Monday, April 13, 2015

The Set List

Remember albums? Oh I know they're still around in digital and CD form but these days many people just buy individual hits instead of entire albums so they never actually hear all of the songs their favorite artists record. 

So I was intrigued when I saw there was an upcoming series of performances called The Set List, to be held at Vinyl at Hard Rock Hotel. Three highly revered Las Vegas based female vocalists and various members of the Blue Man Group's band were planning to perform an entire album from start to finish, and that was the whole basis of the show. 

The Set List vocalists Cian Coey, Rockie Brown, Anne Martinez & Niki Scalera   Photo by Richard Brusky

To kick off this series they chose Alanis Morissette's  "Jagged Little Pill," a Grammy Award winning and internationally acclaimed album originally released in 1995. 

"Jagged Little Pill is not just a great rock album. There are these really huge and impactful songs on there that deal with everything from religion to politics to women in ugly relationships." 
 -Niki Scalera, on The Morning Blend

Niki Scalera, Photo by Richard Brusky
The show opened with Broadway and Las Vegas Philharmonic performer Niki Scalera belting out "What I Really Want."....During this opening track I sensed the singers and band really got what this album is about. Their interpretation was true to the style of the music and meaning of Alanis' compilation but with more of a funk rock version than the original.

Next up was Anne Martinez with "You Oughta Know," a song about the aftermath of being tossed aside by the love of your life. Best known as a Hard Rock resident artist and lead singer of Jubilee, Anne conveyed powerful vocals and a balance between angst and anger, with a rock 'n' roll Shakira style vibe.

Anne Martinez, Photo by Richard Brusky
Local rock star Cian Coey then took her turn with the ballad, "Perfect." Her voice has a rock opera style which I love, poignant but strong. She then segued into "Hand in my Pocket,"...harmonica and all. This song resonated with me when I first moved west 20 years ago, leaving my life behind in search of a new one.

Then they all joined together for "Right Through You." Niki next railed through "Forgiven," then the trio shared "Ironic," taking turns with some of the verses.

Cian Coey by Richard Brusky
Toward the end of the production singer Rockie Brown showed up, and blew us away with "Uninvited." Finishing the show just like the album, all four ladies brought it home with a stunning a cappella version of "You Oughta Know."

I spoke with Andrew Wright, who created and directs this series and he told me....."The Set List is my new baby and so far has been a great experience. Audiences get to hear some of the greatest albums performed live in their entirety by top performers from the Las Vegas strip. The performers get to be creative and have fun with the albums we all grew up on, and the events raise money for Vegas Valley based charities. We’re able to go back to our roots and immerse ourselves in why we love music. Our musical director is Vincent Verderame from The Blue Man Group."

As for me, I loved The Set List, and the mix of talent, execution and spontaneity. What's next for the series? It's July 9th, Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet," in its entirety.

The Set List is presented by

A portion of the proceeds on April 8 benefited Shade Tree, 
"Sheltering Women, Children & their Pets"

Anna Wendt Copyright 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Raiding the Rock Vault Two Years Later

Everyone loves a success story, especially a Rock 'n' roll one!

In March of 2013 I was invited to a preview of a new show called Raiding the Rock Vault

It was made up of rock musicians and vocalists that had toured the world for separate bands who had come together to form their own show. Based on the history of Rock 'n' roll from the late 60's to early 90's, the format included cover songs performed by true Rock 'n' roll veterans. 

It was intriguing to me, the concept of a production built around classic rock using a super group.  But I wondered could the show stick and actually make it here in Las Vegas as a permanent act? 

I soon had my answer and it was good news. The show blew me a-w-a-y. I knew they had tapped into something very special. Raiding the Rock Vault was a hit with audiences and critics from the very first performance!

The cast of Raiding the Rock Vault...(Oh the stories they could tell!)....Photo by Erik Nielsen

It takes a huge amount of talent, hard work, sweat and luck to create a show from scratch and have it succeed enough to stay open, much less rise to the top and stay there like these guys have. For Raiding the Rock Vault it has been a successful and steady but sometimes uncomfortable behind the scenes climb up the Las Vegas entertainment ladder. 

Really, nothing else could have been expected with a new show, especially one involving such unique and strong willed individuals with equal and high levels of talent. The performers have all stayed relevant and working in the business for decades, like real life Rock 'n' roll warriors. A couple of them didn't gel as part of the cast early on and were replaced with just as talented artists, usually friends of current cast members. Maybe Raiding the Rock Vault is better for it...there's no complacency. The show must go on and it DOES.

Last week as they approached their second anniversary I decided it was time to check out the show again. This was my fourth time seeing RTRV but my first time since they moved into their new home this past fall, the Tropicana Theater at the Tropicana Hotel & Casino. 

Upon first entering the scarlet colored theater I loved the large, modern, comfy seats. There's table and booth seating the first three rows but then theater style for the rest. The bar inside the venue is just behind the last row of seats and is a great set up for the party that is this show.

Tropicana Theater,
In the new venue I noticed the plot from the original act is different and the music is now more the focus. At two hours long it does not have an intermission but instead when there's no live music there are short comedic skits using two actors, which are fun but also provide just enough time to get up and get a drink or something without the interruption of an actual intermission. I like this approach.

Other than that little has changed, which is good, if you ask me. It seems they kept what resonated the most with audiences, great classic rock performed by world class talents. Maybe the reason the show is such a hit with almost everyone who sees it is not just the talent but also the premise. Rock 'n' roll reminds us that we can shout, sing, dance, speak up, be different, enjoy life, and party but still be part of the daily establishment that many of us have such a love/hate relationship with.

Jay Schellen, Drums
Overall though what makes me a fan the most is the cast give of themselves and it's palpable. Although the performers of RTRV are unique in their careers in most ways they are no different than the rest of us. They've got families to take care of, mortgages to pay, they probably worry about getting older, we all do. I know they're working during the show and we're not, but they don't make it seem that way at all, and I love them for it. For two hours, six nights a week at the Tropicana Theater the audience can put everything aside and we are all as one, singing and thrusting our fists in the air like teenagers do when only the moment they're currently having matters.  We're experiencing again an era just before cell phones and the internet. The world will never go back to that, and it shouldn't, but to visit it once in awhile is a beautiful thing, like Rock 'n' roll therapy.

Michael T. Ross, Keyboards
I think I can speak for many of us when I say we feel a kinship with Robin, Doug, Paul, Howard, and the others. We knew of them decades ago as their music wafted through our car stereos, out of our giant stereo speakers, our boomboxes, then on CD players before iPods and streaming. Now we all meet again, older, wiser, survivors of young adulthood, or maybe middle aged or headed for it we are all still looking for a little fun and escape and believing some of the best of life is still ahead.

For the younger ones many of them know the music because it's classic rock, Boston, AC/DC, Queen, the Rolling Stones. They've heard it their whole lives at barbeques, NFL and NBA Games, on classic rock stations and YouTube. Some have even performed the songs themselves in their own fledgling garage bands. RTRV appeals to all ages because there's a spirit in classic rock that this show embodies.

So, what has Raiding the Rock Vault accomplished in their two years so far in Las Vegas?....

Raiding the Rock Vault was voted "Best Musical of 2014" in the Las Vegas Review Journal's annual Best of Las Vegas readers poll.*

Eighteen months after their debut RTRV left their former off strip venue and took up residency on the Las Vegas strip, at the Tropicana Theater.

The RTRV cast recorded and released two albums on CD and iTunes, "Songs from the Vault Volume I" and then "Songs from the Vault Volume II."

RTRV was voted one of the top attractions out of hundreds in Las Vegas by Trip Advisor members within the first year of opening, and are still rated in the top five today.

Almost every review of Raiding the Rock Vault on is five stars.

To sum it up, Raiding the Rock Vault combines Rock 'n' roll theater with world class talent performing timeless songs. 

* It was announced on 3/29 that RTRV just won "Best Musical of 2015" as well!

Photos courtesy of ERIK NIELSEN

Raiding the Rock Vault Line up includes some or all of this cast on any given night...Howard Leese, Doug Aldrich, Robin McAuley, Paul Shortino, Jay Schellen, Andrew Freeman, Michael T. Ross, Hugh McDonald, Mark Boals, Carol-Lyn Liddle and Stephanie Calvert....Note: The night I saw the show Jason Boyleston substituted for Howard Leese and Uriah Duffy for Hugh McDonald. In my opinion they both fit in well with the show and the cast.

Actors and Dancers...Ryan Mueller, Sarah Jessica Rhodes, Christine Richards


Rock Vault fan? Check out my previous articles about the journey of Raiding the Rock Vault:

Rock Vault Reloaded...Hollywood Underdog August 20, 2014 

Raiding the Rock Vault...again!...Hollywood Underdog, May 1 2014

Raiding the Rock Vault really strikes a chord....March 24, 2013

Copyright 2015 Anna Wendt

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Healthy Menu Means Happy Customers

Several years ago I got a job that required me to travel a lot. Just over a month into it I’d gained almost ten pounds! This was how I learned about the extra fat, calories and other additives restaurant meals can have in comparison to the ones I made at home. 

However the good news is that since then the restaurant industry has been picking up on the fact that many, like me, would probably dine out more if offered healthier entrees. In addition, a growing number of Americans are seeking menu choices that are non GMO, Organic, and also Vegetarian and Vegan.

Nine in 10 restaurant operators say their guests are more knowledgeable about food than they used to be and pay more attention to food quality than just two years ago. Healthier options are now at the top of the list of what consumers consider when choosing a restaurant, according to the National Restaurant Association. Followed by Eco-friendly dining, Technology, Quality Innovative Food, Local Foods, Ethnic Options and Mobile Options. In addition, research shows that about a third of all adults have gone online to get nutrition data on restaurant food. 

El Dorado Cantina Las Vegas...A Non GMO Restaurant
In relation to healthy eating, one of the terms most of us have heard is “non GMO,” especially in the past few years. What does non GMO mean? Non GMO Food is food that is not genetically modified from its original source.

One of the restaurants I recently checked out that promotes its healthy and Non GMO menu is the casual but upscale authentic Mexican restaurant, El Dorado Cantina here in Las Vegas. A large part of their menu includes entrees that are GMO-free and Organic, as well as some unique Vegetarian and Vegan choices.  To find out more about how a Non GMO establishment is different, I spoke with El Dorado Cantina Co-Owner Darin Feinstein.

“We believe strongly that sustainably-raised products are of superior quality, and we offer exclusively products from carefully-selected U.S. farms that are free of antibiotics, pesticides and steroids.”  -Darin Feinstein, Co-Owner of El Dorado Cantina

The restaurant is in its first year of operations so I asked Darin how it was different setting up a Non GMO restaurant compared to a traditional one. He told me that it took a little longer than it did for his previous restaurants to locate and set up relationships with suppliers, organic farmers and the like, but once those relationships were in place, the system operated smoothly. 

I also asked him what is unique about the menu at El Dorado Cantina. He said, “Our menu shares information with the consumer such as who our supplier farms are. Also, there’s a symbol next to each entrée on our menu that tells you if it is or can be prepared to be Gluten free, Vegetarian, or Vegan!” Darin went on to say, “Non GMO foods are healthier and often times better tasting than Genetically Modified Choices."


As for my own personal experience with the menu, two items I enjoyed from the small bites section of the menu were Shrimp Taquitos, (Pacific wild shrimp wrapped in fresh corn tortillas, topped with, chipotle ranch dressing, roasted morita salsa, queso fresco & fresh, guacamole), and Aguachiles, (Pacific wild shrimp in lime juice & rich spices with cucumber, cilantro, red onions & chiles, served ceviche style with house tortilla chips). Both of these items by Chef Paco, (a native of Mexico City),  were flavorful beyond my expectations. The shrimp taquitos were what a taquito should be, (but seldom is) light, tasty and fresh, and the Aguachiles item was modified to contain no onions per my request.

I also noticed the El Dorado Cantina beverage choices include a variety of cocktails of course, but also a selection of non-alcoholic fresh juices like Horchata and seasonal fruit drinks such as Tamarind, Hibiscus, Mango and more.  I wish I’d see more of this out there because I don’t think a drink has to contain alcohol to be an exotic drink. 

As for me, I will be expanding my dining horizons to include more Non GMO restaurants like El Dorado Cantina. 

To locate restaurants and retail shops like this in your city a good source is, a listing of thousands of local, organic and sustainable proprietors.

Anna Wendt Copyright 2014

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Do it on spec!

"I was so passionate about telling this story that I wrote 
the screenplay on spec, in other words for free!" 

- Graham Moore, Screenwriter of The Imitation Game

During a recent screening in Las Vegas for the film, one of tonight's Oscar winners Graham Moore told us about his experience writing the screenplay for such an important story.

Allen Leech & Graham Moore, Vegas industry screening, "The Imitation Game"
For those who haven't yet seen The Imitation Game, it's about Alan Turing, a young computer scientist who invented a machine that broke the Nazi's secret Enigma code used during World War II. Although he is credited with being instrumental in ending the war, eight years later he was arrested by the British for being a homosexual. This led to his eventual suicide in 1954.

Here is what Graham Moore told us during a Q & A after the screening.

"His story, it all seems so unbelievable but it's not. Alan Turing did all of this, but because he was gay was prosecuted like a criminal which ultimately resulted in his suicide. We should be celebrating those who are different and what they offer. I went to Space Camp and computer camps as a kid. I was a nerd. During this time I learned about Alan Turing and it made a big impact on me" 

When asked how he was selected to write this screenplay he said, "My only writing credits previous to this were two shorts and one television episode. I was at a dinner party and I met a woman there who told me she had optioned a book about Alan Turing. I told her I would love to write the screenplay and was so excited I offered to do it on spec. My wild enthusiasm I think actually scared her! But they let me do it and in the end they liked the script and so we made the movie and of course I got paid then. It has been wonderful to be nominated for awards but it's most important to me that I was able to help tell the story of this brilliant and courageous man."

Moving on to tonight's Oscars, the passion for sharing the story of someone who is different was evident in Graham's emotional acceptance speech for the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay

He said...."I tried to commit suicide when I was 16 and now I am standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn't fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass this message along."

I think there is another helpful lesson in Graham Moore's experience with this film, which is  the fact that he wrote it on spec. Many times when we want to do something whether it be write, act, sing, launch a business or a head in a new career direction we wait for someone else to give us an opportunity. But we don't have to wait. We can just do it ourselves.

In the process of creating and learning the opportunities will arise to forward our path. Will they all lead to something big? No, but some will and perhaps lead us to our goal or help us realize it's something else we want. As for me I know he's right because I have done this with a few different things in my life. The most recent being my blog. Nobody is paying me to do it. However, several opportunities have arisen from it that have accelerated my artistic and professional growth.

Stay different, stay weird and do it on spec. Thanks Graham and congratulations on your Oscar!
Cast of "The Imitation Game"

If you like Graham Moore you may enjoy his debut novel "The Sherlockian," which was a NY Times best seller.

Copyright 2015 Anna Wendt

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

You need a vacation!

Definition of "vacation"

A period of time devoted to pleasure, rest, or relaxation. Peetz

I'm the "vacation pusher". Why?... Because I am always encouraging friends, family and associates to take that MUCH needed vacation or "staycation" every year.

My own example of this would be a Caribbean Cruise in 2005. My husband and I were both so busy and stressed, we don't even remember the first two days on the ship! I think we slept the whole time. Seven days later we resembled ourselves again. A friend had encouraged us to go on that cruise. He didn't realize what a favor that was. So, since then I know!

Minimum Vacation Time Around the World, Legally Required by Country, (

28 days      Australia    ....Good for you, mates!

35 days      Austria      ....They need it, they're still getting over how they got sucked into WWII  

10 days      Canada      ....No kidding, that's why you're all so darn friendly!

6 weeks      Denmark    ...So that's why they all look 19

5 weeks       France      ... This is why "French Women Don't Get Fat"*

20 days       Hungary     ....Glad to see they are "hungry" to experience life!

20 days        Ireland       ....20 days to be the life of the pub.....and walk the hills of green velvet

18 days        Japan        .....One of the highest life expectancy rates on the planet

25 days        Norway      ....Because some days it's just too hard to get out of bed with frozen toes

30 days        Spain         .....Learn to "salsa" in 30 days or less!

28 days        Sweden     ....  Here's to you, the originators of my family tree

28 days        Switzerland....  Known for being a "stoic" country, even they "get it"  

None            United States ....Highest rate of divorce, crime, obesity and vehicle deaths on this list

I love our country but too many of us are over stressed, over worked, over spent, over weight, and yet, "under" happy. For the sake of your overall health and quality of life, take a break. The world won't stop turning!

Show yourself and your children that there is more to life than work...

Don't be a hamster on a treadmill.

Lastly, even if you can't get time off make it a "vacation at home". Order take out, get a foot massage, don't do the dishes, (ok just do the really gross ones), have a picnic, take a bubble bath, play video games until you fall over, call your friends, watch 47 episodes of Grey's Anatomy, visit a long lost friend, play an old record or CD, have sex, roll in the grass, play tag, ride your bike, see a movie by yourself...........

This is a re-post of what was one of my more popular blog articles. Still as relevant today, in fact, even more so!

*Author: Mireille Guilan,

Anna Wendt Copyright 2012