THAT'S NO LADY...IT'S FRANK MARINO!
By Esther Lynn
When An Evening at La Cage opened at the Riviera in 1985, skeptic casino owners gave producer Norbert Aleman and his young star, female impersonator Frank Marino, three months to prove themselves. Obviously, they did a good job of doing just that. It's 20 years later and La Cage and Frank Marino have held up very well - of course, for Marino, a little cosmetic surgery hasn't hurt.
Over the years, there have been other female impersonator shows in Las Vegas and, for the most part, the performers in those shows were extremely talented. Why has La Cage succeeded where others have failed? Business sense, smart decisions and a good, long-lasting relationship between producer and star have made this show a winner.
No doubt about it, Frank Marino is the most glamorous fellow on the Las Vegas Strip. Dress him up in a Bob Mackie gown, a pair of Manolo Blahnik heels, drape him in some rhinestones, add some makeup, pop a very expensive, beautifully styled wig on his head, throw on a feather boa and you can take him anywhere.
But Marino isn't just another pretty face. There's more to him than all those designer gowns and a shoe collection that would make Imelda Marcos green with envy. Marino is an astute and savvy businessman. Frank has never met a camera or microphone that he didn't love. Turn a camera his way or stick a mike in his face and watch out. Wisely, Marino uses the media very much to his advantage...although on at least one occasion, he has gone a little too far. For a period of time, Marino was this city's Mr. Blackwell/Joan and Melissa Rivers/Steven Cojocaru/Mario Cantone/Star Jones/Carson Kressley/Kathy Griffin for one of Las Vegas' news channels. Following any major award show, there was Frank, doing the commentary and dishing on what the stars were wearing - both good and bad. He has been a guest on a number of national TV talk shows, from Leeza Gibbons and Jenny Jones to Maury Povich and Sally Jessy Raphael. Marino even had a cameo role in an episode of Baywatch, and earlier this year, he had a part in Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, a Warner Bros. film starring Sandra Bullock. Frank Marino is also the author of His Majesty, The Queen, a book describing his childhood and climb to stardom - not an easy task in those stiletto heels.
Usually, when a Las Vegas street is named after a celebrity, the celebrity has passed on. In September, the street at The Lakes where the very-much-alive Frank makes his home was renamed to honor him. Can a Frank Marino postage stamp be far behind?
Not only is Frank Marino a star inside the Riviera, he is a star outside as well. On February 1st of this year, the long-reigning Queen of the Strip became the second personality to receive a star along the Las Vegas Walk of Fame (Wayne Newton was first and Liberace was third). Not coincidentally, Frank's star is embedded in the sidewalk in front of the hotel where he has entertained audiences for the past 20 years. In addition to becoming a permanent architectural fixture on the Las Vegas Strip, the 41-year-old performer received another honor on that February morning when Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman declared it Frank Marino Day. Not too bad for a kid from New York who planned on becoming a veterinarian.
Combined with the song One of the Boys from Woman of the Year, the opening number of Vegas' La Cage takes a little liberty with Jerry Herman's lyrics from his hit musical, as the MC announces "Bon soir! Bon soir! Here we are at the pride of Saint Tropez, the envy of the cabaret world, the jewel of the Riviera! Only champagne from now to the finale. Monsieur-Dames, I beg you, open your eyes. You have arrived at La Cage Aux Folles." In THIS case, however, the "Riviera" is the hotel on the Strip, not the resort in the South of France, and it's An Evening at la Cage, not the Harvey Fierstein written Tony-winning Broadway production.
As the show's "mistress of ceremonies," Marino appears between acts to joke with the audience and show off a series of incredible costumes, with each successive gown more spectacular than the one before. The fashion runways of Milan pale in comparison to this man's wardrobe. Paris Hilton, eat your heart out!
Along with Marino in his Joan Rivers "hostess with the mostess," fashion diva role, the other La Cage impersonators include Chris Woods as Whitney Houston and Diana Ross, Brent Allen as Judy Garland and Bette Midler, Sammy Gonzales as Liza Minnelli, Ryan Zink as Reba McEntire, Kenneth Blake as Dolly Parton and Madonna, Jonathan Kay as Jennifer Lopez, Steven Wayne as Celine Dion and Cher, Derrick Barry as Britney Spears, and Lane Lassiter (the only male impersonator in An Evening at La Cage) plays the what-sex-is-he-anyway Michael Jackson. In addition to the rapid-fire comedy of Marino, more laughs come courtesy of plus-size Jimmy Emerson and his unique interpretations of Tammy Spraynet and Madonna as you have never seen her.
Adding to the overall illusions created by the skilled impersonators, producer Aleman enhances the popular review with six talented "real" girl cabaret dancers, burlesque humor, state-of-the-art sound and lighting, video screens, imaginative costumes and sets, and lots of special effects. The result is that An Evening at La Cage is an exciting, fast-paced 90-minutes of fun and entertainment. On the recent Wednesday night we saw the show, the 660-seat theater was almost full and the diverse audience was very responsive.
You know you're in for a different kind of evening when the fabulous-looking lead showgirl is really a man. Leave your troubles at home, your inhibitions at the door and just enjoy the experience.