Enoch’s “ZB” portrayal is our Non-Living Character of the Year.
Let’s hit it:
The Barbra Streisand-Meets-Count Basie Orchestra Award: To Lady Gaga, who convinced MGM Resorts International officials to allow her to alternate her show band-powered “Jazz + Piano” production with the pop spectacle, “Enigma.” During every “J + P” show, Gaga reminds, “The Jazz show sells out out faster!”
Late-Night Hang of the Year: Trumpet and composing great Brian Newman, Gaga’s friend and bandleader, heads up a blazing “After Dark” showcase at NoMad Restaurant. This show happens after each Gaga performance; the next frontier is for Newman and his band to stand on its own when Gaga is off. When that series is booked, I’ll be there.
Lovebirds Award: Corey Harrison of “Pawn Stars” and his ex-wife, Kiki, are again a romantic couple. The two divorced in September 2018; Harrison posted their reunion on Instagram on Nov. 21, with a photo of Kiki’s right wrist tattooed with the name “Harrison.” Are they going to re-marry? “If she lets me,” says Corey, forever a realist.
Best Outgoing Residency (Solo Headliner Division): Gwen Stefani’s “Just A Girl,” which hauls out of Zappos Theater on May 16. Simply a bad ass, rocking production experience. At least we will always remember how to spell BANANAS.
Best Outgoing Residency (Sibling Headliner Division): Donny & Marie Osmond at Flamingo Las Vegas. The duo’s Nov. 16 departure marked the end of the original Osmond family’s collective performances. The finality of it all will hit home when the D&M building wrap removal is completed in a few days. Marie is killing it on “The Talk,” and Donny is polishing off a new album that has a real groove.
Overdue Pairing of the Year: Strip icon Frank Marino emceeing the long-running “Legends in Concert” at the Tropicana.
Best Sustainable Prop: Carrot Top’s Bernie Sanders Necktie, outfitted with a real stethoscope. C.T. dusted off this prop from about a decade ago, when it was Dick Cheney’s Necktie, after the former VP suffered a heart attack.
Atomic Award for Best New Production: “Atomic Saloon Show,” by a country mile. I even crossed several countries to see the premiere of the show at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. An instant classic line: “I’m like a saloon door — I swing both ways!” Bonus points for Spiegelworld producer Ross Mollison’s dogged determination to put one of his shows in The Act space at The Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes, which suits the saloon vibe ideally.
Best Husband & Wife Residency: Carlos Santana (guitar) and Cindy Blackman Santana (drums) at House of Blues at Mandalay Bay.
Best Drum Solo: See above.
Here Come the Sons Award: John Fogerty performs with guitarist son Shane Fogerty and singer/groover Tyler Fogerty, who ramp up the energy in Fogerty’s shows at Encore Theater.
Best Shows That Closed: “I Love The ’90s” at the star-crossed Paris Theater; “Fuerza Bruta” at Excalibur;” Scott Bradlee’s “Postmodern Jukebox” at 1 Oak Nightclub; “Blanc de Blanc” at Sahara.
Full House Award: Winners at Myron’s Cabaret Jazz: Frankie Moreno, Lon Bronson Band, Michael Grimm, Clint Holmes, Michelle Johnson, Giada Valenti and Keith Thompson hosting The Composers Showcase of Las Vegas in a stacked lineup that launches with Bronson’s show Jan. 11.
Billboard Music Award: To the ever-prolific Moreno, who along with brother Tony Moreno seems to compose in his sleep. Moreno debuted six albums on the Billboard music charts in 12 months, and has just released, “”Welcome To The Symphony,” which is also expected to reach Billboard’s classical top-t0 (bonus points for Moreno’s black-and-white checked suit).
Best Inactive Venue: Palazzo Theater. Suffice to say we’re looking for the next production show in the venue that has been home to “Jersey Boys,” “Baz” and Holmes over the years. Also the “Panda” musical, which we will let slide.
Broadway-Vegas Ambassador Award: Barry Manilow, who lit up Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in the finale of his 17-show run in his native New York City in August. Immediately afterward, he said he wanted to extend his residency at International Theater at Westgate Las Vegas. The hotel was listening, and Manilow is booked through November 2020. We understand Rico still wears a diamond, and Lola is in recovery …
Best “Pouched” Residency: Bruno Mars at Park Theater. Mars orders the phones locked in Yondr cases (and happily sings the line, “I took your phones, I took your phones!”) then destroys the place.
Corporate Gig of the Year: Celine Dion was the unbilled headliner for about 100 attendees at Skyfall Lounge at Delano during Amway’s 60th anniversary celebration. The Vegas corporate act Vox Vegas, created by Mo5aic’s Josh Huslig and featuring Corwyn Hodge, Heath Burgett, Jake Moulton, Roopak Ahuja and Kenny Urban. Ashley Fuller (“Alice” and “Opium” at The Cosmopolitan), Jaclyn McSpadden (Postmodern Jukebox), Savannah Smith (The Moonshiners) and Vegas artist Jay R Beatbox (given name Jorge Amparo Jr.) were all part of that historic night.
Best New Band: Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns founder Jerry Lopez — who, it turns out, is nuts for yacht rock — with his Windjammers outfit. The crack five-piece band opens at 7 p.m. Thursday at Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort.
First Annual Human Nature Four on the Floor Award: To Venetian Sands Showroom headliners Human Nature, which will win this award every year. Sure, they copped at least seven of my moves, but we still dig the symmetry of Andrew and Mike Tierney, Phil Burton and Toby Allen. The dedication to Motown, and artistic approval from Smokey Robinson, was the seed for a show that embraces Sinatra, The Beatles, even Meghan Trainor’s “All About The Bass.”
In November, the guys were presented ARIA Hall of Fame, the equivalent of a Grammy Hall of Fame honor, in their home country of Australia and also celebrated their 10th anniversary on the Strip in May. When they opened at Imperial Palace (now Linq Hotel), the Dealertainers were performing (and dealing) on the casino floor.
Residency to Watch (Cabaret Division): Column fave Amy Saunders, star of “Miss Behave Game Show” at The Back Room at Bally’s. There is really nothing like this show. Just as audience members stand for “When Was the Last Time You Had Sex?” they are ducking pingpong balls. Saunders and limber sidekick Tiffany are reliably insane, courageous and never boring.
Residency to Watch (Showroom Division): Shin Lim and mind-reading co-star Colin Cloud at the Mirage. Magic remains a force in Vegas, and Lim — a two-time champ on “America’s Got Talent” — has hit on an audience with his fantastic close-up work. As he says, “No boxes.”
Residency to Watch (Theater Division): Aerosmith at Park Theater. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll, runaway freight train, and there is no higher praise. From Steven Tyler: “You! Why the (expletive) are you sitting! Get your (butt) up!” I wanna be him when I grow up, but I doubt he ever will.
Best Seating Position: The VIP general-admission areas that flank Aerosmith’s show. Tyler, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford amble over to shout and jam. Bonus points: It’s highly likely you’ll run into Vegas network’s Tiffany Masters and her collecting of “Super Fans,” who also are also super attractive. Tyler seems to think so.
Chant of the Year: “What Happens Here, Only Happens Here!” Tyler led the Park Theater in the civic callout. And as Newman says, “What happens here? You just have to wait ‘til Jan. 26 to find out, babies.”
Instrument Revival of the Year: The keytar! Gaga opens “Enigma” by playing it while soaring in an aerial harness. Bradlee closed “Postmodern Jukebox” with a gyrating keytar solo. Teach the youngsters to play the keytar. There will one day be a college scholarship offered to such aspiring artists. ‘
Injury Of The Year: After 35 years of performing high-leg kicks, Vegas lounge headliner Chris Phillips of Zowie Bowie finally pulled a hamstring.
Comedy Adventurism Award: Ex-KTNV anchor Dayna Roselli is working on material for a stand-up act.
Mandatory Field Trip For Any Entertainer Award: Wayne Newton’s “Up Close And Personal,” especially his 1968 duet with Glen Campbell. The man plays 14 instruments (but has no interest in learning to use a mobile phone). His is a lesson in superstar showmanship.
Beating the News Release Award: During his appearance in front of the Gaming Control Board on Dec. 5, Circus Circus owner Phil Ruffin disclosed plans for “The Illusionists,” a touring Cirque du Soleil acquisition, in a new 2,000-seat theater. Within minutes, a Cirque official said the company was not confirming any plans for a new production, and no official announcement has yet been made.
Outdoor Venue of the Year: The 37-acre Las Vegas Festival Grounds, which hosted the iHeartRadio Music Festival Day Stage (starring the wise-for-her-age Billie Eilish), the three-day Day N Vegas hip-hop festival, and Intersect Music Festival, capped by a blistering set from Foo Fighters. You must plan to see shows at this place (park off-site and hoof it, or Uber in and out), but it has solidified its position as the Strip’s pre-eminent entertainment parcel. Bonus points: It could conceivably be the site of a Major League baseball park.
Best Brothers: Those who are forever Righteous, Bill Medley and Bucky Heard, at Harrah’s Showroom (Bonus note: Medley turns 80 on Sept. 19).
Nike Award for Rambling Along The Strip: Bronx Wanderers, who are set to move into Harrah’s Showroom in 2020, alternating the 6 p.m. time slot with the above-mentioned Righteous Brothers. They also are expecting to take some 8 p.m. slots, too, as “Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel In Concert” has announced it is closing Sunday. BW, which has added a soaring Beatles medley to the end of their shows, have performed at Window’s Showroom at Bally’s, and most recently Mat Franco Theater at Linq Hotel.
Best (and only) $60 Million Magician: David Copperfield raked in that figure last year, topping the list of magicians internationally according to Forbes magazine. Ho-hum. Copperfield continues to perform a schedule of up to 15 shows per week at his eponymous theater; he also introduced Earth Wind & Fire for the band’s award at the Kennedy Center Honors.
Top O’ The Doc Award: The Matt Goss-Luke Goss documentary “After The Screaming Stops” provides an accurate, revealing look at the twin brothers’ efforts to reclaim the magic of their late-1980s’ boy band Bros. Fame isn’t easy, but the guys are true gents, serious artists and can still fire up a crowd (bonus points for Matt’s ongoing, Sunday-night residency at 1Oak Nightclub at the Mirage, where he asks the musical question, “When Will I Be Famous?”).
Best Budding Magician: Matt Donnelly, star of “The Mind Noodler,” who has made a mid-career change of direction to learn tricks from such established comic magicians as Penn & Teller and Piff the Magic Dragon.
Moated Mystique Award: Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace. The refurbished (there is now an LED wall!) hybrid nightclub-lounge-showroom is moving toward ticketed entertainment. It’s a blend of legends (Wayne Newton and Dionne Warwick) and a Strip newcomer (“celebrity” medium Thomas John). A ticketed rock show headlined by IE&Y, starring Franky Perez and Frankie Sidoris plays the Barge on Jan. 24. Sidoris is guitarist with Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators; he also is the son of Stabile Productions co-founder Angela Stabile, and she and Matt Stabile have their eye on a late-night, adult resident revue show for Caesars Entertainment in 2020. It all means, keep an eye on this place next year.
Barge Hall of Fame Award: Staying with the moated enclave, David Perrico with his Pop Strings and Pop 40 lineups. The no-cover-charge shows rattle the room on Fridays and Saturdays, hearkening to the days when you could get up, get out and groove to world-class performances without needing to pay for a ticket.
Best Date Night: Staying with the moated enclave, Warwick’s show is a warm snuggle, especially when she delivers, “I’ll Never Love This Way Again.” You want to get up and hug her, but really, don’t try that …
Best Upstairs Venue Lineup: The Magic Attic at Bally’s, starring Frederic Da Silva in “Paranormal,” Xavier Mortimer in “Magical Dream” and the satire “Potted Potter.”
Best Cabaret Lineup: Westgate Cabaret, with magician Jen Kramer, long-running standup George Wallace, and Jennifer Romas in “Sexxy.” (Insider tip: You might catch Raiders owner Mark Davis randomly in this theater.)
Escalator Moment of the Year: The D Las Vegas co-owner Derek Stevens and CNBC’s Marcus Lemonis were filmed while riding the outside escalator up to Vue Bar for an all-Vegas episode of “The Profit: High Stakes” that aired in January.
Elevator Moment of the Year: After entering a packed lift to the Verona Villa at Westgate Las Vegas for the Victoria’s Voice charity event after-party, I leaned against the panel and hit the buttons for all 30 floors. The attendant actually opened the panel to re-set the grid, but I was met with the scowls of a crush of dignitaries.
Disclosure of the Year: Legendary comic magician The Amazing Johnathan, focus of “The Amazing Johnathan Documentary” on Hulu and “Always Amazing” on YouTube, said on “PodKats!” that he once investigated how to fake his own death. The idea was he would go away for five years, then return triumphantly, producing a documentary about the experience. A.J.’s managers and attorneys put a halt to that concept after a single meeting. As he says, “They told me I’d be watching it in jail, if they showed it.”
Best New Showroom: Adam Steck of SPI Entertainment and ace magician Hans Klok teamed to develop Thunderland Showroom at Excalibur. An impressive improvement over the former Thunder Showroom, the venue is home to three unalike shows: Klok’s tradition-steeped magic show (where the wind machine and giant, spinning stage props are never out of style); Australian Bee Gees and the adult revue “Thunder From Down Under.” See all three, in a single night. It’s a great exercize in live-entertainment range.
Best Place to Catch Lounge Legends: Piero’s Restaurant, where Sonny Charles of The Checkmates teams with Pia Zadora on Fridays and Saturdays (he sings “Black Pearl,” The Checkmates’ top-10 hit from 1969); and Italian American Club lounge, where Jerry Tiffe (who once headlined the Sands) still holds court.
Best DJ Booth: The 1963 Bristol Lodekka passenger bus on the second-level courtyard at On The Record.
Downtown DJ Headlining Set of the Year: Steve Aoki, unveiling the first segment of the new Fremont Street Experience Viva Vision light show. The Las Vegas native was introduced by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who led the crowd of 8,000 in a chant of “A-O-KI! A-O-KI!” Expected to perform just the six-minute medley on the new display, Aoki rocked the place for more than 30 minutes.
Stunt DJ Booking of the Year: Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte manned the booth with German EDM star Nico Stojan at Light at Mandalay Bay during “Candy World,” a visual and sonic nightclub experience. The club was replete with with lasers, strobes and go-go dancers in a nightclub adaptation of the Electric Daisy Carnival. And Laliberte was the star.
Stunt Co-Star Idea Award: This hasn’t been adapted — yet — but UFC President Dana White as a member of Blue Man Group.
Timepiece Award: Tie between Madonna, who turned up at about 12:15 a.m. for a (rescheduled) 10:30 p.m. start at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace; and Cardi B, who hit the stage at 3 a.m. for her performances at Kaos Nightclub, more than an hour after her customary scheduled start time. As Madonna said, in her Madame X persona, “A queen can never be late.”
Best Return Engagement: Jason Aldean struck the right chords at Park Theater on Dec. 6, his first headlining appearance on the Strip since the Oct. 1, 2017 shootings. Charging into “When She Says Baby,” the song cut short by the tragic shooting, he announced, “Last time we were starting this song here, we got a little interrupted. So let’s finish it, how ‘bout that?” That lead-in, and the song, sparked some intense bedlam action.
Serious Clowning Award: A group of Vegas-connected rockers, led by “Raiding the Rock Vault” vocalist Paul Shortino, are re-recording “Send In The Clowns” over the late Vinnie Paul’s drum track. Expect video contributions from Romas and Murray Sawchuck.
Swing Interplay Award: Dani Elizabeth, the dancing emcee of “Crazy Girls” (and Sawchuck’s girlfriend) at Planet Hollywood, is Doug “Lefty” Leferovich’s understudy in Sawchuck’s comedy-magic show. Conversely, Leferovich swings for Elizabeth as emcee — but with no dancing, wisely — in “Crazy Girls.”
Photo of the Year: Wayne “Big D” Danielson and Tay Hamilton of 95.5-FM The Bull sent word to Route 91 survivors and country music fans the morning of Aldean’s first show to arrive the following Sunday for a photo op at Toshiba Plaza, across the way from Park Theater in front of T-Mobile Arena. About 115 survivors rambled over after Aldean’s final show for a righteous, Vegas Strong moment.
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Tonight, we had the opportunity to celebrate country music in the best city in the world. To those that made it out for the picture, we thank you and appreciate you! Since the beginning, we’ve tried to be there for our country music family & support you in any way we can. We promise to not just be a station you come to for country music, but be a driving force keeping country music alive in Las Vegas. From our entire team @ 95.5 The Bull, we’re proud to stand along side you and show the world what Vegas Strong is all about! #VegasStrong #CountryStrong
Get Back Award: Teller, the man after the ampersand in Penn & Teller’s iconic residency, recovering from his third spinal surgery since June 2018. He’s due to return Feb. 3. Meantime, Penn Jillette has recruited Donnelly, Mac King and Piff the Magic Dragon for “Penn & Friends” at the Rio. That show marked the first time Jillette has headlined a ticketed Las Vegas show without Teller since the duo debuted in 1975.
Swinging For the Fences Award: Ever seeking the Next Big Thing, in October Jose Canseco opened his Showtime Car Wash, home to his “No Way Jose” podcast with comic Martin Montana. Canseco also is in a cross-promotional partnership with dispensary Planet 13, and he’s still planning his Bigfoot Expedition RV tour, which he announced in February, where five interested parties are to pay $5,000 to tour the Southern Nevada desert looking for Bigfoot while listening to Canseco tell stories. That concept is being pitched for documentary-style show or series in 2020.
Stage Gear of the Year: Chris Isaak returned with his mirrored suit, which is the coolest suit ever and needs to be hand-cleaned with Windex, for his encore at Encore Theater.
He So Gets It Award: Robbie Williams, returning to Encore Theater for eight shows beginning March 24. I’d hardly known of Williams before he arrived on the Strip last year, but his show has the right measure of originality and classic-Vegas spice (Liberace, “Jubilee,” Rat Pack, some Elvis shimmy). If I had the aptitude to perform a Strip residency production, it would be this one.
Elvis of the Year: Pete “Big Elvis” Vallee, still churning out the King’s greatest hits (along with an audience participation, hello) at Harrah’s Piano Bar. No cover charge, the place is packed, and Pete hits all the notes. This is why he’s been around for 22 years. May The King live forever.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.