Updated April 9, 2019 - 6:38 pm
It was, in a phrase, complete Kaos.
The opening weekend of Kaos at the Palms was a lot like the 60-foot statue “Demon With a Bowl” that towers over the middle of the entertainment fortress’s dayclub: Imposing, impressive, overwhelming … certainly a place to lose your head.
What Palms has achieved is a total handful. Taken independently, the hotel’s art program, new restaurants and new entertainment complexes could be digested comparatively easily.
But Station Casinos threw it all at the public in a single, unbroken, three-day spree. Sunday seemed like the zombie apocalypse, with EDM as the soundtrack.
It was all so overwhelming. One moment you were gazing at Bansky’s “Smiley Coppers Panel” art piece in Greene St. Kitchen, then you were facing a line of sushi sample at Bobby Flay’s Shark restaurant, then feeling your way to the dayclub to catch Marshmello.
I actually enjoyed the night and day sets from the masked DJ phenom, who is to EDM what the Unknown Comic was to stand-up comedy generations ago (I’m of the theory that Mello could enlist multiple performers to wear his bucket, similar to how Blue Man Group has trained and painted dozens of Blue Men).
A great move, too, was booking the Pearl Theater with headliners over the weekend. Alicia Keys is always a great time, even when the set list seems short. I didn’t see Cardi B’s 4 a.m. show at Kaos Nightclub (next time, maybe package her appearance with a brunch at Green St.), nor did I catch Zac Brown Band on Sunday night. Like a weary prizefighter, I simply lost my legs, and I’m sure many folks who wanted to see Brown open the Kaos Concert Series felt the same way.
In all, it was just a lot — I mentioned to a friend as I left Thursday’s industry night opener, “They have their hands full here.”
Between 8,000 and 12,000 people hit the hotel during each night of the festivities. The challenges, as always, are to make sure the basics are covered — that people are where they are supposed to be, entrances and exits are clearly defined, spaces are clean, parking is organized, staff is prepped to answer such questions as, “Where is the ride-share pickup?”
But I can tell you this, I believe general manager Jon Gray and his team will match the expectations set by opening weekend. This is far from Gray’s first adventure opening a hotel or managing the masses. As Gray said in his ever-entertaining Instagram feed, “A little over two years ago I had the opportunity to meet with Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. We discussed a vision for the future Palms. It was an incredible and ambitious vision. I knew with the right team and right partners we could deliver that vision.”
As I worked through that crush of humanity, I was reminded of a massive opening in November 2001, when a hotel was nearly overwhelmed by revelers to check out the Cardi B of the moment. She was Paris Hilton, sashaying through the scene wearing a dress covered with $1 million worth of poker chips. The casino was the Palms, which like its stellar statue, is flexing its muscles once more.
A tented epilogue
The abrupt closing of “Fuerza Bruta” after a five-week run at Excalibur on Sunday night has touched off a conversation across the entertainment community. Vegas Unfiltered blogger and fellow scenester Sam Novak was a major fan of the show and was in the mix of debate last week.
I dug the show, too. “Fuerza Bruta’s” closing, five months short of its six-month residency, bought to mind the production’s opening night on March 6. I came away from that show with some hard, clear thoughts about the production:
I had not seen a show so well prepared for its opening as “Fuerza Bruta.” This was not an instance where a show was closing because it was rushed to the stage before it was ready for prime time (“Marilyn – The New Musical” is the best recent example of that concern). Instead, “Fuerza Bruta” was locked and loaded for its premiere and performed it flawlessly.
Also, I coundn’t shake the thought that “Fuerza Bruta” was the type of show hotels once gave away as an amenity for guests — casinos would run it at 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 p.m. Funnel the crowds through as a way to promote the ExCal specifically, and MGM Resorts International uniformly. The effort would be similar as “The Show in the Sky,” which ran at the Rio for 16 years, ending in March 2013.
Sadly, unless you are maximizing the free-media value of the Bellagio Fountains, such innovative marking strategies are a relic of a bygone era.
As I walked out of opening, I ran into “Show in the Sky” producer Blair Farrington, who was also blown away by the performance. We had a lengthy conversation about what we’d just seen. Artistically, the show was a difficult sell (obscure title, difficult to describe, standing-only for ticket holders), but was certainly great enough to merit a long run to find its audience.
“Fuerza Bruta” was, if nothing else, a social media bonanza. The dancers swimming across the watery stage above the crowd were breathtaking. So was the white-suited gentleman running at full sprint on a conveyor belt as table settings whizzed by.
But it takes more than four weeks to gain traction through social media or word of mouth on the Strip.
For evidence of how a large-scale show has managed to carve a long run in Vegas, look no further than the Rio’s “WOW.” Creator and director Hanoch Rosenn did not panic at the real challenges facing that show, which, similar to “Fuerza Bruta,” is aimed at families and boasts a big cast performing specialty acts.
Yet by adjusting ticket prices to ride out slow periods and tracking when the room is busy (for this show, it was its first holiday season), “WOW” has managed an 18-month run at an off-Strip hotel. Rosenn has devised slick video booklets, showing the show’s difficult-to-describe scenes, for concierges to hand out across town. A version of “WOW” also played Caesars Bluewaters Dubai in February and March.
The lessons of “Fuerza Bruta” are simple and should be noted by any producer hoping to run a show in this city: Understand the realities of doing business in Las Vegas; be prepared to operate at a loss for several months (say, three at least); and be patient.
“Fuerza Bruta” appreciated none of this, and a production that was great enough to enjoy long-term success closed five months before its residency was to end. It was the right show, but with the wrong plan, for this city.
What is left is a lesson for any show coming to town (I am eager for an update on when the tented stage show “Celestia” will actually open at the Strat) and a venue outside ExCal that will stand at least through September.
That tent is a lingering monument to how not to do business on the Strip, and a show that deserved a better fate.
Supermodel/actress Christie Brinkley opens “Chicago,” playing Roxie Hart, at The Venetian Theater on Wednesday. During our interview last month for PodKats!, Brinkley recalled running into Muhammad Ali in New York a few weeks prior to Ali’s comeback bout with Larry Holmes at Caesars Palace, on Oct. 2, 1980.
Brinkley was a huge fight fan, and this bout was the talk of the sports world. She rushed up to Ali and asked for tickets.
“I’d love to get on the apron, if possible, to take some pictures!” she said.
Not quite. But the famed Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model had front-row seats and snapped away. Afterward, devastated at Ali’s loss, Brinkley was crying at the Caesars fountains when she spied promoter Don King walking past. She walked a few feet behind King and snuck into the post-fight party.
Inside, Brinkley wound up being interviewed by a sports-radio show, showing off her boxing knowledge, which started a stretch where she was correspondent for Ring magazine. She took photos at such fights as the Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran “No Mas” bouts and those featuring Marvis Frazier, Tommy Hearns and Wilfred Benitez.
“I knew the tale of the tape, everything about the fights,” Brinkley said. “It was pretty impressive.”
Another Holmes encounter
Longtime Vegas showman Clint Holmes headlined at Birdland Jazz in New York Wednesday through Thursday. Last Tuesday, the night he arrived, Holmes dined at Primola Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s upper east side. He recognized the guy at the next table: Embattled former President Trump attorney Michael Cohen.
“When he left, hugged the waiters and maitre d’ like he wouldn’t be seeing them for a while.”
Cohen is scheduled to report to prison on May 6.
More from here
Meantime, Clint’s wife, Kelly Clinton-Holmes, and cohort Elisa Fiorillo (famous as Prince’s longtime backing singer) this week open “The First Ladies of Las Vegas Entertainment” Friday series at Alexis Park’s Pegasus Showroom, at 7 p.m. Frankie Scinta’s “One On One” storytelling/music appearances open at 7 p.m. Saturday. Good stuff if you want top talent in a cozy venue.
Cool Hang Alert
Lannie Counts, the popular, versatile and busy singer whose name is a full sentence, performs “The Best R&B Songs Ever Written” at 8 p.m. Friday at Italian American Club. Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Al Greene are sampled. The cost is $25, a mere pittance.
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.