Tag Archives: mike weatherford

Columnist Mike Weatherford Says Goodby to Las Vegas Review-Journal

Maybe I just don’t like to leave a party that’s still raging. But I’m giving up this column and full-time work for the newspaper. And while the show scene I cover isn’t really one of the reasons for doing this right now, it does seem easier to leave during this lull on the Strip, when concert headliners are replacing investment in original shows.

Does anyone really feel like another “Ka” is in the pipeline? I’ve been battling repetition, though I hope it hasn’t shown up too much in the writing. There’s full-circle pride in having covered Celine Dion’s opening night in 2003, her closing night four years later, and her return in 2011.

But if I’m going to try some creative writing and things I’ve been talking about for years (including a February 2016 podcast of ‘Matt & Mattingly’s Ice Cream Social’)? The little voice is saying, “Run, before she closes again!”

The first column with my face on it, announcing I would follow my friend Michael Paskevich, ran this same month in 2000. Part of it addressed the pending destruction of the old Circus Maximus showroom at CaesarsPalace.

At least I got here in time to close the book on the old Vegas, and even to write a book, “Cult Vegas,” about it. I rolled into town on the same day in October 1987 that Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. last stood on the same Las Vegas stage together.

A flat tire intervened somewhere around Mesquite, I wasn’t actually on the job yet (just apartment hunting), and anyway, I was the young guy hired to cover rock concerts, not the old Vegas cats. So I missed Sinatra’s old pals surprising him.

But the old Vegas reeled me in anyway. I later got to shake Davis’ hand, and to better know Sam Butera, Claude Trenier, Marty Allen and other workaday heroes of the classic-Vegas era. Blackie Hunt and Sonny King came to my book release party, and I’ll never forget Robert Goulet calling my mom to get the answer to a crossword puzzle clue. Neither would she.

Still, “Cult Vegas” was mostly research and interview recollections. My real-time experience was the Cirque du Soleil era and the reinvention of the Strip.

I covered the opening night of The Mirage and would later venture into the tent that sprung up behind it to meet the Cirque du Soleil folk bringing us “Nouvelle Experience.”

 “A lot of people are going to be very surprised that Cirque is going to do so well here,” then-Mirage (now MGM Resorts) executive Alan Feldman said in that 1992 story. To assume Cirque was too artsy for Vegas “suggests that people can’t get enough of the old Vegas stuff. If all those shows were doing turn-away business every night, that might be true.”

I chronicled every Cirque show since. But now, doesn’t it seem like Cirque is the “old stuff” and we’re waiting for some new tent full of fresh imagination to pop up somewhere in town?

Throughout this era, I always tried to write credible show reviews and to delve into the business behind the shows. If a mediocre one endures, perhaps it has more to do with the mechanics of ticket discounting. If a Broadway musical didn’t perform, maybe it wasn’t that a “Vegas audience” didn’t get it, but that it toured too much before landing here.

Everyone’s a critic now when it comes to an internet jammed with consumer opinion. But believe it or not, Paskevich was the first Review-Journal staffer to write objective show reviews. (The town was just too small, and those who say it was better when the mob ran it didn’t labor under the threat of someone digging a hole for them in the desert.)

As the second one, I hope I prodded local producers to push forward and aim higher, even if it was sometimes awkward to do both reviews and news columns about the same people. But I needed material, they needed the ink, and with very few exceptions, we all got along.

The Strip seems to have moved beyond loopy self-parodies such as “Nebulae — The Life Force,” and I kind of miss those days. But my snark level toned down over the years as I got to know the people involved, how hard they worked, and how many ways something can go off the rails.

While Las Vegas was just another stop for concert tours, reviewing the unique-to-Vegas shows “seems to be more appreciated by consumers, who likely respect a little straight talk on these pricey attractions,” I wrote in that first 2000 column.

All these years later, I hope you did.

Entertainment columnist Mike Weatherford says farewell to RJ

Did Criss Angel miss the chance to move magic forward?

Criss Angel certainly has the resources to deliver what he promised: “The most mind-blowing, revolutionary magic show ever to be performed live.”

But rival magicians are asking if he has a different goal: to be magic’s ultimate cover band.

Rick Thomas paraphrases the letter he says he sent Angel:

“Your success in Vegas is huge. You have much more opportunity than I do, and many more people who you can hire to work for you to create. I don’t. And when a magician comes up with something they can call their own, let them keep it.”

You may remember Thomas for a family-friendly magic show that ran on the Strip for years. Back when he did a lot of cabinet illusions with tigers, you could call it a bargain version of Siegfried & Roy. But — with the exception of a pop-up pooch — those aren’t what turned up in “Mindfreak Live!” the reboot of Angel’s Luxor showcase. Read the rest of this excellent article by Mike Weatherford at:


( Photo Courtesy of Criss Angel’s ‘Mindfreak Live’ )

How do magicians work their way up the Las Vegas ladder?

By Mike Weatherford – Las Vegas Review-Journal

Magicians like to turn things inside out, and two of them are doing just that to the conventional rules of working one’s way up the Las Vegas ladder.

Mike Hammer demonstrates that you don’t have to move to move up. And Dirk Arthur proves he belongs on a big stage — even if belonging there isn’t the same as earning the right to be there.

Both of them remind us that if you think magicians are interchangeable, you haven’t been in Las Vegas very long.

Arthur and his exotic tigers and leopards ended up, almost by default, on the stage where Elvis Presley once sang. In recent years only two small venues were available to his traditional and increasingly old-fashioned illusions show — O’Sheas and then the old “La Cage” showroom at the Riviera — and both of them cut his tenure short by closing their doors.

But he found the Westgate also in need, after an ambitious plan for Elvis-themed shows went south. New management was suddenly in the mood to lease the showroom operation to the producers of Arthur’s show at the Riviera.

When he reopened in late August, a lot of people were right to ask how Arthur can fill a big theater when he couldn’t fill a small one. It’s still not a terrible question, but two things at least explain the logic. Read more..


Natural-born magic salesman still travels light..

The odds are in Mat Franco‘s favor for a long run as the Strip‘s next resident magician. DENISE TRUSCELLO/COURTESY PHOTO

By Mike Weatherford – Las Vegas Review-Journal

Ah, that smile.

Mat Franco could sell snow to Eskimos.

Musical instruments to a boys band in River City.

New Coke.

Shares in Enron. Or Bernie Madoff’s securities fund.

Selling magic tricks is a minor challenge then for last year’s “America’s Got Talent” winner. Even when, as the 27-year-old notes, his audience is “sitting there trying to ruin it for yourself” by trying to figure out how they’re done.

Maybe the next TV competition can put Franco up against Jimmy Fallon and Andy Samberg as guys who get you with a contagious smile before they even say one word. I wouldn’t bet against him, especially if they let him play the “Grandma card” as he does in the show, one more powerful than all The Flash-like speed shuffles.

Franco’s odds are also good for a long run as the Strip’s next resident magician at The Linq Hotel. A two-hour NBC special airing Thursday can’t hurt.

So, make room for still another magician. But it’s probably good to separate Franco’s short game from the long one. In the early going, his show is more modest than you might expect from a serious commitment by The Linq and producers Base Entertainment, and maybe a little too familiar for those who see other magic shows.