Friday, April 8, 2005 | 8:43 a.m.
"My name is Jacques Heath Futrelle.
"I am a novelist from Scituate, Mass., who has been in Europe for several weeks signing book contracts with publishers in Britain, France, Sweden, Germany and Holland for my 'Thinking Machine' series of mystery novels.
"I, and my wife, Lily May (also a novelist), have booked passage on the R.M.S. Titanic. We depart Southampton on April 10, 1912, for the United States, where we have two children, ages 13 and 15, eagerly awaiting our return.
"On April 9, the night prior to our departure, friends joined me to help celebrate my 37th birthday."
For anyone with even a scintilla of interest in history, the intriguing "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" has docked at the Tropicana for an extended stay -- through Halloween.
The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily. Admission is $16.95 for adults (ages 12 to 61), $15.95 for seniors (62 and older), $13.95 for Nevada residents and $9.95 for children (4 to 11).
When you enter the mobile museum you will be handed a boarding pass with information about one of the 2,228 passengers aboard the Titanic -- more than 1,500 of whom died.
The card will include the name, age, hometown, occupation, ultimate destination and a few facts to help sketch an image of the person who is, figuratively, joining you on this journey through a 25,000-square-foot maze of halls and rooms.
Accompanied by someone who was real helps intensify the experience, making it more personal.
My boarding pass was for that of Futrelle.
I was seeing some of the things the author may have seen -- a piece of the ship's hull; a portal; steam whistles (possibly the largest in the world).
Safely encased in glass are hundreds of items Futrelle, or one of the other passengers, may have held in his hand -- a champagne bottle, silverware, plates, jewelry, binoculars, a bowler hat, articles of clothing.
There is even a replica of an iceberg, with its surface chilled to the freezing temperature those on the ship felt.
Most of the items on display are mundane, or at least they were until they became an intimate part of one of history's most famous disasters -- a story that has been told and retold in books, films and articles.
The Titanic struck the iceberg during its maiden voyage on April 14, 1912, as it made its way from England to New York. It sank off the coast of Newfoundland. Most of those who perished died from hypothermia, not from drowning.
A historical footnote to the incident: The late David Sarnoff, who would become head of RCA and one of the founders of NBC, was a 17-year-old telegraph operator on Nantucket Island, Mass., when the tragedy occurred.
Sarnoff reportedly was the first to receive the news that the Titanic had struck an iceberg. He remained on duty for 72 hours, relaying information and survivor lists provided by the rescue ship, the Carpathia.
The wrecked ship broke in two and lay beneath the surface for more than 70 years. It was discovered in 1985, the two pieces a quarter-mile apart.
RMS Titanic, Inc. was formed to explore the wreck. It was given the sole right to the possession of the ship and its contents by a federal court in 1994.
The company has conducted seven recovery operations thus far, beginning in 1987. The last one was in 2004. More than 5,500 artifacts have been brought to the surface -- everything from a 17-ton portion of the hull to a child's marble.
The exhibition is a bargain in a city where you might pay hundreds of dollars for a 90-minute performance by Elton John or Celine Dion.
For less than $20, you can spend hours getting a sense of life from a different century and keep alive the memory of those who died in the icy waters -- such as Jacques Heath Futrelle.
Speaking of high ticket prices, lasvegasadvisor.com reports that a recent survey it conducted reveals fans are paying an average of 13.7 percent more for tickets today than they paid a year ago for ongoing production shows.
The online company (a subsidiary of Huntington Press) says an average ticket in Las Vegas now costs $53.66 -- an increase of $6.46 over ticket prices from a year ago.
The company has been conducting the survey for 14 years. In 1992, the first year of the survey, the average price of a Las Vegas show ticket was $27.05.
Leading the pack of high ticket prices is Elton John at Caesars Palace, whose admission charge begins at about $210. Celine Dion's tickets begin at about $110.
On the lower end of the price scale are such shows as magician Dirk Arthur at the Tropicana (about $20) and "Forever Plaid" at the Gold Coast (about $30).
Danny Gans is one of the few entertainers, if not the only one, who has fought increasing the price of his tickets, which are $100. Gans spokesman Melanie VanBurch says the impressionist has declined requests by the Mirage to increase the prices by as much as 50 percent -- which would raise the cost to $150.
Two or three times a year Gans, who has missed a number of performances for health reasons the past couple of years, gives performances at reduced rates for locals, not including free shows for firefighters and policemen each Sept. 11.
Tickets for the reduced-rate shows are $25, and there is such a demand for them Gans has resorted to holding a lottery to distribute them -- a form is placed in a newspaper ad well in advance of the date of the show; fans fill out the form (the limit is four tickets per person) and send it in, and then names are selected at random until the room is filled.
"The reason is that the first year they did this, when the box office opened at 9 a.m. there were over 5,000 people lined up in the casino," VanBurch said. "We could fill the showroom five or six times with the mail that we get off one ad."
While the response to Gans' reduced-rate shows may indicate there is a need for less-expensive productions, the head of lasvegasadvisor.com says the higher prices probably aren't turning fans away from the box office.
"Anytime prices rise it's bad," Anthony Curtis said. "But I don't think there will be a revolution. There's so much to choose from."
And every year the number of venues offering entertainment increases -- Wynn Las Vegas opens April 29; South Coast, at Silverado Ranch and South Las Vegas boulevards, is scheduled to open early next year; construction has begun on Red Rock Station in Summerlin.
The survey by lasvegasadvisor.com compared ticket prices for 84 production shows. Headliners who perform brief engagements were not included.
According to Curtis, prices have shown an overall increase in eight of the past nine years.
"That's bad news for the budget of the traveler," Curtis said.
But he says careful shopping can save money for those seeking entertainment.
"Go to the ticket discount centers," Curtis said. "Take advantage of coupons."
For many fans, the increase in ticket prices is not an issue. If they want to see Elton, Barry Manilow or a Cirque du Soleil production, they will pay whatever the price.
"Those who can afford it don't care," Curtis said. "They don't mind paying the higher price.
"And those on a budget can still find a good show."
Steve Cutler doesn't look at the sudden closing of his Casino Legends Hall of Fame at the Tropicana on Thursday as the end of a dream.
"It's not over," he said. "It's not dead by a long shot. It's going to survive and it's going to be bigger and better than ever.
"I'm very confident something will happen. The museum has become an institution in Las Vegas -- like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Baseball Hall of Fame (in Cooperstown, N.Y.), they're forever."
The museum was a joint venture between Cutler and the casino.
Cutler says the museum, which contains thousands of items he has collected over the past 30 years or longer, is not about him, "It's about the people in the Hall of Fame."
In an annual ceremony the museum has honored different entertainers who have been connected to Las Vegas. Items related to each of the honorees were displayed in the 5,200-square-foot room.
Among the first performers to be recognized were Kenny Rogers, the McGuire Sisters, Shecky Greene, Louis Prima and Sam Butera.
For now, the ceremony, scheduled to be held in October, is on hold.
"I'm still thinking October, but where I don't know," Cutler said.
He was caught off guard Last week when the Tropicana announced the 6 1/2-year-old Hall of Fame would close this week.
"We knew a year ago it would end sometime this year at the Tropicana, but we thought possibly it would last through the end of year," Cutler said.
He has been talking with other venues about re-establishing the museum and hosting the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
"A lot of people are looking at it. Everybody wants it," Cutler said. "I've had some offers that I can't talk about."
He says the museum and the Casino Legends Hall of Fame have become an institution.
"It shouldn't belong to me, it should belong to the city," Cutler said.
If he can swing a deal, he says the next museum will have an entirely different look.
"It won't be anything like at the Tropicana," Cutler said. "Showcases will be built into walls. There will be more interactive exhibits. Video shows will be on giant plasma screens. Everything will be behind glass.
"I want to bring the museum into the 21st Century."
Las Vegans concerned about the state's entertainment tax can attend a session discussing the issue at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in room 4412 of the Grant Sawyer Building at 555 E. Washington Ave. in Carson City.
The meeting of the Senate Taxation Committee will be broadcast live to Las Vegas.
Those who would like to testify should call the office of state Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, at (775) 684-1442. McGinness is chairman of the committee.
The discussion will be about Senate Bill 247, a proposal by Sen. Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, to repeal the entertainment tax, which was passed during the 2003 legislative session.
If passed as written, the law will do away with the 10 percent tax for live entertainment and limit the tax to adult entertainment.
Entertainer Wayne Newton has said "Danke Schoen" and adios to the Stardust, where in 1999 he signed a 10-year to perform in a showroom named in his honor.
Newton announced this week he was leaving four years early to "move on to new challenges."
For all the Wayniacs out there, his final performance will be April 20. There is still no word on what Newton's new challenges will be.
Newton recently completed his reality TV show, "The Entertainer," which was taped at the Hilton and aired on E! Entertainment Television (Cox cable channel 36).
Former FBI agent Joseph Pistone, who once posed as mobster Donnie Brasco, will autograph copies of his second book, "The Way of the Wiseguy," beginning at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the Plaza's Center Stage Lounge.
The event is part of the weekly Celebrity Brunch, hosted by actor Larry Manetti, who is vice president of entertainment for Barrick Gaming.
Pistone gained fame with the publication of his first book, "Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia," which was made into a movie in 1997 featuring Johnny Depp as Pistone and Al Pacino as a Mafia member who befriended him.
As an FBI agent Pistone infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in New York City and for six years posed as a jewel thief known as Donnie Brasco.
Pistone is responsible for putting more than 100 members of the Mafia in prison. He spent a total of more than 20 years working undercover for the FBI.
"We are very excited to have Joe at the Celebrity Brunch," Manetti said. "He is a great friend of mine and I look forward to hosting him at our weekly brunch.
"This is a great chance for fans in Las Vegas to meet the real Donnie Brasco."
The topless revue "Aussie Angels, The Wonders From Down Under" will perform its final show at the Hilton's Shimmer Cabaret at 10 p.m. April 30.
Producer Adam Steck said: "Business was not as stellar as we hoped it would be."
The production premiered in November. Steck said it fulfilled a six-month contract.
Steck said the show, the female counterpart to his male revue, "Thunder from Down Under" at Excalibur, was designed to entice those who attended conventions to remain in the hotel rather than seek their adult entertainment in other venues.
"But the show depended upon the ebb and flow of conventioneers," Steck said. "When a convention was in town, business was great."
But when there are no conventions, it isn't so great.
"The crowds loved the show," Steck said. "We're looking at the possibility of taking it on tour, and possibly doing it in Atlantic City."
Blues vocalist Alan Broze suddenly has found himself to be an internationally recognized songwriter.
Broze, who performed Wednesday night at Dennis Mellen's jam session at Steven David's, says he recently received a $55 check in the mail from a recording company in Switzerland for a song he penned in 1987.
The song, "Sweet Rosie Kowalski," was a polka.
The cut was included on polka king Jimmy Sturr's album "Born to Polka."
"My dad was a polka DJ and he wanted me to write a song in response to Bobby Vinton's polkas," Broze, a Cleveland native, said.
Maybe Broze can create an entire new musical genre, the blues polka.
Liberace scholar David Lomascola is performing daily in the Riviera's casino as part of its 50th anniversary celebration.
Wladziu "Walter" Valentino Liberace opened at the Riviera Hotel in 1955, and at the time he was highest-paid entertainer in Las Vegas.
"Mariachi, The Spirit of Mexico" will be the highlight of Cinco de Mayo entertainment at the Aladdin. There will be performances at 8 nightly May 5 through May 8. Ticket prices range from $35 to $65.
The show will feature the groups Mariachi de America, Mariachi Nacional, the Spirit of Mexico Orchestra and Folkloric Dancers. There will be special guest performances by Manual Vargas, Rafael Palomar and Shadan Guerrero.
For information call 474-4000.
Late-night Hispanic entertainment debuts at the Plaza's Center Stage at 11 p.m. April 23.
Each Saturday "Escandalos" will feature renowned DJs and musicians playing everything from salsa to Latin in the lounge that overlooks the Fremont Street Experience.
The April 23 premiere will be hosted DJ Ozzie, billed as "Los Angeles' Legendary Latin Mix Master."
Admission is $15 per person and free for females with a Nevada ID.