Desert Companion

Best of the City: Arts + Entertainment


Courtesy Piff the Magic Dragon

Piff the Magic Dragon

Best Production Show

The Beatles Love

Love is the Cirque du Soleil you could watch with your eyes closed, hearing The Beatles remixed through 7,000 speakers. But a fresh look reaffirms the Fab Four’s cross-generational appeal. Cirque retooled its 10-year hit in 2016 to soften the wistful postwar elegy and punch up the ’60s-youth abandon. “Revolution” now sounds a lot like #Resist. The Mirage; (MW)


Best Comedian

Piff the Magic Dragon

Isn’t he a magician? Well, yes. But the jokes per minute far outnumber the illusions per hour from the dour Brit (John Van der Put) in the dragon suit. “The Loser of America’s Got Talent” sometimes delays the magic payoff with so many droll asides you forget where the trick started. While you wait for your favorite standup to return, Piff and nonplussed chihuahua sidekick Mr. Piffles are here year-round.
Flamingo; (MW)


Best Variety Show

Human Nature: Jukebox

No slight in calling this a “mother-in-law show.” Locals need a wide-appeal, inoffensive (because there’s always that one cousin who’d hate Absinthe), and frequently discounted go-to for visitors. The Australian vocal quartet covers the jukebox favorites — from the Four Tops to the Backstreet Boys to Sam Smith — in a slick, colorful showcase that classic Vegas built its name on. The Venetian; (MW)


Best Nongaming Strip Attraction


Enter an eye-popping palace of Italian delights in the expansive and bustling Eataly in the Park MGM. With more than 40,000 square feet under one ornate, lofty roof, this new emporium of prosciutto and pizza is the setting for an epicurean adventure. Watch fresh mozzarella and pasta being made, then sip vino or an aperitivo. Or sit down for lunch. This is culinary immersion at an unprecedented level. (GT)


Best Lounge

Rocks Lounge

As much as Las Vegans gripe about traffic, the western edge of Summerlin isn’t that far from anywhere else. Which means lounge lizards valley-wide can enjoy Rocks Lounge. It offers topnotch production for party-band favorites Zowie Bowie and Yellow Brick Road, hosts occasional ticketed acts, and goes Vegas-retro with chanteuses Laura Shaffer and Naomi Mauro. Two olives, please. Red Rock Resort; (MW)


Best New Sound

Youth Fables

Youth FablesChillwave meets dream pop in the work of Pete Andrew Reyes, a.k.a. Youth Fables, who’s catching the current wave within indie-electronic music that emphasizes live instrumentation and a renewed focus on musical performance. Emerging onto the Las Vegas scene from an unlikely heavy post-hardcore background, he has since landed opening spots for Glitch Mob, Washed Out, and Mae, and released the locally celebrated album Among the Nightingales, a good showcase for his sound. (CB)

Best New Release

Dark Black, Dissolve EP

Dark Black, DissolveepDark Black’s six-song EP Dissolve was released digitally just before the end of 2018 and has already captured a lot of attention in the Vegas scene. Their moody songs swim in post-punk and new wave influences. The tracks are catchy, memorable, and open enough to allow the band to bring more power to them when performed live. (CB)


Best New Solo Act


Dave Keuning may have been the last Killer to announce a solo project, but 2019’s Prismism certainly sounds worth the wait. The songs have the familiar feel and structure that Keuning developed as one of the main songwriters for Vegas’ first sons, but his soft, dulcet vocals really change the musical complexion and drop the bravado of their previous work. (CB)


Best Hip-Hop Artist


Local hip-hop fans are more than aware of Ekoh, as he has been grinding it out in our city for nearly a decade. But 2018’s The Detour marked a monumental leap forward for the self-dubbed “heart-hop” rapper. While superstardom may still be a long journey away, Ekoh has garnered a massive digital audience by developing real connections with his fans, and has recorded millions of Spotify streams and hundreds of thousands of YouTube views, and his single “Freeverse” even landed in the top 35 on the iTunes Hip-Hop Chart. His growth is genuinely exciting to witness. (CB)


Best Local Theater Company

Nevada Conservatory Theatre

More institutional than the Arts District upstarts, Nevada Conservatory has to work harder to attract the under-50 crowd. This has resulted in some knock-your-socks-off productions, from the 2016-17 season’s Good Kids to last season’s all-female Julius Caesar, to this year’s gothic interpretation of The Crucible, directed by Daz Weller. If you’re hunkered in a Downtown theater bubble, here’s a reminder: Universities are talent hotbeds, too. (HK)


Best Local Theater Actress

Jamie Carvelli Pikrone

Jamie Carvelli PikronePikrone fans who are still creeped out by her performances as Detective Morris in Cockroach Theatre’s The Nether (2016) and Diane in Las Vegas Little Theatre’s The Birds (2017) will be relieved to know: She’s got a comedy coming up this month! Catch her in A Public Fit’s Small Mouth Sounds, directed by Ann-Marie Pereth, through March 10. These and a handful of other recent credits should tell you what every local theater buff knows: Pikrone is follow-worthy. (HK)


Best Local Theater Actor

Marcus Weiss

If you just discovered Weiss from his recent work with A Public Fit (in Nick Payne’s Incognito) or Cockroach Theatre (as the unnamed lead in Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing), you’ve got serious catching up to do. Weiss’s CV runs from Temple University, where he got his MFA, through Second City, Blue Man Group, Le Rêve, and just about every stage in Las Vegas. He also mentors, teaches, and trains — what you call an actor’s actor. (HK)


Best Movie Theater

Brenden Theatres

While the hotel-casino around it has undergone a major upgrade, Brenden Theatres at The Palms has been renovated, as well, and all auditoriums now feature luxury reclining seats. Brenden also still has the city’s only full-size IMAX screen, along with Dolby Atmos and its in-house large-screen brand, JBX. And Brenden is a longtime supporter of the Vegas film community, hosting local premieres and festivals (including the Action on Film Festival and Sin City Horror Fest). (JB)


Best Local Film Production

The Beast

Known as Rabbit Days when it premiered at the Las Vegas Film Festival in 2016, Ryan and Cody LeBoeuf’s debut feature was renamed The Beast when it finally came out on VOD in August 2018. Whatever the title, it’s a wonderfully unsettling, surreal movie, with a fantastic lead performance from UNLV professor Clarence Gilyard, as an eccentric playwright who invites an odd assortment of guests to his remote cabin — and then refuses to let them leave. (JB)


Best Local Film Festival

Dam Short Film Festival

Boulder City’s Dam Short Film Festival is Nevada’s biggest film festival and its best, too. The annual celebration of short films (the 15th edition runs February 7-10) offers up 100-plus selections, putting a worthwhile spotlight on an underappreciated art form. The festival is also a great showcase for the small-town charms of Boulder City, and the organizers always treat filmmakers and guests with the kind of warmth and hospitality that engenders a strong community. (JB)


Best Local Film Mogul

Drew Marvick

Over the last several years, Drew Marvick has transformed himself into a one-man local horror-movie industry. Since directing Pool Party Massacre in 2017, he’s co-founded Sin City Horror Fest, appeared in numerous productions from other filmmakers, and committed to completing the final film from late B-movie legend Ted V. Mikels. Upcoming projects include producing a holiday-themed local horror anthology, writing and directing Pool Party Massacre 2 — and continuing to enhance the Vegas horror community. (JB)

Support comes from

Best Figure in Local Culture

Marcus Civin

MarkusAs we note elsewhere in this issue, Las Vegas culture is leveling up its performance-art mojo — a main pillar of the advanced culture scenes Vegas wants to emulate — and Marcus Civin, head of UNLV’s art department, is one big reason why. From organizing events to tirelessly promoting it, he puts a big emphasis on performance as he revamps a department that needs a good dusting off. But it’s not his only concern. See also: his hiring of a semester-long “transformation fellow,” a visiting artist who’ll try to bring the art department and the community together. A born collaborator, Civin would be the first to say he’s not doing these things alone — an acknowledgment that makes this designation even more apt. (SD)


Best Recent Cultural Amenity

The Believer Presents

BelieverThe Writer’s Block bookstore has played host to many enriching evenings, but its collaboration with Las Vegas-based literary publication The Believer has led to an exciting new event series. There have been three “The Believer Presents” events thus far, and each has been enlightening and entertaining. These conversations between two inspiring literary figures are sure to spark discussions and creativity. (VK)  


Best Artist

Justin Favela

For Justin Favela, the traditional iconography of both cultural heritage and Las Vegas are viewed through a whimsical, clever lens. His work in 2018 — in Reno and Denver, which is why locals may have missed what a big year this unconventional artist had — blurred the lines between sculpture, landscape, and installation. (VK)


Personal Best

Best Local Instagram Feed

Kim Foster

InstagramI wouldn’t blame you for thinking I’ve hit the easy button here, since food writer Kim Foster is an occasional (and award-winning) Desert Companion contributor. But this would be my pick regardless. Her feed is the realest thing I’ve seen on the ’gram: photos and lengthy, heartfelt captions — mini essays, really — about life, food, the joys and vulnerabilities of raising a large blended family, and more food. Foster uses all of it, even (especially) the food pics, to explore and celebrate the nooks and crannies of human nature and family life, while never crossing the line from empathetic candor to mere exhibitionism. (Scott Dickensheets)


Old vs. New

Old school

Céline Dion 

Celine DioneShe was a sensation when she opened in 2003 — commanding record ticket prices for the time and running at or near capacity during her off-and-on residency, which ends this summer. Sure, her swing-for-the fences ambition created a kitschy, overproduced spectacle in which the star occasionally got lost amid theatrical production numbers. But in time, her natural charisma reasserted itself as the clutter was stripped away. In a way, Lady Gaga’s Enigma unfolds like a compressed version of Dion’s 16-year evolution on the Strip. No wonder Céline was nerding out on Gaga’s opening night, bestowing her awkward-dance blessing on the successor queen. (MW)

New school

Lady Gaga

Lady GagaLady Gaga’s stardom is so vast she had to bifurcate into two Vegas shows: the crazed Enigma, spelled by a few nights of Jazz & Piano, featuring the toned-down Lady older folks embraced in Tony Bennett duets. Even Enigma is a bit bipolar. Though twice airborne, the star can get lost amid a dozen dancers, a giant robot, and pop-diva tropes washed in DayGlo and sci-fi anime. A more compelling Gaga emerges when she grounds herself at the piano as the earthier singer from the Joanne album and A Star is Born. Park Theater, (MW)




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