Tag Archive: saleemah knight

Dancers line the stage for the "tip parade" at the end of the show. Tips are donated to BC/EFA.

Entertainers from up and down the Strip performed in the Las Vegas sequel of the hit benefit concert “Broadway Bares” on April 24 at Planet Hollywood and shed their clothes for the cause. The show generated more than $20,000 and every dime went to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, an organization that supports those living with the virus.

The show was also a smokin’ testament to the depth of talent that lies in this city. The Vegas version of the New York concept was a strong contribution to the “Broadway Bares” original and proved that the arts scene here is nothing to sneeze at. Jerry Mitchell, creator of both “Broadway Bares” and “Peepshow,” took the stage at the end of the show and heartily agreed, conveying his excitement about the growth the show has seen since its humble beginnings.

Slick, sexy vocals and understated confidence provided an auspicious start for “2 Hot” with a number of the same name featuring artists from “Peepshow,” “Jersey Boys” and others. The tension was palpable and made for an exciting beginning to a highly dynamic show.

The diversity was also impressive. There was an excellent female cover of “Sex on Fire” by Kings of Leon with strong lyrical choreography to match. There was a guy in a banana suit (word up to 1230 Clownshow and their usual eyebrow-raising circumstances for that one). There was a classic number by Nicholas Foote to “Too Darn Hot” that had a sassy, finely honed Broadway edge to it. “Simply Barerisistible,” by Sheila Joy Burford, had girls bent, curled and spinning on barstools with commendable ease.

Edie of "Zumanity" makes her entrance in style and emceed the show alongside "Peepshow"'s Holly Madison and Josh Strickland.

And there was a drag queen descending from the sky to the Miss America theme song. Edie, a “Zumanity” performer who was the emcee for the evening, was a perfect palate-cleanser for the smattering of genres that made an appearance. Co-hosts Holly Madison and Josh Strickland of “Peepshow” made appearances as well and the three were as enjoyable as the acts they introduced.

Novelty was in no short supply; “Le Jazz Hot,” with choreography by Rommel Pacson, was headlined by a glammed-up Christopher Peterson of “Eyecons” and guys from “Naked Boys Singing” at the Onyx Theatre. It’s hard to go wrong with a New-Orleans-jazz vibe and bare-chested men in suspenders.

“13 Going on 30” was a tongue-in-cheek parody of something akin to “Annie” and presented a cringe-worthy contrast of little-girl choreography (by Lena Groux and Jamee Hossack) and unarguably adult subject matter. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” from Dustree Productions featured a full-size bed with suggestive scenarios and spicy partnering to match.

The Viper Vixens demonstrate their power in "Looks that Kill."

Weapons made a couple of debuts as well (and I commend both choreographers for not choosing Rihanna’s “S&M” track–too easy.) The Viper Vixens performed “Looks that Kill,” with choreography by Ottavio Gesmundo, holding objects that looked ominously like ice picks. The forthright sexuality in the number would have been dangerous enough: the Vixens weren’t playin’, and they made that clear.

J.J. Villar’s “Weird Science” was, well, weird, but intriguingly so. The bizarre situations, involving the likes of bodies outlined in neon lights, duct-taped girls a la Lady Gaga and buckets and water guns created a raucous, jarring, postmodern experience. And the water guns were pretty cool.

Straight-up sexiness was well represented. “Where Have All the Nice Men Gone,” by Jonnis, erred in a captivatingly contemporary direction and the edgy “Nice N’ Slow” by Saleemah Knight featured stellar vocals by “Lion King”‘s Jelani Remy. “Hit Me with a Hot Note” by Tara Palsha and Ryan Kelsey and featuring performers from “Vegas! The Show,” was at once charming and sensual with corsets thrown in for fun.

“Bringing the Heat” shook up the Disney image and showcased the fiery choreography of Erin Barnett. The introduction of the number, performed by the cast of “Lion King Las Vegas,” brought an anticipatory roar from the audience. The sinewy movement was executed impeccably and the brevity of the number left the audience yearning for more.

This could be said for the show itself. As Edie put it, “I hate that I have to wait 364 days to be here, but I’m here!” “Broadway Bares” is rapidly becoming a Vegas tradition, and fortunately so: There are few shows that would fit in with Strip life as well as this one.

Jerry Mitchell congratulates the cast after speaking of the unassuming beginnings of "Broadway Bares."

“Broadway Bares” began in New York in 1992 and has raised $75 million since then. BC/EFA has raised $195 million to provide services for those living with HIV/AIDS.

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The cast of Disney’s “The Lion King Las Vegas” seized the moment and put on a cabaret-style show at E String Grill & Poker Bar in Henderson on Dec. 6.”The Moment,” as the show was titled, was dedicated to Brenda O’Brien, who is a makeup artist for “The Lion King Las Vegas,” or LKLV. Members of the cast and the creative team joined forces and produced the show as a way to celebrate the talent and creativity of all of those involved in LKLV, whether they are onstage each night or not.

Matthew Morgan, who plays the hyena Banzai and is a member of the ensemble, acted as the informal emcee for the night, hopping on and off the stage and teasing the audience and the performers in equal measure.

Singer-songwriter Niles Rivers (Simba and ensmble) started the performances in brilliant style with a well-strummed guitar and an open, inviting voice, heralding the sincerity of numbers to come.

Adam Kozlowski (Pumbaa), pictured left, continued the sincerity with a warm rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” coupled with a personality-steeped “I Got Rhythm” and a ukelele. The gregarious man that plays the gregarious warthog sang and scatted and demonstrated the extroverted sociability that makes the character such a hit.

Michael Hollick (Pumbaa, Scar) joined Kozlowski later in the show for cheek-to-cheek, and tongue-in-cheek, duet of “Gossamer” and “Just Arrived from Thunder Road.” The unfeigned enjoyment emanating from each was contagious and undeniable.

Robbie Swift, who plays Pumbaa’s meerkat wingman Timon in addition to Zazu, the royal attendant, followed in appropriate sidekick fashion. Contrary to the strutting, self-satisfied characters he plays, Swift presented an understated, quietly sincere set of numbers that underscored the diversity of the cast.

The first behind-the-scenes revelation came with Meredith Walker, a makeup artist from the show dressed in vibrant purple. She and Damian Baldet (Timon) sang the playful “Wet Mouth Punch,” smiling sidelong at each other through the good-natured parody. Andrew Arrington (Banzai, swing) was decked out in drag and continued the comedic kick with “Try a Little Tenderness,” an exaggerated and exuberant number that added diversity to the show.

Concertmaster and first chair violin Rebecca Ramsey, along with second cellist Moonlight Tran and upright and electric bassist Keith Nelson, serenaded the audience wonderfully while the set of the stage was changed. Seeing the performers that are normally only heard was a welcome bonus, and the music was far from commonplace.

Michael Manly, a plaid-wearing French horn player, also emerged from the orchestra pit and delivered a dry, witty monologue about Thanksgiving and “dysfunctional family relations.” His clipped voice, together with small, wire-rimmed glasses, gave the impression of a wry, witty and pleasantly sarcastic relative that would not have been out of place at a Thanksgiving table.

Corwin Hodge and Deidrea Halley, both swings in the show, showcased a ubiquitous attribute of each of the cast members: the unwavering ability to communicate with an audience. Hodge and Halley both projected a vulnerability that made way for unadulterated emotion to step forth. This, coupled with the obvious experience of the cast, was part of what made “The Moment” so appealing.

Devin Roberts continued in this vein with “Little Drummer Boy,” a song he said he has come to love because of the idea of giving the best that can be offered despite having little.

In addition to the vocals, dance made an appearance as well. Tyrell Rolle (pictured left, kneeling), Derrick Davis, Donna Vaughn, Devin Roberts and Zachary Ingram performed “Silence Moments,” choreographed by Rolle, and brought a sense of gratitude and faith to the stage.

In the second act, Saleemah Knight (pictured right, forward) choreographed “I Still Love You,” an emotional jazz funk number that leaned in an almost lyrical direction with its perceptive musicality. Both Rolle and Knight did an excellent job of using the space available to them and took advantage of the close proximity of the audience. Professionalism was evident in the committed performance of both pieces.

“Four Women” was a sensual number to Nina Simone’s song of the same name and represented a nod to another side of African culture — oppression. Knight, Halley, Vaughn and another ensemble member embodied the self-contained solemnity imbued by the lyrics of the song. The femininity and staid grace was a sobering reminder of, as the song states, “the pain inflicted again and again.”

Rivers tipped his fedora to the younger cast members, taking an opportunity to bring Aubrey Joseph and Tim Johnson Jr. to the stage. Both boys play Young Simba in the show and sang along with Rivers in an optimistic song he had written specifically for the upcoming generation.

Derrick Davis (Mufasa and ensemble) joined Rivers in his vision of the future and brought audience members to their feet with “Moving Forward.” Davis’ looming frame, full-bodied voice poured forth, bringing the energy in the house to a peak just before intermission.

The essence of LKLV was showcased by Kissy Simmons (Nala) and Noku Khuzwayo, Mdu Madela, Buti Mothamana, Buyi Zama, Sindisiwe Nxumalo, Ntsepa Pitjeng, Gugu Ngcobo and Vusi Sondiyazi. Simmons’ soaring voice, coupled with the African dress and vocals of the rest of the group, summed up “The Moment” well. The percussive bead skirts worn by the girls and the stunning harmonies reminded the audience that, as much as the cast joked with each other, show business is something that each takes very seriously.

The drawbacks of the show were very few. The more than two-hour running time was daunting, although the relaxed atmosphere mitigated this considerably. The feeling of family was undeniable and both the individuality and cohesiveness of the cast was incredible. Hopefully this will become a serial event and these talented performers will be seen somewhere besides Pride Rock.

Starbucks has its holiday cups. For some dancers, rehearsals for holiday shows have started — tunes about mistletoe and snow (what is that again?) can be heard in studios all over the city.

Another holiday tradition took place on Nov. 27 at the Rock Center for Dance: Melena Rounis, with help from Katy Tate, organized the second Step Up and Dance event, a fundraiser that takes donations for Three Square food bank in Las Vegas. In the space of four hours, 88 dancers signed up and $1,440 was donated, which is the equivalent of more than 4,000 meals. All of the proceeds from the event will be donated to Three Square.

The workshop brought together eight different performers, many with credits from shows on the Strip and elsewhere, to teach a post-Thanksgiving dance-fest that raised money for families in need. The four-hour block of time was divided into eight half-hour-long sessions. Agnes Roux, Katy Tate, Saleemah Knight, Fred Odgaard, Brent Borbon, Leah Moyer, Sheila Joy and Rounis herself each taught a class in styles including zumba, hip hop, jazz, ballroom, burlesque, contemporary, lyrical and jazz funk.

Participants donated $10 at the door and were welcome to take as much or as little class as they wanted and all ages were welcome.

“It’s so much positivity in one day that it’s crazy,” Rounis said.

Rounis commented on the benefits that the workshop has for those who participate. “You’re getting so much back,” she said, “and not just the feel-good aspect but the health aspect, too.”

The workshop also gave students an opportunity to stand alongside accomplished dancers. “[The students are] in class with professional dancers that are in shows on the Strip that they might have seen,” Rounis said. “It’s really inspiring for them.”

Rounis said that the idea sprang from a similar event she held at Drive Dance Centre, a studio she and Geneen Georgiev opened in Vancouver in 2007. “Once the recession happened,” Rounis said, “I thought, ‘What can I do to help those that have really been affected by this?”

This was the second Step Up ad Dance event and Rounis said that the diversity of the faculty has been expanded. Last year’s teachers all hailed from “The Beatles LOVE,” the show in which Rounis is currently cast. “We hoped to attract a more eclectic crowd [this year],” Rounis said, referring both to the faculty and the participants.

Jasmine Villamor, who participated in Step Up and Dance, said the diversity of the faculty was a big draw. “It was a full day of every kind of dance possible and it was perfect timing after Thanksgiving,” she said with a laugh. “It showed what Vegas dance has to offer.” Villamor also commented on what it was like to take class from, and next to, such experienced performers. “It was inspriational,” she said. “It puts you in the mindset that [that level of achievement] is possible.”

For many of the guest teachers, professionalism and training for future careers took center stage.

“You need to be able to pick up choreography and attach an emotion to it right away,” said Saleemah Knight, pictured left, who taught jazz funk and currently dances with Disney’s “The Lion King” at Mandalay Bay. “When you tell the story, it makes sense,” Knight said. “If you’re just doing the steps, you’re going to look stupid.”

Leah Moyer, who taught a contemporary class and is a member of Cirque’s “Viva ELVIS” cast, shared a similar message. “Just be you,” she said, emphasizing that this was the driving force behind her choreography. “Be there, be present,” she said. “Just don’t do steps and don’t fake it.”

Emotional cortexes weren’t the only part of the dancers that received a workout. Fred Odgaard,  powerfully built and energetic, led dancers in a warm-up that he said he and other fellow dancers call “cardio Barbie” (see photo, right). The exercise was a series of jumping jacks and the like designed to elevate the heartrate and get dancers’ blood pumping.

Roux’s spicy zumba kicked off the workshop, providing a Latin-themed warm-up for the rest of the day. Tate’s unique lyrical followed, complete with pleasantly literal choreography and percussive syncopations.

Borbon and Joy held down the high-heeled contingent with ballroom and burlesque, respectively. Borbon’s light-footed and light-hearted banter displayed partnering at its best and Joy dimmed the lights to illustrate a sexier side of Vegas dance.

The day culminated in Rounis’ hip hop/party dance choreography, complete with RoboCop moves and James Brown slides.

The crowd of dancers, many of whom had stayed through the entire workshop, gradually dispersed. Rounis, her small frame eclipsed by an oversized bag stuffed with dance gear, dashed off to The Mirage and the two “LOVE” shows that awaited.

Interested in seeing footage of some of the choreography? Check out my post here for a link.

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