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 July 20, 2007
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - July 20, 2007

JTO & Bobby Duck Suzanne Buhrer Kaye Ballard

We frequently get e-mail asking, "If so-and-so is still performing in Las Vegas" or "Whatever happened to so-and-so?" A couple of entertainers that we have had inquiries about recently are the comedy act of JTO & Bobby Duck, and the uber-talented Suzanne Buhrer. JTO (full name James Thomas Organ) was a bright, funny, creative gentleman who wrote comedy and political jingles for others and also performed on stages around the country with his cohort, a small yellow duck puppet named Bobby. The foul fowl could get away with saying just about anything because of his charming escape clause. After all, as he reminded audience members on a regular basis, this cute, innocent looking creature was "just a baby duck." The act was a favorite of both locals and Las Vegas visitors. Over a period of years, JTO & Bobby Duck were seen on stages at a number of local hotel/casinos, including the Paddlewheel (now Greek Isles), Maxim (now Westin Casuarina), Las Vegas Hilton and Holiday Casino (now Harrah's). JTO appeared as a contestant on the game show, Press Your Luck, where he won numerous prizes and more than $20,000 in cash. He also competed in the comedy category on Star Search in the late 1980s. The act charmed the judges, the in-studio audiences and the at-home viewers. JTO (with Bobby Duck, of course) won in the comedy category numerous times and was scheduled to launch the next season as the returning champion. Sadly, JTO died of lung cancer in June of 1989 before he and the country had a chance to see how far the national exposure would have taken him. He was just two weeks past his 45th birthday. As fellow comic and friend Sandy Hackett said in eulogizing James Thomas Organ, "He died the undefeated champion."

Suzanne Buhrer is probably best known around these parts for her participation (as writer and performer) in revues such as Bottoms Up (many locations), Hot Ginger and Dynamite (the Meadows Playhouse and downtown Union Plaza) and The Lady and the Outlaw. That last one, produced by the late Mark Tan, starred Suzanne, Maggie Montgomery, some male strippers, and even featured a fashion show. It played at the old Pussycat on the Strip. The multi-talented actress/singer/comedienne/playwright/ songwriter has written special material for a number of well-known personalities, including Kaye Ballard and comic/impressionist Louise DuArt. One of Suzanne's plays (written with the late Gene Casey), The Orphan's Revenge, was even performed at the famed Ford Theater in Washington, DC (yes, THAT Ford Theater). In the 1970s and 1980s, Suzanne had roles in a few movies, among them Rabbit Test and Fake-Out. Interesting bits of trivia on these two films. Rabbit Test, which featured a young Billy Crystal as the world's first pregnant man, was written and directed by Joan Rivers. Fake-Out, filmed in Las Vegas and starring Telly Savalas, Pia Zadora (remember her?), Desi Arnaz Jr., Larry Storch and Tony Orlando's favorite opening act, Sammy Shore, was written and directed by Matt Cimber. Cimber's biggest claim to fame was probably his less than two-year marriage to '50s, '60s sex symbol/actress Jayne Mansfield. Cimber is the father of Mansfield's fifth child. In the meantime, Suzanne, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, retired from her "day job" about two years ago and now spends her time watching bumpers rust and listening to flowers grow. We would love to see her get creative again, now that she is a lady of leisure.

It might be mentioned that it was Suzanne Buhrer who created the character of "Tammy Spraynet," the popular country-western sweetheart, introducing her to Bottoms Up audiences in 1975. With her cowgirl boots, fancy dress ("It's a booger to iron!) and blonde bouffant wig, Suzanne as Tammy sang her way into the hearts of thousands with her self-penned tunes like God Likes a Woman Who Teases Her Hair. We should have noted in last week's column, that the name of Tammy Spraynet (no matter the spelling) belongs to Suzanne and will always be associated with her. Jimmy Emerson (given a plug in Cousin Claire's July 13th ramblings) has borrowed (hopefully WITH the owner's permission) the name Tammy Spraynette for his country gal character. We think, that although his act is very different from the one Buhrer used to do, it would be a nice idea if Mr. Emerson came up with a new name of his own to use for his country girl.

And speaking of Bottoms Up, we are sad to report the death of Bill Fanning, an original BU cast member and creative contributor. Fanning, known as "Uncle Willie" to those close to him, passed away in a veterans home in Spokane last Sunday, July 15th. Like Suzanne, Bill not only performed, he also wrote, contributing songs and comedy bits to not only Bottoms Up, but to his won projects as well. Uncle Willie will be missed by many.

Note: A special thank you to Dick Feeney (that's with three "E"s) for his assistance in securing the above photo of JTO & Bobby Duck.

Gerald Gordon Cork Proctor Phyllis Diller

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There is a reason they call her Claire Voyant. Although Gerald Gordon keeps saying, after each of his actors showcases following the completion of six weeks of intense study, "that was the last one," Cousin Claire just nods her head and smiles. She knows Gordon better than he knows himself (but that's her job). The transplanted from Los Angeles drama coach probably means it when he says he is tired and isn't going to teach anymore, but when confronted by wanna be, or wanna be improved, students, he's just a guy who can't say no (with apologies to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein) least, not for long. Gordon's latest group of pupils will start their classes on July 23rd. In the past couple of weeks, 77 potential students went through Gordon's 40-minute audition process. Only six hopefuls were accepted. The other 12 folks, who will work their you-know-whats off during the next six weeks, are all repeat customers. Some are returning for the second, third and even fourth time. This isn't a case of 'if you can pay the tariff you're in.' On the contrary. You have to prove yourself and be willing to put in the demanding hours (sometimes early in the morning, sometimes late into the evening) or you don't stand a chance of making it into the first session. The classes aren't free and Gordon won't go easy on slackers. He expects near perfection and total commitment, so the returning students (many who already support themselves as entertainers) know what they are in for. And yet, they come back for more. Having attended a number of readings, audits, and the by-invitation-only showcases, we can attest to the fact that the end result is worth the blood, sweat and tears (with apologies to David Clayton Thomas) the students put into their work. Perhaps these all-age adults (the classes aren't for children) are hoping that one day they too will earn an Oscar like one of Gordon's former students, Adrien Brody (The Pianist), did. It could happen.

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Happy 75th birthday to comic/musician Cork Proctor who celebrates his milestone natal day on Sunday the 22nd. And to comedian, author, artist Phyllis Diller, who turned 90 on July 17th, you go girl! Vegas lounge legend, Cook E. Jarr, still doing his thing on Fridays and Saturdays at Harrah's Las Vegas' Carnaval Court, turned 66 on Wednesday, the 18th. Many happy returns of the day to all.

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In the 30+ years that Cousin Claire has lived in Las Vegas, she has seen just about every magician and every magic show that has played in this city. Although magic is not her favorite form of entertainment, she thinks she is capable of determining the difference between good magic and bad magic...and she has witnessed both. Claire is a good audience member and doesn't analyze everything she sees. She is also easily entertained and, when it comes to illusions, is easily fooled. There are lots of "How did they do that???" questions. There are also "WHY did they do that???" questions. In the past six weeks, we have seen two magic shows, both for the first time. In early June, we attended the media opening for Planet Hollywood's The Beauty of Magic, starring Hans Klok and guest star Pamela Anderson. This last week, we saw the Greek Isles' World's Greatest Magic Show, hosted by Kozak the Magician, and featuring five guest artists. The difference in the two shows? There are many. The theater at Planet Hollywood (known as the Theater for the Performing Arts) can accommodate more than 7,000 people if all the space is utilized (it usually isn't), while the Star Theater at the small hotel/casino on Convention Center Drive seats around 400. Millions have been spent on the Planet Hollywood facility, while the nice, more intimate room at the Greek Isles (built by Debbie Reynolds when she owned the property) was done on a much smaller budget. For the World's Greatest Magic Show, we found ourselves asking, "How did they do that???" As for the Planet Hollywood offering, we ask "WHY???" We were thoroughly entertained at the Greek Isles. At the Beauty of Magic show, other than the very good dance numbers, we were thoroughly bored. Judging by the silence around us, we weren't the only ones. Cousin Claire is amazed that a production this expensive to produce has no pay off. Who sat and watched this and decided it was a good way to launch the Planet Hollywood brand in Las Vegas, and what were they thinking? The Greek Isles show features between six and eight very good magicians at any given time. In the current lineup, in addition to comic/magician Paul Kozak as MC, the entertainers consist of Dan Sperry, Billy "Bayou" Ferguson, Losander, Roy Shank and Kevin James. Each of these performers has their own unique style, with Kozak, in his classy looking and colorful zoot suits, playing with fire (children, don't try this at home); young pierced and spiked Sperry giving the audience the bird (or birds); the Big Easy's Ferguson getting himself, and an audience volunteer, all tied up; Losander bubbling over with talent as he tries to keep stage props secured on the stage; Shank can't seem to keep his assistant's feet on the ground either and, for goodness sake, don't ask him to scramble you an egg; while James (and partner Antonio Hoyos) amaze and amuse with everything from a somewhat gory illusion (the only thing that might disturb some youngsters) to an incredible summer snowstorm that defines the word magic. James, by the way, can currently be seen as a competitor on NBC's America's Got Talent. If you want to enjoy this particular group, get over to the Greek Isles soon. On August 1st, Joseph Gabriel (remembered for his guest spots in Bill Moore and George Arnold's City Lites at the Flamingo Hilton) and the very pretty Katalin move in to The World's Greatest Magic Show, while a couple of today's acts move on to other venues. Fear not. In this case, what goes around comes around. Chances are your favorites will reappear in this show often. This is a production you can go back to see again and again, as the cast is ever changing and always entertaining. It's an all-ages treat (voted No. 1 Family Show for the last four years), so take the kids.

Produced by comic Sandy Hackett and the entrepreneurial Dick Feeney (that's with three "E"s!), without benefit of fancy TV ads, and dealing with an off-Strip property that has no real identity, the two businessmen have managed to not only keep The World's Greatest Magic Show running at the Greek Isles for more than three years (it originally opened at the Sahara in 2003), but keeping the theater relatively full. In addition to the magic show, Hackett and Feeney (as mentioned previously, that's with three "E"s!) produce The Rat Pack Is Back - The Tribute to Frank, Joey, Sammy & Dean, which opened at the Greek Isles in May of 2002. Since we saw both shows this week (the magic show for the first time and the tribute show for the fifth), we will have something to say about The Rat Pack Is Back in next week's column. We are sure that will please Mr. Feeney (that's Feeney with three "E"s in case we forgot to mention it earlier). Oh yes...We are anticipating an announcement regarding Dick Feeney's Viva Las Vegas! revue. Called the "Longest running afternoon show in Las Vegas history," Viva opened at the Sands (now The Venetian) in 1991, moving to the Stratosphere in 1996. It entertained audiences there for more than 10 years before closing in January. Rumor has it that the variety show will be resurfacing very soon. Watch for an announcement here.

Cook E. Jarr Kevin James Alexis Gershwin

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Is there anyone over the age of 40 who doesn't know the name George Gershwin? How about Ira Gershwin? Hopefully, even 20 year olds are familiar with the Gershwin brothers who wrote music for shows such as Porgy and Bess, Funny Face, Girl Crazy, My One and Only, Of Thee I Sing and Lady, Be Good!, as well as standards like Embraceable You, 'S Wonderful, Our Love Is Here To Stay, Fascinating Rhythm, I've Got a Crush On You, Isn't It a Pity?, Let's Call The Whole Thing Off, The Man That Got Away, Strike Up The Band and Someone To Watch Over Me, to name just a handful.

Well, there's another talented Gershwin on the family tree that you, no matter your age, probably know nothing about. Even Cousin Claire, who loudly and proudly proclaims, "Show business is her life," had never heard of Alexis Gershwin, the niece of George and Ira. Now, not only have you heard of her, you will also be able to actually see and hear her when she performs at the Suncoast this weekend. Calling her show Gershwin Sings Gershwin, Alexis opens her show tonight at 7:30 p.m. and follows it up with two more 7:30 shows tomorrow and Sunday. Here's a surprise...Ms. Gershwin is not a rap, heavy metal or hip-hop artist. She wisely chooses standards from the Great American Songbook, many credited to a Gershwin or two. Alexis will be backed by the Gershwin Singers and Orchestra, eight musicians and six vocalists. Las Vegas is the first stop on what is to be a national tour for Gershwin Sings Gershwin. Tickets start at $22 and can be purchased by calling (702) 636-7075.

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ChapQuist Entertainment presents the vocal group Fifth Avenue at the Starbright Theatre in Sun City Summerlin tomorrow (Saturday, July 21st). ChapQuist's Michael Chapman has been responsible for bringing a variety of very interesting acts and revues to the Starbright, among them Garin Bader, Chris Bearde, Lisa Donovan, Jason Garfield, Pearl Kaufman, Laurie Miller, Chris Pendleton, George Solomon, Kevin Spirtas and Doug Swander. These Chapman presentations are always well attended and well received, primarily because, even if the names of the performers are not familiar, the Starbright regulars know that the ChapQuist produced shows never disappoint and are always top quality. Fifth Avenue should be no different. Made up of vocalists Jeff Celentano, Rob Hyatt, Jerry Jones and Bryce Robinson, the group has been compared to the Four Freshmen, Hi-Los, Lettermen and Singers Unlimited. For this engagement, Lisa Smith will join the fellows. If you are fans of tight harmonies, with a little humor thrown into the mix, this show should be right up your alley (wherever your alley may be). Show time for Fifth Avenue is at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 for Sun City residents and $17 for the rest of us common folk. For information, call (702) 240-1301.

Warning notice...If you don't live in the Sun City area, prepare for a bit of a drive and make sure you have plenty of that obscenely-priced gasoline in your vehicle's tank. Even more important is the non-Sun City user-unfriendly way of getting (or not getting) tickets for these terrific shows. You cannot purchase tickets over the phone. You cannot use a credit card to pay for tickets (check or cash only and the exact amount is required, as in no change will be given). We agree, it's a real issue and ridiculous. Usually, though, the shows are good enough, and reasonable enough, to put up with a little inconvenience. Enough said.

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And another one bites the dust (with apologies to Freddie Mercury). On Sunday night, July 15th, at the stroke of midnight (or thereabouts), another longtime Las Vegas casino closed its doors for good. The latest departing cityscape landmark to go is the New Frontier, located mid-Strip on property too valuable for the likes of a place whose biggest attraction in recent years was the Gilley's Saloon and Dance Hall's mechanical bull ride (remember Urban Cowboy?). In its final few hours, about three thousand people stopped in to say goodbye to the old lady. Among them coming by for a last look was Norman Kaye. Norman, along with his sister, the late Mary Kaye, and Frank Ross, helped put the hotel on the map as the famed Mary Kaye Trio. They were Vegas lounge legends, leading the parade of all-night entertainment that would follow and last here for decades. The Frontier was the second hotel/casino to be built on what was to become known as the Las Vegas Strip (the El Rancho was the first). It opened in October of 1942 with 105 rooms. Over the past six decades, the trouble-plagued property (a union strike that lasted for six years) has had many names, including Last Frontier, New Frontier, The Frontier, and many owners (including Howard Hughes). Just 10 years ago, the current owner, Phil Ruffin, paid $167 million for those prime 34-acres with a few aging buildings thrown in. There was talk that he would transform the western-themed property into something called City By The Bay Casino and Resort, paying homage to the place where Tony Bennett left his heart. There was also some talk indicating that longtime Las Vegan Robert Goulet would be very involved with the entertainment there, and that, possibly, Jerry Herman's as yet unproduced Vegas-inspired musical, Miss Spectacular, would debut there. None of that happened. Miss Spectacular was originally written for a Steve Wynn property, but it never made it to the Las Vegas, or any other, stage. More's the pity. Still, the joke is on those who thought Ruffin was nuts to buy the white elephant. Two months ago, the shrewd businessman sold the New Frontier to the New York-based El-Ad Group for $1.2 BILLION. Talk about a gambling win! Like many before it - the Landmark, Sands, Dunes, Hacienda, Stardust, Aladdin, El Rancho, Desert Inn and Boardwalk - in September, the New Frontier will be imploded to make way for a brand new project modeled after the famed Plaza Hotel in New York. Five billion more dollars will be spent to create the yet-to-be-named mega resort, which is anticipated to open in 2011. We guess that, once again, this makes the New Frontier the LAST Frontier.

Fifth Avenue & Lisa Smith Karole Foreman Eric Comstock & Barbara Fasano

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We are going to let what, until now, has been a pretty well kept secret, out of the bag. In April of last year, a group of song writers, singers and musicians started meeting once a month at Suede nightclub on Paradise. The primary reason for the gathering of musical talent was to showcase the work of (mostly) local composers. Because many of the participants are working in production shows around the city, they get together late night, after theater. Three months ago, the Composer's Showcase made some changes, taking their meeting night from Sundays to Tuesdays and relocating to the Liberace Museum on East Tropicana at Spencer. The brainchild of Keith Thompson and Michael Brennan, the showcase gives these professionals a chance to exhibit more, and a different side, of their talent. This month, the troops will gather on Tuesday the 24th at 10:30 p.m. Songs by Michael Brennan, Tom Caruso, Thom Culcasi, Karole Foreman, Wayne Green, Richard Oberacker, Rebecca Ramsey, Josh Sassanella, Keith Thompson and Tyler Williams will be performed. Singing the original works will be Melanie Allen, Susan Beaubian, Sandra Benton, Bobby Black, Justin Brill, Randal Keith, Jimmy Lockett, Skye Miles, Sinclair Mitchell, Bill Nolte, Lisa Richard, Nadine Roden, Jessica Sheridan, Alet Taylor and other special guests! Instrumentals will be provided by Kim Delibero, Philip Fortenberry, Moonlight Tran, Mark Pardy and Dave Richardson. A cash bar is available (no credit cards, please). Interested parties might have dinner next door at Carluccio's Tivoli Gardens, originally owned by Liberace himself, before heading to the museum. Carluccio's serves until 10 p.m.

As a side note, Keith Thompson is currently the musical director for The Producers at Paris Las Vegas. Prior to that, the three-year Las Vegas resident held the same position with Hairspray at Luxor and We Will Rock You at Paris Las Vegas. Michael Brennan is the conductor of Mamma Mia! at Mandalay Bay. He also conducted the very clever and entertaining Avenue Q, which played too briefly at Wynn Las Vegas. Although Cousin Claire doesn't know much about the participants in this month's presentation (they change every month), we do know that Karole Foreman was the original Tanya when the Las Vegas version of Mamma Mia! opened at Mandalay Bay in 2003, and she was recently featured in Just Another Man, the Clint Holmes-inspired musical that recently debuted in the Judy Bayley Theater at UNLV.

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If you happen to be in Florida this weekend, you have the opportunity to see and hear this year's MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs) Award winners, Eric Comstock and his beautiful wife, Barbara Fasano, in the Royal Room at The Colony in Palm Beach. The popular twosome have returned to The Colony by popular demand, and tonight and tomorrow are the last two nights of their weekends in July current engagement. Their current music-filled cabaret show is appropriately titled A Little Romance. Critics have been very kind to Mr. and Mrs. Comstock, and deservedly so. "Taste, built-in dramatic chops, the ability to manipulate time, and, above all, respect for lyrics. Ms. Fasano has plenty of the above ..." says Harvey Siders of JazzTimes, while Christopher Loudon of the same publication stated, "Comstock has a voice that flows as smoothly as rye and sweet vermouth over ice, evoking Chet Baker, Mark Murphy and Mel Torme." "Comstock sings as beautifully as he plays. The elegant Fasano is one of the coolest singers in town.," states Time Out New York. You can decide for yourselves. The Colony is located at 155 Hammon Avenue. Show times are tonight, Friday, the 20th, and tomorrow at 8 p.m. For reservations, call (561) 655-5430.

Incidentally, the host for last year's MAC Award ceremonies was Lee Roy Reams. Reams is currently playing the role of the outrageous Roger DeBris in The Producers at Paris Las Vegas.

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If you have an interest in Las Vegas entertainment, talented community members will be well represented on the tube next week. On Tuesday, catch Gregory Popovich and his well-trained menagerie, and magic man Kevin James, the King of Screams, not the King of Queens, both on America's Got Talent. (Have you seen James with a chainsaw in his hands? It's a bloody scream!) Wednesday marks the final week at ABC's The Next Best Thing. Sebastian Anzaldo as Frank Sinatra, and Sharon Owens as Barbra Streisand, performing together in Barbra and Frank - The Concert That Never Was at the Riviera, are both competing for the title of Best Celebrity Impersonator. They are competing against another Las Vegas entertainer, Trent Carlini as Elvis Presley. Carlini stars in The Musical History of The King - The Dream King at the Sahara. It's too late to cast your vote, but tune in on Wednesday to see who goes home with the title of The Next Best Thing...AND $100, 000!

It should be very interesting to see just who comes out on top in these two particular shows. It has been proven that even a "loser" can be a winner on these "reality-type" shows. "Losers" like Clay Aiken and Jennifer Hudson, for example, haven't done too badly for themselves. It is painfully evident that, frequently, the end results have little to do with talent and more to do with viewer popularity. A savvy showbiz insider pointed out to us that shows such as American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, American Inventor, Dancing With The Stars (and Next Best Thing and America's Got Talent), et al, are less about competition and more about good and entertaining television. That makes sense. How many times have viewers gasped in disbelief to learn, after lots of dramatic pausing and plenty of sweating, that a really talented individual has been eliminated, leaving a mediocre talent to go on for another week? It leaves one wondering if something fishy is going on with the "ballot"counting. Holy mackerel, Batman! Doesn't this sound kind of like our last presidential election???

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Claire Voyant's portrait by Charlie Frye