As mentioned before, the very best thing about being an entertainment writer are the perks (as opposed to the pay). Meeting interesting people and seeing lots of shows is a major fringe benefit to this job. Every once in a while, something REALLY special (also known as a Golden Opportunity) comes along. Such is the case with a seminar Cousin Claire attended on Thursday, October 19th. In conjunction with UNLV’s October 21st Hello, Jerry! concert celebrating the music and lyrics of Jerry Herman, the stars of that show presented a two hour "class" at the university and we were invited to attend! With entertainers Karen Morrow and Jason Graae, Herman‘s longtime conductor Donald Pippin, and Michael Kerker, ASCAP‘s Assistant VP in charge of Musical Theatre and Cabaret, on stage, the group discussed Jerry Herman‘s amazing career, talked about live theater in general, their own careers as Broadway and cabaret artists, and answered questions from the mostly students and faculty audience. Paige O’Hara, who will perform with the group at Artemus Ham Hall on the 21st,was not able to take part in this event as she was in Los Angeles doing some work for Disney. Paige, who is one of the stars of Menopause, the Musical at the Las Vegas Hilton, was the voice of Belle in Disney‘s Beauty and the Beast, and has recorded a solo CD featuring the music of Jerry Herman. Sadly, the Tony Award-winning Herman became ill and was not able to participate in the seminar. There is also the possibility that he will be unable to appear at the much anticipated Saturday night concert. We will tell you more about that next week.
In a bit of irony, Herman was checked in at Wynn Las Vegas, owned, of course, by casino mogul (and art destroyer...but that‘s another story) Steve Wynn. If you readers recall, a few years ago, Wynn commissioned Broadway composer Jerry Herman (with shows such as Mame, Hello, Dolly!, Mack & Mabel and La Cage aux Folles to his credit) to write a Las Vegas-based musical for The Mirage. Herman wrote the music for Miss Spectacular which never made it to Wynn’s property because that hotel/casino (and the rest of Wynn’s Strip hotels) were soon under control of MGM. As of this date, the only production of Miss Spectacular the public has been able to enjoy is the Concept Album, featuring the wonderful score sung by Christine Baranski, Michael Feinstein, Davis Gaines, Debbie Gravitte, Steve Lawrence, Karen Morrow and Faith Prince, and conducted by the above mentioned Don Pippin. Those that make it to the show on October 21st will have the opportunity to hear some of those musical gems, along with many other Herman tunes, performed the way they should be...live artists giving it their all in front of a live audience. Let us assure you, that even if Mr. Herman cannot be at UNLV for the performance, attendees will get more than their monies worth. Call (702) 895-ARTS (2787) for tickets.
And speaking of live audiences, some of the "civilians" (but show biz-types) who we spotted in the mesmerized audience at the UNLV seminar on Thursday were Jeanne Brei, Michael Cassano, Michael Chapman, Gerald Gordon, Paul Holmquist, Howard Jochsberger, Gary Oakes, Ray Jarvis, Jerry Ritholz-Jarvis and Marcus Weiss. All agreed that this was a once in a lifetime experience. Thanks to UNLV’s Glenn Casale and Larry Henley for helping make this happen.
And speaking of Gerald Gordon, he has another feather to put in his jaunty cap. We have mentioned Gordon a number of times before (and no, Cousin Claire is not on the acting coach’s payroll) but for good reason. As the late John Houseman used to say in those TV commercials for Smith-Barney, "We make money the old fashioned way, we earn it." Well so has Gordon...earned his way into Claire’s good graces and column, that is. This time, we are going to put his name in print to let readers know that one of his former students is now a regular cast member of NBC’s Monday night fantasy-drama series, Heroes. Greg Grunberg, who portrays a policeman with extremely acute hearing in the new series, learned much of his craft under Gordon‘s teachings. Grunberg also has credits on series TV in shows such as Felicity, Alias and Lost. If you are keeping score, and Gerald Gordon should be, Oscar-winner Adrien Brody, Christopher Titus and Andy Lauer have all studied with Mr. Gordon. A good number of his recent students are currently working in successful Las Vegas shows - Mamma Mia! at Mandalay Bay, Forever Plaid originally at the Flamingo but now at the Gold Coast, Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere at Treasure Island, Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding at the Rio and Jubilee! at Bally’s.
And speaking of Marcus Weiss (notice how one story leads to another?), this is one extraordinarily talented young man. Not only is Marcus a regular cast member of BOTH the Blue Man Group at The Venetian and The Second City at the Flamingo, three years ago, we saw him give one of the most brilliant acting performances ever, amateur or professional. Marcus, in a tour de force role, played the lead in the bizarre tale of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. If Weiss had played this role on Broadway, he very well could have earned himself a Tony...he was that good. Directed by David Tapper for the award-winning but now defunct Nevada Theatre Company, Hedwig was definitely one of the most unique pieces of theater we had ever seen and quite an undertaking for any theater group. If you don’t know the story, look it up at your local library, video store (yes, it was a movie as well as a play) or on the Internet. You wouldn’t believe it if we tried to explain it. And by the way, congratulations to Mr. Weiss and his fiancée Anastasia on their upcoming wedding.
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Have you ever wondered how the recipients on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars are chosen? If the selection were based solely on merit and contribution to the city, especially when it comes to entertainment, the order in which these honors were bestowed would probably be much different. After all, it’s called the Walk of STARS.
The four mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard that runs between Sahara and Russell is being developed by the Motion Picture Hall of Fame Foundation and Clark County. The goal is to one day have 3,000 names embedded on the Strip sidewalks. The first honoree was Wayne Newton, with his name permanently planted in front of the Frontier on October 26, 2004. That was followed by both Liberace and Frank Marino, enshrined outside the Riviera on February 01, 2005. Since then, Rich Little, Dick Jensen, Mel Larson, Toni Hart, John Stuart, Richard MacDonald, Wayne Allyn Root, Line Renaud, Chester Simms and Siegfried & Roy have also been, or will soon be among those commemorated in three-foot squares of granite. We are not suggesting that these folks aren’t worthy of 180 pounds of concrete, we are just questioning the ORDER of things.
Wouldn’t you think that Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. should have been among the leaders of this parade? And what about either of the royal couples of Las Vegas entertainment, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme and/or Louis Prima and Keely Smith?
Would you be surprised to learn that the honor comes with a price tag? If you can dig into your wallet, or have family and/or friends dig into theirs, you (or someone you love) might also become a legend in cement. The cost? Here is the condensed info, right from the Las Vegas Walk of Stars own Web site. "A donation of $15,000 is required for each star. Check should be made payable to Las Vegas Walk of Stars, (Tax ID #71-0946230), reported as such to the IRS, and is not refundable. A $7,500 deposit is due at confirmation date, the remaining balance of $7,500, is due 30 days prior to star dedication day. This cost includes all expenses related to the shipping, manufacturing and imbedding of the Star, a County Proclamation, a Walk of Stars Plaque, the sound needed for the dedication ceremony, flowers for lady honorees, publicity, press releases, radio/TV interviews, liability insurance and applicable fees. Any expenses exceeding the above mentioned items, such as "special pomp and circumstances," i.e., bands, celebrity MC, chairs, street closures, special security, cocktail reception, etc., shall be borne by the sponsoring entity. Las Vegas Walk of Stars committee, will, however, assist in arranging and handling of these special particulars, if so requested. Sponsoring entity shall be the stars themselves, family, friends or corporate sponsors such as hotels. Any "special pomp and circumstance" plans are subject to Committee approval." We wonder if they will accept a Visa card?
And, speaking of worthy honorees, how about Frankie Laine? In 1949, while working in the Opera House Theatre Restaurant of the El Rancho Vegas, the "Moonlight Gambler" was the first entertainer to be photographed on stage by the city’s then two-year-old Desert Sea News Bureau (later renamed the Las Vegas News Bureau). Joe Buck’s photograph went out over the wire services and was printed in publications all around the world, launching one of the most successful and enduring public-relations campaigns ever. Laine has performed on a Las Vegas stage in every decade from the 1940s through the 2000s. Frankie Laine has sung I Believe, Rawhide, Moonlight Gambler, Jezebel, On the Sunny Side of the Street, That’s My Desire and the theme from Blazing Saddles, at just about every hotel in this city. His last appearance was as the opening act at the brand new Suncoast in November of 2000. On his 80th birthday, the United States Congress declared Frankie Laine to be a National Treasure and, in 1996, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame (in conjunction with Carl Fisher, Laine wrote the beautiful We’ll Be Together Again). Now 93, Frankie Laine and his second wife Marcia make their home in Point Loma near San Diego. In Cousin Claire’s opinion, the man identified as "one of the most successful and influential American singers of the twentieth century" has never been properly acknowledged or honored for his contributions as a Las Vegas entertainer. What an oversight. What a shame.
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For Halloween 2006, America Online’s City Guide has selected Haunted Vegas Tours as one of their must see Haunted Getaways across the nation. The Haunted Vegas Tours, along with the new Vegas Mob Tours, are the brainchild of Las Vegas entrepreneur Robert Allen. If you are in the mood for ghosties and ghoulies (and at this time of year, isn’t everybody?), put a little fright in your night by taking the advice of AOL. As has been mentioned before, Halloween, especially in Las Vegas, isn’t just for kids anymore. For reservations, call (702) 737-5540. Look for information on Allen’s upcoming Mindvention gathering in next weeks’ column.
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The dance show, Burn the Floor, has been held over at the Luxor at least through November 26. The deal is, the production capitalizing on the popularity of TV successes like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars, will alternate with headliners such as LeAnn Rimes (October 27 and 28), Nick Lachey (November 10 and 11), Olivia Newton-John (November 16, 17 and 18) and Liza Minnelli (November 23,24 and 25) in the hotel’s main showroom. The dancers will burn up the Luxor floor October 29-November 9, November 12-15, November 19-22 and November 26. Call (702) 262-4400 for more dates, further information and reservations.
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Look for the promised/threatened Bobby Berosini story next Friday.
If so, drop an e-mail and ask.
Cousin Claire will do her best to find the answer for you.