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July 24, 2014

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Entertainers can park it at the Park; Broadway Bares braces for its fifth-annual performance at Planet Hollywood

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L.E. Baskow

MGM Resorts Chief Executive Jim Murren thanks invited dignitaries as partners AEG and MGM Resorts International break ground with a ceremonial VIP/media event for the 20,000-seat sports and entertainment arena on Thursday, May 1, 2014.

AEG and MGM Resorts Arena Groundbreaking

Confetti flies as AEG and MGM Resorts International representatives and celebrities break ground on a new world-class indoor arena in Las Vegas onThursday, May 1, 2014.  The 20,000-seat sports and entertainment venue will be located near the heart of the famed Las Vegas Strip and adjacent to the I-15 corridor. Launch slideshow »

The Kats Report Bureau has been crisscrossing the valley over the past several days, positioned in the Bellagio office of MGM Resorts overlord Jim Murren on Monday, the latest smoldering performance of BBR at T Spot at Tuscany on Tuesday, the groundbreaking of Style Lounge at the Linq on Wednesday, and the groundbreaking of the MGM Resorts arena and a peek at the peek-a-boo speakeasy 1923 Bourbon & Burlesque by Holly Madison at Mandalay Bay on Thursday.

Saturday it’s ringside at the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Marcos Maidana fight at MGM Grand Garden Arena, which for three decades has hosted fabulous events of all ilk but will be relegated to a less-noticed sibling in the MGM Resorts collection of entertainment houses once the new arena opens in Spring 2016.

The prevailing thought, and reminder, from The Kats Report hovel after this exceptionally kinetic week is that the city’s reputation as the Entertainment Capital of the World is as strong as ever. HBO’s Jim Gray, who traverses the country in his role as a sports commentator, said as much in his opening remarks. Certainly dozens of arenas, music venues and stadia have cropped up across the land offering more space and fancier amenities than the existing facilities in Las Vegas, so Thursday’s groundbreaking was an enormously important moment.

This is to be among the finest arenas in the country, with a hefty price tag (climbing to $375 million this week) funded privately in a partnership of MGM Resorts and worldwide events promoter and presenter AEG. This is the only arena of its kind simply because of its world-famous location, and this week our city served notice that it is the world’s first choice to host major events and festivals.

We are back in the game and not a moment too soon.

On to more scene raking:

• Murren and MGM Resorts entertainment and sports chief Richard Sturm have expressed The Vision for entertainment at the Park. There will be several entertainers hired to perform in that 8-acre escape from the Strip to be assembled right there on the Strip. The Park, which will reportedly cost $100 million to complete, will lead to the new arena between Monte Carlo and New York-New York. The space will be home to a 13,000-square-foot Hersheys outlet (borrowing from the chocolate-as-attraction concept employed for years at M&M World on the Strip), a Shake Shack, the gourmet waffle restaurant Bruxi, the “social dining experience” Sake Rok, the Robert Mondavi Jr. Wine Experience and Cuba Libre Restaurant.

There is to be an open-air beer garden at the Park, too, amid 75 or so “mature” trees, towering metal tulip-styled sculptures providing shade, fountains and walls of water. The Park will open in pieces this year and next, leading to the grand opening of the new arena in 2016.

Amid all this entertainment, culinary and retail development will be a series of live performances and staged acts. What is and is not planned is still being sorted out, but I presented the thought to Murren that if these were strolling performers, the scene might resemble — at least in tenor — the artists who worked at the old MGM Grand Theme Park.

“We spawned a lot of careers out there,” Murren said, referring specifically to one-time MGM Theme Park performer Wayne Brady, who performed a famous “Elvis Jackson” act. “One thing, the street performers who we pay for are in there providing great, free entertainment … this is where no SpongeBob is welcome.”

An aside: Murren has a thing about the SpongeBob character who poses for photos and asks for tips on the Strip. He really has a problem with that particular character. He keeps holding up that character as what he does not want at the Park (it can be said that SpongeBob is to Murren as banana bread is to MGM Resorts PR exec Jenn Michaels). So expect some great entertainment for visitors to the Park, and some new opportunities for artists who want to work on the Strip. But leave the costumes at home — especially SpongeBob.

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Ryan Lyons in his Le Reve The Dream costume.

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Ryan Lyons holds onto a rope while supporter another acrobat during a performance.

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Choreographer and director Jerry Mitchell, flanked by Josh Strickland and the esteemed Edie, implores the audience to donate money at the end of Broadway Bares.

• One of the rowdiest benefit shows, or shows of any type, is set for 11:59 tonight when Broadway Bares tumbles across the stage at Planet Hollywood Showroom. This is the one-time home of “Peepshow” and current staging ground for the Meat Loaf-piloted “Rocktellz & Cocktails” music and storytelling series. The title is “Got Wood?” (The famous response being, “Glad you asked!”) The show is a benefit to the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS nonprofit HIV/AIDS charity organization. The event started as Broadway Cares in New York in 1992 headed up by Tony Award-winning choreographer and director Jerry Mitchell (who brought “Peepshow” to the Strip).

Mitchell and former “Peepshow” performer and dance captain Paula Caselton have had a hand in Broadway Bares since it was launched in 2010, but one who has not received his full due as an organizer and visionary is “Le Reve” performer Ryan Lyons. A “generalist” who is trained on every track in “Le Reve,” Lyons has been wrangling performers, choreographers, carpenters and assorted artistic pros around the city to stage this year’s show.

“This has taken up all of my free time, but I want to give that time,” Lyons says. “We’re looking at 93 performers this year from Strip shows, and getting them all together for rehearsals at the same place at the same time is a big challenge. But there is always a lot of support for the shows. It just requires a lot of planning and coordinating and a lot of Skype conversations with Paula on how to do what we want to do.”

The Bares lineup is stacked, as is customary. Jai Rodriguez (“Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”) is stepping in to host for (physically) ill Mark Shunock of “Rock of Ages.” Expect in this show: Shunock’s cast mates from “Rock of Ages” at the Venetian, dancers from “Veronic” at Bally’s, the Cirque crew from the nightclub Light at Mandalay Bay, performers in “Pin Up” at Stratosphere, cast members from “Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas” at the Quad, and a return visit from Edie of “Zumanity.” Members of Chippendales at the Rio also are expected to turn up.

The show is always a bell-ringer, financially and artistically. Tickets are still available at Ticketmaster for $25; $55 for VIP seating. The cost at the door is $30 and $60.

“It’s tiring and taxing, and we do Broadway Bares with zero budget,” Lyons says, “but it is so rewarding to give back. It’s one of the highlights of the year for all of us.”

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Bob Anderson.

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The Sahara marquee advertises a show with Frank Sinatra, Pat Buttram, Hugh Lambert and Bob Anderson.

Kats With the Dish

Tom Dreesen

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John Katsilometes and Tricia McCrone talk to comedian Tom Dreesen who is headlining May 2-3 at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center.

• This weekend is, by coincidence, a biggie for fans of Frank Sinatra. Bob Anderson is fronting a remarkably ambitious and adventurous turn as Sinatra at the Venetian Theater at 7 p.m. Sunday in “Frank the Man the Music.” Anderson, a Strip stalwart in the ’70s and ’80s with his overnight show at the Top of the Dunes and a well-liked and highly respected “vocal interpreter,” is backed by a 32-piece orchestra under the director of Sinatra’s one-time music director Vinnie Falcone. Anderson also is being made over, cosmetically, by Greg Cannom, nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Anderson has for years been hoping to stage a full-scale tribute to Sinatra in a big room on the Strip, and this is something of an elaborate showcase to spark interest in such a project.

Meantime, Sinatra’s longtime opening act, Tom Dreesen, is at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center tonight and Saturday at 7 (tickets are $39-$69; hit the Smith Center website for info). Known mostly for his dozens of appearances on talk shows during his days with Sinatra, Dreesen also was a groundbreaking touring comic in his partnership with Tim Reid, who would later rise to fame as Venus Flytrap on “WKRP In Cincinnati.” The two teamed for several years as “Tim and Tom” beginning in 1969 and met resistance in clubs across the country, especially on the “Chitlin Circuit” of minority-operated comedy rooms.

“In some places, the black audiences were mad at Tim for performing with me, for selling out to the white guy, being an Uncle Tom,” Dreesen recalled during this week’s episode of “Kats With the Dish” airing tonight at 9 on KUNV 91.5-FM. “In other places, they were mad at Tim just for performing with a white guy. We once had a guy put a lit cigarette out on Tim’s face and then beat the hell out of me … he outweighed me by 100 pounds. We represented what a lot of racists feared, that this could work … I think Tim just couldn’t take it anymore.”

The two wrote a book about their travels and travails, titled “Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White,” being made into a movie by Lone Trees Productions, which is producing the upcoming film “Equalizer” starring Denzel Washington.

One actor who has expressed interest in playing Dreesen: Ryan Phillippe. Dreesen was having dinner recently with Clint Eastwood, who directed Phillippe in “Flags of Our Fathers,” when Phillippe walked over to their table and said, “I just read your book, and if they ever make a movie about your life, I want to play you.” Consider Phillippe the front-runner for that role.

• We’ll be writing more, in due time, about the great Earl Turner. But he is back at Suncoast Showroom on Saturday and Sunday nights, 7:30. Whenever I list or mention the great live performers I have seen in Las Vegas, Turner is on it. Wonderful talent. See him if at all possible. Tickets start at $17.50 (fees included) and are available on the Suncoast website or by calling (702) 636-7075.

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

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