Best Theater Effort
After building a reputation for radical reinterpretations of the classics over the last few years, John Beane and his Insurgo Theater Movement cohorts have launched an ambitious schedule of productions. Since moving into their own theater space in the Commercial Center in December, they’ve drawn critical praise and standing-room only crowds. Their first production in the new space, the horror comedy Murder Party, was recently staged by the Regina Fringe Festival. Meanwhile, their signature Shakespearean adaptations continued with a modern-dress Othello and a mind-blowing rock musical version of Love’s Labours Lost. The Bastard Theater, 900 E. Karen Ave., Suite D-114, New Orleans Square, Commercial Center, 771-7331, insurgotheater.org.
Best Reality TV Show
No doubt the best reality show filmed on location in Sin City is Pawn Stars, a blend of American Chopper bad-ass antics and “did-you-know?” lessons on historical items. Filmed at the Harrison family’s Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, the on-screen personalities and the bizarre—and sometimes shocking—pieces pawned have kept viewers glued to their screens. And with Pawn Stars’ continued success, there’s talk of a spin-off show featuring the shop’s go-to antique restoration guy, Rick Dale. 713 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 385-7912, history.com/shows/pawn-stars.
Band with Best odds of Becoming the Next Killers
It’s a tag with which we’d hate to jinx a Vegas act, but on the strength of recent live performances and their latest release, the gorgeously synth-textured five-song EP Hell and Silence, Imagine Dragons are the only group with the pop instincts and arena-ready confidence required to dominate on an international level. Led by Dan Reynolds, the Dragons dish up confectionary rock tunes that strike the perfect balance between dirty leather-pants guitar antics and suave dance-floor glitter. If there’s any justice, the band’s stomping, disco-kissed ballad “Selene” will be blasting from every conceivable retail outlet and Hollywood rom-com very soon. imaginedragonsmusic.com.
Best Local Album
Introverted as these four dudes are onstage, Minor Suns absolutely melt the competition on their self-released full-length, Minor Suns. Sadly, their debut has yet to enjoy a physical CD release but, like hundreds of others already have, you can simply download it for free via minorsuns.bandcamp.com. The album is an indie-rock lovers’ dream, with layered Telecaster guitar lines (none of that tired grunge-era distortion, thank you) and heart-on-sleeve lyrics you’ll be Tweeting to your followers like a teenage girl. From the Neil Young-meets-post-rock blast of “Rising Sun” to the Pedro the Lion-style confession of “Give It a Try,” the Suns serve as a musical beacon of light in an otherwise dark sonic landscape. myspace.com/minorsuns.
God bless all those funky galleries in and around downtown’s Arts District; they are wonderful venues to pop in and check out a show—you know, when the air-conditioning happens to work. But the space that seduces us into spending all afternoon in its attractive grip is the stand-alone Brett Wesley Gallery. Even though it just opened last October, the gallery has already championed local artists and showcased work by national and international talents. The main exhibit space is a beautiful mix of glass and blond wood, while the second floor typically displays works from gallery co-curator Brett W. Sperry’s personal collection. If you haven’t visited yet, it’s time you did. Noon to 6 p.m. Tues.-Sat., 1112 S. Casino Center Blvd., 433-4433, brettwesley.com.
Photo by Anthony MairMarty Walsh: reigning Las Vegas arts champion.
For years Marty Walsh ran the Cutest Little Art Gallery in Las Vegas, otherwise known as Trifecta. Sometimes, though, especially on a packed First Friday evening, the sensation was like stepping into a shoebox full of pop surrealism. That has changed, now that Walsh moved her digs into a larger room just a few doors away. What hasn’t changed: the very high quality of artists whose work Trifecta represents. Sure, there’s still a mild emphasis on attractive “lowbrow” artists obsessed with, you know, Godzilla and robots and stuff. But every show Walsh hangs guarantees at least one smile per visitor (and, more crucially, many sales for exhibiting artists). But more than just sales savvy, Walsh is a tireless champion of the arts in Las Vegas. 107 E. Charleston Blvd., inside the Arts Factory, 366-7001, trifectagallery.com.
Best New Visual Artist
Photo by Anthony Mair“More Than You”: one of Toshie McSwain’s eye-catching works.
Plenty of artists come and go in this town, but usually they go, filling us with sadness. Every now and then, though, a loss is offset by a big gain, which is the case with Toshie McSwain, a young artist who opened her first solo exhibition at Winchester Cultural Center Gallery in June. Comprising nine darkly humorous paintings, I Told You So remains one of a handful of highlights in a still-struggling visual-arts scene. McSwain, a local arts educator who arrived here from Ohio’s Bowling Green State University, makes us happy to observe the birth of a new creative force, even if her dangling egg-shaped subjects make us a tad uncomfortable. Exhibit hangs through Aug. 6 at Winchester Cultural Center, 3130 S. McLeod Dr., 455-7340.
Best Classical Musician
Photo courtesy UNLV Photo ServicesWei-Wei Le: a Las Vegan with world-class chops.
Wei-Wei Le picked up the violin at age 6 in Shanghai and never put it down, going on to win international competitions and to perform with just about every major orchestra, including London’s Royal Philharmonic. Now she’s a Las Vegan, thanks to UNLV, who recently hired her as an assistant professor of violin. In addition to being an acclaimed soloist who tours the country in between classes and recitals, Le is also one of the most beautiful women in Vegas. But it’s her chops that will make your jaw drop.
Best Book About Nevada
Literary Nevada, edited by Cheryll Glotfelty, came out in 2008 with a whopping excess of 800 pages (University of Nevada Press, $30). But the book brings together, for the first time, writings about Nevada by all the big names, such as Mark Twain, combined with a chronological reach that goes back to Native American tales and forward into the atomic-testing era and beyond. This is a historical, essential and unique collection of Nevada writings.
Best Book Written by a Las Vegan
A dad goes to the nudie bar where his daughter works to borrow money. Yes, that happens in Vegas. And in Blue Vegas (Stephens Press, $15), P Moss imagines that and many other funny, sad or weird tales and vignettes about people just trying to get by in a city that can be mean and brutal, even if there are the occasional moments of beauty and grace. These stories are melancholy and sad, and aren’t quite like anything yet written about life in Las Vegas. Readbluevegas.com, midnight book signing at the Double Down Saloon on July 31; 791-5775.
We couldn’t decide, so we have two winners. Penn & Teller do a show so entertaining, intelligent and endlessly changing that they could serve as a model for how to come to Vegas without compromise. Instead, they may wind up the exception that proves the rule in Vegas. The other best show is The Beatles Love at The Mirage. It manages to endlessly please Boomers (and their children and their parents) by giving them what they never had: The Beatles doing remixes and adapting Cirque du Soleil stage spectacle for the video generation. Penn & Teller: 9 p.m. Sat.-Wed., Rio, $75-$85, 777-7776. Love: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Thurs.-Mon., $93.50-$150, 792-7777.
Terry Fator has managed to charm the Strip with his effortless evocations of voices from the beautiful falsetto of Roy Orbison to the gritty blues of Etta James. But he is also a ventriloquist and a comic who has proven that the Strip, even in this economy, will always go for a triple threat. This is where to send the relatives when they’re visiting from the Midwest. The Mirage, 7:30 p.m. Tues.-Sat., $59-$129, 792-7777, terryfator.com.
Best Theater Producer
His father was a Vegas bandleader, his mother a showgirl and his sister a Vegas magician. David Saxe is Old Vegas entertainment down to his toes. But his business is pure New Vegas, where shows must make money. He keeps the vaudeville/Vegas tradition alive with showgirls and jugglers and musicians by operating two theaters in the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. His marquee show collects a variety of variety acts, and the other show pays tribute to the city as Vegas: The Show. But in addition to his own shows, the Saxe venues keep the dream of the independent Vegas producer alive. And his stages are for rent if you have a show, a dream and can pass the Saxe audition for a show likely to please a Vegas audience. davidsaxe.com.
Best Concert Venue
Erik Kabik/ Retna/ erikkabik.comThe Pearl: a gem of a venue that hosts acts such as Fall Out Boy.
The Pearl at the Palms has the best sound of any concert hall in Las Vegas yet manages an intimacy that usually is available only in much smaller venues with far weaker sightlines. Of course, the bookings are what make the show, and the Pearl will be leading the pack as the home stage to the upcoming Matador Records anniversary concerts. palmspearl.com.
Best Local Venue
In the heart of downtown, camouflaged among legendary hotel-casinos, resides a blossoming bohemian district that is home to Beauty Bar. This retro salon, saloon and venue is the best spot in town to watch local and mid-level touring bands and DJs perform. The sound is well above average compared with its counterparts, the cover charge and drinks prices are relatively cheap, and good music is always blasting through the speakers. With an inside bar and an outside patio area, you’ll have all the comfort and variety you need while catching the bands who are about to break. 517 E. Fremont St., 598-1965.
Best Family Show
The show is better than the movie and a great introduction to the live theater experience for children. The theater for The Lion King is not as tricked out for Vegas like Phantom at the Venetian, but there is still plenty to behold onstage with beautiful sets and the music and story that children already love. 7:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 4 and 9 p.m. Sat.-Sun., $75-$196, mandalaybay.com/lionking.
Best Place to Get Free Music
The Internet, with all its myriad (il)legal sonic offerings, has dominated the free-music scene for at least 10 years. But if you prefer the old-fashioned tactile pleasures of flipping through liner notes and gazing into album covers until you can see your future, then there’s no better place to get free music than the Clark County libraries. It’s surprising how many people are surprised by this, but you can check out audio CDs and DVDs just the same as you would books. There aren’t any membership fees, but there are late fees, which go to a good cause. Visit lvccld.org to find a branch near you.
Best Art at a Hotel-Casino
Strip resorts are famous for displaying magnificently beautiful yet safe pieces of art. Bellagio’s collection of Chilhuly glass, for example, is the type of benign beauty that impresses without offending or challenging viewers. That’s why Jenny Holzer’s installation in Aria’s North Valet Pickup is so amazing. While guests wait for their cars, dozens of famous truisms—“If you live simply, there is nothing to worry about”—slide by on a giant LED wall. The genius is the insidiousness of it. At first Holzer’s conceptual art only looks like any other LED sign, probably advertising keno or buffet specials. But as guests take the time to read her messages, they are surprised to find that the sayings don’t usually match the preordained themes of a casino. It’s encouraging to see a casino take an artistic risk—risks that need to happen if Las Vegas is going to become the “city” that’s promised in CityCenter.