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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How Voting is Keeping Up with the Times

Did you know that now in some states you can vote while shopping or working out?

Today I voted in a state primary election and was pleased to see that my county, (Clark County, Nevada) has made it much easier to vote by installing Voting Centers everywhere!

I had over 172 choices on where to vote today and was not in any way limited to a precinct or even a section of town. Locations I could have voted included shopping malls and recreation centers in addition to the usual churches and schools.

Currently thirteen states allow jurisdiction to use these multiple voting center formats. I think this change will make a noticeable difference in the numbers who turn out to vote in ALL elections, whatever a person's political party or choices of candidates may be. 

Also, although I did not choose to vote early there were several choices for that option that were not limited to a precinct or one location. Of course you can still vote by mail if registered for that particular option, but this article is about voting in person.

I am pleased to have personally experienced this new voting process and look forward to seeing future evolution of voting procedures locally and nationwide.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Marilyn The New Musical

The late Marilyn Monroe is a legend to so many but it takes someone with both passion and courage to create a musical based on her life.  Although she died over fifty years ago she remains a Hollywood Icon and is still of interest to both men and women worldwide. Movies, books and songs have been written about her and merchandise with her likeness continues to sell in large numbers. Marilyn Monroe's style is timeless. You can't say that about many.

Tegan Summer who is the Writer, Producer, and Director of Marilyn The New Musical is a classic film and stage enthusiast who says he has always been fascinated by Marilyn Monroe. Not the star but who she was when the cameras were turned off, which fueled his desire to write this show.  Co-Producer Michael Donovan secured the fantastic cast and Gregory Nabours provided additional songs and lyrics. Choreography by Ferly Prado.

Friday night was the official premier of Marilyn The New Musical in Las Vegas at the Paris Theater. This show is a fully authorized production by Authentic Brands Group, which owns the estate of Marilyn Monroe. Although it has been previously worked on in both Vegas and L.A., the show officially debuted on the Las Vegas Strip. 

I think love and work are the only things that really happen to us. - Marilyn Monroe

It is incredibly challenging to bring an original musical to the stage. Very few are willing to take a chance on a new show because they want guaranteed formulas for hits. I'm pleased that in this case Prospect House Entertainment and Caesars Entertainment did. There's no reason Las Vegas can't originate major Broadway style productions. Anyone who says otherwise has probably never seen or met any of the high caliber talent including writers, directors and producers who live here.

There is truth and honesty to this show that touched me. Set and stage adjustments could make it more powerful but the talent, the songs and the story are all there. So was an eight piece orchestra that helped create the feeling of going back to another time and place. It all gets to the heart of who Marilyn Monroe was and what it was like during her life to be a woman on her own in show business back when men ran everything. 

The story opens with Marilyn's driver Charlie, (the talented and melodic Frank Lawson) singing how he's got The Best Job in Town but also humorously bemoaning the fact that because Marilyn is always late he is always waiting. Charlie continues as narrator throughout. Many times the household staff of famous people know them better than anyone else and in such this character provides a unique perspective.

We are then introduced to Norma Jeane at age 16, before she was Marilyn (played by Brittney Bertier). We see she is being sent away from her foster home and told she has nowhere else to go so she should marry her neighbor Jim. I would have liked the story of Norma Jeane to be a little longer and show us more of the adolescence that shaped her.

Norma Jeane continues to appear throughout the show as a shadow following Marilyn as she goes through life. This scenario works. The Norma Jeane and Marilyn combo has been used before in other productions. It's a relatable theme, as many of us adults try to shed who we were as children, with varying levels of success. 

Ruby Lewis as Marilyn Monroe
We then meet Ruby Lewis, our Marilyn Monroe. A lot of actresses think they can portray her but that is only true if they understand Marilyn on a deep level, and also have that X factor that Marilyn possessed. A women who plays her has to internalize her history of having been sexually abused and neglected with lifetime problems of anxiety, insomnia, and addiction. Yet also being someone who continued to strive to succeed. Ruby embodies this. She's a real talent and although at times she sang like Marilyn and other times much better than Marilyn ever did, it worked and the audience was quick to applause even at times shouting out their enthusiasm after a number. Especially in songs such as The Time of My Life, Someone Else Ago, and Don't Wanna Be Me. Ruby is in better shape than Marilyn was and she'd be best served not to get any thinner in this role so as to not lose the Marilyn-esque curves that define her physical persona.

As I once wrote in an article about Marilyn she was not only sexy but was funny as hell. Anyone who has seen "Some Like It Hot" would not dispute that. Little of this side of her is shown in the production but is an element I would have liked to have seen more of because it truly helped set her apart.

This show highlights some of her dealings with men such as the tyrannical studio head Darryl Zanuck, (played by the ever potent Randal Keith), and her first shoot with photographer Milton Greene who would later become a partner in her production company, (portrayed by gifted vocalist Travis Cloer).

It also sheds light on some of her most meaningful relationships such as her first love Bill Pursel (Chris Fore), a man who wanted to save her, but also wanted her out of the spotlight, as many men after him would; and her ill fated marriages to Joe Di Maggio (Christopher Showerman), and Arthur Miller (Matthew Tyler). 

There was also a lovely performance of I Ain't Stoppin', by Chanel Edwards-Frederick as Ella Fitzgerald in a little known story about her and Marilyn performing at the same venue. 

Was Marilyn Monroe's life a success or a tragedy? It think it was both, like many people's.  Monroe has been quoted as saying Hollywood is a place that will pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. She was right. It's a beautiful and ugly business at the same time and you've got to have backbone to survive it intact. In Marilyn's case perhaps if she'd had lasting love and been able to have a child, which she very much wanted, she would have had the long life of some of her contemporaries like Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren. But that was not to be. 

I was pleased the show didn't end on the death scene. She was so much more than the moment she slipped away.

Hollywood-Underdog.com "Legacy of A Bombshell"