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 27, 2007
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - July 27, 2007

Ron Miller & Berry Gordy Liberace Harry Goldson

The name Ron Miller may not be familiar to you, but we would bet many of his songs are. A boon to Berry Gordy's Motown Records, Miller created hits such as For Once in My Life, Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday, Place in the Sun and Heaven Help Us All for Stevie Wonder, and Touch Me in the Morning for Diana Ross. In addition to Wonder and Ross, among the many, many other artists who have recorded Miller songs are (in alphabetical order) Paul Anka, Regina Belle, Tony Bennett, Michael Bolton, James Brown, Michael Buble, Vikki Carr, Charlene, Ray Charles, Harry Connick Jr., Randy Crawford, Vic Damone, Celine Dion, Judy Garland, Josh Groban, Loretta Holloway, Gladys Knight, the Lettermen, Matt Munro, Sylvia Sims, Frank Sinatra, O.C. Smith, Barbra Streisand, Carrie Underwood and Nancy Wilson. Ron Miller's daughter, Lisa Dawn Miller, also sang a number of her father's songs on her Fly Away album. Cousin Claire's personal favorites by Miller are a couple of beautiful message ballads, If I Could and I've Never Been to Me. Miller spent quite a bit of time in Las Vegas, the last time being when he came to sing an original song he had written for his daughter Lisa's wedding to Sandy Hackett. The piece of music is called Life Saved You for a Rainy Day. On Monday, July 23rd, following a lengthy illness, Chicago-born Ron Miller (birth name Ronald Norman Gould) died at Santa Monica Hospital. He was 74.

Cousin Claire received the following e-mail from Lisa Dawn Miller. We are sure she would not mind us sharing some of her thoughts on her father... My Dad was a bigger-than-life kind of guy who would hug you with his great big bear paws, tell you a joke and make you laugh until you cry....and just when you're crying so hard from laughing, he'll sing you his new song (he always had a new song....he wrote one almost every day)....the tears of laughter will turn to tears of overwhelming emotion because you have just been touched so deeply. I want to preserve my father's legacy. He has meant so much to so many...his life, his songs, his spirit. I feel very fortunate because I think I got to know my father better over the last 5 years than ever before. I worked with him so closely as a songwriter, producer and artist...I learned so much from him. Some of my greatest memories are of my father coming to watch me perform...He was so proud, as was I. His son-in-law (my husband) Sandy Hackett has been a Las Vegas resident and entertainer for years. Sandy, along with the rest of my family is devastated by this loss. My father was a great influence to many Las Vegas entertainers who all sang and continue to sing his songs...everyone dating back to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. to Tony Bennett, Clint Holmes and more recently, Celine Dion.....and many, many others. Sandy and my father were very close. He loved and admired my father in ways only equal to the love and admiration for his own father. In many ways, he feels as though he is losing his father all over again. Sandy and I will always share this bond. We have received thousands of emails, phone calls, love and support from all over the world. It is very comforting to know how many people loved my father and to know of the great impact he and his songs have made on the many lives he has touched. As I told the AP, my father will be reborn every time someone sings one of his songs...when they feel joy, sadness or any emotion, it will be my Dad, it will be his words. I miss him so much already. He was my best friend.

Probably the most appropriate eulogy for Ron Miller was written by the man himself, in a piece called I Want To Come Back As a Song. Here are the words...

Time has to take me
But life will wake me
Whenever people feel the road's too long
They'll need some music
And I want to come back as a song

Lives will be broken
Love unspoken
Somewhere a child will feel that hope is gone
One lonely morning
I want to come back as a song

Lovers you'll need a way
To say the things you just can't say
Let me be your words someday
And if I'm appealing
Play back my life with feeling

A man gets older
The world turns colder
'Cause everybody says his work is done
If deep inside him
Something is crying to be young
It's me just waiting to be sung

Ron Miller is survived by Lisa's mother Aurora Miller; his six children, Lisa Dawn Miller-Hackett, Angel Stratford, Gary Miller, Mark Miller, Julie Bennett and Debbie Hoover; seven grandchildren, Oliver Liam Richman, Ashleigh Zayda Hackett, Angelique Petitt, Ashley Petitt, Dakota Bennett, Angelisa Hoover and Miles Miller; his longtime companion, Janis Waller, and millions of fans of his music.

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And speaking of songwriters...Las Vegas has an abundance of talented composers in its midst, many who are associated with production shows around the city. Although the Composers Showcase has been up and running for 15 months, apparently Cousin Claire wasn't up and running in a timely manner. It took her until this week to finally get over to observe what happens at one of these events...and it was an event. There was almost as much talent in the audience as on the stage. Among those we spotted taking it all in were some impressive musicians in their own right, Jeanne Brei, Kelly Clinton, Bill Fayne, Clint Holmes, Beth Lano, Lee Roy Reams from The Producers, Rebecca Spencer from Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular, the original Donna Sheridan from Vegas' Mamma Mia! Tina Walsh and Peggy Williams. When it began in April of 2006, the monthly Composers Showcase was held at Suede Restaurant and Nightclub. In April of this year, they moved to the Liberace Museum (who knew they had a cabaret space in there?). This was the kind of evening that is probably the norm in Manhattan but was a real find in Las Vegas. We commend the talented composers and performers (and next time we will get the names of as many of them as we can), along with Keith Thompson (loved his Eat, Drink and Be Mary song) and Michael Brennan who put the Composers Showcase together. What a treat!

And speaking of Liberace...The plaza that Mr. Showmanship owned before his death in 1987 still offers much to see and much to do. Located on Tropicana and Spencer in the southeast part of Las Vegas, the center houses what has become one of the top tourist attractions in the city, the must-see Liberace Museum. If you have never visited the museum before, or haven't been back in years, there have been many changes recently. Most notable is the fact that the original main, freestanding building that fronts Tropicana, now houses the unique automobile collection along with many of the pianos owned and played by Liberace. A new space, right next door to Carluccio's restaurant (originally Liberace's Tivoli Gardens) features costumes, jewelry, gift items, the Liberace Café and a performance space where pianist Wes Winters frequently entertains (Winters plays the mirrored piano in the lounge at Carluccio's on Wednesday evenings.) With the assistance of Darin Hollingsworth, Executive Director of the Liberace Foundation for the Performing & Creative Arts, as well as the museum, we will have more information about additional plans for the performance space and the upcoming annual Liberace Piano Competition.

* * * * * *

If you happen to be in this part of the country, the Marcus Roberts Trio will headline the 15th Annual Suttons Bay Jazzfest, tomorrow (July 28th). This very popular event is held from 1 to 9 p.m. under the big tent at Suttons Bay Marina Park. Come Rain or Come Shine, the afternoon activities offer superb food, Leelanau Peninsula Wines and, of course, great classic jazz. At 5:30, the Harry Goldson Quintet will be featured. Voted Northern Michigan Artist of the Year, Harry Goldson is regarded as one of America's premier jazz clarinetists. A veteran of the golden age of the big band, and featured with some of the major names from that era, this forward looking instrumentalist and his group redefine the dynamics of small ensemble jazz, reviving the enthusiasm and energy of straight-ahead jazz with new interpretations of music icons such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Featured with Goldson are Jim Cooper on vibes, Dave Hay at the piano, Mike Van Lente on drums, and Michigan Musician of the Year, Elgin Vines, on bass. If you get there, give Mr. Goldson greetings from Las Vegas, where he has family members.

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In last week's column, we wrote a bit about Dick Feeney (that's with three "E"s) and Sandy Hackett's World's Greatest Magic Show at the Greek Isles. In case you missed it, you can go to the Past Columns link in the upper left margin on this page to read it now. We will remind you dear readers that we really enjoyed the show (which we were seeing for the very first time) and highly recommend it to visitors and locals alike. We neglected to mention one important perk about The World's Greatest Magic Show...children under 12 are admitted FREE, when accompanied by an adult. This makes the popular family show an unbeatable bargain.

Tom Wallek as Joey Bishop Joey Bishop Paul Williams

On the same night we saw the magic show, we also stayed to see The Rat Pack Is Back - The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean. We have seen this fun revue on numerous occasions, at both the Desert Inn and the Greek Isles (we missed its run at the Sahara), each time with some cast changes. We have always liked the show (or we wouldn't have gone back to see it again and again). We have enjoyed some performers more than others. In the role of Frank Sinatra, we have seen Bobby Caldwell, Henry Prego and David DeCosta. Our favorite, so far, has been Prego (we also like his spaghetti sauce). Cousin Claire is a big fan of recording artist Caldwell, who portrayed Frank at the DI, but didn't think he did Sinatra as well as he does Caldwell. We have been told that Brian Duprey does an excellent job as The Chairman of the Board, so we guess that means another trip back to the Greek Isles to check him out. In the role of Sammy Davis Jr., we have seen Tony Tillman, Louis (Luis) Velez and now Kyle Diamond. We vote for Velez as "The Next Best Thing" (thank you, ABC). As Dean Martin, we caught Rick Michel, Pete Willcox and Robbie Howard as Steubenville, Ohio's favorite son. We vote for Howard on this one. He did a dandy job vocally but he also did the best job of capturing the fun that Dean had on stage. In the role of Joey Bishop, we have seen both the show's co-producer, Sandy Hackett, and Tom Wallek do their turns as the deadpan Bishop. Hackett does a very good job delivering the one-liners but he doesn't really try to look or sound like the non-singing member of the pack. Wallek, on the other hand, does try...and succeeds very well in duplicating the former talk show host. (Remember when Regis Philbin was Joey's sidekick?). It is God (voiced by the late Buddy Hackett) who gives the fellows a chance to come back to Vegas for one last, circa 1960s, show. (Shades of Forever Plaid.) This small show, in an off-Strip property, is one of the few in the city to feature a sensational LIVE 12-piece orchestra, enhancing the songs made famous by this group of jolly gentlemen. Audience members get a chance to relive the real swinging nights of old Vegas. While participating in the party atmosphere that these four created on stage, music lovers can reflect back on tunes including Luck Be a Lady, A Foggy Day, That's Amore, All Of Me, Mr. Bojangles, Witchcraft, Fly Me To The Moon, Ain't That a Kick In the Head and You Make Me Feel So Young, that the singers made famous, while Bishop keeps the crowd laughing with his comments and jokes. For those that had the chance to experience the originals, The Rat Pack Is Back should bring back many fond memories. For those that didn't, this will give them an idea of what they missed. Check out the Greek Isles for a couple of Las Vegas' best kept secrets. The World's Greatest Magic Show plays Saturdays through Thursdays at 6 p.m., and on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. The Rat Pack is Back performs at 8:15 p.m., Saturdays through Thursdays and is dark on Fridays. A dinner package is available with the tribute show. Call (702) 737-5540 for reservations and to find out about upcoming change in show times. Note: The maitre d' at the door of the Star Theater is the genial George Levine. George served in the same capacity at the Sands when the real Rat Pack was performing there. Talk about a reality show!...

* * * * * *

The court appearance for Father George Chaanine, scheduled for July (this IS July, isn't it?), has now been delayed until January. If you remember, the priest was accused of assaulting former Tropicana Folies Bergere principal singer, Michaelina Bellamy, at Our Lady of Las Vegas Catholic Church in January. He has been locked up since he was arrested in Arizona, six days after the allegedly unprovoked assault on Ms. Bellamy. Because Chaanine is considered a flight risk (he fled immediately after the attack on Bellamy), his bail was set at $2 million. By the time he gets his day in court, the priest will have spent a year in prison. This is rather frightening as there is always the possibility that Father George could be found not guilty be reason of insanity. You know that old saying about being innocent until proven guilty. This story has already gained national attention and was, in fact, headed for America's Most Wanted, but before the TV reality show could tell the tale, Chaanine was apprehended. We predict a very interesting trial here. This story is the kind of stuff movies are made of.

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Paul Williams. Now there's a name that hasn't been heard around these parts for a while. Those of a certain age (were you around in the '70s?) will remember the diminutive Nebraska-born gentleman for songs he wrote for the Carpenters, Monkees, Jim Henson's Muppets and Three Dog Night. Among the hit tunes credited to Williams, We've Only Just Begun, (Just An) Old Fashioned Love Song, Rainy Days and Mondays, Let Me Be The One, You and Me Against The World, The Rainbow Connection and TV's Love Boat theme. Williams is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and is the recipient of an Oscar (for 1976's A Star is Born's Evergreen, written with the film's star, Barbra Streisand), two Grammys and a number of Golden Globe awards.

Williams will perform at the new South Point this weekend (tonight, July 27th, through Sunday) with shows at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $30 and may be purchased by calling (702) 797-8055.

And speaking of people named Williams, there's another one (no relation to the above-mentioned Paul) who merits a mention from Cousin Claire. This Williams is actor Bart Williams, who has a very impressive list of credits in film, television and live theater. Over the years, Los Angeles-based Bart appeared here in a number of productions at both the downtown Union Plaza (now known as just the Plaza) and the Desert Inn (now the location of Wynn Las Vegas). Among his local credits are Anything Goes, Top Banana, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Guys and Dolls (with Jack Jones, Maureen McGovern and Frank Gorshin). Bart is currently in Logan, Utah, where he is appearing with the Utah Festival Opera company in The Most Happy Fella, West Side Story, Show Boat and Porgy & Bess. In a case of the apple not falling far from the tree, Bart's nephew, Shea Owens, is making his professional debut with the same company. Shea, who is from Phoenix, is a student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. In addition to roles in Show Boat, The Most Happy Fella and Porgy & Bess in Logan, the 22-year old is also part of the ensemble in Il Trovatore. In Arizona and Utah, Owens has performed in school productions of The Music Man, Annie and Oliver. He is currently or has previously studied voice, dance and piano. In October, Shea will perform in the BYU Opera Department's Marriage of Figaro. We predict good things for Shea Owens, as he follows in the footsteps of his uncle, Bart Williams. The current season of the Utah Festival Opera runs through August 11th. For additional information, call (435) 750-0300 or (800) 262-0074.

Bart Williams Shea Owens Lee Roy Reams

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We spotted an interesting group of folks having an early before show dinner at the lovely Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas on Monday evening. The Producers' Lee Roy Reams (wonderful in his role as the flamboyant Roger DeBris) was regaling Today show stage manager and former Las Vegan Jim Semmelman (here for the NBC morning show's broadcast from The Venetian), publicist Michael Caprio, actor/ director/choreographer Randy Slovacek, and an unidentified woman of mature years, with very funny and interesting stories of show biz-types. Between them, these four gentlemen have worked with just about everyone who is anyone. Song and dance man Reams, who comes to Vegas directly from the New York version of The Producers, has co-starred with, directed and choreographed everyone from Lauren Bacall, Carol Channing, Tammy Grimes, Jerry Orbach and Gwen Verdon, to music maven Jerry Herman. The Tony-nominee has been featured in productions of Sweet Charity, Oklahoma, Applause, Lorelei, Hello, Dolly!, 42nd Street, An Evening with Jerry Herman, La Cage aux Folles and Beauty and the Beast. He played the role of Frank Schultz in the 1989 Paper Mill Playhouse production of Show Boat, which was aired on PBS's Great Performances. One of Lee Roy's early jobs was at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, where he danced with former headliner, Juliet Prowse. Reams also directed Las Vegas husband and wife team, Paige O'Hara and Michael Piontek, in their musical revue, From Belle to Broadway, and is resident director of the Theatre Guild's Theatre at Sea. (O'Hara, who was the voice of Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, currently performs in Menopause at the Las Vegas Hilton.). Caprio is publicist for Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular's star Brent Barrett as well as for young magician Curtis Adams, Jim Brickman, Olivia Newton-John, Jon Secada and Joe Bologna and wife Renee Taylor. He is also the national press representative for Chippendales. Slovacek has performed on Broadway in Chicago, Hello, Dolly! and Follies where he worked with Blythe Danner, Polly Bergen, Gregory Harrison, Treat Williams, Carol Channing, Joel Grey, Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking. He has also served as Reams' associate director and choreographer for productions of Dolly!

And speaking of the multi-talented Mr. Reams, look for him to do his one-man show at the Clark County Library on East Flamingo on Sunday afternoon, August 26th. More on this to follow.

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ABC's The Next Best Thing ended their first season on Wednesday night with Elvis tribute artist Trent Carlini winning the title and the $100,000. Runner up was Sebastian Anzaldo, the next best thing to Frank Sinatra. Both Carlini and Anzaldo perform in Las Vegas, Carlini at the Sahara and Anzaldo at the Riviera, where he shares his stage with Barbra Streisand impersonator, Sharon Owens. Owens was one of the 10 finalists in the celebrity impersonator competition. Over at NBC's America's Got Talent, Las Vegas magician Kevin James disappeared from the show, as he was one of the contestants eliminated on Tuesday. The very talented Rob Hyatt, who plays piano for Anzaldo and Owens in their Barbra and Frank: The Concert That Never Was, is a member of the vocal group, Fifth Avenue. We saw Fifth Avenue's show at the Starbright Theater last weekend and enjoyed it very much.

We had done a coin toss on whether to attend the Fifth Avenue performance or go see Alexis Gershwin in her Gershwin Sings Gershwin concert at the Suncoast (just down Rampart from the Starbright). From what we heard, our coin landed on the right side. Based on the Gershwin name alone, the three-night engagement at the Suncoast was an immediate sellout. Unfortunately, the show turned out to be a dud. The publicity photo used by Ms. Gershwin, with her looking very much like the beautiful Marcia Cross of Desperate Housewives fame, must have been taken decades ago. Either that, or there is an expert airbrush artist, worth his weight in gold, on the loose somewhere in the country. From stories we heard from people who were there, Ms. Gershwin had a hard time moving around the stage, so she didn't. Her singing voice was weak and she provided very little information (or slides or video) of her famous relatives. On opening night, the Gershwin Orchestra (made up of mostly local players) seemed unfamiliar with many of the arrangements (perhaps not enough rehearsal time) and the Gershwin Singers, although good vocally, used the same swaying movements for just about every song. There were early walkouts during the show on at least two of the three nights. Our reports came from folks who were there on Friday and Sunday. We can only assume that things were no better on Saturday. Too bad. We hope the experience doesn't discourage the Suncoast from booking other performers (maybe more seasoned) who pay homage to the Great American Songbook. Good news. Linda Eder is there next month, and veteran (and seasoned) entertainer Debbie Reynolds comes in in November.

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A Florida reader wanted to remind Cousin Claire that it was at the now shuttered, soon to be imploded Frontier Hotel that Diana Ross & The Supremes gave their final live performance. We have made note of this fact and are now passing the information on to our readers.

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Claire Voyant's portrait by Charlie Frye