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 June 29, 2007
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - June 29, 2007

Nelson Sardelli Craig Ferguson Merrick Wolfe

Call this one a blind item...Just days ago, a longtime local publicist/journalist shared some philosophies with us, stating that it is not a good or nice thing to criticize another member of our profession. Although Cousin Claire respects the theory, we just can’t let this go. Two weeks ago (June 15th), the entertainment gossip columnist for "Nevada's Largest Daily Newspaper" reported on a problem between two media types. We know for a fact that both parties were interviewed by the person with the power of the pen, yet much of what was printed was absolutely false and completely opposite of what was said by one of the parties. Exactly one week later, the same columnists' lead story involved a well-known, Emmy-winning comedian and her desire to become a talk radio hostess (ala Howard Stern?). The last paragraph talked about the funny lady's boyfriend of almost five years, and stated that said gentleman was previously known by another name and was the onetime keyboardist for a famous 1960s band. There is a problem here. NONE OF IT IS TRUE! Not one word! This fellow is, in fact, a talented musician in his own right (not just playing multiple instruments, but writing music as well), and the two men do share the same last name, but the more famous man is a few years older than the comic's friend, and is a Brit. The comedienne's partner is a native of Baltimore. Where in the world does this misinformation come from? There is absolutely no truth to anything in the paragraph. Although the "news" writer told the Maryland-born musician that a correction/apology would be printed on Sunday or Monday, as of our this week's deadline (early Friday, June 29th), none has appeared. Misspelled proper names are a regular occurrence in this man's writing. Facts and accuracy seem to escape him. We won't insult the people who take their jobs seriously, making honest attempts to get things right and performing their jobs with a hint of moral responsibility, by calling this joker a journalist. It is apparent that the folks who pay his salary don't have very high standards or expectations. Someone at the daily SHOULD care and someone should certainly be keeping an eye on this guy. He's a menace to any readers who want the facts.

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For the third year in a row, on a "balmy" 100+ degree afternoon, a number of Las Vegas entertainers gave up Father's Day with their families to do something nice for the people at the Nevada State Veterans Home in Boulder City (it‘s one of only 121 facilities like this in the country). Under the auspices of entertainer and humanitarian Nelson Sardelli (It was Sardelli who put together The CAST, a fundraising organization made up of local show business types aiding others of their profession in need.), performers including Bill Acosta, Chuck N. Baker, Pete Barbutti, Charlie Callas, Paul Xavier Campanella, George Dare, Vincent Falcone, Gino Federici, Linda November, The Gary Olds Trio, Babe Pier, Cork Proctor, Dr. George Ritter, Roywillie, Artie Schroeck, The Addams Family's Felix "Cousin Itt" Silla, Loretta St. John, and The Great Tomsoni & Co., put on a four-hour show for men and women who have served their country through more than one war. In past years, Peter Anthony, Michaelina Bellamy, Sweet Louie (Marvin Smith) of The Checkmates and Barry Wendt have also been strong supporters of this event, but were unable to participate this year. This kind of generous spirit by Vegas show folk is not unusual. Too many times, though, these things go unreported. We would like to change that, so, a tip of a soldiers' hat to the caring members of the Las Vegas entertainment community.

Incidentally, Nelson Sardelli is the impetus behind a relatively new Las Vegas group known as the Non-Club club, FIORE (Fun Italians Organizing Ridiculous Events). For more information, contact Mr. Sardelli at [email protected]. .

And speaking of Bill Acosta, a very happy birthday to the talented singer/impressionist who turns the big-60 today. Come on in, the water's fine.

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Gerry McCambridge should never be playing to an empty room. Why? Not only because, as The Mentalist, he puts on a very entertaining show but because he is also the founder of Vegas Seat Fillers. If you aren't familiar with Seat Fillers, maybe you should be. If you like entertainment, and you would like it even more if it were free, here's the deal. If you register for Vegas Seat Fillers (no personal information is required, primarily just an e-mail address), you will be alerted, via computer, when seats are available for different shows around the city. Lest you think you will only be offered freebies for smaller types of entertainment, you would be wrong. In addition to one-man productions and mini-revues, there are some big names among the more than 40 show business folks using the services of Seat Fillers. Some of the shows you could have seen, or can see, at no cost include, The Scintas, Bobby Slayton, Roseanne Barr, Trent Carlini, Penn & Teller, The Producers, Boyz II Men, Craig Ferguson, Forever Plaid, Marty Allen's Hello Dere, Johnny Winter, Carrot Top, Martin Nievera, Los Lobos, David Brenner, Nathan Burton's Comedy Magic, Chippendales, Anthony Cools, Tony n' Tina's Wedding and, of course, The Mentalist himself. Why would producers, performers and publicists provide free seats for the public? There a number of reasons. Trying to get the word out on a new show. Trying to get the word out on an old show in a new venue. Making a large, partially filled theater look full. There is probably no more economical way to publicize entertainment then through direct mail (e- or otherwise) to those that obviously have an interest in the arts. Okay. Okay. It sounds too good to be true. There must be SOME catch. You're right, there is. In fact, there are a few of them. First and foremost, if you respond to an offer, you must show up. If you tell them you are going to attend a performance and then don't go, you may be dropped from the e-mailing list (One time, they might forgive you. More than once...bye, bye.). When you do go, you have to be a good audience member. No chewing ice. No talking on your cell phone. Clap when it's appropriate and laugh when you should. No loud, distractive talking to your companion. And you have to stay for the entire show. There is often just a few hours notice given before a performance so a flexible, spur-of-the-moment lifestyle gives you an edge. Sound like something you would like to be a part of? If so, e-mail [email protected].

And speaking of Craig Ferguson, on his Late, Late Show on CBS last night (Thursday), guest Wayne Brady was talking up FOX network's new TV game show. Brady, who has been performing in Making %@it Up at The Venetian, will host Don't Forget The Lyrics, premiering July 11th. Brady's 9:30 p.m. improv comedy/music/dance show plays Thursdays through Sundays and is scheduled to run until July 1st. We have a feeling Brady may not be finished with his nights as a Vegas headliner.

And on the subject of cell phones, when we attended the first anniversary party for Phantom -The Las Vegas Spectacular at The Venetian on the 19th, someone sitting right next to us was on their phone throughout much of the show. Some of the hotels have you check your cameras before entering the showroom (Paris Las Vegas, the home of The Producers, for example). We are thinking they might also consider having audience members check their phone as well, especially since many of them now have camera features. Readers?

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Belated birthday greetings to former Las Vegan Merrick Wolfe. Wolfe grew up in New Rochelle, NY, the town that, until Merrick's birth, was most famous for being the place where Rob and Laura Petrie of The Dick Van Dyke Show lived. Merrick actually resided on Bonnie Meadow Road, the street that was the inspiration for the Petrie house. Carl Reiner, the show's creator, once lived on that very short street, and his son, Rob Reiner, was raised there. Merrick's father and his late grandfather, both attorneys, had some slight connections to Vegas entertainers. His father did work for legendary comedian and former Vegas regular Buddy Hackett, the father of current Vegas Rat Packer Sandy Hackett. At one time he also represented pop singer Brian Hyland, of Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, Sealed With A Kiss, The Joker Went Wild and Gypsy Woman fame. Hyland is scheduled to perform with Johnny Tillotson at the Suncoast, October 13th and 14th, as part of Bowzer's Rock 'n' Roll Dance Party. Merrick's grandfather was once the attorney for the classic crooner Sergio Franchi, a Vegas regular in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In 1980, Merrick produced and hosted one of New York's first community cable television shows for teens called Go For It, a PM Magazine-style program. Today, he runs the No. 1 1970s network Internet radio station called Pop Goes The ‘70s! on Live365, the largest radio network on the Web. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Wolfe worked in Los Angeles at Propaganda Films, producing now-classic videos by Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Aerosmith, Paula Abdul and many others. He has been closely involved with more than two dozen benefit concerts featuring numerous artists, including Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Bette Midler, Natalie Cole, Billy Joel, Chaka Khan, George Michael and Eartha Kitt. Merrick came to Vegas in 1999 to work with Michael Gill of Gill Theatrical Management on the musicals Chicago, starring Chita Rivera, and Mamma Mia!, both at Mandalay Bay, Blue Man Group: Live At Luxor, and Always...Patsy Cline, with Sally Struthers at the Silverton. During this time he was also company manager for a touring version of Sophisticated Ladies starring Las Vegas' own Supreme, Mary Wilson, and a tour of the Broadway musical, Fosse. Last August, Wolfe joined Walt Disney Entertainment and now co-manages IllumiNations: Reflections Of Earth, the fireworks spectacular at EPCOT in Orlando, Florida. When he isn't working, which isn't very often, Merrick Wolfe spends his leisure time in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, home of Grand Teton National Park, where he lived for a year. He describes the area as "one of the most beautiful places on Earth."

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Ervin Drake Kevin Burke Robert Dubac

New York friend Ervin Drake passes on this bit of sad news...A Lion Falls Silent - Hank Medress, a bassist and vocalist with The Tokens, died on June 18, at age 68. The Tokens' great vocal harmonies were on display in their huge 1961 hit, The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The group disbanded in 1971 and Medress went on to produce big hits by Tony Orlando and David Johansen. Not well known is the fact that all the Tokens were Brooklyn-born Jews. In addition to Medress, the group was made up of lead singer Jay Siegel and brothers Phil and Jay Margo. Siegel, who can still hit the high notes and has appeared on PBS rock oldies shows, told radio reporter Mike McCann that Medress was "the steam engine that pushed us to our limits." Ervin Drake is no slouch in the music business himself. He is the songwriter of many, many hits, among them I Believe (a big hit for the late Frankie Laine), Good Morning Heartache (recorded by Billie Holiday in 1946), A Room Without Windows (Steve Lawrence) and It Was a Very Good Year (sung by Frank Sinatra).

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As mentioned in last week's column, Cousin Claire, along with a couple of hundred of her nearest and dearest friends, attended the media/VIP (the Phantom's Brent Barrett and Joe Jackson, father of those musical Jacksons, were there) opening of Defending the Caveman at the Golden Nugget. We saw a number of familiar faces, including Rene DeHaven, Channel 13 news anchor Ron Futrell, Charlette and Elliot Krane, Bill Moore, Barbara Scherzer and Mel Brown, the Nugget's Dana Stern and Ron O'Neal, and former Ice Fantasy (the old Hacienda, now the location of Mandalay Bay) cast member Toni Andrews, visiting from Santa Barbara. Kudos to Michele Tell and her hardworking Preferred Public Relations & Marketing staff, for putting on quite an event. Food and drink at a before the show gathering, a champagne and dessert after-party around the downtown hotel's incredible pool, and gift bags that contained Defending the Caveman T-shirts and a very nice Golden Nugget picture frame to hold a 5"x7" photo of the guests and appropriately costumed cave men and women atmosphere people, added to the evening's festivities. Defending the Caveman holds the record for the longest running solo show in Broadway history. It played at both New York's Helen Hayes and Booth Theatres, from March of 1995 to June of 1997. Written by comic Rob Becker, Variety describes the lesson about men and women as "Hysterically funny," and goes on to say, "Couples who were arguing before the show, stroll out holding hands." Cousin Claire suggests that you save money on a marriage counselor and take your partner to the Golden Nugget instead. Caveman might help explain why the opposite (key word being "opposite") sexes don't always understand each other. Kevin Burke stars in the one-man show. From his early days as an improvisational comic in Chicago (home of the famous Second City improv troupe), to his work as a circus clown with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, to his fifteen year career as a stand-up comic, Kevin is used to getting laughs. The Chicago Tribune calls him, "...easily one of the funniest people currently walking the planet." Burke is one of only four stand-up comics to have been awarded ABC TV's $10,000 Grand Prize as a winner on America's Funniest People. He has also appeared on Oprah, MTV's Comedy Central, Good Morning America, and the Today show. If the Caveman plot sounds a bit familiar, it might be because you have seen a similar-themed one-man show called The Male Intellect - An Oxymoron, starring Robert Dubac. Las Vegans had that opportunity last March when it was presented here at the Charleston Heights Arts Center. Comparisons of these two productions, by people who have seen both, are inevitable. The main difference is the time frame. Caveman harkens back to the, well, the days of the caveman, using references to long, long ago and a set that looks like something from a Flintstones cartoon. Intellect is a contemporary "love story" of today. Because folks can always use some help to improve their relationships, and Dr. Phil is limited to the number of people he can help in five hours a week, both Burke and Dubac could be the answer. Robert Dubac travels around the country, performing in The Male Intellect (and that certainly is an oxymoron), while Kevin Burke can be found doing couples therapy at the Golden Nugget. Show times are Wednesdays through Mondays at 8 p.m., with added 3 p.m. matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Call (702) 386-8100 for reservations.

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She was nominated for three 2007 MAC Awards , and won them all! Her CD, Written In The Stars, has been praised in publications from Jazztimes to Playbill. If you are in New York this weekend (Friday, June 29th and Saturday, June 30th, you can see and hear her at the Metropolitan Room at 34 West 22nd Street. Her new set, called Roundabout, provides an intimate evening of piano and vocal duets. With acclaimed pianist/arranger John di Martino as her musical partner, the duo will perform songs by Cy Coleman, Vernon Duke, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Kurt Weill, Alec Wilder and others. Oh yes, the "her" is Barbara Fasano. Show times for the final two nights of this engagement are at 8 p.m. Call (212) 206-0440 for reservations. On a personal note, Barbara is the wife of the equally talented performer, Eric Comstock.

Barbara Fasano Loretta Holloway Tony Danza

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Songstress Loretta Holloway was one of 13 Women of Excellence recently honored at a banquet held in Greenville, South Carolina. The Rev. John Berry, one of the event's spark plugs, said the women - educators, church leaders, business and civic leaders - have played a large role individually and collectively, both in the Upstate area (Greenville, Spartanburg and Anderson) and other communities. "They have leadership, commitment and dedication," he said to 300 guests. The women also put in considerable volunteer time for voter registration, sororities, churches, the March of Dimes, the United Negro College Fund, the NAACP. According to the program, they are mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters and aunts. Some had as many as 25 family members, friends and supporters who attended to show their appreciation. There were greetings from Gov. Mark Sanford and Mayor Knox White, and Belton, South Carolina-native Holloway provided the entertainment. Loretta Holloway lived in Las Vegas for about 20 years before returning home to care for her aging parents. While working here, she performed in intimate rooms at the beautiful and romantic Top of the Dunes, the Desert Inn, Tropicana, Alexis Park, Luxor and Las Vegas Hilton. Described by Drama-Logue as "a one-woman spectacular," Ms. Holloway also played main rooms around the country, opening for a number of headliners, including Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Jay Leno, Don Rickles and Garry Shandling among others. Her CD, Loretta Holloway...Quietly, may be purchased online.

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It appears to be official. On August 13th, Tony Danza will take over the role of Max Bialystock in Paris Las Vegas' The Producers. Brad Oscar is currently playing the part originated on Broadway, and in the 200 musical, by Nathan Lane. We were pleasantly surprised at what a good job Brad Oscar (a new name ) did in the lead part. We were also impressed by in his portrayal of Leo Bloom, originally played on Broadway and in the recent film, by Matthew Broderick.

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Sandy Kastel, former Miss Nevada and a Miss America Talent Winner, is very excited about the release of her debut album, This Time Around. This Time Around, scheduled for its official release on July 10th, features Sandy's versions of classic songs previously recorded by Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Wayne Newton, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mathis, Dinah Washington, Celine Dion and Judy Garland. The first single from the CD, Beyond the Sea, written by another friend of Cousin Claire's, 95-year-young Jack Lawrence (Tenderly, If I Didn't Care, All Or Nothing At All, Hold My Hand and the musical, I Had a Ball), has been getting radio airplay on many adult contemporary stations. Part of the marketing campaign is a Direct Response TV spot. Kastel's father, renowned saxophone player Dick Kastel, who has worked with everyone from Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand, to Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Shirley MacLaine, appears in the video with a 25 piece orchestra. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the album will benefit the Children's Miracle Network.

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Sandy Kastel Rick Thomas Bette Midler

We are sorry to learn that, as of last Saturday, Rick Thomas has closed up shop at The Orleans. At today's skyrocketing showroom prices, The Magic of Rick Thomas show was a family bargain at $25. Thomas had a seven-year run at the Tropicana before moving to the Stardust in November of 2005. The afternoon show was so successful, Rick wound up doing three shows a day...but that was on the Strip. When the Stardust closed last November, Thomas took his props and menagerie to the off-Strip Orleans. A locals casino, which The Orleans primarily is, can present a challenge for an ongoing show. It is sometimes difficult to get visitors to travel away from the "hub" of Las Vegas - the famed Strip and downtown Fremont Street. In our opinion, the Gold Coast's revue, Hello Dere, starring Marty Allen, 85, and his bride of 24 years, Karon Kate, should have had a longer life. If the revue were at a Strip property, it might still be up and running. Thomas's all-age appropriate show, featuring music, dance, comedy and animals - beautiful, large cats and exotic birds, struggled to find its audience. Even for good acts without wildlife, it's a jungle out there. There are just so many theater seats to fill on any given date in Las Vegas. We have seen too many amazingly talented people give it a try, usually on a four-wall basis (where they rent the room and incur the expenses to put on a show), only to run out of funds before they run out of hope. We find this trend worrisome. If top talents like Thomas, Marty and Karon, Jimmy Hopper and Martin Nievera, to name a handful, can't catch a break here, who can? And who will be the future Las Vegas headliners? Tom Jones, Diana Ross, Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Paul McCartney, Bette Midler, Julio Iglesias, Wayne Newton, Cher, Paul Williams, Gladys Knight, surviving Righteous Brother Bill Medley and all of the Rolling Stones members are in their 60s. Johnny Mathis, George Carlin, Debbie Reynolds, Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson, Engelbert Humperdinck and Tommy Smothers (brother Dickie Smothers is 67) are in their 70s, while Don Rickles and Tony Bennett are both 81 this year. We have no problem with AARP members, but we have to ask, where are the next generation of stars with marquee value...and staying power? Are we destined to be Cirqued to death? Cousin Claire certainly hopes not.

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Claire Voyant's portrait by Charlie Frye