Kirvin Doak Communications
Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 | 5:45 a.m.
While Mr. Vegas DeLuxe Robin Leach is on vacation and attempting to work as little as possible from afar, Vegas DeLuxe will be featuring celebrity guest columnists for the first half of this month until Robin’s return. If you’re knowledgeable about Las Vegas, the names should be familiar. Today, it’s Kristen Hertzenberg, who portrays Christine Daae in Phantom -- Las Vegas Spectacular at The Venetian.
By Kristen Hertzenberg
Hellooooo, Vegas DeLuxe readers! I’m Kristen Hertzenberg, I play Christine Daae in Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular, and I will be your guest columnist filling in for Mr. Leach today.
You want the honest to God truth? I’m not in love with Las Vegas. I’m coming around the more I crack the surface and meet the good folks in town. But I was initially pretty turned off by the ones who fall down in casinos, too hammered to walk in the 5-inch stilettos they’re sporting with solely a bikini and a belly chain. Oh, and the woman who once thought it was a good idea to relieve herself in the balcony at Phantom 45 minutes into the show. Yep, it happened.
But that’s not all there is to this town. I know that now. There are really good people here. Chet Buchanan blows my mind with the massive toy drive he holds every December. Bruce Ewing is endlessly giving of himself to Family Promise. And Opportunity Village is a really magical place. My entire Phantom family makes it feel more like home, and I’ve never been a part of a more generous and warm-spirited cast. Since we opened three years ago, we’ve done so much. Take a deep breath. Here comes the list.
There have been AIDS Walks, Easter Bonnet competitions, Ribbon of Life benefits, ballet galas and concerts benefiting Family Promise, and dinners prepared for Family Promise clients. The cast has decorated a tree in the Opportunity Village Magical Forest, organized a food drive for Three Square food bank, read to students during Nevada Reading Week, and donated to “DJs for PJs," Chet Buchanan’s Toy Drive, and his Back to School Supplies Drive. And then there's my favorite, adopting families for the holidays. Each year, our dance captain Courtney Combs organizes a major shopping effort, then gives Santa a call, and we drive around town with him delivering hundreds of gifts to families who need some smiles. And this isn't even all of it. It’s not everyday that you find such selfless people in the entertainment industry, and our company is jam-packed with them. I feel very lucky to be a part of that.
Although I still struggle a bit with the excessive cleavage and the meat-market mentality of some of our male visitors, there is something else that gets me excited in Vegas: the food. It's damn good. For me, the wonderful people I work with, the joy of being onstage and doing what I love, and the freaking amazing food are what make the experience of living here a great one.
At Mon Ami Gabi, for lunch, the chopped salad is perfect. Get a table by the window, and you don’t really even feel like you’re in Vegas (That is, there isn’t a dinging slot machine occupied by a chain smoker on an oxygen tank 10 feet away from you while you’re eating a $45 steak).
At Enoteca San Marco, the food is so simple and delicious. Mario Batali knows what’s up, and I feel like it’s honest Italian food. No spaghetti and meatballs here. B&B (his restaurant right downstairs) is the same, but even more intense. Both are huge winners in my book.
Bouchon is fantastic because the service is spectacular and, again, just a few flights up from the Phantom theatre, it feels miles away from the casino! The food is delicious, as they also have a world-class chef -- Thomas Keller. I can’t bring myself to spend hundreds of dollars at the French Laundry in wine country, but Bouchon is definitely a worthwhile splurge.
Off the Strip, there’s a lovely little family-owned Italian place called Pasta Shop and Ristorante. All of the pasta is made in-house at this cozy and friendly spot, and the owners know my family by name. Always a warm greeting when we arrive. I get the feeling it’s that way for most of their clientele. It’s great to have a solid neighborhood standby.
Paymon’s Mediterranean Cafe is another off-Strip favorite. Go there and get the lentil soup. That’s all I’m going to say. Run. Now. Faster.
Sometimes we actually eat in, and I’m the one preparing the food. So I’ve got to shop. I’m absolutely charmed by Sunflower Market. The staff is always friendly, and I rarely see people getting wrestled, cuffed and escorted to a police cruiser when I’m there. Yes, I have indeed witnessed this on more than one occasion at other less feel-good markets in town. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s also provide a fleeting diversion from the crack heads I frequently see stumbling down Twain on my way to work. Praise Jeebus for overpriced organic food!
I jest, but I have to tell the whole truth now. Since I arrived in Vegas, my life has only gotten better. I no longer live in a “quaint” shoebox apartment in Harlem. My husband and I love our house and our wildly stereotypical parent-mobile (a Nissan Murano). Yes, parent-mobile. I’m a mama now! We got so comfortable here, we decided to start a family. Now we have Shea, an 8-month-old ball of energy with the most expressive little face you’ve ever seen. She is the youngest member of the Phantom family, and if we’re not careful, she may just end up in this business, as well. Yikes!
Now is the part where I plug. First off, if you haven’t seen Phantom yet, you must. I say this not just because I’m a card-carrying member of the cast, but because it truly is an exceptional production, unlike any other Phantom experience you will find in the world. Ladies, your husband may not want to see a musical because he feels that it will emasculate him. Blindfold him. Tell him it’s a surprise, and he should wear sunglasses and something fireproof. Whisk him to the theater. Sit him down in his seat (I recommend row R in the Golden Circle), and remove the blindfold. He may puff up his chest and agree to stay “but only because it’s you.” Trust me, by the time you leave the theater, he’ll be buying the soundtrack and willingly admitting to that evening’s whereabouts on Facebook.
The second plug is for my blog, Broadway Vegas (broadwayvegas.blogspot.com). I started it a year and a half ago to showcase all of the wonderful outreach within the Vegas theater community and to inform readers about what we actors are doing outside of our regular gigs. Please check it out. If you like it, tell your friends. If you don’t, well, that’s OK, too. I’m not a big fan of ladies mud wrestling. You may not be a big fan of musical theater. Fair is fair.
And finally, right around the corner is Hope 2, a fantastic event featuring cast members from Phantom. Our dancers will perform an afternoon of classical ballet (really fantastic classical ballet) at Clark County Library on East Flamingo accompanied by a few of the singers from our show, as well. Proceeds from ticket sales will go directly to Family Promise of Las Vegas, and it will all take place Aug. 29 at 2 p.m.
In closing, I just want to thank my amazing husband Dana for starting a new life with me out here. I also want to thank the Phantom cast, crew and orchestra for making work feel like play. It’s because of them that I always go to the theater with a huge smile on my face and miss my job when I’m not there. And finally, our dear Phantom fans. Our show has a seriously intense fan base, and it’s because of them that I have a job in this insane economy. (Come on, Barack! Don't let me down!) So, thank you to each and every person who comes to see Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular at The Venetian. Yes, even that lady from the balcony. She bought her ticket, too.
Tomorrow, magician and Monte Carlo headliner Lance Burton introduces his longtime comedic guest star juggler Michael Goudeau as our celebrity guest columnist.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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