Sunday, July 22, 2018

We Do: A Chester Bennington Documentary

What happens to the millions of fans who are left behind when a rock star suddenly dies? About one year ago on July 20, 2017 Chester Bennington, who was lead singer of the internationally renowned band Linkin Park, committed suicide. 

Matthew Vinaja was one of the fans affected by Chester's death. In the intro to his documentary, We Do: A Chester Bennington Documentary, he talks about how after finding out about Chester's suicide he listened constantly to his music and drove himself crazy thinking about it. Matthew said what helped him most was talking to other fans. "An idea then came to me. I decided to make a documentary. Not about Linkin Park, or even about Chester Bennington, but about the fans." Matthew chose five of Chester's fans who were brave enough to share their stories of the effect his death has had on them. 

I have never followed Linkin Park, and could only ever name one or two of their songs, but after watching this documentary I understand their music so much better that I am now also a fan.

We Do: A Chester Bennington Documentary

The five fans featured in We Do are Andy Cool, Mary Winning, Kristine Escobedo, Phil Donney, and Adrienne McQueen, (who is also Executive Producer). In it they talk about what it was like to find out about the tragic suicide of a musician that they loved, felt close to and whose lyrics got them through some of their life's darkest times. "I screamed like I've never heard myself scream," says Adrienne, "The first thing I thought was this has to be a hoax," said Phil. "I just kept thinking the real news will come out soon," added Andy.

About the days that followed and it sunk in that Chester was gone Phil had this to say, "There's a lot of different factors that go into not only mourning a celebrity but mourning someone whose committed suicide so there's that anger and resentment to it." Adrienne added, "I felt really sick. I couldn't really speak to a lot of people, especially people who didn't really understand me." Mary couldn't really work so she browsed the internet trying to figure out how and why he could do it. Andy pissed off friends because he was all over the place emotionally. "It felt like we were all sort of thrown into this macro grieving process together," added Phil.

In We Do, the fans also talk about how it felt to listen to Linkin Park's music after losing Chester.
Grieving fans from We Do: A Chester Bennington Documentary

A variety of memorials followed Chester's death. Each of the five fans in the documentary attended at least one of them, some of them two or three. "I attended one in Berlin, my hometown." Mary said. Andy helped organize and performed at the one in L.A. and in Las Vegas. Adrienne attended three, including the one in Las Vegas at Club Tattoo, where she also performed. (I also attended the one in Las Vegas. Adrienne is a long time friend of mine, and I had never before seen her this devastated by the loss of an artist, so I showed up to support her.)

To me, the most meaningful part of We Do is when the fans talk about how much the LP Family means to them.  What started out as random Linkin Park fans turning to each other for comfort became a source for meaningful friendships and an ad hoc support group for those mourning the loss of the band's front man. "I'm very happy they're out there and I've met them and they understand, says Adrienne.  Kristine adds "Without this community I think I'd be lost. When I was down they brought me right back up." 

In the documentary the fans also share their advice for others on how to handle the loss of a favorite musician or artist, and speak about what helped them get through theirs.

Near the end of We Do, Matthew sums it up with this message, "Chester told us the one thing that can't be defeated is love. We have to make him proud by continuing supporting each other, loving each other and inspiring each other. We're all in this together."

We Do: A Chester Bennington Documentary Link below

https://vimeo.com/2807837 We Do: A Chester Bennington Documentary


Copyright Anna Wendt 2018  

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Michelle Johnson's Salute to the Great Singer-Songwriters

Michelle Johnson performed her "Salute to the Great Singer-Songwriters" last Friday night at Myron's Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center.

I've known Michelle for a few years now. We met when I first wrote about her as part of an ensemble cast in "Divorce Party" at Bally's. She is multi-talented and always involved in a lot of different things, but I've noticed recently she seems to have zeroed in on singing as her main focus. 


After kicking off the show and opening song, This Is It by Kenny Loggins, Michelle dealt with a wardrobe malfunction by joking about it and moving on.

She then went on to talk about some of the singer-songwriters that inspired her from a young age like James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, and Carole King. This was followed by her especially poignant version of Both Sides Now

Michelle shared that she also has written a lot of her own songs. Recently, after playing a few for Grammy Award Winning Producer Kamau Kenyatta he encouraged her to record them, and so they are now working on an album of her originals. She then sat down at the piano to play and sing one of these songs. It was a touching ballad about being "All In."


Michelle Johnson Myron's Cabaret Jazz photo by Ira Kuzma

During the show she also sang one of my favorite Joni Mitchell numbers Big Yellow Taxi, while weaving in a little scat here and there. I was pleased Michelle also included Tracy Chapman, who is someone I personally never hear enough of. The song was Fast Car, which we all know is not really a song about a car but about getting out of a rut and changing the direction of one's future.

One of the highlights of the show and most enjoyable renditions of a song I've ever heard was Serve Somebody by Bob Dylan. Michelle did this as a what I can only describe as a disco gospel style, and with the band and backup singers, it was the best blend of all of the onstage talent of the night!

Michelle has worked with many well known singer-songwriters over the years. Near the end of the show she talked about one time in particular when she sang Hey Jude at the Hollywood Bowl as part of an All Star fundraiser with none other than Paul McCartney. She told this story intermittently while singing the song. It all built up to a beautiful climax and the audience seemed to love it, as did I.  

Michelle Johnson's next show, "Tapestry Unraveled," which is a tribute to Carole King will be back at Myron's Cabaret Jazz on November 18, 2018

Michelle Johnson's Tribute to Singer-Songwriters
Musical Director Jeff Neiman
Singers Gret Menzies Gonzalez, 
Jassen Allen, Jolana Sampson-Adamson
Band Pablo Gadda, Walter Jones, Don Meoli

 

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Cocktail Cabaret Celebrates 100th Performance

I've been a fan of "The Cocktail Cabaret" since it opened last winter. The show is cabaret style with a touch of modern flair and has a start time of 6pm, which makes it the perfect kick off to an evening out in Las Vegas.

Before the 100th performance celebration of the show Friday night I was chatting with Derek and Hailey, a couple from Kansas seated at our table with us. Hailey said to me "I told Derek I wanted to do something tonight we've never done, and we've never been to a cabaret show, so I chose this."

For those like Hailey who are not familiar, a cabaret show is one usually performed by an ensemble that involves song, dance and banter in an intimate venue. When talking before the show with host and performer Eric Jordan Young I asked what he likes most about performing in "The Cocktail Cabaret" and he said, "Actually the whole show in its entirety because many people don't know what cabaret style is, that it's audience interactive, and we get to show them that."

L to R Philip Fortenberry, Daniel Emmet, Niki Scalera, Keith Thompson, Maren Wade, Eric Jordan Young  Photo credit: Ross Kyker Photo

The show starts with a rousing performance of the original song "Cocktail Cabaret." Written by Keith Thompson, the song sets the tone and brands this show as its own unique production and much more than a night of cabaret style compositions of popular hits. After that Maren Wade slinks onstage and into her slow tempo version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, followed by another original from Thompson, The Man at the Piano which is an interactive duet with Philip Fortenberry and Daniel Emmet (a current season contestant on "America's Got Talent").

The next highlight for me was the duet with Young and Emmet of Now or Never which becomes a bit competitive between the two, but don't worry it's all part of the act! By the time Niki Scalera lifts her bedazzled arm high to launch into her chilling version of Diamonds are Forever, the audience is fully engaged in this production for the remaining of the 19 songs and medleys; some even breaking into mid show spontaneous standing ovations. After one of Daniel Emmet's songs where he went back and forth between English and Italian lyrics, Hailey leaned over to me and said, "He just brought tears to my eyes."

By the time the show was nearing the end with a dynamic rendition of Raise Your Glass, our table of four was in high spirits. After exchanging contact information with our new friends, my husband and I headed out of the venue and on to the rest of the evening carrying with us the bubbly energy of "The Cocktail Cabaret."

"The Cocktail Cabaret" was created by the founders of PK Entertainment, Keith Thompson ("Jersey Boys," "The Composer's Showcase") and Philip Fortenberry, (award winning pianist with multiple Broadway credits). The band is Josh Jones, Don Meoli and Eric Tewalt. It runs about 70 minutes with no intermission in the 150 seat floating Cleopatra's Barge lounge at Caesars Palace. Wednesdays - Saturdays 6pm




 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

NHL Awards and NHL Gaming World Championship 2018

The 2018 NHL Awards will air live on June 20 from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on NBCSN and Sportsnet at 5pm PT/8pm ET. Las Vegas has hosted the show several times.

I'm working as a Stand In again this year for some of the presenters and nominees. I can't believe it was only a year ago that Las Vegas created our new team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights by way of the NHL Expansion Draft, which was televised live during the 2017 NHL Awards. It made the show especially exciting to be a part of.

Little did we know then that our new team would go all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals their first year and become the most successful expansion team in the history of professional sports!



Of the 12 NHL Awards being presented, four VGK Members are nominated. These include Players William Karlsson and Deryk Engelland, Coach Gerard Gallant and General Manager George McPhee. Let's hope all of them have an NHL Award to add to their accomplishments this past season!

Many of us here in Las Vegas will always appreciate the National Hockey League for allowing us to have our first Major League Sports Team. It's been a wonderful addition to our city and has bonded our community in ways we didn't imagine a year ago.

There's another element that's brand new to the NHL Awards this year. The Inaugural NHL Gaming World Championship which was held earlier tonight at the new 30,000 square foot Allied ESports Arena at the Luxor Hotel and Casino here in Las Vegas. 

The winner was Erik Tammenpaa from Finland who was awarded the $50,000 prize after defeating United States player David Roebuck in a best-of-3 final. For those who may not know what this event is about, it's an NHL ESports Championship where players compete against others from all over the world in hockey video gaming in front of an audience of international fans.

First ever NHL Gaming World Champion Erik Tammenpaa



Friday, June 15, 2018

Little by Little...Catching up with Rich Little

Here in Las Vegas Rich Little performs his show at the Tropicana's Laugh Factory three days a week. I checked out Rich Little Live in Las Vegas the other night, and had a chance to chat with him a bit afterwards.

Because he's been performing for over 50 years most people know him best from specials like the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. This was the case for me and my siblings. We'd sit cross legged in our pajamas in front of the TV with our parents and watch him impersonate and mingle with celebrities and presidents while we giggled over his witty impressions, jokes and banter. The other night after his show my sister said to me "That's how I knew who so many American Presidents were, from Rich Little's impersonations. He was the only one who made politicians interesting to me as a kid!"

Rich Little, Las Vegas June 2018
When writing about a performer such as Rich Little it's tempting to share a lot of their life stories and accomplishments. But then the article can end up looking like a Wikipedia page. So I'll just concentrate on his current show. 

I like the Laugh Factory venue for him because it's a classic comedy club with an intimate stage and seating. There's no real separation between Little and the audience which makes the experience feel warm and personal.

The show starts promptly at 7pm as he is introduced by a distant voice. There's no pre-show video or warm up act. He just walks in the room like an uncle showing up for dinner with a gentle smile.

Then he proceeds to talk about his career interwoven with impressions of the comedy legends, presidents and entertainers he's worked with over the years. This includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dean Martin, Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis and so many more. This is augmented with video, audio and even his own sketches of his subjects; all of which add a rich dimension to his intimate production. He doesn't brag about his career but rather amuses, entertains and enlightens. I never sensed a big ego, or if he has one he doesn't bring it to the performance. Rich Little's show is the perfect blend of impressions, jokes and storytelling.

It's surreal to experience some of these celebrities that Little does because it's more than an impersonation; that he perfected long ago. It's how he captures the essence of his subjects, which is not easy because it's not a tangible factor that can be used in studying a person and how to emulate them. In this way he's really an actor first, impersonator second, and that's what I like the most about him. 

During the show he commented on how quiet we were at times as an audience and joked if we were even awake, but it was just that we were listening intently. After all it's when the audience is restless that one should worry!

Me, Rich Little, Karen Wendt
Afterwards I asked him which president he liked impersonating the most and he said "Oh Ronald Reagan. He had the best sense of humor of them all. Ronald Reagan told me my impersonations of him were so good that one day when he dies they'll probably bury me instead!

I bought his book Little by Little: People I've Known and Been, and asked him to sign it to give to my father but ended up reading it myself too. It's both parts funny and poignant. He shares insights into show business and some legendary people that only someone with his experience and perspective can.


Rich Little Live in Las Vegas at the Tropicana