Monday, November 13, 2017

How Retailers Can Make us "Go Shopping" Again

I am constantly reading about how brick and mortar retailers are going out of business due to internet retailers. "We can't compete, we can't compete," is their cry.

It seems that in the past several years very little has changed in the brick and mortar retail world, which is a big part of their problem. Here are some ideas that might get more of us away from online and back into on site.

Dressing room lighting.
For all clothing retailers from discount to department stores, please install pleasant lighting in your dressing rooms! Most of the time clothes that I buy and try on at the store actually look much better at home because the lighting was so harsh in the dressing room. This makes me wonder how many sweaters, jeans and dresses are tried on and not purchased by consumers because the lighting in the dressing room was so unflattering.  Also, please make the doors cover more than our middles. I don't enjoy walking through the dressing room seeing everyone's feet and sometimes their undergarments on the floor...and ouch those hard benches hurt! A little cushioning in the seating would be very much appreciated.

If you spend a little more to make the dressing rooms pleasant instead of an uncomfortable experience we just try to "get through," perhaps both women and especially men shoppers, (who most try to hurry through shopping as if they were on fire), would spend more time trying on and thereby buying clothes.

Don't charge us to park. 
We are coming to give you our money! With the sad state of shopping malls and department stores these days charging to park makes no sense to me. Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas gets this right. If you can't do it free like they do at least provide free parking validation with a minimum purchase. The idea is to get people into the malls again not send them to another retailer that doesn't charge to park or worse yet back home where they can "park" themselves on their sofa.

Fashion Show Mall Las Vegas offers free parking for all

Stop the pressure for store credit cards.
Trust me we know almost every retailer in the country has their own credit card, and yes we know we get a discount if we apply, thank you. No, we still don't want to apply, but thank you. No, REALLY we don't want to apply so stop constantly asking. This is one of the main reasons I avoid Target and other retailers who are especially guilty of this practice. Even when I'm spending a few dollars I get the credit card pitch multiple times. It's annoying and an invasion of privacy. No, I don't want to apply for a credit card when trying to buy Advil and bottled water at Target, and I don't want to "just apply anyway for the discount," as that lowers my credit score and I shouldn't have to explain that to the cashier, (as if they didn't know). I'm not getting on the cashiers case here because I feel bad for them having to hustle the customers constantly.

Macy's seems better about this since they've implemented their Plenti bonus program because they get something out of that, like our shopping history and habits, which is at least  fair trade for some discounts and points given in exchange to us. All of this pressure for store credit cards takes away from our enjoyment of shopping. Many times if I'm buying something that's easy to order online like bath towels I'll do that instead of going to the store and getting pressured at check out for a credit card. This is unfortunate for the retailers because when I physically go to a store I usually buy more than just what I came there for.

Provide some seating.
It's a mobile world and we have to check our phones from time to time, return texts, emails etc. while shopping. If you would provide a small lounge or area with basic seating we would not have to leave to get things done. You could put up a sign saying "A 15 minute limit for seating is requested."...This would also  provide a place for our impatient husbands or teens to go so we have more time to shop when they want to leave and we're not ready. That extra time we spend at your store will sometimes result in us spending more but at the very least would make the experience more pleasant and somewhere we would all be more likely to return to. You could also provide a couple of computers with a link only to your site in case we can't find exactly the size or color we want on while at your location we could find out which one of your nearby stores has it. I have to do this on my phone sometimes and it's not always easy with the Wifi situation at some retailers and malls.

Sell drinks and snacks.
Many stores sell drinks and candy bars at check out as well as some department stores and I have to admit I've caved on that many times. At check out is too late though. Vending machines that are easy to locate (perhaps near my proposed seating area wink wink), would be better. Some water, energy drinks, and a few snacks would help us weary and hungry shoppers stay put. Nothing makes me quit shopping faster than getting hungry. My local Macy's makes that easy by having a Starbucks right inside the store!

Provide better quality.
Try not to put out so much merchandise that is Made in China. We know that quality on almost all clothing has decreased and we have come to accept a certain amount of that, but please remember when we're spending sometimes a lot of money on a supposed "designer" item we can tell when it's made cheaply. I know online retailers are guilty of this too, but you all need to shape up on this one, manufacturers, distributors and retailers alike.

Trust me when I say we still want to "go shopping." It's enjoyable to meet a friend for lunch and go shopping, or take our daughter to buy her first prom dress, select a gift for our friend's birthday, or go with our husband so he can  buy a suit for a friend's wedding. We really DON'T want to do everything online. Just try a little harder to keep up with the competition, (which is our living room), by making it easy and actually enjoyable for us to shop. We'll come back to those of you that do!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Wayne Newton...Up Close and Personal

Wayne Newton is one of those Vegas entertainers that us locals tend to take for granted. He's here, always has been and probably always will be, or so it seems.

Whenever I'd asked anyone if they'd seen Wayne Newton or Mr. Las Vegas (as he is known), perform, I always got the same answer from anyone who had, "Oh yes and he was wonderful, just so talented and charming!" Nobody had a bad word to say about  his act. I never forgot this because unfortunately I' d never gotten around to seeing him perform, even though he's been doing so his whole life.

So when he recently opened a new show at Bally's I made sure I was there. Wayne Newton - Up Close and Personal takes place at the newly renovated Windows Showroom. 

Wayne Newton playing one of his many instruments

This is the perfect venue for him. He's not trying to fill a huge theater anymore. Now is the time in his career to reflect and share with his audience in a personal way. This new show is a chance for him to sing a little, play a little, tell some stories and answer some questions. I like how he enters from the back of the room greeting everyone along the way, and has just a three piece band along with some multimedia and a special friend to support his story telling. The whole setup makes you feel like a special guest in his home.

Wayne starts out with the story of his life and how he saw Hank Williams perform at the Grand Ole Opry at age four and knew that that's exactly what he wanted to do. So he got started right away, singing at age five with his brother. Eleven years later they found themselves performing in Las Vegas as teens. This started his 60 years of performing in Nevada. 

He talks about being first produced by Bobby Darin, appearing on the Jackie Gleason Show,  touring with Jack Benny and of course performing with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin as a special guest.  He shares his experiences starring in  Bonanza, North and South and one of his best known roles (as himself) in Vegas Vacation. Oh, and to hear Wayne Newton sing Danke Schoen live is something nobody should miss!

His stories are not only interesting but provide insight into the world of a lifelong entertainer, and the many ups and downs this unique lifestyle can have along the way both personally and professionally. He has made some mistakes and some wrongs have also been done against him, but he's still out there showing us all how to thrive by focusing on doing what one does best. 

To see Wayne Newton do his show is to see someone at his most alive. If anyone was born to entertain he was, and it just pours out of him. The love and energy he brings to a room is magical. I have seen many shows and am a bit spoiled that way, but Wayne Newton truly enchanted me. 

Wayne Newton - Up Close and Personal is at Bally's Windows Showroom

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth...Round 2

During Mike Tyson's boxing days I never thought I'd someday be going to see him do a one man show in Vegas, and at a comedy club no less.

The former Heavyweight Boxing Champion Mike Tyson is back onstage with Undisputed Truth 2, which debuted here in Vegas earlier this month and is a sequel to his one man show from 2013. That show debuted in Las Vegas and went all the way to Broadway, then a TV Special and a book.

For this show he chose to open it at Brad Garrett's Comedy Club at MGM Grand. Mike Tyson enters the comedy stage differently than he entered his boxing matches. There's no flashy robe, shiny shorts or entourage. Just music, and then he appears onstage and introduces himself with humility.

"Iron Mike is dead. I'm a different person today."  - Mike Tyson

He immediately sets everyone at ease by talking about his recent "sports injury"...which consisted of falling off a hover board, an accident that led to back surgery. During his last show in 2013 he talked about his early days and how he got into boxing, how it saved him because at 13 years old without a dad and growing up in a rough neighborhood he'd already been arrested 38 times. He shared his past troubled relationships with women, drug use and the tragic death of his daughter.

His new show Undisputed Truth 2 is more about the history of his boxing career. He talks about the opponents he fought along the way, some of the more controversial things that happened outside the ring during that time, and about his friendships with late celebrities such as Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson. He also bemoans middle age and its impact on his life which he is becoming all too familiar with at age 51. He talks about regretting how he had embarrassed his kids with some of his actions and how he gained 100 lbs while in rehab joking "I'm an emotional eater."

One can tell that he's still working on this new material but that's what I like, the imperfect moments, the beginning stages of a show when the performer is finding his way. I would like to see this show again on one of the last dates here in town, to see how it's been fine tuned and how he's fine tuned his performance before he hits the road on tour to other cities.

While watching the audience react I heard a lot of laughter, but not always when Tyson expected it. Laughs or not everyone seemed to be listening intently. Someone like Mike Tyson will always be a curiousity to the average person even if not a boxing fan. He is someone who lived his professional dream. But on the other end of the spectrum he also fell far from the top to the very bottom, with drug abuse, prison and bankruptcy. Most of us wonder what this journey would be like, the extreme ups and downs.

These past several years like a true champ he has picked himself up and risen from the ashes to do what he can now, which is to entertain while being his rough, oddly sweet and comedically talented self. I love to see someone re-invent themselves, take chances and share with others so openly. What better way to take control of your own story than to tell it yourself? His show is worth your money and time.

Word is there's a movie in the works about his life that will star Jamie Foxx and be directed by Martin Scorsese. Also check out his cartoon series Mike Tyson Mysteries.

Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth 2
Brad Garrett's Comedy Club at MGM Grand
Through Nov. 20th 2017

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

My First Movie Role Killed Me

I can't believe it has been 20 years since my very first movie role. I was playing the part of a girl who follows a celebrity out of an autograph signing and then is immediately afterwards killed in a car accident. This was all I knew because I had originally auditioned for another part but was cast in this one.  I was a little nervous about the car accident scene but the assistant producer assured me it would be filmed without any of us actors actually inside the vehicle. They generally don't give the whole script to the day players so I didn't yet know the larger theme of the film.

I was in performing arts school at the time and was pleased with having been cast in my first real part in Deathumentary, an independent film with a budget of about $50,000.

The night before the shoot I was watching a movie at home with my friend Jeannine and on the news came the shocking story that Princess Diana was in a serious car accident and in grave condition. As many now know, she left her Paris hotel with her companion in a car driven by a chauffer, when there was a distraction with paparazzi on motorcycles that played a significant part in the crash. Jeannine and I watched and waited late into the night to see if Diana would survive. She was so young and well liked, it was really hard to believe she could pass away. But as the news came on again we gasped in horror and sadness that she was gone. The worst part to accept was that the Paparazzi that had relentlessly hounded her most of her life, beyond anything ever seen before with a public figure, were a major contributor to her sudden and untimely death. 

Anna Wendt, Karen Wendt, Leland Crooke

The next day I arrived on the set ready for my car accident scene, but distracted with the news of the night before. One of the producers then told me that coincidentally the premise of my scene, which had been written several weeks before, was very similar to what had happened to Princess Diana.  If you don't already know, the paparazzi were taking photos of Diana while she lay dying in the mangled Mercedes after the accident. This was exactly the premise of the scene we were shooting less than 24 hours later.

As we waited for the other actress in the scene to show up, she flaked out and called to cancel at the last minute..  So I suggested we contact and ask my sister Karen who lived close by if she'd like the role. The crew thought that was a great idea and so they called and offered her the part...if she could get there quickly. She said ok, and in that strange way was cast in her first film as well. Thankfully she was a good sport and got ready and whizzed over there to join us within an hour, keeping the production on schedule. (Too bad we had to both die in our very first scene together.)

In the plot of the film, a man known as Dr. Seymour had happened along a car accident one day, filmed the aftermath and started selling copies of the video. This went so well for him he found another crime scene and filmed that, and on it went. Unbeknownst to any but his inner circle, he then started to actually cause accidents in order to film and profit from them.

Now, twenty years later, it makes you wonder about some of the video and live streaming content you see these days. The screenwriter of Deathumentary must have had an insight, albeit a macabre one, into one particular aspect of the future.  Now that we live in a 24/7 live streaming world, let's hope society polices itself on what is and is not "acceptable" media.

A clip from Deathumentary -

Deathumentary, although written and completed in 1997, was not officially released until several years later and only on the film festival circuit. Writer/Director Lawrence Riggins.

Related article:

Friday, August 11, 2017

"Something Rotten" at The Smith Center

The other night I got to do something I really enjoy, which is to watch someone else experience their first show at The Smith Center. We chose Something Rotten for her first show there, since Colette Robinson and I are avid fans (and sometime performers) of Shakespeare.

As we took our seats in Reynolds Hall just before curtain, I was pleased we had been able to snag gallery box seats since we'd had to wait until the last minute to get our tickets. Sitting down in the the gallery boxes made me laugh because doing so reminded me of those two curmudgeonly spectators from The Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf who sat up in their balcony box judging everyone. The highest level boxes at Smith Center provide a lovely close up and somewhat aerial view of the stage because of their height. 

Something Rotten, created by two brothers, (The Kirkpatricks), is a show about two brothers, (The Bottoms), who write plays. Unfortunately for them, this is during the time and in the same town as the one and only William Shakespeare. Before you stop reading because maybe you're not a fan of Shakespeare, you should know that they speak standard English for most of the show, and you don't have to know his work to enjoy it, which is one of the things I like about this show. If you know his plays it makes it even funnier, but if you don't it doesn't take anything away from your experience as an audience member.

With an upbeat opening, "Welcome to the Renaissance," performed first by Nick Rashad Burroughs as the Minstrel, then joined by the cast, Something Rotten is a play on Shakespeare's play within a play, a spoof of musicals, and a spoof of a Shakespeare play that makes fun of itself constantly. Lest you think this is a show praising the Bard think again. The second song is "I Hate Shakespeare!"....where Nick Bottom bemoans Shakespeare's overrated talent. 

Speaking of Nick Bottom, he is trying to keep his wife and himself out of poverty, so he involves the help of a seer to look into the future to see what Shakespeare will write next so he can steal it and reap the profits.  The seer, Nostradamus, (ok not quite Nostradamus, it's his nephew Thomas), tells Nick what the play will be. So Nick and his brother begin to write it...not realizing they're working on a slightly warped version of a play due to Thomas Nostradamus' shaky psychic abilities. (I'm not going to write about that and let's just make it a funny surprise, like the first time I ever saw The Producers).  The Bottom brothers, wanting to really make a splash, decide to add another dimension to the show by making it a musical. This decision is followed by a dazzling display of the meaning of "A Musical!" Blake Hammond as Nostradamus was funny, light, and gleeful as if an animated character, throughout the production.

One of the subplots referring to modern times is about Nick's wife Bea wanting to be an equal partner in her marriage to Nick, and finding ways to help support the family so he could write. This was obviously not a thing women did much of in the 1500's, although Bea was hopeful and exclaims, "It's 1600 women will be completely equal to men in every way!"....Haha oh boy! Nigel Bottom also has a love interest, Portia, whose Puritan father is not so crazy about her blossoming love for a poor and unknown playwright.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Now, Shakespeare himself, an obviously important part of the story is a big cheese in town. He's bold, handsome and eccentric in his bedazzled Renaissance threads! 

"Shakespeare is like a rock star. We always talked about him early on being a cross between Mick Jagger, James Brown, Tom Jones and a little bit of Austin Powers. This is a version of Shakespeare you haven't seen before and it works if you love Shakespeare or hate Shakespeare." -Karey Kirkpatrick

I also like how they portrayed him equal parts insecure and conceited, like many great artists. In one scene after he enters to the chants of "We Want Will, We Want Will," he delves into a mini concert and the song "Will Power" for a throng of admirers holding up their lit candles with praise...because you know this was before lighters and smart phones.

In the end will Nick and Nigel Bottom find their way to the top?...(to quote one of the show's songs). Or will they forever live in Shakespeare's shadow? As the story progresses it takes itself to new and funnier heights. At some point I just let go trying to understand it all and just laughed and laughed. Colette and I were like two schoolgirls mesmerized and totally in the moment either giggling or bursting out into laughter throughout.  I have to appreciate the writers, cast and crew for giving me the experience of enjoying something like a child again. To even grasp a moment of that here and there as an adult is a true gift. From my aerial view I also noticed the audience's energy in the packed house as the laughter built throughout the show. At the end, (we stayed until most had left), as people were leaving they were still laughing and clapping as they made their way down the aisles to the exits. 

In many ways, aside from the obvious comparisons to Spamalot, (who is the same Director/Choreographer for Something Rotten, Casey Nicholaw), this show reminds me of Noises Off. It takes maximum talent, effort and timing for a cast to pull off a show like this, and when they do it's indescribably surprising and fun! 

The Kirkpatrick Brothers along with John O' Farrell spent four years and several rewrites (the original title was Shakespeare's Omelet) before they completed the show and it opened on Broadway in 2015. For example they originally composed 50 songs, (yes 50!) before narrowing it down to 15. 

Rob McClure, Josh Grisetti, Adam Pascal, Maggie Lakis, Blake Hammond, Autumn Hurlbert, Scott Cote, Jeff Brooks, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Joel Newsome, and a funny, talented and energetic supporting cast!

The Smith Center production's Music Coordinator, Philip Fortenberry

Something Rotten remaining shows -
Aug. 11 7:30 pm & Aug. 12 and 13 2:00 pm & 7:30 pm
Tickets are $29 - $127  

Parking is free at the Smith Center, (thank you Smith Center!)

Copyright Anna Wendt 2017

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Need a haircut? How to donate or sell your hair.

Did you know you can sell or donate your hair?

People need wigs and hair extensions due to hair loss from medical problems or for purely cosmetic reasons such as hair extensions, hair pieces and ponytails.

My friend Nicole recently grew her hair so long she was tripping over it when she walked!...Ok not quite that long, but she seriously needed a haircut. She decided to get it cut in a certain way so that it could be donated.

How to cut your hair and then sell it:

To sell your hair it's best if it's not treated with color or perms because you can usually get more than double the money for untreated hair. Of course your hair also has to be healthy and free of damage.

Your cut strands also have to be long enough to sell, which is at least 10 inches.

You should use gentle shampoo (two brands that make great sulfate free shampoos are  LOréal and Wen). Don't cut your hair until you have found a buyer because freshly cut hair is best! Blonde hair or light brown are the best selling colors followed by brunette, then red.

You can sell your hair through third party websites such as and Have someone take a photo of your hair from the back, (remember, don't cut it yet), then set up an account and put it up on the site.

The going rate ranges from about $300 to $1,000 on average, but the longer your locks the more money you will make.

Don't want to worry about the process of selling your hair but don't want to waste it when it could go to a good cause? Donate your hair for wigs for people who suffer from hair loss for medical reasons such as Alopecia and Chemotherapy.

To donate your hair:

For donation, a minimum of ten (10)  inches of hair is also preferred.   Layered locks are acceptable if the longest layer is ten inches. Colored or permed hair is accepted but not hair that is bleached out.

Where to donate? For more information on how exactly to get the hair on your head to a person in need, below are two helpful websites.

There is a well known organization called Locks Of Love, go to for more information and to find a participating salon if that's easier for you than sending it in.

Pantene also has a site for hair donation, and they will accept eight (8) inches as a minimum. Go to

Once you have decided whether to donate or sell your hair it is best to have it professionally cut. To show you what to do, here is my good friend Nicole Pano with a quick 45 second video...How to cut your hair for Donation or Sale

Friday, July 21, 2017

Strictly Taboo Saturday Night

Michelle Johnson's production of Strictly Taboo dazzled with seven notable female vocalists including Michelle, Mary O, Kellie Wright, Naomi Mauro, Avana Christie, Elyse Branch, and Genevieve Dew.

Along with a top notch 17 piece orchestra led by musical director Joe Escriba, this was to pen Michelle Johnson's term, "a salicious musical revue about the divas of jazz."
Elyse, Avana, Kellie, Michelle, Mary, Genevieve and Naomi

As the ladies took the stage for their opening number Lady is a Tramp, what stood out most to me were the elegant outfits.  I loved the gowns, the diamonds, the elbow length gloves and long strings of pearls. These divas celebrating other divas were dressed to the nines and there was not a slightly falling hem or missing sequin to be seen. In addition, the expertly coordinated costume changes throughout the show made this more than a performance, but a beautifully crafted revue.

Michelle, Genevieve, Naomi, and Musical Director Joe Escriba
Some highlights of the night were Michelle Johnson as Ella Fitzgerald, Avana Christie as Bessie Smith, Naomi Mauro as Anita O'Day, Genevieve Dew as Billie Holiday, Kellie Wright as Rosemary Clooney, Mary O as Nancy Wilson and Elyse Branch as Nina Simone.

The ladies took turns and sometimes sang together for tunes such as Witchcraft, Guess Who I Saw Today, Mambo Italiano, A Little Sugar in my Bowl, Someone to Watch Over Me, Bless the Child, Send In The Clowns, and Fever.

Adding to the show were stories interwoven between the songs about the colorful and sometimes scandalous lives of the divas of jazz being paid tribute to, which I appreciated because I didn't know a lot about them so it made their songs and music more meaningful to me. Although I am willing to bet the lives of the singers on stage that night would have made just as interesting stories! Perhaps next time we will hear more about them.

Another surprise were the dancers, who intermittently jumped into a couple of numbers filling the stage with movement and energy....(especially tap dancers Victoria and Victoria).

Michelle Johnson performed a few solo numbers that night, all had different tones, sound and feel. Michelle is one of the most diverse performers we have here in Las Vegas. Although she is often referred to as the First Lady of Jazz, I tend to think that term confines her to one genre in some people's minds.  She is so much more.

Michelle Johnson
The night before her show I caught Michelle as part an event called "The Set List" at House of Blues.  Her take on the Rolling Stones' classic Wild Horses was poignant and powerful! I've been hearing a lot about Michelle lately. She sang the national anthem at a Las Vegas 51's game, then the other day at an NBA event, a few days after this show she performed at a corporate event for Microsoft. All of that was in just a two week span! Her next performance will be September 15th for her show Tapestry Unraveled a Tribute to Carole King, (also at Cabaret Jazz).

Michelle recently posted an inspiring public message on FB and since it was public I decided to share it here... "I especially want to encourage performers to focus on their own journeys. You have a unique voice that is all yours. Run your own race and you will get to the finish line. I promise you that. Just run your own race! That is what has made all of the difference for me in the past two years. I stopped comparing myself to everyone else and I stopped trying to be someone I wasn't. As soon as you acknowledge who you are, and embrace and celebrate it, things just start happening for you. Please take that leap and add single mindedness and discipline, and watch your life soar. No one can play you better than you. Make your move and leave a mark. You matter"....Beautiful words from a talented artist who we here in Las Vegas are fortunate to call a local.

This particular show was my husband and my wedding anniversary and was a perfect way to spend it. Cabaret Jazz is a special separate theater venue that is part of  The Smith Center for the Performing Arts complex and is intimate at 240 seats, but large enough for a show with an orchestra and dancers.  They serve drinks and some food including bento boxes with cheese, fruit, meat and other varieties. It's a great place for a date night, or when you have friends in town and want to show them someplace local and off of the strip.

Photos courtesy of Ed Foster

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Hot Rocks! The Set List 3.0 does the Rolling Stones

The Set List productions are about capturing the mood, music and energy of a specific artist or group by performing an album of theirs in its entirety for one performance only. Created by Andrew Wright, The Set List debuted in 2015. These kinds of  productions are my favorite. They're special, beautiful and original in their rawest form, like an uncut diamond. 

For Set List 3.0 last Friday night at House of Blues Las Vegas, tourists and locals were treated to a fantasy mix of performers from shows such as Mystere, Rock of Ages, Alice, Tenors of Rock and others, for a vocal tribute of The Rolling Stones' "Hot Rocks" album.

The Set List 3.0    Photo by Ira Kuzma

Lance Bryant's groovy and soulful opening of Time is on my Side set a high bar for the rest of the night. Then Stephanie Sanchez ripped through Satisfaction, grasping the song's pent up frustration and mirroring how we've all felt at one time or another about life, love, sex and even money. Enoch Augustus Scott (of Zombie Burlesque) surprised with his bitchy fabulous rendition of Get off my Cloud. According to Mick Jagger this song is a "stop bugging me post teenage alienation song."...that may still be true but I think it would also make a great anthem to internet trolls everywhere to shut up already!

Stephanie Sanchez
Singer Dina Emmerson (Mystere), began what started out as a beautiful Cirque De Soleil style aria then in a Vegas style song twist quickly segued into Mother's Little Helper.

19th Nervous Breakdown, performed by Ashley Fuller (Alice), relayed the song's feelings of hysteria, putting on it a rock opera spin of her own. Jaclyn McSpadden's version of Paint it Black, captured the pain and anger of sudden loss of love. Under My Thumb, by James Simpson, gave this rock tune a bit of a pop flavor. Then came Robert Torti's classic interpretation of Ruby Tuesday, a song written by Keith Richards about his young love Linda, who had just left him for Jimi Hendrix. 

Valita and her version of Let's Spend the Night Together was energetic while she hopped, danced and moved like Jagger. Anne Martinez (Alice) popped in for Jumpin' Jack Flash,  backed up by Jerry Jones on harmony, (as he did so very well for many of the songs that night). After that Franky Perez showed us his Street Fightin' Man and pulled an Adele at the Grammys by starting over and hitting the nail on the head the second time around.

One of the highlights of the night was Paul Johnson (World's Greatest Rock Show), and his version of Sympathy for the Devil. It was flawless and slightly spooky just like the original. Honky tonk woman was treated with attitude and grit by Kellie Wright.

Another killer highlight of the night, Gimme Shelter, by Robin Vincent and Philip Drennan, (Vegas! The Show), showcased Philip's strong vocals with the absolutely haunting voice of Robin who captured the angst and fear of the original song which was written during the Vietnam war. "That's kind of an end of the world song really" says Mick Jagger.

Midnight Rambler was interpreted by Jared Dalley, (Rock of Ages), and was a very bluesy House of Blues  take on the tune. Brown Sugar, by Kelly Anne Gower, in a bustier and leather pants, looked like a pussycat doll, but sounded like a wildcat.

Then Michelle Johnson broke our hearts with Wild Horses, owning it like she'd written it herself. The final duet of You Can't Always Get What you Want turned into a group song started by Tommy Sherlock with Stephanie Sanchez who were then joined by the rest of the cast.

After the music there was a vote of who sang 'em best, guys or girls and the girls won by audience vote! Honestly though this was an unnecessary distraction to me. No tricks, games or props are needed with these performers. "They" are all the show needs.

The Set List is a look at some of the best the Las Vegas entertainment scene has to offer. It's a chance for those who are lucky enough to be there on a night they do one of these shows to see some of the most promising, talented, energetic vocalists you can put together on stage, and only for the very best reason, purely because they want to be.

Next up for The Set List will be this fall at House of Blues for The Who's classic famous double album "Tommy."

Charles Garland, Guitar

The Set List 3.0
Lance Bryant, Stephanie Sanchez, Enoch Augustus Scott, Dina Emmerson, Ashley Fuller, Jaclyn McSpadden, James Simpson, Robert Torti, Valita, Anne Martinez, Frankie Perez, Paul Johnson, Kellie Wright, Robin Vinent, Philip Drennan, Jared Dalley, Kelly-Anne Gower, Michelle Johnson, Tommy Sherlock, Bob Torti and harmonies, Jerry Jones
Vince Verderame, Music Director/Drums
Charlie Dennard, Keys
Dave Ostrem, bass
Charles Garland, guitar

Photos by Ira Kuzma

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Introducing an Astronaut

Introducing an astronaut for most of us is a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity, and I wanted to do it well.  So I researched Eileen Collins and wrote her an introduction that her husband proofed for me the morning of the event. I'm happy to report it was a success!

Colonel Eileen Collins was the first female pilot and commander of a U.S. Space Shuttle (Space Transportation System) and was in 1990, only the second female to become a U.S. astronaut.

Eileen was in Las Vegas to do a Keynote Presentation, "Breaking Barriers to Become a Successful Pioneer in your Field," as part of the National Pawnbrokers Association's annual event.

Eileen Collins and I , Mirage Hotel,Las Vegas 7/11/17

Eileen piloted the Columbia in 1995 and commanded the Discovery Space Shuttle in 2005. So while raising her children she was also piloting space that's a REAL life Wonder Woman! She's been married for 30 years to her husband Pat Youngs, (an International Airline Pilot), and is the mother of two children.

I can write about how many missions Colonel Collins commanded or how many awards and commendations she's received but I'd rather talk about her, the person.

Eileen Collins, first female Space Shuttle Pilot

It's hard for any mother to leave her family and travel for work, but it takes an especially brave one to leave her husband and children on planet Earth and head into space, not once but four times, (logging a total of 38 days in space).

Colonel Collins last two missions were her most well known.  Her team delivered the Chandra X-Ray Telescope to space in 1999. The last mission she commanded was her crew's return to space on Discovery in 2005, (this was only two years after the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident that took the lives of the seven astronauts on board). During the 2005 mission she piloted an unprecedented 360 degree pitch maneuver so the International Space Station could identify any damage to the shuttle Discovery after it's launch into space. In other words she flipped the Space Shuttle!

Eileen Collins retired from her position as a NASA astronaut in 2006.

Watching Eileen speak and answer questions from the audience it was clear to me that her favorite subject to talk about is space flight and the future of humans in space. I asked her what she missed most about being an astronaut and she said seeing the planet Earth from space, the camaraderie of the crew, and the weightlessness of zero gravity. The only thing she doesn't miss is that she had to be away from her family, and that's the only thing she could think of, she said.  Eileen told me before her presentation that she hoped nobody would ask her about aliens during the Q & A because that is her least favorite subject to be questioned about.

When asked about what it feels like to launch into space Eileen said, "Imagine seat belting yourself into your car, turning it back on it's wheels at a 90 degree angle and applying 600 lbs of pressure," that's what it feels like to launch into space!

Eileen Collins was not born into a family of privilege, in fact the opposite. She spent her first two years in community college before graduating with a B.A. from Syracuse University in 1978 and later the Air Force Academy. To me that's one of the most important pieces of her history, that she started in community college as her route to becoming an astronaut. We need more examples like her to encourage others that the path to success can be non traditional.

The NASA space shuttle program born in 1972, ended in 2011.

Video Link:

Eileen Collins Final Mission: Space Shuttle Discovery Launch & Landing 2005

Special thanks to Eileen Collins, Sheree Wilson, Jaki Baskow, Dana Meinecke and Robbie Ellis.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Day in the Life of a Rehearsal Actress and Stand In

As a performer I've played victims, survivors, thieves, reporters, and many more roles as well as live hosting and Emcee work for conventions.

However I have a parallel career that I am often asked about, which mostly includes accepting awards! I have accepted and presented many awards over the past several years. This includes Billboard Music Awards, The Emmys, and many more. It’s my job to accept and also present awards because I am a professional rehearsal actress and stand in for Dick Clark Productions, ABC, NBC, Vh-1 and others.
Since I appreciate that people are curious about what we stand ins do, I thought I'd take a few minutes to explain it in my blog. Everything you see on an awards show has been rehearsed several times and for several days. This is to prevent mistakes like the one that happened at last year's Oscars from happening more often! Because most of them are live shows they’re timed not only to the minute but also to the second, to make sure everything flows smoothly including all of the commercials, sponsor bumps, social media plugs and teasers.
The celebrities performing and presenting the awards are touring or working on other projects and are only there for mostly just dress rehearsals (and not even always then) so their spots need to be covered and that’s where people like myself come in.

You never know what you’re going to be called on to do. So whether it be to present an award, accept an award, dance, play an instrument, (or pretend to), sometimes even sing for an artist, a rehearsal actor has to be able to jump in and just do it. A lot of money is being spent because most rehearsals are taped so the full crew is there, so we can't be shy or unable to do what is asked of us. Especially because we're working for the best directors and crew in the business who expect professional talent. 

My first show as a rehearsal actress/stand in was several years ago for the 2001 Billboard Music Awards. Back then I had recently graduated from the Stella Adler Academy of Acting.  For that job I accepted an award for Britney Spears and presented other awards as actress Jaime Pressley and Mandy Moore. By the way you don't have to look like someone to stand in for them. If it's a situation where they need a body double that's a different job altogether and you do need to be able to look like the person you are doubling for. After that more work followed on shows such as The Academy of Country Music Awards, (standing in for then host Reba McEntire), the Daytime Emmys, the NHL Awards, and concert specials like A Tribute to Lionel Richie, (standing in for Nicole Richie) and ACM Girls Night out, Superstar Women of Country where I stood in for Carrie Underwood.

Me, Carrie Underwood (2014)

Speaking of Carrie Underwood she is by far the person I've stood in for the most over the years. It started shortly after she won American Idol and performed for the first time on the Academy of Country Music Awards. Twelve years later I'm still standing in for her on various shows and have watched her star rise, (deservedly so)!

One of my favorite memories was of working Vh-1 Divas where that particular year there was a medley with Stevie Wonder and each of the "divas" on the special. Each singer sang a short version of one of his songs with him. I had to go on for Shania Twain during dress rehearsal because her helicopter had not yet landed. So someone handed me her mic and I sang "Superstition" with Stevie Wonder! Although as stand ins we don't have the chance to sing very often it's awesome (but nerve racking) when we do!

In 2015 I got the chance to sing "New York New York" for Lady Gaga when she was rehearsing her choreography for Sinatra 100: An All Star Grammy Concert. I was accompanied by the ShowStoppers Orchestra and dancers. Also I enjoyed singing "Beautiful" at rehearsal in place of Christina Aguilera for the 2009 CNN Heroes Awards show. That was an amazing experience as she had an even bigger orchestra and for three minutes it was all mine!

Being a rehearsal actress means we get to accept awards before the artists ever do. For example I accepted "Entertainer of the Year" for Taylor Swift the first time she won at the ACM Awards. When I accepted an award as Madonna for "Top Touring Artist" for the Billboard Music Awards it required the longest acceptance speech I've ever had to improvise. When it comes to acceptance speeches we are sometimes asked to be very specific and other times to be completely vague, it just depends on the show and who's watching. 

Sometimes I have to do really unusual things like lighting an award winner's card on fire during a magic trick rehearsal with David Copperfield. In the past I have also enjoyed several years of pageant work as Rehearsal Host for each of the big three several times...Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss America. I wrote about that in a blog article back in 2013, "What is a Rehearsal Host."

Karen, Anna, Billboards 2013

The last time I ever saw Prince was introducing him with my sister Karen Wendt at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards dress rehearsal. He was at the show to accept the Icon Award. Fortunately I have worked with my sister Karen many times over the past several years as she is in the same profession. There is a small group of us who do the shows together every year and we're like a stand in family. Most of us have known each other and the crew a long time. 

Stand ins are also used for TV and film. I've stood in for Jenny  McCarthy for a TV pilot (that wasn't picked up), Isla Fisher for Now You See Me, and Cheryl Ladd when she played James Caan's wife in the series Las Vegas.

Standing in for Lara Spencer, The Oscars 2017

The Red Carpet shows have become more popular than ever and some are now shown as pre-shows just before the big event. For the 2016 and 2017 Oscars I've been Lara Spencer's stand in as a red carpet rehearsal host for Oscars Opening Ceremony: Live from the Red Carpet

Being a rehearsal actress has helped me when I audition for other acting jobs because I'm used to jumping in and doing something without worrying about nerves. Working so many awards shows has also kept me current on music, TV and film. 

Here is a video the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences recently made about us rehearsal actors/stand ins where they interviewed the 2016 Oscar stand ins who did a great job explaining what it is we all do!

YouTube Link:

For This Rehearsal Only: The Life of a Stand In at the Oscars