The Kats! Bureau was all over the scene in ‘18. We close the year with a crash of cymbals and my year-end column in the form of my own awards to the deserving in VegasVille.
These honors are heartfelt, mirthsome and — I stress — non-binding.
Let’s hit it:
Advance Scouting Award: Lady Gaga’s creative team behind “Enigma,” particularly her handful of big-band jazz performances in her run that begins Friday at Park Theater. Gaga and her music director, trumpet great Brian Newman, scouted and secured the entire horn section of Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns and some additional A-plus players from around the city. Newman was at the Dec. 18 Santa Fe show at Copa Room at Bootlegger Bistro and reportedly was blown away. This will be “The Healing,” as helmed by Lady Gaga and Newman. Expect brilliance.
High Stakes Award: “A Mob Story,” a uniquely entertaining production that will unfortunately halt production after its New Year’s Eve show. The Jeff Kutash-directed production at the Plaza, with investment and onstage narration from ex-Colombo crime family “capo” Michael Franzese, has impressed artistically. Its finances are the concern. Franzese is taking the show down at least through February, to review lessons learned in doing business in Vegas for the first time and to sort out his own schedule of personal appearances (including the filming of a new 10-episode A&E series). “I’ll be back,” he says, attempting a February re-launch.
The 7 & 36 Award: David Copperfield. He’s No. 7, with a net worth of $875 million, in the latest Forbes list of wealthiest celebrities (the only Vegas headliner in the top 10). And over the holidays he performs three shows a day for 12 straight days (36 in all) at his theater at MGM Grand.
Hippy Hall of Famer: Carlos Santana. I am he as you are he as you are me, and we are all together. It makes sense when Santana shares the spirituality at House of Blues at Mandalay Bay.
Best Opening Act: Bally’s Back Room adult revue “X Rocks” opened for Metallica at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 26, grooving to a hard-rock medley including “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne, “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” by Judas Priest and “Walk” by Pantera (with video of the late Vinnie Paul).
Best Vegas Golden Knights Singing Gondalier Usher: Carnell “Golden Pipes” Johnson. Find him singing the national anthem at T-Mobile Arena, guiding a watercraft at The Venetian while in great voice, or as an usher at Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center. He’s everywhere, like the Phantom …
Perspective Award: In describing his Christmas show, Mirage comic/ventriloquist/impressionist Terry Fator said, “The puppets kind of take place of the kids onstage — and please don’t think I think of my puppets as kids. They are freaking puppets.”
Best Use of Nails & Fishhooks: Side-show artist John Shaw of Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum.
Surprise Show of the Year: “Little Miss Nasty” at Night Owl Showroom at Hooters, which just expanded its weekly schedule to Thursday nights (the show schedule is 10:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays). This rowdy dance show is so adult in tenor that you forget it’s not topless. Music by Korn, Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson power the two-act dance production. “Sippin’ On a 40,” by Gina And The Eastern Block (led by LMN front woman Gina Katon) is in the mix, too. The dance team moves around the room in a way that keeps audience members on their toes. Sometimes, you feel like a quarterback being blitzed. But stay in the pocket with this one. It’s wild.
Plinko Award for Best Game Show: “Miss Behave Game Show” at Bally’s.
Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery Award: After testing several versions of window panes early in its construction, Resorts World Las Vegas decided on a dark-golden hue — almost exactly the same shade as those used by Wynn and Encore Las Vegas. They look like sister properties. Maybe first cousins. (And since this writing, Wynn has filed a lawsuit against Resorts World, claiming it copied Wynn’s design.)
Best Opening Number Award: Gwen Stefani’s replete-with-showgirls, towering-staircase, ode-to-“Jubilee” opening to her “Just a Girl” Show at Zappos Theater. The “Hollaback Girl” number is really, um, bananas …
Best Closing Number Award: Westgate Las Vegas star Barry Manilow, returning to ’70s disco and ’40s feather shows with “Copacabana,” grooving along the catwalk at International Theater.
Hall of Famer Hall of Fame Award: Boxing-broadcast legend, multiple halls of fame inductee and top Vegas crooner Al Bernstein, playing Tuscany Suites on Jan. 18, the night before the Adrien Broner-Manny Pacquiao bout at MGM Grand Garden Arena. There is a murmur out there that my long-ago colleague (from our days in Redding, California) Rich Eisen is still mulling Bernstein’s offer to sing that night, saying to Bernstein during an episode of “The Rich Eisen Show” on Nov. 29, “How do I not do this? … How do I not play the Tuscany hotel and casino?” We’ll keep you informed …
Every Second is Genius Award: Carrot Top. Still hammering the props (for real) at Luxor’s Atrium Showroom. One that has survived since the Super Bowl is his New England Patriots’ helmet that doubles as a Kleenex dispenser. Every week, Topper roots for the Pats to lose while singing, “Keep my joke alive!” to Queen’s “Keep Yourself Alive.”
Acceleration Award: “Sexxy” at Westgate Las Vegas producer, director and creator Jen Romas, who will mark her four-year anniversary and 1,000th show this spring. She’s developing a concept for a touring production and a new merchandise line. All of that within the first six months of ‘19.
Double-Header Award: To Tape Face (legal name Sam Wills) who has hired a twin character to perform in Vegas while he is on tour. Next dates are March 14-April 7, though his doppelganger will be working in segments of the show. Made that announcement Christmas Day, and the idea is to expand the “Tape Face” character with multiple performers, similar to Blue Man Group.
He says of 2019, “This is gonna be a big year!” Frankie Moreno, who released five albums, headlined at Carnegie Hall in 2018, and this week saw his “Frankie’s Christmas Party” holiday album crack the Billboard Heatseekers charts at No. 6.
YouTuber Hall of Fame Award: Murray “The Magician” Sawchuck, headlining at Laugh Factory at Tropicana, now has more than 1 million subscribers to his YouTube channel (the mark was celebrated at The Golden Tiki in this month).
Pop-Culture Reference Award: Vinny Adinolfi of the Bronx Wanderers, who said of his family act, “We’re the Brady Bunch on steroids!” Additional credit for bringing Beau Cassidy, son of late “Partridge Family” co-star David Cassidy, as a guest star, and for welcoming Cindy Williams (co-star with Penny Marshall in “Laverne & Shirley” and a cast member of “Menopause the Musical”) as a frequent audience member.
Mystique Award: SLS Las Vegas owner Alex Meruelo of the Meruelo Group. Not a brazen hotel spokesman, but Meruelo is making significant, widespread changes across SLS, bringing fancy lights over the casino floor and revamping The Sayers Club, among the most appealing boutique venues in the city. This is just the start of the work on the corner of the Strip and Sahara.
Fashion Statement of the Year (tie): The Vegas Golden Knights/”North America’s Team” trench coat with Canadian flags on one sleeve and U.S. flags on the other that The D Las Vegas co-owner Derek Stevens wore during the NHL Playoffs; and Harrah’s headliner Mac King’s rain slick that is his famed Cloak of Invisibility.
Best Show That Closed in ‘18: “Baz” at Palazzo Theater.
And Another: “Circus 1903,” starring the incomparable David Williamson as ringmaster, at Paris Theater.
And Yet Another: “Inferno,” also at Paris Theater, starring flame-throwing magic man Joe Labero.
Residency Return to Root For: Paul Shaffer & The Shaf-Shifters.
And Another: “The Cocktail Cabaret,” no dates on the books after it closes at Cleopatra’s Barge on Saturday night.
And Yet Another: Anne Martinez’s “Alice,” which ended its run at Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort in September and remains in talks for new digs.
And One We’d Love to See: Postmodern Jukebox, which teased to such with an eight-show series at the Mirage in November.
Strip Magic Expansion Awards: To reigning “America’s Got Talent” champ Shin Lim, who reports he is to headline a Strip resort to be announced; and Hans Klok, in the renovated (and likely renamed) Thunder From Down Under Showroom room at Excalibur.
“Call” Time Award: Tegan Summer, who has twice moved back the re-launch of “Marilyn — The New Musical” for various reasons. We end the year awaiting announcements of a venue, a cast, an on-sale date, those sorts of pertinent details. But a showcase of the musical in New York on Dec. 19 indicated “Marilyn” still has a pulse.
The Elvis (And Friends) Have Left the Building Award: “Legends in Concert” announced with nary a warning in October it was bolting for Tropicana Theater, opening Feb. 13. The show has been running for 35 years on the Strip, the last five at Flamingo Las Vegas. Caesars Entertainment officials have offered no comment on the departure of the production show.
Golden Hammer Award: To fearless comic magician Mike Hammer, who nails it (hah) regularly at Four Queens.
The Suspense Award: Donny and Marie Osmond, who have left undetermined whether they will extend past their current 2019 schedule at Flamingo Las Vegas. Donny Osmond, star with an appreciably sly sense of humor, has said as much in a TV interview but nowhere else.
New Tune Award: Marie Osmond, introducing to the show the opera number “The Flower Duet,” accompanied by a video she has just finished recording.
Dubai Award: Tenors of Rock (Harrah’s) and Xavier Mortimer (Planet Hollywood), the first of a series of Caesars Entertainment headliners to play Caesars Bluewaters Dubai. Expect more Caesars Entertainment productions and headliners to play the Rotunda, the resort’s 500-seat entertainment venue. This strategy could be a big boost to shows and headliners at Caesars properties on the Strip.
Vintage Vegas Award: To David Perrico, hearkening to the days of Casbar Lounge at the Sahara with his roaring Pop Strings (preceded by Pop 40) performances at Cleopatra’s Barge. No cover, ever. No seats to be found, frequently.
Killer Original from a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Award: “This Will Be The Last Time,” by Righteous Brothers co-founder Bill Medley, with searing guitar work from John Wedemeyer. Catch that scene at Harrah’s Showroom.
Best Recurring Character: Pop the Magic Dragon, father of Flamingo headliner Piff the Magic Dragon, gleefully portrayed by a satin-suited Penn Jillette.
Stylish Sibling Award: Twin brothers Jonnie and Mark Houston of On The Record at Park MGM (tell them apart by their hats).
Headliner Residency of the Year: Queen + Adam Lambert. It helps that I’m a big — nay, huge — Queen fan. But this show was so bold, so expertly conceived, so generously staged — it rocked Park Theater every which way and is the gold (or, purple, in this instance) standard for headliner residencies.
Production Show of the Year: “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace, which might retire this sort of award. I understand every time the show is praised by the media, the Gazillionaire gives Wanda Widdles a quarter.
Congeniality Award: “Opium” at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which tightened its script and advanced its pace of specialty acts (the man-and-dog balancing act of Christian Stoinev and his dog Scooby is something to behold, as is Robert the Robot, who who reminds me so much of Harry M. Howie … ).
Entertainment Power Couple Hall of Famers: Clint Holmes and Kelly Clinton Holmes.
Vastly Underrated But So Good Award: “Zombie Burlesque,” with Enoch Augustus Scott spinning his magic at Club Z at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. Show just marked its fifth anniversary, and if you think that’s an easy achievement, try it.
Maverick Spirit of Las Vegas Award: Chris Phillips, entering his 13th year of bringing the party to Vegas.
Long Overdue Residency Award: James Taylor, finally setting up for 12 shows at the Colosseum at Caesars in April-May. His name has surfaced, a lot, over the years for such a series.
Master of Silverware Award: South Point Showroom performer Frankie Scinta, a one-man-band when he jams on the spoons.
Buoyancy Award: Hanoch Rosenn, producer of “Wow” at the Rio. As he says, “Doing a show in Las Vegas is like pulling a slot lever. But we expected that, and the show is doing better and better.”
Most Unexpected Campaign Announcement: Oscar Goodman dovetailed out of his Oscar’s Dinner Series Q&A at the Plaza to announce his wife, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, was running for re-election.
Maybe He Envisioned He Was Getting This Award: “Paranormal” star Frederic Da Silva, too long unappreciated in this space, frankly. He was the anchor of a jammed lineup at Windows Showroom through ’18, and is expected to continue there in ’19.
What Works In Vegas Award: Robbie Williams at Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas. He keeps selling tickets; AEG Live keeps adding dates. He’s not played an extended series, ever, on the Strip. It all starts in March 6.
Top Vegas Documentaries ’19: The untitled Amazing Johnathan documentary, in the upcoming Sundance Film Festival lineup; and “After The Screaming Stops,” the story of Mirage headliner Matt Goss and his twin brother, Luke Goss. Reading an array of reviews for this biopic, yet-unreleased in the U.S.
Cool Hang Hall of Fame: In NO particular order: Bootlegger Bistro/Copa Room; Tuscany Suites’ Piazza and Copa Room (yep, we have two); Italian American Club showroom and lounge; Myron’s Cabaret Jazz; Pia’s Place, starring Pia Zadora and Sonny Charles at Piero’s Italian Restaurant; The Space/The Back Space (love that smaller room); Dispensary Lounge on Trop and Eastern (burger specials and great jazz next to the waterwheel); Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at the Cosmopolitan with Skye Dee Miles and Mikalah Gordon; Rhythm & Riffs at Mandalay Bay (highlighted by local rockers Phoenix, and the songwriters’ show Nashville Unplugged starring Aaron Benward and Travis Howard); Le Cabaret at Paris Las Vegas; the Piano Bar at Harrah’s with Pete “Big Elvis” Vallee; Rush Lounge at Golden Nugget (where Rock This Town rocks this town); Double Down Saloon; Sand Dollar Lounge; Counts’ Vamp’d Rock club on West Sahara (especially when Franky Perez & The Truth headline); Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort; The Golden Tiki (where the live lineup always swings) on Spring Mountain Road in Chinatown; South Point Showroom/Grandview Lounge; 3rd Street Stage on Fremont Street; and the Barrymore at Royal Hotel.
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian and Palazzo.
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.