Claire Voyant's Las Vegas Gossip Column

Displaying keen perception and great insight.  
She's a little bit naughty. Sheís a little bit nice.  
She calls Ďem like she sees (and hears) Ďem.  

Claire Voyant  

Note: This is a past column from September 29, 2006
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - September 29, 2006

With very little fanfare, it was announced last Friday, September 22, that Splash, the Rivieraís long running production show, would be closingÖin less than one week! During its more than 21 years on the Strip, Splash has gone through many changes, not all for the better. As the name suggested, the original show featured a 20,000-gallon water tank with swimming mermaids and dancing waters as its focal point. Within a few years, its most unique feature was gone. The latest incarnation included more contemporary music and dance. Last year, to coincide with the hotelís 50th anniversary, more changes were made to Splash. The consistent in the production were always the specialty acts, with ice skaters, comics, Argentinean gauchos, ventriloquists, hula-hoop experts and daring motorcyclists in the Globe of Death, among them. The final performance for this Strip pioneer will take place on Saturday, September 30. If you have seen it before and want to see it again, or if you want to catch it for the first time, hurry on over to the Riv...before Splash becomes little more than a fading ripple.

Nobody asked us but our suggestion was that the Riviera bring back the very entertaining and successful Japanese revue, Matsuri. Meaning "celebration," Matsuri, is a high-energy show, featuring more than 30 talented, enthusiastic athletic performers. It played afternoons, for a limited seven week run, in the Riviera showroom during the summer. The numbers were amazingly strong, especially with a ticket price of around $70. Seems like this would have been a dandy way to bring life back into the Splash Theater. Oh well. Guess they donít care what we think. We hear contracts have already been signed to bring in the Moscow Circus.

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As promised in the September 15th column, hereís a follow up on our visit to see The Mentalist, Gerry McCambridge. Seven of us, skeptics all, descended on the Stardust Theater last Tuesday. Among those hanging out with Cousin Claire that night, La Cage star Frank Marino; retired Boyd Gaming guru, Howard Jochsberger; legendary female impersonator/comic, Kenny Kerr; Shannon Alex Schechter, Director of Operations for American Storm, Louie Anderson and Thunder From Down Under; and Christopher Ernster, Marinoís personal dresser. Having never seen a mentalist, this audience member had no clue what to expect. The assessment? This was pretty amazing! Have no idea how he does what he does, but since McCambridge offers a $25,000 reward if anyone can prove there are plants in the room, or any kind of collusion, we say itís magic. He suggests that if you suspect trickery, and have to answer the question of "How does he do what he does?," you describe it as "bull sh-t!" It isnít. Itís very entertaining and leaves the paying customers amused, puzzled and scratching their heads. Our suggestion? There are two. No. 1, with the Stardust scheduled to close forever in just a few weeks, catch The Mentalist there while you have the chance. And, No. 2, another hotel/casino should give this guy a room where he can carry on his work, and play.

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When Cousin Claire became a Las Vegas resident almost 30 years ago, friends wondered why anyone would want to LIVE in this city...unless, of course, they worked in a casino. And didnít EVERYONE who lived here work in gaming? And, didnít everyone who was a resident live somewhere on, or blocks away from, the Strip? Surprise! Even three decades ago, there were homes and schools and churches and McDonaldís here, just like in everybody elseís hometown. Who knew? Unfortunately, not that many years later, lots of people thought living in Las Vegas was a dandy idea. Darn it! We now have the same kinds of problems - crime, overcrowded schools, smog, limited natural resources (like water), not enough hospital beds, etc. - as many other rapidly growing cities. When Vegas started to boom, in order to control the growth, it was our idea to check the cars driving in from California and Arizona...NOT to see if people were smuggling in fruit or harmless house plants, but to check luggage. If there was more than a three day supply of underwear, no admittance into Southern Nevada. That plan never materialized. Okay, how about this? Longtime locals (those that have lived here for a minimum of 10 years) should have bumper stickers with a message for tourists that reads, "Welcome to Las Vegas. Now go home!" Friendly, yet to the point.

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For those that live in other parts of the country, you may be surprised to learn who maintains their primary residence or a second home in this community. Most folks know about Vegas vets like Wayne Newton, Siegfried and Roy, Robert Goulet, Steve and Eydie, along with the late Redd Foxx, Liberace and Totie Fields, who all worked many weeks out of the year here. Then there are "newer" arrivals who make much of their living in Las Vegas...people like Rita Rudner, Rich Little, Clint Holmes, Lance Burton, Danny Gans, Gordie Brown (you will be hearing lots more about Gordie very soon) to name some. But, how about tennis great Andre Agassi, BB King, the late Guy Mitchell, Orson Welles and Joe Williams, Gladys Knight and Monti Rock III (a favorite Tonight Show with Johnny Carson guest)? And letís not forget Lamont McLemore of The Fifth Dimension, Harry Elston from The Friends of Distinction, Bob Flanigan from the Four Freshmen, Phyllis McGuire of the McGuire Sisters, Anthony Gourdine of Little Anthony and the Imperials fame, former Supreme Mary Wilson, and blues and jazz artists, Ruth Brown and Marlena Shaw. Yep, they all have Nevada driversí licenses and pay taxes in our state.

Hereís something strange. Not only do many successful, wealthy, well-known, respected personalities wind up in Las Vegas, so do criminal-types, weirdoes, whacko and even terrorists. Most people know about mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel who helped create the city we know today. Then thereís this other group of characters. Maybe you have heard of some of these pillars of society seeking anonymity or fleeing their past: John Wayne Bobbitt, Mike Tyson, the late Jack Gordon (LaToya Jacksonís onetime husband), madam Heidi Fleiss, Gennifer Flowers (onetime "friend" of former president Bill Clinton) along with a pair who perhaps started the trend, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, the two young killers profiled in Truman Capoteís book, In Cold Blood. The "Runaway Bride" even came here after ditching her waiting groom at the altar. The scariest of them all, however, was the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammad Atta. Why do they come here? Do these people think they can just blend in with the crowd and not be noticed? Is it for one last fling? Who knows.

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These days, some interesting theatrical-types are spending plenty of time at the Winchester Cultural Center, on McLeod just north of Desert Inn. Personable Cuban-born Lou Garcia moved to Las Vegas to be one of the singing performers at the then MGM Grandís (now Ballyís) first lavish production show, Donn Ardenís Hallelujah, Hollywood! Lou and his partner, Gary Oakes, also one of the singers in the show, both have musical backgrounds. Lou appeared on Broadway in Illya Darling with Melina Mercouri, Zorba with Herschel Bernardi, and in the Las Vegas production of Mame, starring Juliet Prowse. Gary has Broadway credits in The Boys From Syracuse, 1776, W.C., The Pajama Game and My Fair Lady, to name a few. The longtime friends, who often present their musical act around the city, recently released a CD called Amigos In Song. For the past seven years, Lou has served as Cultural Program Assistant for the Clark County-run park. He plans the movies, field trips and cultural activities, most frequently for the active and involved senior citizens who regularly patronize the center.

Susan Swanson, who is currently teaching an acting class at the Winchester, comes from a show business family. Susanís credits include 1971ís No, No, Nanette, Seesaw with Tommy Tune, Irene starring Debbie Reynolds, and A Chorus Line. Talented Susan is currently working with 91-year-young, three-time Tony-nominee and winner for Black & Blue, choreographer extraordinaire, Dr. Henry LeTang, on a 1920s-themed dance show. Her class, made up primarily of children six years and older, also includes a handful of adults. On December 8, The Winchester Players, as the group is called, will present The Grinch Who Stole Christmas in the centerís theater. More details to follow.

Susanís bother, Christopher "Topher" Swanson, is in Jubilee! at Ballyís where his recent bride, Suzanne Wilham Swanson, is the showís dance captain. In a very romantic move, about a year ago, Christopher surprised Suzanne by proposing to her on the Jubilee! stage, after the finale and in front of the entire cast! Some years back, the siblings had a dance act called Donít Tamper With My Sister.

Hereís another bit of Jubilee! news. As part of the popular production shows Silver Anniversary Celebration, audience members got a special treat. In last nightsí (September 28th) finale, Dancing With the Stars competitors, actress Vivica A. Fox and her partner Nick Kosovich, displayed some of the fancy footwork that has them still in the running for the big prize on the popular TV show. What a nice surprise!

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Singer Herb Jeffries, who turned 95 on September 24, was once married to burlesque queen Tempest Storm. In 1958, this Tempest in and out of a teapot starred in Minskyís Follies at the Dunes (now the location of Bellagio). Still a looker at 78, the redhead with the knockout figure now calls this city her home. At the Exotic World Pageant, held at the Celebrity Theater in downtown Las Vegas in May, Ms. Storm joined newcomers and legendary burlesque stars, including Liz Renay and Dixie Evans, showing the full house that she still had all the right stuff (and in all the right places). In her 1987 book, The Lady is a Vamp, Georgia-born Annie Blanche Banks claims to have had affairs with Sammy Davis Jr., Elvis Presley, Vic Damone and even former president John Kennedy. Could make for an interesting movie. As a matter of fact, there are rumors circulating that Christina Aguilera may portray Tempest in an upcoming film based on the strip-teasers life. Cousin Claire is helping spread those rumors. After all, thatís her job!

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On Friday and Saturday nights, comic-magician Jac Hayden is the host/emcee at Funnies Comedy Club at Buffalo Billís. Hayden, better known by his stage name, Mundane the Great, rides herd over an ever-changing group of comics that include, among others, Gary Caouette, Kathleen Dunbar, Joni Grassey, Joe Pellegrino and onetime singer/dancer Bill Tucker. Pellegrino, a Las Vegan for about 25 years, has opened for a number of headliners, among them, The Village People, Mamas & Papas, Captain & Tennille, Waylon Jennings and Spyro Gyra.

As for Hayden, he is anything but mundane. This man originally planned to be a mortician (talk about "from one extreme to another")! In 1955, while interning in that profession, Hayden was given the job of embalming actor Robert Riskin, husband of King Kongís favorite lady, Fay Wray, from 1942 until his death (this is no joke!). One could say that this was the start of Haydenís career in show business. In the late Ď50s, Jac was very much involved with Tops In Blue, winning numerous awards in the Air Forceís premiere entertainment showcase. In the years since he became an entertainer, the comedian has had the opportunity to work with many major stars, including June Allyson, Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney, Jimmy Dorsey, Rita Hayworth, Bob Hope, Peter Lawford (who became a lifetime friend), Ann Miller, the Glenn Miller Band, Vaughn Monroe and Tiny Tim. Hayden has done a lot of corporate work for companies such as Ford and RCA, and acts and directs in stock theater. A Las Vegan since the í70s, Jac has been featured in the revues Bandanas & Britches, So Big Burlesque, Minskyís and A Wacky Wake. He even served as set designer for Calendar Girls, a mini-production that played at the Maxim (now the Westin Casurina) in the Ď80s. Hayden has been performing for special events at the Imperial Palace for a dozen years and is also a guide for the popular Haunted Vegas Tours. As if all this isnít enough to keep this fellow busy, since the early 1990s, Jac Hayden has helmed two comedy clubs in Primm, located just this side of the California/Nevada border. Stop by Buffalo Billís one of these weekends, check out the clubís guest comics (shows start at 10 p.m.), and ask Hayden how (and why) he does it. Cousin Claire wants to know.

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There arenít too many chances for entertainment fun-seekers to see stars such as Willie Nelson, Jack Nicholson, Tony Bennett and Clint Eastwood all on the same stage. The Suncoast will provide that opportunity when vocal impressionist Bill Acosta takes over the theater from October 13 through 15. Accompanied by musician Vincent Falcone (mentioned previously in this column), in addition to the performers mentioned above, Acosta pays tribute to Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole, Sammy Davis Jr. and a number of others who are no longer around. When he isnít performing in Las Vegas, Bill entertains for major corporations around the country, on cruise ships and in showrooms in places as diverse as San Francisco, Chicago and clubs around Georgia and New York, to Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Holland, Iceland, England and Spain. Cousin Claire first discovered Acosta in the late 1970s when he was the main act on The Barge at Caesars Palace. Accompanied by a group led by the talented Rudy Eagan on piano, Bill was the quintessential saloon singer. Blessed with a clear voice and great phrasing, the legends of yesterday would have been proud. Whenever out-of-town guests came to visit, the Barge was on the list of places to hang out. During those days, other than a snippet of Hollywood Squaresí funnyman Paul Lynde, Bill was Bill. These days he is known as The Man of 1001 Voices. His own voice was (and still is) as good as any of the people he imitates today. You-know-who was so impressed with Acostaís vocal prowess that, in 1982, she tracked him down in Chicago (okay, they just happened to be in the Windy City at the same time) to see him sing at Milt Trenierís popular night club on famed Rush Street . And, yes, Milt is related to those other Treniers of the famous Las Vegas lounge act. He is the youngest sibling in that large musical family. Bill usually appears at the Suncoast only once a year. In 2006, due to popular demand, this will be his second engagement. Appearing with Acosta are the tap-dancing brother and sister act, Sibling Rivalry, featuring the team of Jay and Connie Fagan.

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Whenever a Gordon Sumner concert is announced for Las Vegas, tickets sell out rapidly. They sell out even faster when the artist is billed by his more recognizable stage name, Sting. Whatever you call him, you can now see the English pop-star performer and onetime lead singer of The Police, or a reasonable facsimile, in the form of German-native, Andreas Krumkuhler. Andres, in his U.S. debut, is currently being featured in Legends in Concert (or as Cousin Claire prefers to call it, Legends In Concrete) at the Imperial Palace. The Sting look-alike/sound alike joins Garth Brooks, Bobby Darin, Britney Spears, The Temptations and Elvis Presley in the current version of the show. When Legends opened at the IP 24 years ago, the celebrities being portrayed had all moved on to that "Big Stage in the Sky." Today, itís a mix of stars from yesterday and today. It should also be mentioned that all the performers in Legends use their own voices. No lip-synching on this stage.

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Claire Voyant's portrait by Charlie Frye