What’s new at Disneyland Resort in 2020

Disneyland Resort in Anaheim is kicking off 2020 with exciting new experiences and special vacation values. For a limited time, park tickets and three hotels in Southern California are offering a Special Ticket Offer for Southern California Residents.

Southern California residents can redeem their tickets on any three separate days through May 21, 2020. Disneyland Resort theme park tickets start at $67 per day with the purchase of a three-day, one-park per day ticket. Park Hopper options also are available. Eligible guests may purchase up to five tickets per person, per day, and prices are the same for adults and children. This special ticket also includes one Magic Morning, which gives admission to select attractions on select days at Disneyland park one hour before the park opens to the general public. These special tickets may be purchased at https://disneyland.disney.go.com/3-day-southern-california-ticket-offer/  or through a travel agent. For families visiting from outside of Southern California, there is a Special Ticket Offer for Kids Everywhere. 

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Guests may use their park admission to enjoy thrilling and distinctly Disney experiences including the Lunar New Year through February 9, 2020. This multicultural festively decorated celebration includes Mulan’s Lunar New Year Procession, live holiday entertainment, Sip & Savor Pass with Festival marketplaces, special appearances by Mickey and Minnie dressed in colorful costumes, innovative menus celebrating Asian delights, commemorative clothing, merchandise and souvenirs, kid-friendly crafts and activities.

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The groundbreaking new Disney attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, opened on Friday, Jan. 17 adding immersive adventures to guests inside the largest theme 14-acre expansion land Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge that opened in May 2019.

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Guests join the climactic battle between the Resistance and the First Order in Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and take control of the most famous ship in the galaxy aboard Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, and encounter some of their favorite Star Wars characters, including the resourceful and loyal astromech droid R2-D2.

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While exploring this expansive new land, visitors can also sample galactic food and drink, and enter an intriguing collection of merchant shops.

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Disneyland Resort will debut its all-new “Magic Happens” parade at Disneyland Park on Feb. 28, 2020. The daytime spectacular celebrates the magic of so many Disney stories. This new parade, led by Mickey Mouse and his pals, celebrates the magic from Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios films with stunning floats, colorful costumes and an energetic musical score of beloved Disney tunes. Highlights include “The Sword in the Stone,” “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty,” “Frozen 2,” “Moana,” “The Princess and the Frog,” as well as Disney and Pixar’s “Coco.”

More to come later in 2020 at both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure theme parks.

A Foodie’s guide in Las Vegas

Las Vegas caters to millions of tourists a year, offering some of the most incredible culinary opportunities by the world’s top chefs. From casual to fine dining, Las Vegas is a foodie paradise. Here are some of the city’s favorites to visit:

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Best City View Dining – Inside the all-suite, non-smoking boutique Delano Las Vegas take an elevator up to the 64th floor to Rivea. Perched high in the sky for diners to have one of the best views of Las Vegas, while enjoying French and Italian influenced cuisine from internationally celebrated Chef Alain Ducasse.

What to order: Executive chef Bruno Riou makes an ethereal lobster risotto; savory Angus filet mignon; and decadent chocolate souffle’.

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Best Fountain View DiningThe Mayfair Supper Club at Bellagio Las Vegas is a new elegant lakeside dining and entertainment venue, “Supper clubs of the mid-1900s were the foundation for our country’s best artists and cuisine,” said MGM Resorts International President of Events and Nightlife Sean Christie. “The Mayfair celebrates and modernizes for the 20s of today, combined with spectacular entertainment overlooking the Bellagio Fountains.” The Mayfair delivers an experience that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Guests can request the ‘Table of Heaven’ next to the window overlooking the spectacular aquatic ballet choreographed to music every 30 minutes.

What to order: Lemon Drop cocktail;Wagyu handrails with caviar and a glittering gold leaf; and edible chocolate and hazelnut cigar under a hickory-smoke glass cloche.

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Eat. Drink. Shop Eataly Las Vegas at Park MGM is comprised of more than a dozen authentic Italian eateries and hundreds of high-quality Italian products. Visitors have the opportunity to eat, shop and learn their way through one of the greatest cuisines in the world under a single roof.

What to order: Knights Up! Every game day Eataly offers a two-course prix fixe for $28 at La Pizza e La Pasta. Enjoy a fresh salad or housemade mozzarella for a starter followed by your choice of authentic Neapolitan-style pizza or fresh pasta. This special is available all day. Enjoy with a “Knight Shandy cocktail made with Ketel One Botanical Grapefruit & Rose Vodka, Antica Carpano Vermouth, bitters, lemon juice, and topped with Dogfish Head “Seaquench” Ale. Normally priced at $16, this cocktail is only $13 on home game nights and available at all three bars inside Eataly Las Vegas.

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Celebrity Chef Restaurant Gordon Ramsay Steak is a fine dining steakhouse inside Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. It’s Ramsay’s first restaurant in Las Vegas, originally open in 2012. Walk through a red neon ‘chunnel’ entrance into the bar and fiery red and black two level dining room interior. Artwork on the walls feature the celebrity and internationally renowned chef. Cuts of prime beef that are aged to perfection are presented to each table on a rolling cart. Servers explain each cut for guests to learn about before selecting.

What to order: The menu offers caviar, decadent roasted beef Wellington, a variety of seafood and steak entrees. Table iPads display an array of wines and cocktails. The botanical antioxidant cocktail with an iced shellfish platter, Triple seared Japanese A5 Kobe and Ramsay’s legendary sticky toffee pudding.

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Fun Top Diner foodCafe Hollywood inside Planet Hollywood offers iconic extravagant candy-coated Supernova Shakes. The chocolate shake is enhanced with brownies and chocolate candies. Other flavors include vanilla, banana or a creative strawberry concoction.

What to order: Poke Nachos, Hollywood Bowl salad, Grilled Mac and Cheese sandwich and a juicy The Hollywood half pound USDA Choice beef burger topped with roasted pork belly, a fried egg & garlic aioli.

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Most Elegant Dining Room – Similar to the NoMad New York and NoMad Los Angeles, storytelling is the heart of the curated NoMad Restaurant in Las Vegas. The dining room walls are lined with over 20,000 David Rockefeller collection books in the soaring two-story room. Every meal is exciting by James Beard winning chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s team. They prepare American classics in a grand way with a touch of theatricality.

What to order: Fruits de Mer tower filled with oyster and mignonette, sea urchin and caviar, lobster and tarragon, hamachi and horseradish, king crab and fennel scallop and pistachio. The NoMad roast chicken and the American Wagyu prime rib. Stay to hear Brian Newman in the reimagined Las Vegas lounge to hear an ode to “Old Las Vegas.”

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Creative Korean Fare – David Chang’s opened Majordomo Meat & Fish inside The Venetian. Guests can enjoy signature items including Chang’s smoked whole plate short ribs, famed Macaroni & Chickpea with black truffles.

What to order: a trio of Bing “fluffy flatbread” topped with spicy lamb, chickpea dip and honey butter. 

Casual & Creative dining  – David Chang just opened Moon Palace at The Venetian that locals and guests are excited to try the Tastys – a griddled patty served with grilled onions, American cheese on King’s Hawaiian rolls.

What to order: Hot Chips seasoned with salt or honey butter that are both crunchy and chewy in texture. Dip the chips is a Luna Sauce. For dessert the Half Dip is made up of two pillowy pancakes filled with marshmallow fluff and half-dipped in chocolate.

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Where the Winners GoHeritage Steak at The Mirage is another ultra cool celebrity chef restaurant by Tom Colicchio. His team of chefs work the charcoal grills and wood-burning ovens. The aromas from the open kitchen and immersive table side experience  entertains guests senses.

What to order: Lump crab cakes, lobster salad and Australian Wagyu Flat Iron with a chimichurri glaze.

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After a Show inside the MGM Grand Ambra Italain Kitchen + Bar offers a blend of classic Italian fare in a colorful setting with warm jewel tones and a soft glow of Ambra’s unique honey-golden bar and lounge shaking craft cocktails.

What to order: Crispy squash blossoms, Lobster Spaghetti Fra Diavolo, meatballs Al Forno, grilled Branzino and  Tiramisu.

Night Time Fun at Descanso Gardens

Once a month at sunset when visiting hours are over at Descanso Gardens, a new evening event series, Cultivate, offers guests a learning opportunity about nature and the foothills in a new way.

It’s a fun date night activity to take a guided tour to learn about hidden garden stories. Attend talks by guest speakers about science, nature, people’s relationship’s to plants and the world around you. Listen to music under the trees and enjoy a meal at the new dining destination, The Kitchen at Descanso.

For families, there will be hands-on activities for all ages. Juliann Rooke, Descanso Gardens’ Executive Director said “We’re thrilled to offer new ways for members and non-members alike to enjoy the Gardens and explore everything they have to offer—especially at night!.”

Starting this Saturday February 1, and taking place once a month through September 4, Cultivate begins at 5:30 p.m., with informative talks, food and drink by The Kitchen at Descanso. Tickets  are $5 for members, and $15 nonmembers and advance registration is required at www.descansogardens.org.

Here is the Cultivate Schedule:

  • Saturday, February 1: Under the Oaks Theatre. 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 7: Hilltop Gardens. 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 4: Rose Garden. 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 4: Oak Grove. 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, June 7: Wellness. 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, July 4: Camellia Garden. 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, August 2: Sound and Movement. 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Friday, September 4: Oak Grove. 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Descanso Gardens is a public garden located at 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011. It’s open daily (closed Christmas) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults; $6 for seniors and students with a school I.D.; $4 for children 5 to 12, and free for ages 4 and younger.

Descanso Gardens is a member-supported garden accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Join Descanso Gardens and enjoy free admission and early entry year-round. Information: (818) 949-4200 or descansogardens.org.

 

Wellness Santa Monica Shore Hotel

For those flying coach to Los Angeles sitting in the dreaded middle seat, not only will you get off the plane a little hangry, but probably tired and possibly a little jet lagged too.

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If you book a room at Santa Monica’s oceanside, wellness-minded Shore Hotel, and show proof of being seated in a coach-class middle seat on any arriving flight into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the staff at the hotel will upgrade guests to an ocean-view room when checking in between January 28 and March 31, 2020, subject to availability.

A recent study about airplane design shows that airline seats have shrunk as much as 4 inches over the years, now offering a minuscule 28-30 inch pitch, and only 18-inch wide. Non-reclining seats are becoming increasingly more uncomfortable, causing millions of air travel trips to be cancelled or avoided, because people hate long security lines and flying.

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Once they arrive to the Santa Monica Beach hotel, and check into their room, guests can sit out on their outdoor balcony featuring two chairs and a table for first class views. Rooms overlook the famous Santa Monica Pier, and a bird’s eye view of Ocean Avenue, the beach, and Santa Monica’s famous sunsets, all from ocean-facing balconies.

Wellness opportunities include soaking up some sun and swim in a large solar heated pool warmed to the temperature of 86 degrees. Nearby is an even warmer bubbling whirlpool. More than 75% of the hotel’s roof surface is covered in solar-reflecting panels. The outdoor center also offers an alfresco cocktail bar, flowing water feature, and patio dining at Blue Plate Taco.

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Guest rooms are visually appealing in bright orange and pretty aqua blue colors. A see-through glass enclosed rain shower features local bath products by LATHER. Pillow top mattress’ have hypoallergenic pillows and duvet covers. Each room offers free high-speed Wi-Fi 55”, a LED HDTV with cable and Showtime, plus a iHome docking station. There is a fully stocked private mini bar, and a coffee/tea maker with in-room organic and fair trade Wolfgang Puck coffee. Two white plush bathrobes are located inside the closet. Slippers can be brought up for guests by staff upon request.

Onsite chefs prepare food using organic local produce and free trade food such as free-range poultry, eggs, meat, wild-caught salmon, organic coffee and organically grown fruit and vegetable whenever possible.

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Reservations can be made here or by calling (310) 458-1515. In order to receive the upgrade, guests must have a pre-existing booking with Shore Hotel and show their boarding pass at check-in.

The Shore Hotel is located at 1515 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Celebrate The Year of the Rat at Universal Studios

The “Year of the Rat” celebration is now at Universal Studios Hollywood through February 9, 2020. Guests with birthday years that correspond with the “Year of the Rat” are said to be intelligent, witty and charming. Festive red banners list the years of each Chinese zodiac animal, as the theme park celebrates with this annual Lunar New Year event.

A Mandarin-speaking MEGATRON from “Transformers: The Ride-3D” greets guests under the Happy Lunar New Year arch before entering Po’s Village in Universal Plaza.

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At no additional cost, guests can learn some Kung Fu Panda moves from Po, take an art class at Feng The Palace Artist Stand to learn how to draw Po, the Dragon Warrior with an artist from the fabled Jade Palace.

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Make a wish and attach it on one of the blossoming pink wishing trees. Pose with Tigress for photos in front of a Chinese background.

Only for this special celebration, meet Po’s adoptive father, Mr. Ping and have a chat before enjoying some of his delicious noodles and other food options from his nearby Noodle Shop.

Be sure to see the immersive “Kung Fu Panda Adventure” Attraction across the way.

Hello Kitty and Illumination’s Entertainment Minions are all adorned in custom-designed Lunar New Year Attire. The Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride will add to the festivities, entertaining guests in their brightly colored traditional Lunar New Year attire.

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The world-famous Studio Tour is available in Mandarin at select times throughout the day. Featuring expertly-trained Mandarin-speaking tour guides, the experience provides insight into the world of movie-making magic as guests enjoy behind-the-scenes access to one of the largest production studios in the world. In-language park maps are also available for guests.

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Guests can continue their Lunar New Year celebration at Universal CityWalk’s Dongpo Kitchen restaurant which features upscale and modern Sichuan cuisine. Inspired by China’s premier restaurant Meizhou Dongpo, Dongpo Kitchen offers the comforts of a casual dining environment with both indoor and al fresco seating and caters to an eclectic palate with a variety of signature dishes.

Lunar New Year is included in the Price of Admission to Universal Studios Hollywood from Thursday, January 23 through Sunday, February 9. More information is available at www.UniversalStudiosHollywood.com. Mandarin-speaking guests can learn more about the Lunar New Year event at www.ush.cn.  Information is also available on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTubeand Weibo @好莱坞环球影城.

Sting’s “The Last Ship” sails into LA

Sting is quite a storyteller in his new musical “The Last Ship” now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. It took him many years to write the hauntingly memorable songs that he sings with a stellar cast.

His inspiration for this show is a collage of the men and women that he grew up with in the shipbuilding community of Wallsend, north of England. Born in an epic landscape, the symbolism of ships and the thousands of men who worked in his town, shaped him as a man, and the music and lyrics he writes to honor them.

Before the show begins, many members of the cast walk onstage while the house lights are still up, as the audience finds their seats. The cast clap to Celtic style folk music, hug each other, chat, dance and look out into the audience.

When the house lights fade to black, foreman Jackie White (Sting) is front and center as the lights go up. Los Angeles is lucky to have the Grammy Award winning singer perform in this role. When the show was on Broadway and the UK, this role was performed by other actors.

As a narrator describes the community of people working and living near the shipyard, she speaks with a thick regional dialect that some may find difficult to understand.

When the second song sung by the company, “Island of Souls” begins, Sting fans will discover it’s the same award winning song from The Soul Cages album written in the early 90s. Sting’s lyrics are about a ship builder’s son, and a ship that carries a father and son “far away from this town,” foretelling the plot of this story

Two other songs in Act Two are from Sting’s past, including “All This Time” from The Soul Cages album, sung by Ellen Dawson (Sophie Redi) and “When We Danced” from the Field of Gold album.

During the song “Shipyard,” we learn while watching the cast sing and dance to choreography by Lucy Hind, that the men “built battleships and cruisers for Her Majesty the Queen and super tankers for Onassis.” The shipyard is the only life these men and women know.

I read that Sting never wanted to work in his town’s shipyard, because it was a scary, dark and dangerous place, casting shadows while towering near the front of his house. Lighting designer Matt Daw enhances this feeling with projections of clouds and a shipyard in sepia and gray colors on various scrims. My favorite lighting enhancements were sprays of water, so realistic I could imagine feeling the cool droplets, and a lighthouse projected on the back, while other lights bathed the set at each rotation.

Award winning designer 59 Productions set allows the actors to climb up ladders, and move easily about in their costumes by designer Molly Einchicomb. She dresses them in  neutral colored industrial clothing and coveralls.

The story is about friendship, love and perseverance. Gideon Fletcher (Oliver Savile) is a prodigal son who desires to leave home, before he winds up a shipbuilder like his father.  I liked how director Lorne Campbell staged Old Joe Fletcher (Sean Kearns) while singing “Dead Man’s Boots” with his son Gideon. The term “Dead Man’s Boots” means you can’t get a job until someone has died. This notion to work for life at the shipyard is not in young Gideon’s future. He seeks a better life, away from his home and aspires to sail away. Urging his sweetheart Meg Dawson (young Meg – Jade Sophia Vertannes, adult Meg – Frances McNamee) to join him, she isn’t quite ready to leave her family and friends, so Gideon sails away on a ship alone. Savile has a golden voice, and at times sounds like Sting, especially when signing Sting’s song “When We Danced.” Other moving songs Savile sings include “And Yet”, “Dead Man’s Boots” and “What Say You, Meg?” while trying to woo his sweetheart back into his life.

Sting has such a charismatic stage presence, yet so do other performers including Adian Sanderson (Marc Akinfolarin) who prefers intellectual discourse and has a preference for the metaphor. He is well read, reading Odyssey by Homer and has a gift for rhyming and meter. His lines are recited as sonnets, similar to Shakespeare.

Jackie White’s wife Peggy (Jackie Morrison) has a beautiful singing voice, especially while singing “The Last Ship”, “So to Speak” and “Underground River.” Morrison brought tears to my eyes while singing with the other women in the company “Women at the Gate” and “Show Some Respect.”

The town drunk Davey Harrison (Matt Corner) is a happy go lucky guy, never miserable and never blue, yet has a temper about what is right and wrong. He shares how he “was sober once for three hours, and it was the worst day of his life.” Corner is magnificent in this role and brings a lot of energy to the stage. As does Billy Thompson (Joe Caffrey) as the union leader at the shipyard.

While Gideon is gone, the future of the shipyard dims as the Manager (Sean Kearns) and Baroness Tynedale (Annie Grace) hold a special meeting to inform the workers that the boat “Utopia” has no buyers. If the ship is not sold, the ship has no value and will have to be taken down for scrap metal. It will be the last ship built in this yard.

With their futures uncertain, just like the miners and steel workers of this era, tensions flare and the townspeople unite and plan to picket. Foreman Jackie White (Sting) rallies the workers to take over and finish building this one last ship, while he battles damaged lungs from years of exposure in the shipyard.

Gideon returns home after his father’s death, 17 years later, to find a storm brewing at the shipyard, and with the love he left behind.

Hope is on the horizon, and the mountain of steel does sail on the sea to lay to rest a beloved man. At the end of the show, you will sing “The Last Ship” sailing all the way home.

Performances for Sting’s acclaimed musical, “The Last Ship,” runs a limited five-week engagement through February 16, 2020 at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Cast ‘Jackie White’ Sting, ‘Meg’ Frances McNamee, ‘Peggy White’ Jackie Morrison, ‘Gideon Fletcher’ Oliver Savile. The remainder of the entirely British cast includes Marc Akinfolarin, Joe Caffrey, Matt Corner, Susan Fay, Orla Gormley, Annie Grace, Sean Kearns, Oliver Kearney, David Muscat, Tom Parsons, Joseph Peacock, Sophie Reid, Hannah Richardson and Jade Sophia Vertannes.

Music and Lyrics by Sting, New Book and Direction by Lorne Campbell, Original Book by John Logan & Brian Yorkey, Designer 59 Productions, Sound Designer Sebastian Frost, Lighting Designer Matt Daw, Music Supervisor and Orchestrator Rob Mathes, Musical Director Richard John, Movement Director Lucy Hind.

Ticket prices start at $35 at CenterTheatreGroup.org, or call Audience Services at (213) 972-4400 or visit the Center Theatre Group Box Office (at the Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012). Members of all creative and labor unions are invited to set sail with Sting in his musical, The Last Ship, at on select Friday performances, January 17, 24, & 31. Center Theatre Group salutes the labor movement and the power of collective action with this exclusive ticket offer. $49 Tickets (Reg. $90-$120) can be reserved in advance, but must be picked up at the Will Call with Union ID. Use promo code UNION to buy tickets now.

For more information on the production and a video sneak peek, visit thelastshipmusical.com

The performance length is approx. 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.

This review was featured in OnStage Blog.

71Above – Where the term “elevated dining” really means something

71Above, located on the 71st floor of the US Bank Tower, offers panoramic views of downtown Los Angeles and beyond. The OUE Skyspace, a 45-foot slide cantilevering outside of the high-rise building, while separate from 71Above, provides a thrilling start to an evening out.

Executive chef Javier Lopez prepares an elevated seasonal menu and adds a personal flair to many of his dishes.

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The restaurant is built around a unique 360-degree compass next to the floor-to-ceiling windows, which change in opacity as the sun moves across the sky, with an individual compass at each table.

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Sitting at a table overlooking Malibu to Palos Verdes, the uninterrupted panorama of greater Los Angeles is breathtaking during the day and very romantic in the evening.

Guests can choose from three different dining experiences: a reservation deposit for a prime window table, an edge table right at the window or one of the two chef’s tables that offer a direct view into the kitchen.

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Both the lunch and dinner menus are prix-fixe, with a two-course lunch menu for $35. Guests can also select an optional wine pairing for an additional $24 during lunch.

Our friendly server went over the menu and shared the staff favorite: a creamy and rich black squid ink pasta layered with shredded crab and slightly spicy Calabrian chili peppers.

First course items on the menu include a parsnip soup with pickled apple mostarda made from mustard seeds, shaved walnuts and pretty nasturtium flowers. Other selections include a burrata with sliced persimmon, and fried Brussels sprouts glazed with a Mandarin green apple curry sauce. We chose a yellow tail hamachi, a market salad and a roasted beet salad as our starters.

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The market salad was a colorful bowl displaying green and purple endive and Bibb lettuce. Thinly sliced Asian pears, parmesan cheese, chopped almonds and a light olive oil dressing delivered an earthy profile.

Artistically arranged with two rows of Japanese yellow tail, half of the hamachi was wrapped with thinly sliced cucumber and topped with sliced grapes, while the other half was topped with red beet medallions and sprigs of micro-greens.

Roasted beets were placed on a bed of ancient farro with a sprinkling of buckwheat grains on the top. This dish was dressed lightly and the texture of the grains balanced the smoothness of the beets.

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For the second course, we selected the New Zealand salmon filet. Cooked in a miso brown butter with coconut, the filet was served with three types of squash including a maple glazed squash and a puree.

Two large pan-seared diver scallops were served on a bed of farro risotto. Crunchy julienne leeks and a creamy leek foam dazzled the top of this dish. The third entrée was the staff’s favorite squid ink pasta.

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We finished with a bowl of coconut custard hidden under a bright green basil gelée. Dollops of Key lime curd, a scoop of strawberry sorbet, freshly cut strawberries and crunchy, flavorful sesame brittle decorated the top. The complexity and textures of this dessert offered an array of bright and clean flavors.

The second dessert was a round, crisp ginger snap tuile wafer on top of dark chocolate cremeux, smoked banana ice cream and a salted peanut crumble. Both desserts were pleasing in presentation and flavor.

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Pastry chef Vanesa Beltran oversees the program and will introduce a wide range of new artistic desserts including vegan and gluten-free sweets for the lunch and dinner menus.

Spur-of-the-moment guests can come in for dinner and sit in the bar or lounge without a deposit reservation. On a first-come, first-served basis, diners can order from the a la carte Bar Bites menu prepared by the same fine dining kitchen.

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Items on the menu include oysters, a potato and two-cheese fritter with truffles, a falafel with za’atar and pickled onion, and dates wrapped in bacon and blue cheese. Shareable plates include roasted beets, charcuterie with selected cured meats and marinated olives, and a chef’s selection cheese plate. Heartier fare includes steak tartare, octopus and Nduja Bolognese pasta.

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The bar makes cocktails inspired by neighborhoods in Los Angeles, including the Hollywood, which offers a spicy grapefruit essence made from jalapeño Grey Goose vodka and grapefruit cordial. The West Hollywood is made with apple-enhanced Hangar 1 Vodka, apple brandy, and apple and cinnamon cordial. Beers include a Lagunitas Czech Pilsner, Saint Archer white ale, North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial, and Almanac Sunshine and Opportunity sour beers.

71Above will be offering a special four-course Valentine’s Day dinner menu on Feb. 14 for $150 per person. Lead sommelier Catherine Morel will introduce some of her favorite wines with a supplemental $75 wine pairing.

Reservations for lunch during the week are recommended, but not required for the main dining room starting at 11:30 a.m. The restaurant is open nightly for dinner starting at 5 p.m. Reservations can be made on the restaurant’s website, and payment in full gives you a “ticket” with the number of guests and time of the reservation. Pricing varies and depends on the menu. $$$ 633 W. 5th St., (213)712-2683.

This article was featured in the Beverly Press on Jan. 23, 2020

Cirque du Soleil VOLTA “WOW’S” LA

Attending the Opening Night of the energetic Cirque du Soleil VOLTA, I noticed the traditional blue and yellow striped tent was replaced with a zebra stripe looking white and black tent.

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Guests of all ages received a bright red foam nose, and those 21+ a wrist band to sip flutes of bubbly Nicholas Feuillatte Champagne from France. Nicholas Feuillatte is a Premiere Partner for Cirque du Soleil.

There are multiple photo opportunities outside this one-of-a-kind Big Top show. Celebrities Frankie J. Grande from Rock of Ages Hollywood and Miles Brown from Black-ish walked the red carpet in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium.

The first act as The Wow Game Show contestant is The Otako Double Dutchers. There are 10 performers in white and in gold costumes perform awe-inspiring moves using two long jump ropes. They nimbly jump and move swiftly as colored laser beams add excitement to their act. Mr. Wow and the audience offer a thumbs up.

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Upstairs on the second level is a young boy rockin’ the electric guitar adding to the high energy show.  The next contestant is China Song, performing a string and spool act. The act has the audience clapping with Mr. Wow giving China Song a thumbs up.

From Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nildo spins inside a life size hoop. The choreography is mind boggling, and everyone gives this performer a thumbs up.

Lastly, a Los Angeles native named WAZ, self conscious about the blue feathers on his head, he enters the show in search of fame and acceptance. While thinking that the accolades he receives during his acrobatics and dance moves will bring him love and acceptance from others, he discovers fame is not the answer to happiness.

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WAZ is now the main character throughout the show. We watch how he reflects on the memories of his childhood and reconnects with his true self that makes him unique.

First nine performers dressed in grey costumes hold lit cell phones and crowd around WAZ. They are glued to their technology and are out of sync with their true selves, just like he is in the beginning.

ELA, a beautiful Freespirit on roller-skates, tries to befriend WAZ and the “Grey’s” rousing them out of their doldrums.

As this story continues to unfold, we watch different acts that include a performer who hangs, spins and soars while holding a red lamp shade hanging down from the ceiling.

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One of my favorite acts involved trampolines. A small apartment style set is pushed out to the center with trampolines below. Ten performers hang out of the windows and then jump. They soar up to the rooftop and dive back down. The set rotates so the audience can see both sides. Audience members roar with adoration as the performers do handstands and then dive down and rise up.

An extraordinary female performer (photo above) dances with ease and soars as a cable is attached to her hair lifting her off the stage floor. It looks so painful, yet the crowd went into a frenzy of  applause.

Other female aerialists soar as four Aztec-dressed bare-chested male warriors fly through the air on hanging rings.

The audience holds its breath at times when two performers soar, climb and unite on a long ladder.

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Cirque du Soleil fans clapped throughout the charismatic tumblers act as personable young men dove through hexagon shaped hoops. The adulation they received reminded me of the fans of the mega-popular boy band BTS.

Towards the end, the “Greys” discover freedom and become The Freespirits in a visually striking act. The BMX cycle acrobatic performers soar with choreographed spins and turns that had the audience on the edge of their seats.

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Driven by a stirring melodic score with a full band and two singers, the female singer in a flapper style string dress, also plays a violin that mesmerizes the audience with her melodic sounds.

VOLTA is one of Cirque du Soleil’s finest. The performers infectious adventure and spirit fuels inspiration for WAZ to transform and become his true self. By fulfilling one’s true potential, and recognizing one’s own power, he is liberated and free from doubt.

Showtimes are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday they are also offering a 4:30 performance and on Sunday the performances are at 1:30 and 5 p.m. Friday at Tickets start at $42. Click on VOLTA to see availability.

VIP Tickets are available and include the best seats, complimentary parking, small bites and drinks before the show and sweet treats during intermission, VIP Suite, restrooms and special gift.

Cirque du Soleil VOLTA is located at 1000 Vin Scully Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

This review was featured in OnStage Blog.

The New Viking Jupiter Ship

Last week, at the International Ballroom inside the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Viking Cruise Line invited 800 cruise and travel professions to the official naming of their newest Viking ocean ship, Viking Jupiter. It’s the sixth and latest elegant, state-of-the-art small class Viking ocean ship to sail with 930 guests.

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During the official naming of the beautiful ship in Beverly Hills, Executive Vice President Karine Hagen thanked her father Chairman Torstein Hagen for allowing her to do something meaningful in her life.

The ship offers all veranda stateroom and suites designed to provide maximum comfort. They range from 405 to 1,163 sq. ft., and have one of the best bathrooms of any cruise line.

Dining is destination-focused with regional cuisine, and Viking offers the most al fresco dining at sea. There are 8 dining options, all with no additional charge to passengers.

To bless the ship, a violinist came out to perform onstage, and Google Earth was projected on a large screen. One of the Viking Captains arrived onstage and conversed with the Viking Captain onboard the Viking Jupiter via satellite. As the ship sailed towards Cape Horn, Chile, the naming ceremony of this ocean vessel began.

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A Nordic Viking approached the stage with an axe (the symbol of power and success), and Norway’s most beloved soprano singer Sissel Kyrkjebo. She is the Viking Jupiter godmother, and joined him to perform the ancient Norwegian ship naming ritual, that goes back more than 4,000 years. Sissel is Norways most beloved singer and the voice of Ariel in Disney’s film The Little Mermaid. As the formal godmother of the ship, her duty is to bless the ship, and the safety of her crew and passengers throughout her journey.

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Traditionally, godmothers break a bottle of champagne against the ship’s bow during the formal naming before the inaugural sail. On Viking, they use the spirit of the Nordics, instead of champagne, they break a bottle of Gammel Opland Aquavit to name their ships. This Aquavit is a celebratory drink people sip during special occasions, and traditional Norwegian Christmas meals.

Founded in 1997, Viking founders purchased four ships in Russia and called this small line, Viking River Cruises. By 2000 they expanded into the American cruise travel market. Soon it became the leading long ship leader exploring the world’s rivers. Growth continued creating more ways for guests to experience and explore the world, and soon Viking became the largest river cruise line in the world. With this success, in 2015 Viking introduced Viking Ocean Cruises and expanded its global reach.

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What makes Viking ships unique is that they are simple and elegant, not splashy and gaudy. The cruises are calm, quiet, informative, enriching and quite different from others. What also sets this cruise line apart from others is they don’t allow children under 18, they have no casinos onboard and they don’t nickel and dime their cruise passengers.

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Viking has designed a specific cruise program for Chinese travelers who wish to sail Europe’s iconic waterways.

Today with 72 river ships and 6 ocean liners, Viking connects people and cultures around the world. Coming soon, Viking will introduce Viking Expeditions taking passengers to Antartica, the Arctic and The Great Lakes in 2022.

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Torstein Hagen shared with the guest that his most favorite cruise is the “Waterways of the Tsars.” It’s from St. Petersburg to Moscow on a 13 day cruise from May to October 2020 and starts at $5,499 per person.

To learn more click on Viking Cruises.

“WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME”

While attending the opening night of “What The Constitution Means To Me” now at the Mark Taper Forum, writer Heidi Schreck encourages the audience to ponder about the importance and how dated the U.S. Constitution is today.

Direct from Broadway, Director Oliver Butler has actress Maria Dizzia open the 100 minute show as an adult Schreck, and a fifteen-year-old Schreck participating in an American Legion debate competition. She asks the audience to become the same group of white male American Legion members who watched and judged her debates when she was a teen. 

We learn that Schreck was a pretty good debater, earning enough prize money to pay for her entire state college tuition. A few years ago, Schreck was thinking about the value and inadequacy of our Constitution, especially after our current administration gained power. She believes it’s time to re-evaluate the documents that she was zealous about as a teenager. 

Transforming into a teen, Dizzia describes how Schreck had a “buzz cut like Annie Lennox” the 1980s lead singer and songwriter for the band Eurythmics. She talks about her fascination with witches and actor Patrick Swayze.

Actor Mike Iveson appears in the audience as an American Legion proctor.  He walks onto the diorama style stage to begin the debate. Scenic designer Rachel Hauck enhances the room with four rows of framed photos of Legion Hall members.

The play focuses on questions asked by Iveson about Amendment 9 and Amendment 14 of the Constitution. The one thing I felt is sometimes it was hard to follow Dizzia transitioning from Schreck’s teenage and adult self. When she reveals intimate details about the sexual and physical abuse suffered by four generations of women in her life, she shares how these experiences relate to these amendments in the Constitution. We learn how it shaped and destroyed each of these women. 

The show details how the Constitution was written to protect rich white males, and how women’s rights, immigrants and citizenship rights are teetering today. This personal spin to each Amendment may make some in the audience uncomfortable, as she focuses on sexual assault, domestic abuse, and how immigration is dealt with under our current administration. Taped recordings of Justices Anthony Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasis the points made in this play.

Later in the play, Iveson comes out of character and shares with the audience about his own sexuality and how the Constitution doesn’t always protect him, even though he is a white male.

About 75 minutes into the play Dizzia engages in a debate about why we should modify the Constitution with a precocious 15 year old debater Rosdely Ciprian who believes we should leave it alone. Theatre ushers pass out little blue booklets by the ACLU on the Constitution of the United Stares of America. As the audience listens to these two women debate, they hear their opinions and decide who they believe should win. One audience member is chosen to read her final verdict aloud for all to hear. 

Nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play and a finalist spot for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this show will appeal to history buffs, liberals and feminists, but might make some in the audience uncomfortable as the playwright tackles abortion, equal citizen protection and immigration.

The play runs from Jan. 12 through Feb. 23, 2020.

The cast includes Maria Dizzia, Mike Iveson, Rosdely Ciprian and Jocelyn Shek on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings, and during Sunday matinee shows. Gabriel Marin and Jessica Savage are understudies. Director by Oliver Butler, the creative team includes scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costume design by Michael Krass, lighting design by Jen Schriever, and sound design by Sinan Refik Zafar. The production stage manager is Nicole Olson and the casting director is Taylor Williams.

Tickets start at $79 and are available at https://www.centertheatregroup.org/ or at the box office  or by phone (213)628-2772 starting at 10 a.m. weekdays, non on Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday. A limited number of $15 student rush tickets are available for every performance. Tickets may be reserved beginning at 10 a.m,, the day prior, while supplies last, and must be picked up at the Box Office with valid student ID. 135 N Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

The New Black Star Burger

When Plan Check closed on Fairfax Avenue, I was eager to see what would open in its place. Located down the street from Jon & Vinny’s, Supreme and Canter’s Deli, Black Star Burger has become one of the trendiest food and clothing destinations in Los Angeles.

The very first Black Star Burger opened in Moscow in 2016 and became so successful that 20 locations opened across Eastern Europe.

For the grand opening of its first American location, Black Star Burger partnered with Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd, a songwriter, American record producer and singer who co-wrote many of Justin Bieber’s hit songs. When he hosted the grand opening in November, celebrities Justin and Hailey Bieber and “Dancing with the Stars’” Val Chmerkovskiy attended the party to support their friend. Also attending the opening was one of the founders of Black Star Burger and Russian rapper Timati.

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Since there are a lot of burger restaurants in Los Angeles, I hoped Black Star Burger would offer something different than all the other casual burger chains. Last weekend, I brought my daughter to join.

A large menu screen at the entrance of the restaurant lists four beef, two chicken and two vegan burgers, side dishes, a kids menu, drinks and desserts.

The burgers can be made the “L.A. Way” with a lettuce wrap instead of a gluten bun.

The hemp-seed burger piqued my interest, so I ordered it with a side of sweet potato waffle fries. My daughter ordered a grilled Beyond Meat burger the “L.A. Way” with a side of fried “Cali” flowers and a beverage.

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With booths along the wall and tables in the center, the dining room features an ice cream counter with a long bar with stools. Guests can try an array of beer on tap that includes Peroni, Blue Moon, 805 and a New England-style hazy IPA.

Within a few minutes, my name was called to pick up our food. On the tray were a pair of food-grade, latex-free black gloves in a clear, sealed package.

My daughter appreciated the gloves while biting into her juicy “L.A. Way” Beyond Meat burger wrapped in lettuce. The theory of these gloves is that you use less napkins while eating.

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My hemp-seed burger was a delicious, high-protein, sustainable meat alternative topped with vegan pepperjack cheese and a special Black Star vegan sauce. Each hemp burger offers a full spectrum of omega fatty acids, 21 grams of protein and six grams of fiber.

The sweet potato waffle fries were served warm and crispy, and the small “Cali” flowers were delicious. Both were served without dipping sauces.

The Black Star chicken breast sandwiches can be fried or grilled. One is slathered with spicy mayo, pickles and slaw, and the other is enhanced with a house ranch dressing, tomatoes, mixed greens and pickles.

On the kids menu, younger guests can choose from a cheeseburger or grilled American cheese combo. Both come with potato wedges and a drink. For dessert, the ice cream counter offers different flavors and 10 candy toppings for customized sundaes.

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At Black Star Burger, you can enjoy a gourmet burger and beer in a fun environment for a quick meal, or hang out and listen to the music. You never know who might come in to support their friends in the music industry. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

$ 351 N. Fairfax Ave., (323)433-7792. This review was featured in the Beverly Press on Jan. 16, 2020.

Rockin’ Fun ROCK OF AGES in Hollywood

In 2005 Matthew Weaver created the multi-genre entertaining musical Rock of Ages. It debuted as a new kind of musical in Los Angeles at the King King club on Hollywood Blvd. With its success, it was made into a motion picture, and also opened on Broadway. After performing over 2,350 shows, Rock of Ages earned 5 Tony nominations, and branched out to 20 productions worldwide. It appeals to all ages who appreciate classic rock. This show spotlights 30 hit songs from the 80s.

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Dave Gibbs, who played in the original Los Angeles and Broadway productions of Rock of Ages, is the music supervisor for the Rock of Ages Hollywood, now at The Bourbon Room. Music Director/ Keyboard Jonathan Quesenberry sits above drummer Kevin Kapler, setting the pace of this immersive show.

During previews, I walked up to the dark entrance of the Bourbon Room, and mentioned Rock of Ages to the doorman. As he opened the door, he placed a paper bracelet on my wrist and granted me access to proceed up the stairs. A rocker with an electric guitar greeted me while strumming as part of the pre-show upstairs on the lounge.

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The bar offers a rock themed drink menu with names that include, ‘Pour Some Bourbon On Me”, “Oh Sherry”, and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Snacks and bites include corn hush puppies, chicken tenders and a juicy Bourbon burger. A new food menu will be offered soon.

Rock n’ roll posters and photos hang on the walls in a lively atmosphere. After ordering a rockin’ Motorin cocktail, I was escorted to my seat inside the specially built theater. There are tables for 2 to 4 people that are pushed together for parties of 8 or more.

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There are multiple performance stages named after venues on Sunset Blvd. At the center of the show is The Bourbon Room. There is also the iconic ROXY sign in red neon lights, Chateau Marmont, The Whiskey, and Girls, Girls Girls! On the back wall are multiple MTV-style screens displaying popular music videos by Van Halen and other rock bands.

Director Kristin Hanggi earned a Best Direction Tony nominee for Rock of Ages in 2009. She has a stellar Rock of Ages cast in Hollywood who gyrate all over the room, while singing rockin’ songs from Styx, Asia, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Europe.

This is the type of show where audience members dress in 80s’ rock n’ roll attire to be part of the immersive experience. On the tables there are lighters with LED lights to flick on during favorite songs. Be prepared to have cast members dance and sing right next to you, they might even sit in your lap.

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The night I saw the show, actress Callandra Olivia who plays “Sherrie” took the night off, so swing actress Marisa Matthews stepped in. She was fabulous as a sweet blonde dreamer hoping to make it big in Hollywood. She shined singing “More Than Words” by rock band Extreme, and also when she sang with Ian Ward playing “Drew,” an aspiring rock star. Ward has a golden voice and rocks the house at the end signing ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ and “Oh Sherrie” by Journey.

Other stand out performances were Frankie Grande as “Franz Klineman,” son of the villain real estate developer ‘Hertz Klineman” played by Pat Towne. Klineman wants to tear down The Bourbon Room and redevelop Sunset Blvd., from Doheny to La Cienega. Soon the cast sing a rockin’ version of “We Built This City On Rock  n’ Roll” by Starship that caused the lighters to be held up high flickering.

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Photo courtesy of Rock of Ages

Grande’s fan club was sitting at the front tables cheering him on throughout the night. Not only did he star as this character Franz on Broadway, he is a well know reality TV personality and social media mogul. As a stand-out finalist on the hit CBS series, “Big Brother 16,” he was also a judge on MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” and houseguest on “Celebrity Big Brother” in the U.K. Grande shines on the stage and is one of the most lovable characters, especially during his scene with Berkeley environmentalist Stephanie Renee Wall as “Regina” singing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar.

The audience swooned over actor Sean Lessard’s physique, as lead singer “Stacee Jaxx.” Full of himself, he is ready to leave his hit band Arsenal and go solo. His arrogance is hysterically funny. When he sings “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi, he has every audience members full attention.

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Photo courtesy of Rock of Ages

Other electrifying numbers include when the entire cast sing Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is” and “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake. As the cast disperse into the audience, lighters are held up flickering again.

Nick Cordero as The Bourbon Room owner “Dennis” and Matt Wolpe as Dennis’ loyal sound set up man “Lonny” are a hysterical comic duo from the beginning of the show to the end. Their scene “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” by REO Speedwagon had the audience laughing out loud.

Regina Levert as “Mother” at the Venus Club invites Sherrie to work as one of her dancers. Lavert has a sensational voice singing “Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash and “Anyway You Want It” by Journey with Matthews. “Mother’s” dancers put on quite a sexy show for the audience.

At Rock of Ages you will sing aloud with the people you arrived with and in harmony with those sitting around you. Everyone has a rockin good time!

Director: Kristin Hanggi. Cast: Tony Award Nominee Nick Cordero  as “Dennis,” Rock of Ages alum: Regina LeVert  as “Justice Charlier,” Frankie Grande as “Franz Klineman”, Sean Lessard as “Stacee Jaxx,” Tiffany Mallari, Chuck Saculla,  Marisa Matthews,  Callandra Olivia  as “Sherrie,” Stefan Raulston, Justin Ray as “Joey Primo,” Pat Towne as “Hertz Klineman,” Zoe Unkovich, Stephanie  Renee   Wall  as   “Regina,” Ian Ward  as “Drew,”  Matt Wolpe  as “Lonny,” and  Neka Zang  as “Constance.”

Musicians: Music Director/ Keyboard Jonathan Quesenberry, Greg Coates at Bass, Kevin Kapler at Drums, Seating in the venue is based upon the ticket price tier. All seats are table seating. Go to http://rockofageshollywood.com for tickets,

The show is about 2 hours and 10 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. Rock of Ages Hollywood can be seen every day except Monday & Tuesday when the theater is dark (and available for private event rentals, btw). Performances are Wednesday thru Saturday at 8pm, 2pm matinee on Saturdays and Sunday evening at 7pm. Note that kids under 12 may be too young for the content.

The Bourbon Room is located at  6356 Hollywood Blvd, 2nd floor. Tickets: https://www.rockofageshollywood.com.

THIS REVIEW WAS FEATURED on ONSTAGE BLOG on January 16, 2020.