Claire Voyant's Las Vegas Gossip Column



Displaying keen perception and great insight.  
She's a little bit naughty. She’s a little bit nice.  
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Claire Voyant  

Note: This is a past column from November 10, 2006
You can find the current column HERE


Las Vegas - November 10, 2006

Roseanne Barr, Lewis Black, Louis C.K., cast members Ricardo Chavira, James Denton and Doug Savant from Desperate Housewives; cast members Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Adrian Grenier and Jeremy Piven from Entourage; Mike Epps, Susie Essman, D.L. Hughley, Jimmy Kimmel, George Lopez, Bill Maher, Ray Romano, Rebecca Romijn, Rita Rudner, Steve Schirripa, Sarah Silverman and Debra Wilson have joined the talent lineup for the live all-star comedy event Comic Relief 2006, to be seen Saturday, November 18th from 9:00 p.m. to midnight live ET/tape-delayed PT) on HBO and TBS. In addition, pre-taped segments will feature appearances by Howie Mandel, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

Presented from Caesars Palace as part of the second annual edition of The Comedy Festival, the special will be hosted by Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams, who also hosted the first eight Comic Relief events on HBO. New Orleans brass-funk group Bonerama will serve as the house band. Other performers will be announced as they are confirmed. Comic Relief's mission is to unite the comedy community behind some of society's most relevant causes and pressing needs. This year's concert will help families affected by Hurricane Katrina, raising funds to help rebuild homes and address causes that kept people from escaping. While the focus will be on New Orleans, Comic Relief will look for ways to assist the recovery efforts in other areas of the region where possible.

In conjunction with all of this funny business, there will be the Festival Village. Located at Caesars' Roman Plaza Amphitheater, the Village, which is free and open to the public, will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, the 14th, and from 1 to 10 p.m. on the 15th through the 18th. In addition to food and beverages (which are not free), there will be an oxygen bar, tarot card readers, karaoke and celebrity impersonators contests, show ticket giveaways, a chance to win trips, and nightly cash prizes. Hosting these activities are former American Idol contestant (and a Las Vegan) Mikalah Gordon and Dateline: Hollywood film critic Woody Wittman. Comics such as Jamie Kennedy and Mo'Nique are expected to drop by the Festival Village.

Donations for Comic Relief are already being accepted at the toll-free number 1-800-528-1000, or at the Web site, comicrelief.org.

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If you have been around these parts long enough (since the mid-60s), you may remember Ronnie David. In the mid-60s, the talented piano player/singer, with a charming Texas drawl and a sparkle in his eyes, entertained music lovers at the Desert Inn's (now Wynn Las Vegas) beautiful Sky Room, where he alternated with Murray Arnold. Ronnie also tickled the ivories and sang in the Sahara's Casbar Lounge (where he performed opposite comedian Don Rickles), the Cub Lounge at the MGM Grand (now Bally's) and the then-new Olympic Lounge at Caesars Palace. These days, Ronnie is back in his hometown of Houston where he can be seen and heard during dinner hours (7 to 11 p.m.) on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays at the popular Pappas Steaks on Westheimer in the Galleria area, and at private parties and events around the city. He also accompanies and coaches singers and has a few adult piano students, keeping him busy enough and out of most trouble. He has a CD available (found under his full name, Ronnie David Cohen) called In the Still of the Night. In addition to the title track, listeners can also hear tunes such as S'Wonderful, My Foolish Heart, Because/In My Life, In A Sentimental Mood / Caravan, A House Is Not A Home, You'll Be In My Heart, a West Side Story medley, Blue Velvet, Like A Lover, Ruby, Shana's Little Boogie (an original written by Ronnie as a tribute to his daughter), Change The World, In The Still Of The Night, By The Time I Get To Phoenix and Manha De Carnaval. The album can be purchased online through CD Baby. Ronnie has fond memories of what he calls "the magic city in the desert" and would love to come back on occasion to play a few tunes and see a few old friends. Anybody got a great looking Baby Grand that needs a fine entertainer sitting at the keyboard?

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Larry "Hot Chocolate" Edwards will be seen on Elton John's Red Piano, airing on the Bravo Channel, on Friday, November 10th at 1 p.m. and repeating on Sunday, the 12th at noon. Look for busy Larry, who has worked as a Patti LaBelle and Tina Turner impersonator in Boy-lesque with Kenny Kerr and in An Evening at La Cage with Frank Marino, to dance and camp it up with Sir Elton onstage. Elton performs many dates a year at the Caesars Palace Colosseum. By the way, it's nice to be able to mention Kerr and Marino in the same sentence, without including the word "feud." At long last, there is some peace in our Valley.


And speaking of television appearances, the very talented Gordie Brown will get a great big break when he performs on Late Night with David Letterman, next Wednesday, November 15th on CBS. Gordie, who recently opened in the brand new Venetian Theatre, will be a part of Impressionists Week on the CBS show. Also scheduled to appear during the week will be Rich Little (who, like Gordie, makes his home in Las Vegas) on Monday, November 13th, Fred Travalena on Tuesday, Frank Caliendo on Thursday and Kevin Pollak on Friday. Impressionists Week follows the popular Ventriloquists Week, held in September. That series of ventriloquists featured Las Vegas headliner Ronn Lucas (with Scorch), who was last at the Rio and soon to open in the Steve Wyrick Theater at the Aladdin, shared the week with Willie Tyler & Lester, Jay Johnson & Darwin, Jeff Dunham & Walter and Todd Oliver & Irving, his talking dog. Last Wednesday, Luxor's headlining comic, Carrot Top, was a guest on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Las Vegas entertainers are all over the tube these days and nights.

And yet more Stardust stuff. (Hey, she may be closed but she definitely isn't forgotten!) Anyway, from the multi-talented former dancer and, in recent years an Emmy Award-winning choreographer/costume designer/director (as the late Howard "Little Lil" Benway used to say when introducing Kenny Kerr of Boy-lesque fame, "Hell he does everything") Michael Darrin, comes this Stardust-related bit of history.

In the mid-1970s, everybody who was anybody wanted their show in the redone Stardust Lounge, including the well-known and respected producer Frederic Apcar and choreographer Ronnie Lewis, but it was two relatively unknown dancers, Beverly Whiting and Darrin, that won over the powers-that-be, dancing away with the right to put their musical revue into the brand new room. In 1975, Sassy Class opened in the newly redone Stardust Lounge. Darrin, who had just left Juliet Prowse after four-and-a-half years as one of her boy dancers, was venturing out on his own for the first time. With former dance partner Whiting (who had also worked with Prowse), Michael created, directed, choreographed, costumed and even lit Sassy Class. The show starred Darrin and Whiting, singer Denise Clemente, puppet master Barclay Shaw and the Argentine Gauchos. Onetime musician Paul Lowden, former owner of the Hacienda (now Mandalay Bay), the Sahara (still the Sahara) and the Santa Fe (now Santa Fe Station), was the producer of Sassy Class. Obviously, Darrin did something right, or many somethings right. The show ran for nine months. Six months later, the "Little Revue That Could" was nominated for six major Las Vegas Entertainment Awards, winning three. Sassy Class won for (1) Best Music (the Jimmy Hassell Live Orchestra), (2) Best Production Number (adagio team Darrin and Whiting) and (3) Best Show of the Year, beating out even Bottoms Up. (Ironic, in a way, because Darrin later worked as a choreographer and costume designer for BU producers Breck Wall and the late Patrick Maes for many years.) It was Miss Cuchi Cuchi, Charo, and comedienne Totie Fields who presented Michael Darrin his award on national television. Sadly, that would be Totie's last public appearance, as she passed away soon after!

As mentioned in an earlier column, Michael Darrin has been dealing with serious health issues. A benefit to assist him with medical expenses was held at Krave Nightclub a couple of months ago. The monies raised from that event allowed Darrin to consult with specialists both in and out of Las Vegas. So far, no miracle cures have been discovered. MRIs from California show a severely traumatized spinal cord with lesions inside the cord. Neurologists and radiologists say surgery is not the answer. Darrin may be losing some of his mobility but one thing he isn't losing is his wicked sense of humor. Decades ago, he almost lost his life in a vehicle versus pedestrian accident. He survived that, with limbs intact, so don't count this tough fellow out anytime soon.

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And speaking (or writing) of Frederic Apcar (mentioned earlier in this column), in September he was one of four people inducted into the Nevada Entertainer/Artist Hall of Fame during the fourth annual ceremony at UNLV's Artemus Ham Concert Hall. This was the first year that more than one person was honored. In addition to Apcar,

inductees included entertainers Mary Healy and Wayne Newton and architect John Klai II. The legendary Apcar received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the world of entertainment. Over many years, he produced shows in Paris and Las Vegas, including the famed Casino de Paris at the Dunes, Vive Les Girls, Bare Touch of Vegas, Hot Streak and Showbiz. Mary Healy�s career began in the 1930s. The widow of Peter Lind Hayes, she co-starred with her husband on TV's Peter and Mary Show, Inside U.S.A. with Chevrolet, The Peter Lind Hayes Show, Peter Loves Mary, Star of the Family and The Stork Club. In 1962, between Jack Paar's departure and Johnny Carson's arrival, Mary and Peter were among the celebrities who hosted The Tonight Show. Mary was also a panelist on the game show, Masquerade Party, and appeared in a number of movies, including Miracle on 34th Street and The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, in which she once again performed with Peter. Klai is recognized for designing and remodeling a number of Las Vegas hotels and casinos. His firm, Klai Juba Architects, worked on the Hard Rock, Luxor, MGM Grand, Orleans and Silverton, and designed Mandalay Bay. Since his Las Vegas debut in at the downtown Fremont, where he appeared with his brother Jerry, Wayne Newton has performed more than 25,000 shows locally. He has made guest appearances in films like Vegas Vacation and on TV, most recently on NBC's Las Vegas with James Caan. Missing from a Las Vegas marquee since July, Newton will open his holiday show on November 22 at Harrah's. He currently serves as chairman of the USO Celebrity Circle.

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Texas resident Diane Wisdom, the onetime singing partner of Jimmy Hassell (remember Hassell with Wisdom?) referred to in the previous story, mentions Esquivel! who had a revue that played intermittently in the Stardust Lounge. Diane, who occasionally returns to Las Vegas to visit friends, describes Esquivel's presentation (which included four girl singers) as "kind of a Latin Xavier Cugat/Ray Anthony's Bookends show." Must be something about those Texans and entertainer Esquivel, as musician Ronnie David (mentioned elsewhere in this column) also recalls him at the Stardust. Cousin Claire hates to admit that she never saw the man perform and doesn't remember him. Therefore, we turn to an Internet site to learn the following�"From the start, Esquivel cultivated a reputation as both a ladies' man and a tyrant behind the baton." (That goes along with some of the wise Wisdom's memories.) "His touring production included dancers, who were subject to a fine whenever they dropped a smile. After the novelty or demand had subsided, Esquivel settled down for an eleven-year stint behind the piano at the Stardust in Las Vegas. He appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1968; unfortunately the tape was destroyed in 1972. Perhaps his greatest legacy is thousands of short instrumental pieces recorded for television. Anyone who has watched U.S. television is likely to have heard Esquivel's compositions." Another Internet source states, "In 1963, Esquivel switched from studio work to live performance, creating a stage show featuring four svelte female singers, flashing lights, and choreographed routines and playing the Vegas-Tahoe circuit. His show was a favorite among Vegas insiders, and celebrities like Frank Sinatra regularly dropped in to listen. He liked to party in the fast lane, too. "I have had many loves in my life: music, cars, women and the piano, not necessarily in that order," he once told an interviewer.

He recorded his last U.S. release in 1967 and his last RCA album was released only in Latin American markets in 1968. By then, Vegas had become the focus of his activities.

Esquivel also wrote for TV during and after his studio period. He composed theme songs and soundtracks for several TV series, including The Bob Cummings Show, but his greatest legacy has been a huge library of incidental music written mostly for Universal Studios that's been sampled on over 100 different series, from McHale's Navy to Kojak. Generations of television viewers have heard Esquivel's most enduring piece of library music--the three-second bombastic fanfare that accompanies the Universal Studios emblem at the end of its productions. He led the live band for 12 years, but by the end, his audience had begun to dwindle, and his indulgence in drink and drugs led to the end of his contract. His belongings, including many of his compositions, were hauled off when he fell in arrears on his rent." Juan Garcia Esquivel died in Mexico in 2002. He was 84 years old. Now there, aren't you glad you asked?

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Greg Smith, of the perennial favorites The Smith Brothers, writes Cousin Claire to remind us that his band (made up of himself on guitar, and his brothers Rami Smith on drums, and Shawn Smith on bass - Rick Daugherty joined the brothers in 1983) also had a history at the Stardust. They were one of the musical acts that appeared at the Stardust on a regular basis. Not only did the popular group perform many times at the old Stardust, they were chosen as the act to open the lounge in the "new" Stardust, and entertained there for many years. The Smith Brothers could also win an award for longevity as, more than 30 years after moving here from Ohio, they have rarely been out of work. With Mike Smart on bass (Shawn retired from music some years ago) the band continues to perform regularly at places such as The Orleans, Gold Coast and Barbary Coast. When he's not making music, Greg's day gig is as the Entertainment Director at Terrible's (formerly the Hotel Continental). He is also an artists' agent, booking a number of acts around the city.

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Last seen on a Vegas stage on May 30th, during media night for Headlights & Tailpipes at the Stardust (there's that name again), handsome Lorenzo Lamas is currently appearing at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York through tomorrow, November 11. What would Lorenzo, the son of the late Fernando Lamas and still-beautiful Arlene Dahl, be doing performing in a nightclub known primarily for cabaret entertainment? Although young Lamas didn't sing a note while appearing as a special guest in the music and dance show at the Stardust, he has some music in his background. In addition to his fame in TV dramas such as the short-lived California Fever (1979), Renegade, Secrets of Midland Heights and Falcon Crest, Lorenzo also hosted Dancin' To the Hits in the late '80s. Although better suited to action films, the 6'2" actor appeared in the film musicals Grease and Body Rock. Lamas calls his current musical offering at Feinstein's Lorenzo Sings About Love. Having been married and divorced four times, Cousin Claire would guess that the 48-year-old knows of what he sings.

Also on Feinstein's upcoming roster (November 27 and December 18), Gianni Russo. Never heard of him? Well, for starters, the survivor of childhood polio played Carlo Rizzi in the Godfather movies. He later appeared with Marlon Brando in The Freshman, a Godfather parody, as well as Seabiscuit. That's not enough? Okay, he was also a Vegas resident and supper club owner. His local establishment was called State Street and it was located in the Commercial Center on East Sahara. Oh yes, Russo was the onetime boyfriend of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's favorite girl singer, Dionne Warwick. As a vocalist, Amazon shows one CD, circa 2005, available. It's called Reflections and earned one star out of a possible five in a Customer Review. And, no, the reviewer was not Warwick. One never knows when all of this basically useless information night come in handy. Jeopardy! anyone?

As for Feinstein at the Regency's landlord, that would be cabaret artist Michael Feinstein, he performed here recently at both UNLV (as part of last seasons' New York Stage & Beyond series) and, with songstress Linda Eder, on the floating stage at Lake Las Vegas on September 8. Feinstein was also the first artist to entertain in Bellagio's beautiful Fontana Room when the Strip hotel opened in October of 1998. See how these things all tie together?



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Claire Voyant's portrait by Charlie Frye