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April 20, 2014

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Final Battle scene edges its way back to ‘Ka’; a Flying Wallenda graces ‘Absinthe’

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Sam Morris

Members of the act that would eventually be called “The Frat Pack” are reflected in a mirror as they perform during the Wednesday, March 28, 2012, performance of “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace. The woman in the middle is Lijana Wallenda-Hernandez. At the front is Paul “Fat Frank” Lopez and at far right is Almas Meirmanov.

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The production crew works below stage level during stage pre-set at Cirque du Soleil's "Ka" at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011.

At this writing, the Kats Report bureau is the showroom at the Stratosphere, where NFL games are playing across nine giant projection screens. One seems to be fluttering in and out and losing its signal — oh, wait. That’s the Jets’ offense.

This scene prompts the question: What do we have that Macau does not? How about nine NFL games dancing across a ring of giant projection screens, a showroom filled with guys wearing replica jerseys of retired NFL stars, a pair of $5 limit blackjack tables set up at the back of the room, “Crazy Train” blasting during commercial breaks, a team of fabulous babes serving soda pop at $3.25 a pop and 16-inch pizzas selling for a dollar an inch.

Macau has its appeal, but Vegas is great.

Let us rake:

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A fight scene on the vertical stage and the giant airbags that catch the performers when they fall are seen during Cirque du Soleil's "Ka" at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011.

• While in China, I heard of two tidbits from “Ka” at MGM Grand. The show has been testing a high-definition, video projection version of the Final Battle scene, which has not returned in its original form since the death of Sarah Guillot-Guyard after falling during that act on June 29.

The new video treatment of the scene was introduced Nov. 23 and is to serve as a placeholder until the original act is gradually returned to the production. The result is likely to be an easing-in of the Final Battle segment, which was originally played at the end of the show, rather than a grandiose unveiling of its return.

As Cirque spokeswoman Renee-Claude Menard said in an email today, the video presentation is “the normal evolution of eventually reintroducing the battle scene.”

Also at “Ka,” on Nov. 22, a night before the new act was performed, the production’s late show was cancelled altogether because of a power outage. Ticket holders were given vouchers to a future performance.

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Lijana Wallenda-Hernandez

• The cauldron of intrigue that is the singularly inventive production “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace is, at the moment, between permanent high-wire acts. Due to start in a couple of weeks or so is the new, three-man “Frat Pack” crew that is to be the permanent tightrope team in the aftermath of “Tony Tightropes” Hernandez leaving the show shortly after his arrest of domestic-battery charges in September.

But there is an interim balancing that is serving as the line connecting the old Esteemed Gentlemen of the High Wire act and the updated version of the show-closing number. Though the segment is still presented as “The Frat Pack,” one of the members of the act is not a frat guy, but rather Lijana Wallenda-Hernandez, who is married to “Tony Tightropes” and also was the woman at the center of the incident that led to Hernandez’s arrest.

This is not as uncanny a development as it might seem. Wallenda-Hernandez is well-known and highly regarded in the circus universe as a member of the famed Flying Wallenda family and as an accomplished artist. She is highly trained on the high wire and has previously filled in for her husband while he was away from the show tending to his production in Chicago (he has since moved to New York).

On Oct. 13, Wallenda-Hernandez and her brother Nik Wallenda walked 150 feet across Charlotte Motor Speedway before the NASCAR Bank of America 500 NASCAR race. Over the summer, Nik Wallenda successfully walked across a segment of the Grand Canyon in a clip that won an Emmy Award as the Top TV Moment of the Year. These Wallendas are just about fearless.

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Savannah Smith, left, and David Perrico perform during the showcase for BBR at T Spot at Tuscany Suites Thursday, Nov. 26, 2013.

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Anne Martinez, left, and Savannah Smith of BBR perform during the showcase for BBR at T Spot at Tuscany Suites Thursday, Nov. 26, 2013.

• The showcase for the new incarnation of BBR was a wild experience Tuesday night at Tuscany Suites’ T Spot Lounge. Dubbed “Alice” and themed after Alice in Wonderland, the vocal combo of Anne Martinez (“Dancing Queen”) and Savannah Smith (“Vegas! The Show” at Saxe Theater at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood and the swing in “Pin Up” at Stratosphere) burned the room while dressed skimpily and aggressively in flat black costumes and singing new, gritty arrangements of such classics as “Fever,” “Thirteen Men” and “Sweet Dreams” (Are Made of This)” crafted by David Perrico.

The acronym BBR stand for two blondes and a revolution, with the Perrico-led, nine-piece band and accompanying dancers — Ryan Kelsey, Claudia Mitra, April Leopardi Anneberg and Eric Michael Morgan — roaring through an hourlong set in a filled-to-capacity room. The performance took over the stage and dance floor and even the audience, as Martinez and Smith swapped lines atop the lounge’s wooden bar (sliding the hookah out of the way first, of course).

The show was adventurous, loaded with talent and highly refined, given that everyone in the performance also was busy with his or her usual gigs. There was interest in the room from at least one rep from a major resort company, for starters. This is a show that is bold, makes its point early and stays on it. BBR is planning another foray mid-January at a different venue. Keep track of this crew. It’s a very cool thing.

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Frankie Moreno joins “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s as a special guest Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.

• The holiday release “Musical Gifts From Joshua Bell & Friends” is now available on iTunes, Amazon.com and at all Target stores. The CD/download/album/8-track features Bell’s friend and frequent collaborator Frankie Moreno performing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Bell has invited a broad spectrum of artists to this musical celebration, including Gloria Estefan, Chick Corea, Branford Marsalis, Straight No Chaser, Placido Domingo and Michael Feinstein.

Along with all the other productions at Stratosphere, Moreno’s show has returned after a nearly three-week hiatus coinciding with November’s traditionally slow business period. “Pin Up” is back in its Thursdays-through-Mondays schedule, as is Perrico’s Pop Evolution show on alternate Tuesdays (returning this week).

On Friday night, Moreno and members of his band at the Strat played the annual holiday tree lighting at the District at Green Valley Ranch. Moreno’s sons Giovanni and Luciano scrambled to the stage to sing an original song (the Morenos have an endless vein of such tunes) called “We Need a Bigger Christmas Tree,” which included a little rap and some homespun choreography. These kids have some real talent, and that is not a surprise.

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• Last week, and for the first time in 18 months, I padded around the Stirling Club at Turnberry Place. It was a look-see with real-estate agent Jason Abrams, who represented the eventual purchasing group of computer software and real-estate entrepreneurs led by Carlos “Art” Nevarez. That group’s winning bid in an open online Oct. 11 was $10,456,000.

In general, Stirling Club is in good shape, as engineers have been onsite since the property’s closing in May 2012. The staff has attempted to keep the building and grounds in the same condition as they were if the club had not closed, but there are a few broken tiles around the room, and the clay tennis courts will need to be resurfaced at a cost of about $40,000.

The tour did remind me of how vast the 80,000-square-foot venue really is, with those courts, the complete gym and spa facilities, private event rooms, restaurant and, of course the lounge. Reopening and re-staffing the Stirling Club is going to be a lengthy and painstaking process.

The ownership group is looking at four operators to take over the venue, which they say will open as a fully functioning entertainment, restaurant, exercise and spa facility. There will be a new name that is simple and classic, similar to Stirling Club but not Stirling Club.

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Chris Phillips of Zowie Bowie, left, and Flavor Flav throw it down at Rocks Lounge.

• What could possibly make a visit to the Zowie Bowie party/dancefest/lingerie show even more madcap?

A visit from Flavor Flav, perhaps?

Flav did drop by the Zowie Bowie Party Zone at Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort on Friday night. I just missed him, but sources on the scene described him as “blithely happy.” That’s my term, actually, crystallized from the accounts of everyone I talked to who hung with the Flav-a-Rator in the lounge’s VIP section. Flav always knows what time it is, and it’s always time to par-tay!

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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