We deliberately skipped Liza Minnelli's October engagement at the Luxor because we didn‘t want to see her at less than her best. The memories of her performances in the ‘80s put her among Cousin Claire‘s favorites and that‘s how we chose to remember her. After reading some positive reviews on her shows of about six weeks ago, we decided to venture out to see her for ourselves. We were pleasantly surprised. Liza performed many of the songs associated with her career - including Cabaret, New York New York, Sara Lee, Here I'll Stay/Our Love Is Here To Stay, and closed with an a cappella version of I'll Be Seeing You (maybe a clue that she'll be back here in the near future). Yes, she‘s still a bit heavier than she was in her prime (but about 30 pounds lighter than she was at her heaviest a few years ago), and the vibrato is a little much at times and, yes, there were a few notes that were a little off key but, after all, Liza with a "Z" is 60 years old now (hard to believe that her mother, Judy Garland, was only 47 when she died in 1969) and she's been through a lot. That joke of a marriage to David Gest, for one. Have you ever seen a scarier looking wedding party photo than the one with that bride and groom and their attendants, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson?
Anyway, we attended Liza's 8 p.m. show on Saturday, the 28th of November. Would have loved to have been at the 1:30 a.m. "gypsies" performance, but that one was, supposedly, for show kids only. Because most of the city's performers work at the same times, they don't get the opportunity to see their favorites at work down the boulevard. In the old days. these late night events by headliners were not that uncommon. Today, it's a different story. Most Las Vegas hotels are run by corporations. Lots of the people in charge weren't even born when Sammy Davis, Liza and production shows like Ipi Tombi (anyone remember that one?) did a third, after midnight, FREE show. In addition to the dancers and singers from big productions (who are the best, most enthusiastic audiences in captivity), cab drivers were often invited as well. After all, if the cabbies liked what they saw, they could share their reviews with passengers resulting in more ticket sales. It makes good sense (and good cents, and good dollars) and, if the properties aren't providing a free drink, it costs them almost nothing.
The paying audience at the 8 p.m. show loved Liza. She received a number of standing ovations from the almost-full Thanksgiving weekend audience. Among those paying homage to the second generation diva were Harrah's Las Vegas' newest headliner, comedienne Rita Rudner, and TV's Star Search's first male superstar, Sam Harris.
If you were one of the millions who saw and heard 22-year-old Harris capture the country's heart in 1984, it would be hard to forget him. With unbridled enthusiasm, Sam, attired in black tails and high-top sneakers, sang his heart out week after week. The song most associated with young Sam during that season of competition was (Somewhere) Over the Rainbow. For those that may have wondered what became of this talented man after his $100,000 win, worry not. Harris has had, and continues to have, a successful career in show business. There have been eight albums, including his debut recording, Sam Harris, that went Platinum, and Sam-I-Am, that went Gold (Cousin Claire's personal favorites are Second Stages and Standard Time), cabaret performances, TV appearances and Broadway. Sam received a Drama Desk Award-nomination for Tommy Tune's Grease! He was nominated for a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Outer Critic's Circle Award, and won the Drama League Award for his role in Cy Coleman's The Life. Sam has toured in national companies of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Cabaret and Revival, made guest appearances on the top television shows, and performed around the country in venues from intimate cabaret rooms to New York's Carnegie Hall. Sam is currently one of the stars of the CBS sit-com, The Class. One thing missing from Sam Harris's resume is a Las Vegas appearance (although he did sing a couple of songs with Liza during that late night Luxor show mentioned above). Cousin Claire is planning to see what she can do to correct that situation.
Also in Liza's late night audience was singer/actress Terri White. Anyone, beside Cousin Claire, remember Terri when she sang with her own band in Vegas? These days, Terri lives in New York where she has made a name for herself in the theater. Among her credits are appearances with Ms. Minnelli in both the live and video version of Liza Live from Radio City Music Hall. She also played one of the Little Sisters of Hoboken in the Rue McClanahan-starring Nunsense and Nunsense 2: The Sequel, both on stage and on video. Talent obviously runs in the White family. In Las Vegas, Terri's brother Bill White was a member of the Mickey Finn Show and later portrayed Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong in the long running Legends in Concert at the Imperial Palace.
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On November 29, our coldest night of the season so far, an enthusiastic crowd (mostly Sun City Summerlin residents), turned out to see and hear singer/dancer/actress Lisa Donovan perform at the Starbright Theatre in the northwest part of the city. Presented by ChapQuist Entertainment, Ms. Donovan was backed by a talented quartet made up of conductor/ keyboard player Dave Richardson, Jeff Johnson on synthesizer, Wayne Ratzenberger handling drums and percussion, and bass player Wayne Tolen. The ensemble presented an entertaining mix of music that included a perfectly chosen opening number, Getting To Know You. Donovan and her family have been residents of that section of Las Vegas since early this year, so the song was very appropriate for the occasion. Lisa's Chita Rivera-look-alike sister, singer/actress Ina Jo Donovan, joined her in a duet of Up Where We Belong. In addition to All That Jazz, and a "new tune" called If You Want To See Me Cry, Lisa did a cute, up-tempo tribute to Carmen Miranda (complete with fruit-topped turban). At a point, Donovan shared with the audience that a friend of hers (New York cabaret artist Jeff Harnar) told her there are four stages of love, "The I want to be in love stage, the I am in love stage, the I used to be in love stage and New York, New York," before launching into I Will Survive (and we have no doubt that she will). A portion of Donovan's presentation is dedicated to her idol, Judy Garland. A medley that included Zing Went the Strings of My Heart, Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody, The Trolley Song, The Boy Next Door, I Got Rhythm, I'm Always Chasing Rainbows, Be a Clown, You Made Me Love You, Come Rain or Come Shine, When the Sun Comes Out, Swanee and, of course, Over the Rainbow, was a real crowd-pleaser. Donovan closed out her show with I Got the Music In Me/That's When The Music Takes Me, followed by America. Adding some choreography and humor in just the right spots, this triple-threat red-head has an abundance of energy and personality plus. The onetime co-star of TV's Face The Music ingratiated herself to the audience and earned a number of well-deserved standing ovations. Welcome to the neighborhood, Lisa Donovan.
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Condolences to longtime Las Vegas entertainer Peter Anthony on the death of his wife Bonnie. When out of the spotlight, the comic/musician is a private person. In keeping with that lifestyle, Bonnie Anthony's services were also private,
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If you didn't get enough cranberries over Thanksgiving, take a trip over to Bellagio's beautiful conservatory. Beginning this Sunday (December 3rd), and running into early January, the indoor gardens will once again feature cranberry bogs among the other flora and fauna of the winter holidays. If you have never experienced this artistic wonder, we highly recommend a visit to Bellagio. The conservatory, free to the public, changes with the seasons. All types of plants, fruits, animated figures, live butterflies and many other gifts of nature, are combined to create an experience that's a feast for all the senses. The Kodak moments are unlimited. Between the indoor sights and the famous outdoor Bellagio dancing fountains, this is a must see for one and all.
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Here's an interesting concept. Say you are a producer or performer who needs to put a certain number of bodies into theater seats and ticket sales are a little soft. There are some situations, like audience participation shows (hypnotists, mentalists, game-types) as well as shows without enough public interest, where "padding" the crowd is a good idea. This benefits both other audience members as well as the act, especially if the act is trying to impress a potential buyer. What to do to keep all concerned happy? There are discount ticket places in the city where, at around noon, you can go to one of their outlets to see what show has empty seats available for that night. Those do fill a purpose. If you want to see a show at no cost, and don't want to physically go on the hunt to do so, a Las Vegas businessman has come up with an alternative idea. He calls his concept Vegas Seat Fillers.
By going to vegasseatfillers.com online, and completing a short form, you will have the opportunity to attend free Las Vegas shows. There are no strings attached to this offer (even Cousin Claire has signed up), but there are some requirements. You need to have e-mail access, you need to be a respectful audience member, applauding and/or laughing at the appropriate times (no couch potatoes need apply), and, if you commit that you and your party will show up for some of these events, you need to be there as promised. "No shows" are subject to be dropped from the program.
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If you are a Las Vegan, or read the Las Vegas Review-Journal online or any other way, you might be aware that there is a local model search going on. The search has been featured in the Friday Image magazine insert for a number of weeks, with judges like, onetime host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Robin Leach; noted photographer, Jerry Metellus; local radio personality, Melanie; and beauty guru, William Whatley, deciding the fate of a number of hopeful young wannabes. One of the competitors, Mike Cardella Jr., comes from show business stock. His father would, of course, be Michael Cardella, while his mother is the caustic comedienne Pudgy! (that exclamation mark is part of her name). Until a few weeks ago, Pudgy! was part of the Funny Business Comedy Club at the Harmon Theater in the Aladdin's Desert Passage. Speaking of the Desert Passage, we have to wonder if the mall's Steve Wyrick Theater will ever open. The facility was supposed to launch months ago but that hasn't happened. Could Lance Burton wave his magic wand to make this space appear? We are sure that singer Martin Nievera and comic/ventriloquist Ronn Lucas would be eternally grateful.
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Kenny Kerr recently wound up his months long engagement at Suede nightclub on Paradise Road. The quick-witted comic/singer/female impersonator is slated to open in the newly remodeled Palm Springs establishment, formerly known as Atlas, after Christmas. More details to follow. And speaking of clubs in the Palm Springs area, we wonder how Buddy Greco's Cathedral City supper club is doing. Buddy and his wife Lezlie Anders sold their south Las Vegas ranchero earlier this year and opened the new California business about nine months ago. The original concept was going to feature guest performers - Barbara McNair, Roberta Linn and Fred Travalena were among those on the initial schedule, although Travalena never did his stint there. From what we understand, it has been Greco himself in the star spotlight at his self-named club.
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