Saturday, March 3, 2012

Las Vegas Basics: Strategies for a Winning Stay

(photo credit: DouglasCole/flickr)
USA Today's Kitty Bean Yancey may not offer tips to hit that million-dollar jackpot but she does offers some basic information for anyone wanting to get the best out of their Las Vegas Vacation. Below are highlighted versions of these great tips.

  • Know When to Go
    • Rates are generally lowest Sunday to Thursday when big conventions aren't in town. July and mid-December often are slow.
  • Deal Yourself the Right Resort
    • Strip hotels tend to be pricier than those downtown. Consider what hotels charge for internet and if rates include resort fees. It all depends where you want to spend your money: Do you want to save money on a room and go to great shows and restaurants, or have a five-star (resort) experience? (or possibly both).
  • Get a Deal On Wheels
    • Taxis aren't cheap when the Strip is gridlocked. Remember this phrase when traveling between the airport and the strip "don't take the tunnel" to avoid running up the fare. Rental car rates can be as low as $10 a day and self-parking at casinos is free.
  • Be a Player
    • Always join the players club at the casino or resort where you'll spend most of your time. Membership is free and bonuses include free gaming and buffet and lodging discounts.
  • Slurp at Happy Hours, Shovel in Restaurant Deals
    • Eat cheap...find where the locals eat which means finding restaurants off the Strip. But the strip can offer meal deals (pre-fixe meals) or all-day buffet passes.
  • See a Show Below the Going Rate
    • Tix4Tonight outlets ( is one such service which offers heavily discounted tickets.
  • Don't forget Vegas' Free Attractions
    • Bellagio fountains; the Sirens of TI; the Bellagio conservatory; The Mirage volcano; "Show in the Sky" at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino; and Freemont Street Experience are among some of the free stuff to see and do.
  • Skip the Velvet Rope
    • Call clubs and pools to avoid a wait and see if you can get on "the list".
  • Pack Like a Vegas Pro
    • You can get away with most anything in Vegas. Looking for better treatment? Dress the part.
  • Don't Be Late at the Gate
    • Be at the airport at least two hours early especially on busy Sundays as security lines can at McCarran Airport can get unwieldily long and move slow.

Click HERE to view the full description of these Vegas 101 Tips on

Thursday, March 1, 2012

'Love Never Dies': Production Photos from the Australian Production Presented in Movie Theaters

Ben Lewis (Phantom) and Anna O'Byrne (Christine) star in 'Love Never Dies'
(all production photos: John Tsiavis)
This post includes additional production photos from the filmed presentation of the Australian (Melbourne and Sydney) production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Love Never Dies' that was presented in movie theaters earlier this week that I was not able to include with the review of the show. The musical is a sequel to 'The Phantom of the Opera' which shifts the action to New York's Coney Island and reveals the lives of the beloved characters ten years later.

Click HERE for a review of the filmed presentation and more production photos.

Anna O'Byrne (Christine) and Simon Gleeson (Raoul)
Simon Gleeson (Raoul)
Maria Mercedes (Madame Giry)
Ben Lewis (Phantom)
Left to right: Dean Vince (Gangle), Jack Lyall (Gustave), Emma J.
Hawkins (Fleck) and Paul Tabone (Squelch).
Center: Sharon Millerchip (Meg Giry)
Anna O'Byrne (Christine)
Ben Lewis (Phantom)
Anna O'Byrne (Christine) and Ben Lewis (Phantom)
Center: Sharon Millerchip (Meg Giry) and the company of 'Love Never Dies.' 
Left to right: Paul Tabone (Squelch), Emma J. Hawkins (Fleck) and
Den Vince (Gangle).
Ben Lewis (Phantom)
Ben Lewis (Phantom) and Jack Lyall (Gustave)
Left to right: Emma J. Hawkins (Fleck), Dean Vince (Gangle) and
Paul Tabone (Squelch).
Ben Lewis (Phantom) and Anna O'Byrne (Christine)
Center: Sharon Millerchip (Meg Giry)
Anna O'Byne (Christine) and Ben Lewis (Phantom)
Anna O'Byrne (Christine) and Ben Lewis (Phantom)
Simon Gleeson (Raoul)
Paul Tabone (Squelch)
Dean Vince (Gangle)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: The Taming of 'Love Never Dies' for Cinemas

The company of 'Love Never Dies.'
Anna O'Byrne and Ben Lewis.
(production photos: John Tsiavis)
Many will argue that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Love Never Dies,’ the sequel to his phenomenally successful musical ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ was unnecessary and a fool’s errand to begin with. But for whatever reasons, Mr Lloyd Webber as composer has created a follow-up piece and in its latest incarnation is a far better if somewhat still imperfect beast than what premiered two years ago in London.

Much of the blame to the failure of ‘Love Never Dies’ in London was placed in the hands at Lloyd Webber but director Jack O’Brien, choreographer Jerry Mitchell and lyricist Glenn Slater also appeared out of their ‘musical comedy’ element. Their talents appeared untrained to handle the serious dramatic material that is Lloyd Webber’s primary musical domain.

The big screen version of ‘Love Never Dies’ presented in movie theatres around the world and premiering last night in the United States, could be called LND V.3 (‘Love Never Dies Version Three). The London production opened in February 2010 and shut down in December of the same year for a few days to institute changes. Though the creative credits remained unchanged it is reported that choreographer Bill Deamer and producer Bill Kenwright were responsible for the creative changes. More obvious are the contributions by original ‘Phantom’ lyricist Charles Hart. Their changes included moving musical numbers and tightening the storyline’s focus on the Phantom and Christine Daae. Though the changes were applauded the production closed in August 2011.

Center: The Phantom's Trio (Paul Tabone, Emma J. Hawkins, Dean Vince)
Simon Gleeson, Jack Lyall and Anna O'Byrne.
The Melbourne production opened in May 2011 with a completely new design team, director (Simon Phillips) and choreographer embracing the changes of the revised London production. Without a rewrite of the score they have delivered a version that could be the template for successive versions of the musical. In fact by the date of this cinema presentation, the Melbourne production would have packed it up and be in the midst of a limited run in Sydney.

‘Love Never Dies’ takes place ten years after the events of ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ Madame Giry and her daughter Meg have helped the Phantom to escape to New York’s Coney Island where the Phantom presents a spectacular called ‘Phantasma’ at where Meg appears on stage while Mme Giry works behind the scenes.

Chrisine and Roaoul with their son Gustave are called to the New York at the invitation of Oscar Hammerstein to help open his new theatre. The Phantom still longing for Chrisine persuades her to sing for him one last song in his Coney Island show much to the chagrin of Madame Giry and Meg. Meg and Madame Giry now struggle for the attention of the Phantom while the gambler/alcoholic Raoul battles to regain the affection for Christine that he has lost some time ago. Christine is torn between these Raoul and the Phantom.

Ben Lewis
Sharon Millerchip (center)
Gone from the show is the time-slip device which saw Madame Giry recalling the glory days of Coney Island. Also changed is a greatly reduced role for the ‘trio’, the Phantom’s three assistants. The Phantom (Ben Lewis) now opens the show with “Till I Hear You Sing,” a song that originally appeared in the middle of act one. Unfortunately the problem remains that Christine (Anna O’Byrne) does not make an appearance until 20 minutes into the show and almost 30 minutes before she utters more than one word that waters down her first appearance in the musical. This moment calls for some dialogue or at least a song for Christine.

One of the welcomed bonuses in the show is Maria Mercedes as Madame Giry and Sharon Millerchip as Meg. Mercedes’ singing is far more melodic that Liz Robertson in the London production. Millerchip is now the fragile star of the Phantom’s Coney Island show is in stark contrast to the brash characterization in the London production.

Simon Gleeson becomes a more sympathetic Raoul and the character is given a solo number “Why Does She Love Me” that the character lacked in the original ‘Phantom.’ The song however is a pale number to open the second act lacking drama and excitement until the Phantom appears and they go mano-a-mano in “Devil Takes the Hindmost”. Though lyricist Slater thought he may be clever in using that title, it will more than likely bewilder most audience members.

Ben Lewis and Jack Lyall
The company of 'Love Never Dies'
It should be noted that this presentation of ‘Love Never Dies’ is meant to resemble a movie rather than a taping of a live production. Though filmed at Melbourne’s Capitol Theatre, the live audience is not addressed other than at the end of the show and the intermission removed. This technique is used to great affect later in the second act when the characters desperately rush through the Coney Island crowds.

How does this Phantom and Christine fare. Lewis and O’Byrne deliver praise-worthy performances that are strong vocally and memorable. The porcelain-skin O’Byrne reveals maturity as she is caught in the role of wife, mother and lover to the three men in her life. It’s quite a loss that her spectacular rendition of the title song is not preserved on CD but thank goodness news reports indicate that this production will be available on DVD and Blu-ray in the coming months.

Lewis harnesses the vocal demands of his first number and shows his versatility when he rocks the house in “The Beauty Underneath” all the while still offering an expressive performance despite his face hidden behind the requisite Phantom half-mask.

Ben Lewis and Anna O'Byrne
Jack Lyall and Anna O'Byrne
If the score lacks the lushness that permeated every note of ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ ‘Love Never Dies’ does have several admirable numbers. Besides the previously mentioned title song, “Til I Hear You Sing,” and “The Beauty Underneath” are the lullaby-like duet “Look to Your Heart” for Christine and her son Gustave; Meg’s amusing Coney Island show songs “Only For You” and “Bathing Beauty”; and the glorious quartet “Dear Old Friend” which is a fine example of excellent music composition, exposition and performance.

One improvement that this viewer would have liked to see is the treatment of songs “Look With Your Heart,” “Beneath A Moonless Sky” and “One Upon Another Time.”  The latter two tend to meld as one number and seems like an elongated scene. An editing or removal (and replacement) of one of these two numbers would help to move the action.

Jack Lyall as Christine and Raoul’s son was well chosen to be the onscreen Gustave (more than one child actor plays the role in the stage production). He lacks the distractive precociousness that often mars these child actor roles. He sings well in his songs with the Phantom and Christine and looks the part.

The company of 'Love Never Dies'
Center: Sharon Millerchip
In reality the production design by Bob Crowley in London was quite fascinating especially with the screen projections that showed the expanse of Coney Island and the Phantom’s tower lair. But the sets and costumes by Gabriela Tylesova for this version are a marvel in their own right. Generous curves meant to resemble an amusement park roller coaster surround the stage and provide ramps that the director uses to keep the stage action flowing to above the stage floor.

The dark and macabre nature of Coney’s Island is played up in the design and lighting shortly after the start of act one and during “The Beauty Underneath” where in both scenes an array of circus show freaks are paraded about.

News reports indicate Lloyd Webber feels this is a definitive version of the show than the original incarnation and he would be happy to see the production produced one day in New York. Until then this Australian version provides glimpses of a workable musical that could have a life beyond down under.

Click HERE to view more production photos from 'Love Never Dies'.

This review is based on viewing the filmed presentation at the Regal Cinemas Dole Connery in Honolulu, Hawaii on February 28, 2012 and presented by in movie theaters by Fathom Events.

Left to right: Dean Vince, Jack Lyall, Anna O'Byrne, Emma J. Hawkins,
Paul Tabone and Simon Gleeson.
Ben Lewis and Jack Lyall

Monday, February 27, 2012

Limiting Weight of Carry-On Bags for Safety

(photo credit: USA Today)
One of the effects of the common practice of charging for checked-bags by the airlines are heavier and an increased number of carry-on bags. These bags can be dangerous if they fall out of bins and most passengers are unaware that these bins have specific weight limits. If you damage the overhead bin, you'll receive the ire other passengers who can no longer use the bin either.

So far Hawaiian Airlines is the first among domestic carriers in enforcing a 25-pound weight limit for carry-on bags. Among other airlines, US Airways personnel may insist a bag be checked if it exceeds 40 pounds. Don't be surprised if Hawaiian personnel asks you to weigh carry-on bags at check-in or ask you to use the the luggage sizer (or portable luggage scales, if available) at the gate. One time on flight from Hilo, Hawaii to Honolulu, I noticed gate agents walking around the waiting area looking at passenger carry-on bags. They did have the courtesy to announce they would be doing so. However I have not seen this practice recently.

Foreign airlines are not immune either to the practice of limiting the weight of bags brought into the cabin. Some in fact have even more stricter carry-on limits:

  • Emirates, 15 pounds
  • Lufthansa, 17.5 pounds
  • Qantas, 15 pounds
  • Virgin Atlantic, 13 pounds

Click HERE to view each airline's carry-on weight limit from AirfareWatchDog.

Heavy carry-on bags presents a liability for the airline, the owner of the bag or the passenger who opens a bin should they be at fault for causing injury to another passenger. Also remember the flight crew is there for your safety and many flight attendants will not stow your bags for you. But on one American Airlines flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Philadelphia, the flight attendants played what I would call the carry-on bag shuffle as they walked up and down the cabin trying to fit bags or moving them from bin to bin to accommodate the abundance of carry-on bags. Finally for your well-being, no passenger should attempt to bring a bag on board they cannot lift themselves and risk getting injured.

For myself, I try to pack light for short trips so I don't have to check any bags. For longer trips, my carry-on will hold only the valuables and some basic necessities just in case (such as an extra change of clothes) and travel size of some toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrush) for long layovers. But with the rising cost of checked-bag fees I don't blame passengers trying to save money especially in these days of rising airfares, fees and fuel.
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