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.  
She calls ‘em like she sees (and hears) ‘em.  

Claire Voyant  

Note: This is a past column from November 17, 2006
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - November 17, 2006

In an article from the Associated Press comes this bit of (mis)information. Prince unveiled a low-production but high-energy show as he debuted a new weekly casino gig, giving no indication he plans to become the next Wayne Newton. Under a deal announced this month, he will perform shows for the next several Friday and Saturday nights in the 3121 club at The Rio casino-hotel just off the Las Vegas Strip. The move surprised fans who have dubbed the star --- now more than 20 years past his mega-hit album and movie "Purple Rain" --- a pop, funk and soul innovator. Las Vegas, a place once known for showcasing stars in the twilight of their careers, wasn't expected.

"I just didn't think he was at the has-been stage, yet," said Pat Ellen, a 36-year-old social worker from Chicago, before Friday's show.

The "has-been" stage? Apparently Ms. Ellen hasn’t been paying much attention to which "has-beens" have been showing up on Las Vegas stages these days. Although some of them may be a little long in the tooth (older than Justin Timberlake, who also performs in Vegas), do we consider acts such as the Rolling Stones, Carrie Underwood, Barbra Streisand, Dixie Chicks, Paul McCartney, Jay Leno, Neil Diamond, Craig Ferguson, Johnny Mathis, Jon Secada, Madonna, Stevie Nicks, James Blunt, Chicago, Michael Buble, Nick Lachey, The Who, Liza Minnelli, Pink, Barenaked Ladies, Jerry Seinfeld, the Black Eyed Peas, and even classical performers like Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti, who have all performed here - more than once, "has beens"? The answer is a resounding NO. As long as these acts are selling tickets and attracting large crowds, they will continue to play Vegas. Maybe Pat hasn’t heard that Celine Dion, Elton John, Toni Braxton, Louie Anderson and Barry Manilow, among others, all have "permanent" shows here. Perhaps the Royal Purple One decided it made more sense to have a home-base where he could leave his colorful costumes in the same closet for weeks or months at a time, in lieu of packing them up and moving them from city-to-city. Maybe His Holiness figured out that, like Celine, Elton, Toni, Louie and Barry, if he had a place to perform where his fans could come to him, as opposed to him going to them, everyone would he happier. These kinds of deals offer a win win situation for the artist (formerly know as…), the fans, and the venues where they work. We’re not hearing many complaints from the powers-that-be, the suits, the bean counters, or whatever you call them. The bottom line is the bottom line and, when it comes right down to it, it’s all about the Benjamins.

Incidentally, on his opening night at the Rio, Prince was completely sold out, with some tickets being scalped or resold for about $1000 each. This guy knows what he’s doing...and so do the folks that put this deal together. As with most things in Las Vegas, this won’t last forever but, while the getting is good... Any more questions?

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If you would like to learn a little more about former Las Vegan, singer/pianist Ronnie David mentioned in last week’s column, check out the Houston, Texas, entertainer’s Web site at You’re welcome, Ronnie.

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It’s usually in the heat of the Las Vegas summer that creepy, crawly insects abound. It seems that, even with the cooler weather upon us, we have an inordinate number of bugs, more specifically, make that Beatles, around the city. There are now at least three ongoing productions paying tribute to the boys from Liverpool. If you were/are a fan of John, Paul, George and Ringo, you have numerous Beatle-themed entertainment choices available to you, in all price ranges. The Mirage is the home Love, the Cirque du Soleil extravaganza ($69 to $150); the Aladdin’s V Theater offers Fab Four Mania, a very entertaining look-alike/sound alike Beatles tribute ($49 and $59); while the Riviera has Fab Forever: A Musical History Tour ($39.95). It’s been more than 40 years since the fellows had their first big hit, 1964’s I Want To Hold Your Hand. We suspect that the Beatles will be around Forever, in one form or another. (At our column deadline, the Riviera’s show has been put on hold as one of the cast members tends to his family, injured in an automobile accident in Southern California. Check with the hotel for current information.)

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Cover Girls, one of the two, only weeks-old, Golden Nugget revues, has already closed. The show was described as "Sizzling, Sexy and Sinful." Now you can add the words Missing, Gone and History to the description. Is it more than coincidental that Joe Leone, the downtown property’s longtime Vice President of Entertainment, is now also Missing, Gone and History from the hotel? What will join the London import, Simply Ballroom, in the newly remodeled and expanded theater is, at this time, anybody’s guess. Stay tuned.

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Lucy (Lucille) Shropshire, remembered among other things for her turn as the principal singer in Enter the Night at the Stardust (there’s that name again), just ended an engagement playing Armelia (originally created by Armelia McQueen) in a revival of the 1978 Tony Award-winning musical, Ain’t Misbehavin,’ at the Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, NJ. The talented entertainer has also been touring with former Supreme singer, Mary Wilson. Lucy, who spent a number of years performing with her own band in Northern and Southern Nevada, will return to those roots with her second go-round at the Manhattan nightclub, Don‘t Tell Mama. Working with the intuitive guidance of former Las Vegan Jim Semmelman (stage manager with NBC‘s Today show), Lucy will perform at the popular cabaret at the end of December.

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Cousin Claire is a big fan of judge shows, i.e. Judge Judy, Judge Greg Mathis, Judge Marilyn Milian on The People’s Court, Judge Hatchett and Simon Cowell, to name a handful. There’s a new face on the court TV scene (at least in the Las Vegas market) and her name is Judge Maria Lopez. And you know what? She is an attractive blonde, with a voice that sounds like a cross between Tallulah Bankhead and Harvey Fierstein. And you know what else? This lady has a habit that grates like fingernails on a blackboard. You know what? She says (or asks) "You know what?" way too many times during her shows. And you know what? From now on, we’re using our remote and switching channels when she comes on. And you know why? Because we can. What does this have to do with Las Vegas and entertainment? Not a thing, but, you know what? It’s our column and we can write about whatever strikes our fancy.

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We are saddened to report the death of Lucy Willard. Born in Chicago, Willard was a June Taylor Dancer before moving to Las Vegas in 1950, the same year that she married entertainment columnist (Daily Variety as well as local publications) Bill Willard. Lucy continued dancing, joining the chorus girls at the Flamingo, Frontier and Thunderbird hotels. She and Bill were married for 50 years before his death in 2000. Lucy Willard was 86 at the time of her passing.

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Once again, comic Dave Chappelle has flown the coop. Scheduled to perform on November 16th at The Comedy Festival held at Caesars Palace, just days before, it was announced that Chappelle had cancelled his appearance and it would not be rescheduled. Other than letting ticket holders know how they could get refunds (Chappelle‘s ticket prices were among the highest of the top-named comics participating in the festival), no other explanation was given for his exit. If you know anything about the comic’s history, this is not the first time he has "dropped out." By the end of its second season, Comedy Central’s Chappelle Show was one of the highest rated shows on basic cable. During the third season, and at the height of his success, the Emmy-nominated comedian, satirist and actor walked out on the series. There seems to be an unexplained, self-destruct pattern going on here.

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Obviously the rival late night talkshow hosts are courting a Las Vegas (or Vegas entertainment-lovers) audience. This last Wednesday, in the David Letterman corner, we had comic/impressionist/singer Gordie Brown as one of five performers featured during Impressionists Week. On the same night, in the Jay Leno corner, Cirque du Soleil's Beatle-themed Love cast members were in the house. If you missed one or both shows, or would like to see more of your favorites, you can catch the performers on their home turf - Gordie in the new theater at The Venetian and Love at The Mirage.

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In the 1950's, when folks talked about "The House That Ruth Built," they weren't necessarily talking about New York's Yankee Stadium and baseball legend Babe Ruth. They could have just as easily been referring to Atlantic Records and the musical contributions of one of its top artists, Ruth Brown. Brown's recordings of Teardrops in My Eyes, 5-10-15 Hours and (Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean and So Long led her to rhythm-and-blues stardom and produced dozens of hits for Atlantic, cementing the young record company's reputation as a major rhythm and blues powerhouse. She also became known as "Miss Rhythm" (a name bestowed on her by music legend, "Mr. Rhythm" Frankie Laine). Between 1949 and 1955, "The Girl with the Teardrop in Her Voice" was on the R&B charts for 149 weeks, with 16 Top 10 blues records, including five No. 1 hits. She became Atlantic Record's most popular artist.

Brown later crossed over into rock 'n' roll with tunes such as Lucky Lips and This Little Girl's Gone Rockin', a song she co-wrote with Bobby Darin. When R&B and rock 'n' roll fell out of favor in the late 1950s, Brown and her musical contemporaries were forced into retirement. She spent most of the 1960s raising her two sons alone and earning a living as a maid, school bus driver and teacher. As the result of her years long struggle to recoup her share of royalties from Atlantic Records, Brown became an advocate for the rights of many pioneer R&B musicians and helped establish the Rhythm & Blues Foundation.

Brown enjoyed a career renaissance in the mid-70s when she began recording blues and jazz tunes for a variety of labels and found success on the stage and in movies. She played the part of Motormouth Maybelle, singing the show-stopping I Know Where I've Been, in the 1988 John Waters cult movie, Hairspray. She won acclaim in the R&B musical Stagger Lee and was the winner of the 1989 Tony Award as Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her performance in Broadway's Black and Blue. That same year, Brown won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for the album Blues on Broadway. In 1993, Ruth Brown was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall and Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. Trained in a church choir in her hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia, Brown continued to perform and record into her later years and became a popular host of National Public Radio's Harlem Hit Parade. Twice during the past couple of years, the gutsy senior traveled to New York for engagements at Le Jazz Au Bar where she performed for weeks (even being held over) to full houses made up of appreciative audience members. A one-night-a-week engagement at the Bootlegger Bistro, a restaurant on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, ended abruptly (and badly, as far as Brown was concerned) a couple of months ago. Brown, a fulltime Las Vegas resident since 1994, died in a Southern Nevada hospital on November 17th at the age of 78, following years of health issues.

Singer Bonnie Raitt, a longtime fan and admirer of Brown's, came to her idols' financial and emotional aid during the past few months. Raitt said of the late music legend, "Ruth was one of the most important and beloved figures in modern music. You can hear her influence in everyone from Little Richard to Etta (James), Aretha (Franklin), Janis (Joplin) and divas like Christina Aguilera today. She was my dear friend, and I will miss her terribly." We all will.

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Claire Voyant's portrait by Charlie Frye