ShowStoppers

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In the world of Broadway musicals, there’s a term to describe a song that stands out above the rest of the selections. A song or a performance that is so over the top that it’s known as a showstopper. Steve Wynn has brought a show to Las Vegas that is simply known as ShowStoppers because every song and every performance is a pinnacle of magical interpretation.

I had the pleasure of seeing this magnificent show on my last trip to Las Vegas and for those of you that read that first blog, you know how much I loved it, but I have to say, this time around, it was even better than I remembered. From the first sweet musical note to the final curtain and exit music, I was enthralled, enchanted and completely entertained. There is no other show that compares to this extravagant production that encompasses the best of the best. Both in musical selection and in the talented performers that do what they do so extraordinarily well.

When I first saw this show, I absolutely raved about the lead female cast members and I have to tell you that I’m in awe of the three gorgeous and talented women that grace the Encore theatre six nights a week. One of the leading ladies left the show recently and I knew that Kerry O’Malley was irreplaceable. I was convinced that no matter how good the new female lead was, she wouldn’t be able to touch the performance of Ms. O’Malley.

Well, I was wrong. Rachel Tyler is a beauty that hails from the United Kingdom and has a resume that includes national tours with Mamma Mia, Grease, Fame and The Rocky Horror Show. Ms. Tyler was every bit as good as her predecessor, while still bringing something new and vibrant to the stage. Her voice is unbelievably strong and her stage presence was so powerful that from her first song, she had touched my heart and brought my emotions right to the surface. By the last song, I had tears running down my face and goose bumps on my arms. She’s believable, she’s natural and above all else, she’s definitely a star.

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Joined by the two other female leads, Lindsay Roginski and Nicole Kaplan Fenton, she easily could fill the shoes of any great Broadway performer. The three of them together on one stage, makes this show worthy of the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence, informally known as the Tony Award. I can’t say enough about these three stand out performers, but I will say that they make me wish I had just a smidgen of their talent.

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The biggest difference between this show and the last one I saw was how impressed I was this time by the male leads. Randal Keith, David Burnham and Andrew Ragone were at the top of their game with this particular performance and I was more impressed than ever with their vocal range, powerhouse voices and stellar performances. Randal Keith was born to perform and he easily has one of the best voices out there. David Burnham and Andrew Ragone bring a masculinity to stage that rounds out the sweetness of the ladies.

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Every song in this amazing show quickly becomes a favorite with hits from shows like, Cabaret, Chorus Line and Chicago. Not only was I mesmerized by the lead vocalists, but I was also blown away by the cast of fabulous dancers. All of them are extremely talented and lend so much to this production. There were three stand outs for not only their fancy footwork, but by their shining personalities. Natacha Bachour is a gorgeous creature that stood out in every thing she did. Stefan Raulston is the dance captain and with good reason. His smile, his easy moves and his connection with the audience makes him someone to watch. However, the dancer that caught my attention and made me want to know more about who she is and where she comes from is, Genise Ruidiaz. This young lady hails from Miami, Florida and throughout each and every performance, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by her beauty, her acting and her flawless dancing.

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Every performance and every song from ShowStoppers is simply the best. I would like to tell you about all my favorite moments, like the jailhouse scene from Chicago that has world class pizzazz with lovely leading lady, Lindsay Roginski. Then another favorite was Nicole Kaplan Fenton singing alongside David Burnham in Money Money or when she plays the adorable Lola in A Little Brains, A Little Talent. This petite, uber talented lady could easily be mistaken for Kristen Chenoweth except she brings her own perfectly suited personality to life when she performs each of her fantastic numbers. I would also like to tell you how magical and powerful the newest cast member, Rachel Tyler was when she sang, Don’t Rain On My Parade from Funny Girl. I thought I had seen a great show, I thought I had witnessed polished talent, I thought the show was as good as a show could be, until Ms. Tyler came out and nailed this classic number from Funny Girl. It doesn’t get better than that. Ms. Streisand should be jealous.

If you have never seen a Broadway musical, or if you have seen them all, you will still want to go see Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers. It is the epitome of the greatest songs from the all-time best Broadway shows. Even if you don’t think you like Broadway, you will still be pleasantly surprised and leave the theatre feeling something you didn’t expect to feel. There is nothing like live musical theatre and with this show featuring a thirty-four piece orchestra conducted by Maestro Dave Loeb, you will be entertained in a way you’ve never been before.

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The Magic of Rick Thomas

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Another long-term headliner from Las Vegas has decided to spend part of his year in Branson, Missouri. Rick Thomas brings his magic to Andy Williams’ Moon River Theatre for a limited time in the live entertainment capital of the world. The show is all the glitz and glamour that is reminiscent of sin city without much of the sin. Rick Thomas has titled the show, “Nothing Happens Until You Dream” and he creatively incorporates his magic into that theme.

Rick started his magic career when he was still a kid and by the time he was eighteen, he had his own show at the Disneyland Hotel. He comes from an entertainment family that excelled in ballroom dancing that lends a grace to the magician as he dazzles the imagination. He’s also a funny, personable man who included the audience during much of the show. He has that unique talent that combines over the top illusions, perfect timing and a little comedy thrown in to make us smile.

He is also joined on stage by his lead dancer, Tara. This lovely woman is from Zimbabwe and auditioned for Rick Thomas five years ago for his show in Las Vegas. Rick told us that more than fifty people showed up to audition, and each one was given thirty seconds to show what they could do. Well, apparently Tara fit the bill even though they would have to wait more than two weeks to have her in the show, until she could obtain her work visa. She is beautiful, graceful and has a stage presence that corresponds perfectly to the master magician.

Tara and Rick decided on June 28 of this year to take their relationship to the ultimate level by getting married in a private setting just south of here, in Arkansas. Sounds like they literally ran off and tied the knot and I, for one, love that impulsive need to live life to the fullest. So, not only is Rick acknowledged as one of the greatest magicians of our time, but now, he has Tara by his side in every way.

During the show, Rick also brought out his gorgeous Pyrenees dog, Thunder. In doing a little research I found out that the Thomas’ have another dog, Lightning, in addition to the one we met on stage. Rick’s show in Las Vegas was famous in large part because he included large cats in his act. On Saturday, Rick showed us video of his cats that were regal and majestic. He told us that he had raised more than twenty of the cats from the time they were cubs. You could tell that he has a genuine love for animals and that alone makes him an exemplary human. Especially when he explained to the audience that all his cats have retired and are living out their lives in a lush, green valley outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Yep, he’s a nice guy.

The illusions were well planned and executed perfectly. Of course, I don’t have a clue how he did any of it, but there were one or two acts that had me questioning that I just saw, what I saw. He also did a mentalist trick with members of the audience that delighted and astonished me. Rick does all of this with lots of interaction and with humbleness. He also does a military tribute and honors the men and women who have served our country.

So, to sum up: Great magic tricks, spooky illusions, a beautiful and graceful assistant, birds, a great big white dog and just a little comedy thrown in make this show fun, mysterious and entertaining. Branson is blessed to have this caliber of performer visit our town for a season. We can also thank the Osmonds who now run the Moon River theatre, for bringing such big names to town. I’m also thinking that if this trend continues, we might get a Cirque du Soleil show here, set to a Broadway adaptation of “Oklahoma.” Okay, I know that’s just wishful thinking, but hey, as Rick Thomas would attest, nothing happens until you dream.

Jenny’s Canyon……Snow Canyon, St. George, Utah

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Two hours north of Las Vegas is a desert town by the name of St. George, Utah. I had the pleasure of traveling up that way to spend the day with one of my favorite people in the whole wide world who also happens to be my writing sister and friend, Tanya Lily-Reid.

There is a place only minutes from her house that I have been wanting to visit for over a year. It’s called Snow Canyon and I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen something so majestic and magical. Inside that canyon is a slot canyon that is named after a young girl that fell from one of the high cliffs to her death in 1994. It’s called Jenny’s Canyon and if you ever find yourself in southern Utah, you have to pull off the Interstate and take the short drive. You will not be disappointed.

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The reason I’ve been wanting to see it actually starts about 2 1/2 years ago when Tanya was driving down Snow Canyon Parkway. The road sits above the canyon and it’s a road that my friend has traveled many times. Tanya is a writer and for those of you that know me well, you know writers have huge imaginations and something that sometimes borders on supernatural, when it comes to storylines and characters for our books. On this particular day, Tanya connected with a soul named Jenny who spoke to her the way our imaginary friends often do. They tell us their names and the story they want told. I know this sounds strange, but this is how, as writers, we do what we do.

Tanya connected with Jenny and from that point on, Jenny has always been in Tanya’s head, whispering details about her life. Fast forward more than a year and once again, my friend found herself on the Parkway just above Snow Canyon. She decides that day to make the left turn that will take her down into the canyon proper and drove the dusty dirt road that offers spectacular views of red rock bluffs and beautiful desert sage brush. She drives to the ranger station and picks up a map and is astonished to find a slot canyon labeled, Jenny’s Canyon. She realizes instantly  that the Jenny that has been speaking to her for a couple of years and the Jenny that the canyon is named for, are one and the same. Yeah, I know how that sounds, but there’s some things in life that can’t be explained and for those of us that tell the stories, it’s a magical connection.

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She pulls off the road at the marker for the canyon named after a young teenage girl and begins the short hike back to the canyon. She is alone and at this point, very emotional. You can only imagine what it must feel like to have someone in your head that you were quite sure didn’t really exist in real life and then to feel her very real presence in the middle of the desert. There’s times like this that we, as writers, question our sanity and Tanya was no different. The emotions were so overwhelming that Tanya never actually made it back to the slot canyon and returned to her truck, crying and shaken.

She videotaped her experience sitting in her vehicle that afternoon and I’ll never forget when I saw her raw, unedited footage of her discovery. When I watched the short five minute video, I could hear the shakiness in Tanya’s voice and I could feel her bare emotion. How was this even possible? Many of you who don’t understand how storytellers think, will probably scoff and be a skeptic, but not me. I knew without a doubt that what my writing sister experienced was real. I got goosebumps and watched the video another two or three times. I knew right then, that someday I would go to Jenny’s Canyon and see it for myself.

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When planning this trip, I knew I had to take a day and travel up to Utah to see not just my soul sister, but to see Snow Canyon and to see where this mystical event occurred. So, yesterday, I found myself in Tanya’s car and when she pulled into the larger canyon, I was blown away with how beautiful it is. She traveled that same dusty road down to the ranger station where she picked up the map that day and turned her car around to start back down to the marker. As she made the u-turn, my eyes filled with tears and by the time we made the 1/2 mile trip to the marker, the tears were flowing freely down my face. I could feel something out of this world reaching out to me. It was Jenny. She was speaking to me as she spoke to Tanya and again, I know how strange that sounds, but I swear it to be the truth.

We pulled off the side of the road and got out of the car. With every step towards the sand-stone cliffs, I could hear the sweet voice of a young girl. I could hear her laughter, I could feel her love of life and I could feel her sadness. My feet sank deep into the hot desert sand and my eyes took in the beauty that is the canyon. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life and I struggled to keep my emotions in check and to keep my heart steady. We stepped off the path long enough to let a family go by and to discuss where exactly we were hiking to. The day that Tanya discovered that Jenny was real, she was too emotional to make it all the way back to the cool and shaded slot canyon where Jenny died. But, today, we had each other for support and hiked the short distance that brought us to her marker and to the beautiful canyon.

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We had to climb a few rocks and then around the corner, the canyon came into view and I was awestruck. The walls of two towering cliffs rise straight up from the desert floor and between the red colored rocks is a shaded, quiet area that makes you feel like you’ve left planet earth. As we entered the deep canyon, we found a memorial to “our” Jenny.

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More than twenty years ago, a young, vivacious, adventurous girl loved coming to Snow Canyon. She never left. With every step, I felt her spirit and as we journeyed deeper into the canyon, the silence was deafening and the air was still. I have a feeling that before Jenny, this place was sacred, but since Jenny,  this place is reverential. I could feel Jenny, but I could also feel souls from before her and as hard as it might be to believe, I could feel God in this place. This little space between the towering cliffs and boulders is like no other place I’ve ever felt. It’s special, entrancing and spellbinding. The veil between this world and the next is very thin and transparent and I could almost believe that with a blink of my eye, I really could see beyond this world into the world where Jenny now resides.

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The quiet of the canyon is undisturbed and the beauty of it is unequalled. I reached out to touch the stone walls and I felt a slight vibration that made me think of paranormal phenomenon and worlds that we normally can’t see or feel. To say that it was a spiritual experience for me is an understatement. I will never forget my hour spent at Jenny’s Canyon in southern Utah. End of story, right? Wrong.

Both Tanya and I snapped a few hundred pictures. Her with a 35mm professional camera and me with my smart phone. We wandered the small enclosed canyon snapping away and never once did we stand next to each other and purposely capture the same image. But something stranger than this story happened later in the day when I was on my way back to Las Vegas. Tanya sends me a picture on my phone which I only glance at quickly as I’m driving down the Interstate at 75 miles per hour. When I looked at the picture, my arms quickly dimpled with goosebumps and I threw the phone down on the passenger seat as if I had just been burned. Only one small glance, but I know what I saw. Take a look at these two pictures side by side and keep in mind that one was taken by Tanya and the other was taken by me. Minutes apart. I had no idea she had snapped the first picture that you see and it wasn’t until I got back to Lee’s house that I looked at the photos on my phone. I took the same picture.

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Look closely at the two pictures and you will see some things that shouldn’t be there. I see Jenny two times in each picture. And, in each picture she is different. You can tell me that it’s just rocks and stones and the way the sunlight filters into the canyon. I could almost buy that explanation and simply call it matrixing, but ummm…..stones can’t move. Spirits can.

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If I live to be one hundred, I will never forget my time spent with my friend, Tanya and my spirit friend, Jenny. I will never forget the feeling of the hot sand between my toes and the voice of God in my heart. There’s not many days in our short lives that are this significant, this special and this glorious. My heart is full today and the tears have run down my face even as I wrote this piece. For me, there will never be another place as sacred and important as Jenny’s Canyon. I’m blessed, grateful and touched to have experienced Jenny’s soul and spirit. Validation of life in the biggest way possible.

The Revollusionists

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I’ve always been of the mind that if a show or performer does not make me cry, then they have not done their job. Well, I went to a show called The Revollusionists at Music City Center​ this week that had me singing a different tune. Or, maybe I should say, I wasn’t singing at all because I was too blown away by their show.

This is a magic show of epic proportions and stars five handsome and talented guys.

Mike Bliss lead the troupe in this show and he’s not only a wonderful magician and slight of hand artist, he was one of the most personable and genuinely funny emcees that I have seen in a long time. His banter with members of the audience was improv at it’s best and even when he was making us laugh, he was still amazing us with his pick-pocketing skills that included removing several watches and at least one belt. All items were given back of course, but it was quite funny to see the reactions on the faces of the people that he included in the act. I would honestly go see a show if the only one on stage was Mike Bliss. Yeah, he was that entertaining.

Also on stage and doing various forms of magic flawlessly are Luka and The Phantom. You can tell by how polished their tricks are that they are professionals who have probably been doing this for most of their lives. Whether it’s music, poetry recital or magic, when the performer has a passion for his craft, you will always walk away entertained and satisfied. These guys did just that.

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As good as all these guys were, there were two stand outs in the performance that night and they are, Jackson Rayne​ and REZA | Illusionist​. Wow! Just wow! These two magicians are at the top of their craft with world class illusions and death defying stunts.

Jackson Rayne broke the Guinness Book of World Records late last year when he escaped from a medical grade straight-jacket 54 times in an hour. Pretty impressive, huh? For our show, not only did he allow himself to be strapped into said straight-jacket, but he was then hung by his ankles upside down and was raised about 15 to 20 feet off the stage. Sounds like a great Houdini style act, huh? Oh, no, he’s not done yet. He is also positioned between two huge jaws of steel with jagged teeth. Seriously. Looks like the open, angry mouth of some legendary dragon in some far away land. Now, I know you’re impressed, but hold on, there’s more. An assistant comes over and lights on fire a rope that is apparently the only thing holding these giant jaws of death open as Jackson hangs upside down in a locked straight-jacket. Okay, now you can ooh and aah, but I have to tell you that there was not a sound in the theatre as Jackson performed his act. It was nail biting, edge of your seat magic that left you excited, nervous, anxious and finally relieved when Jackson Rayne drops to the ground within nano-seconds of the flame finally burning through and the two metal jaws snapping shut.

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Amazing!

Last, but certainly not least is, Reza. He’s mysterious, he’s a little dark, he’s mild mannered and he is hands down the best I’ve ever seen in person. Think David Blaine or Criss Angel and then add cool. That’s Reza. I really can’t even begin to describe his individual tricks and apparent mind reading capabilities, because I have no freakin’ idea how he does any of it. I love anything that involves the mind and anything that makes you think and I tell you, not only did he stimulate my old brain, he does the kind of stuff that makes you feel like it REALLY is magic. As in real magic. You know? Like, Gandalf and Merlin. Your rational mind tells you there’s no such thing, but when you watch Reza on stage, you forget your logical self as he somehow allows you to believe that anything is possible.

Again, I keep wanting to describe his act and exactly what he does, but I can’t. All I can really tell you is that if you want an absolutely fun and entertaining night, if you want to see things I guarantee that you’ve never seen up close before, if you want to simply have your mind blown, then you must go see this show when you’re in Branson. There’s lots of good shows in town, but if you want to experience something unique and otherworldly then you must stop by the Music City Center and check out one of the best shows in Branson.

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Once

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Broadway’s production of Once graced our lovely city with a great performance last night at The Orpheum Theatre.  This was my twelfth show to see at The Orpheum and it did not disappoint.  Two of the things I like most about Broadway shows is their originality and of course, the music.  Once was a completely different kind of show without a lot of fancy stage sets or elaborate costuming, and the story was so real, so emotional, you didnt need or want a lot of distractions. This was one of the most touching shows I have seen. It was simply amazing in it’s simplicity of telling a story between a guy and a girl.

Once is a story of a young, talented musician and it is set in a pub in Dublin, Ireland.  Upon walking in to the theater, your eyes are drawn to the stage where they are letting members of the audience mingle and order some cocktails from what appears to be a real bar. The cast are already present and they break out into impromtu songs with the audience still gathered around them on stage. Every cast member has an instrument and the folk music they are playing is accented with heavy stomping on the stage floor and lots of energy from both the cast and the audience. The members of the audience that have been up on stage are slowly sent back to their seats while the music continues.  The house lights stay up for a couple of more songs and I wasn’t quite sure when the actual show commenced, but it was very cool in it’s casualness and gave the gigantic room a feeling of hominess and warmth.

Early in the show all the stage lights go out except for a gold light that strikes our young musician upon the stage and bathes him in this glow that seems to come from his guitar and from the emotion with which he belts out his original tunes.  When the girl enters and keeps him from leaving his guitar behind in disgust, she looks like a Tolkien fairy princess who just might live in the real world. She’s a young immigrant from Czeckoslavakia that has a little girl named, Ivanka and we learn that she is in a loveless and possibly abusive marriage. Her husband has run out on her and the child and her family has taken her in. When girl meets guy, there is chemistry and destiny and throughout the show, you root for them to find a way to be together.  When the girl approaches the piano for the first time she explains that you must always say hello to a piano, and when she does say hello, you feel the love and tenderness she has for the instrument and for the songs.  When they sing the duet, “Falling Slowly”, the tears became a torrent. Towards the end of the show, there is a scene where every actor on stage sings a quiet song in such an ethereal way as to make the angels in heaven jealous.  You know I cry at every show, but when the ensemble performed that perfectly quiet song with such emotion and with such beauty, I literally sobbed in my seat.

I wasn’t the only one feeling slightly overwhelmed with all the emotions that the songs and the story brought out in me. When the show was over and the cast came out to take their second bow, I saw the girl actually wipe tears from her eyes as she walked to the edge of the stage.  When it’s this good, it’s not called acting anymore,  it’s  just called brilliant.

Nearly every performance that we have seen includes a speech at the end of the night about an organization called, Broadway Cares. One of the actors takes a couple minutes to explain what Broadway Cares does and asks for donations on our way out of the building. This is a wonderful and caring charity that provides support for people with Aids/HIV and since 1988 has raised more than 250 million dollars from donations from theatre patrons.  We were especially impressed last night that it was the leading man and the leading lady who missed the final curtain call because they were already in the lobby, with buckets to collect our donations. They missed some well earned accolades and instead, allowed the crowd to gather round them while they helped make the world a better place. What a great group of people, both on the stage and off.

So, another perfect night in Memphis goes into the book. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to unearth an entirely new side of myself in discovering my love for Broadway and my love for the stories. As a writer, I compare the words in each song to the words in my heart and then want to take the words from my heart and put them on paper in such a way as to bring out that same feeling and love that these musicals and plays evoke in me.  I’m thinking one day, there just might be a screenplay in my heart, just begging to get out. I already have the name…..Life, The Musical.