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 August 17, 2007
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - August 17, 2007

Raul Malo Martin Nievera Merv Griffin

LATE BREAKING NEWS (and, we hope, a scoop)!...the Dick Feeney (in case you hadn‘t heard, that's with three "E"s) revue, Viva Las Vegas, still "The longest running, most successful afternoon show in Vegas history," (if Feeney says so, it must be true) will open at the downtown Plaza Hotel on October 1st. Contracts were signed on Wednesday. Viva Las Vegas debuted at the Sands in 1991, where it played in the famed Copa Room for more than five years. They had to close and implode the hotel to get Viva out of the place. Four months after closing at the Sands, Viva was up and running again, this time in the Stratosphere‘s Broadway Theatre. It closed at the Stratosphere last New Year‘s Eve day, after more than 10 successful years. During its total 15 plus years, the show has had more than 6,000 performances and has been seen by more than two-million customers, with the smallest crowd of 124 people on opening day at the Sands, and their best day, at the Stratosphere, when 731 audience members filled the showroom. We will have more on Viva Las Vegas as it gets closer to October.

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A little less than a year ago, Cousin Claire got a call from a fellow music-lover who had just heard a version of At Last played on his car radio. Since he was traveling at the time, he couldn't devote all of his attention to catching the name of the singer, but he had liked what he heard. He was hoping that, maybe, with a few clues, we could help him determine who the mystery vocalist was. The main thing to go on was the song title, At Last. A hit for Etta James in 1961, the song is considered by many to be a timeless classic. That day's At Last was sung by a man. A new album was mentioned, and the name of it "might be Only the Lonely, or something with the word 'lonely' in it." The funniest part was that our dear friend thought the radio announcer called the singer "Real Elmo." With the "clues" and an hour or so on the computer, the mystery was solved. When we called our friend and told him that we had figured out who it was that he had heard, his response, like many times before, was an amazed-sounding, "I don't believe it." The album, as it turned out, was called You're Only Lonely (released last July), and the artists' name was not Real Elmo (we knew that couldn't be right), but Raul Malo. Cousin Claire had never heard of Raul Malo before doing the detective work. Timing is everything. If not for that out-of-the-blue phone call, the advertisement announcing that Malo was coming into Boulder Station last November would have meant nothing. Of course, under the circumstances, Cousin Claire and the music man were going to have to go see this Real Elmo fellow at Boulder Station. The reservations were made and the plan was that the new Raul Malo fan would come from California for the November 10th concert and we would go see it together. It is something we were so looking forward to. But the gods had other plans. Our friend, John Buonomo, was too ill to make the trip from California. We attended that concert without him. We know he would have loved it. Dear John died at the Veterans Hospital in Loma Linda eight days later, the victim of the cancer he had fought so hard to beat. Hearing the name or the music of Mr. Malo stirs bittersweet memories. The onetime lead singer of The Mavericks, whose latest album, After Hours, was released last month, will perform at 7 p.m. tonight and tomorrow night in the Ovation Lounge at Green Valley Ranch. Tickets, if still available, are from $12 to $28.50. Call (702) 547-5300 for reservations.

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If traffic in Las Vegas seemed heavier than usual this week, you might want to blame it on The Osmonds. The entire group of performing family members gathered here for three nights of shows at The Orleans. The onstage reunion, 25 years in the making, was to commemorate 50 years in show business. The performances, done before sold out crowds, was filmed for upcoming broadcasts on PBS (check your TV listings for dates). Here's the deal. Not counting the cars of the people who paid the big bucks to see seven of the nine Osmond siblings (Tom and Virl did not perform), if Alan, Donny, Jay, Jimmy, Merrill, Wayne and Marie were all driving their own vehicles, that alone would account for a traffic jam and Valet Full signs in parking lots all around the city. As a surprise for both the Osmonds and the Orleans audience, Andy Williams (who is almost 80) showed up to help celebrate the milestone occasion. It was Williams who gave the young Osmond family their shot at fame by making them regular guests on his weekly TV variety show.

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Here is some not very surprising news...yet another show has left the $35 million Steve Wyrick Entertainment Complex in the mall at Planet Hollywood. Aga-Boom, the Cirque-like clown show is the latest to go, after less than two months. In fairness (and we always try to be fair), we understand that the family revue never intended to be in the theater for an extended run. That is probably a good thing, based on the past history of previous showroom tenants (they all "rent the room," in a Pay to Play deal). Let's see now. In addition to Defending The Caveman, that wisely abandoned its plans to go into the possibly jinxed performance space even before the theater's much delayed opening early this year (Caveman is doing very well at the Golden Nugget), excellent performers such as Filipino superstar Martin Nievera and ventriloquist extraordinaire Ronn Lucas have bailed after only weeks or a few months in the hard-to-find Wyrick entertainment (or no entertainment) complex. That leaves magician Steve Wyrick to carry on alone (until he persuades another unsuspecting victim to join him). In analyzing the in-and-out, revolving-door pattern that seems to plague this theater, we aren't counting the folks, like the multi-talented singer/musician/songwriter David Pomeranz, who used the facility just to showcase their talents for a night or two. As for Ronn Lucas, he has found a new afternoon home at the Luxor where he should do just fine, although Cousin Claire would like to see Mr. Lucas offer reduced ticket prices for children. We feel it would very much encourage family outings to see and enjoy Ronn's puppets, Buffalo Billy and Scorch the Teenage Dragon. As for Martin Nievera, this is an entertainer who should have a permanent home in a Vegas showroom. We hope some smart entertainment director agrees with us, and that music lovers will soon see his name on a Strip (or off-Strip) marquee.

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We are saddened to report the death of longtime Las Vegas bandleader, Johnny Haig. The San Francisco native had been a musical presence in this city since 1955, first as a trombone player at places like the Dunes and Frontier. Haig and his group of musicians were best known as the city's busiest relief band, filling in for others during vacation time or nights off. This meant the ensemble had to know or learn everybody's music, somewhat like the understudy in a show. For 13 years, until its closing in the year 2000, Johnny was the musical director in the Circus Maximus showroom at Caesars Palace, shuttered to make room elsewhere in the hotel/casino for the Colosseum where Celine Dion, Elton John and Jerry Seinfeld currently hold court. Services for the orchestra leader, who died on August 3rd, were held at Palm Mortuary on South Eastern one week later. Johnny Haig was 81.

Here's a bit of Vegas trivia that we have mentioned before. It was Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme who were the last headliners to perform in Caesars' Circus Maximus. It was also Steve and Eydie who closed out the Stardust's showroom before the property‘s closing last November. Those two certainly know how to make a grand exit. They are a hard act to follow. As major fans of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, we hope we haven't seen the last of them on a stage in Las Vegas. Happy belated birthday to Eydie. Although we know it isn't polite to tell a lady's age, since it is public record, we think it's all right to let you know that she recently celebrated number 76.

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Merv Griffin, the man best known as the host of his own TV talk show (it ran for more than two decades), died last weekend at the age of 82. A onetime big band singer (he had a hit with a novelty tune called I‘ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts), it was really a couple of TV game shows that turned Griffin into a very wealthy man, making him the biggest game show winner of all time. In 1986, he sold his Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune shows to Columbia Pictures/Coca Cola for $250 million. Eat your heart out, Ken Jennings. No disrespect to the late Mr. Griffin, but wasn't it really his former (and only) wife, Julann Griffin, who came up with the concept of Jeopardy!? Years ago, we recall him giving her credit for the idea of a show that provided the answers, while the contestants had to come up with the questions. It was even Julann who suggested Art Fleming for the host of the show, which first went on the air in 1964, a year after the idea was born. A few years ago, she was asked "Are you ever disappointed that you don't get any credit for the development of the show?," to which she responded, "I would like to say no, but I have always felt a little twinge of disappointment that it wasn't listed at the end of the show." She went on to say, "Of course, Merv belongs to the Writers Guild, and by its rules I don't have to be listed. But it has made me conscious of giving credit to other people where credit is due." Merv could, and did, rightfully take credit for Jeopardy's very familiar "think music." That simple melody, written by Mr. Griffin in 15 minutes, was estimated to have earned him more than $70 million. With the money he made from the sale of Wheel and Jeopardy!, Griffin went on a shopping spree. Among his purchases were the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles and Resorts Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City.

The Amazing Johnathan Nancy Sinatra Elvis Presley

On a closer-to-home note, here are some things about Merv that you may not know or may not remember. It was Merv Griffin, with the aid of Nancy Sinatra, that was instrumental in helping to launch the career of singer/impressionist Bob Anderson. Ms. Sinatra introduced Anderson to Griffin. Bob made appearances on Griffin's talk/variety show and was a guest at some parties in Griffin's home. The exposure opened doors for Mr. Anderson, leading him to a lengthy run in Las Vegas and performances around the world. (Bob is currently a regular in Branson, Missouri.) Griffin (unlike Jay Leno who says you have to have a new album, book or film to be on the Tonight Show) would welcome second billed acts and "unknowns" to perform on his stage. Vegas favorites including Morris Albert, Denise Clemente, Jeff Kutash's Dancing Machine, the DeCastro Sisters, Loretta Holloway and Peter Lemongello (the first person to sell a million records through a television direct marketing campaign) all had national TV exposure, thanks to Merv. Another Vegas connection involved Griffin's odd and frantic game show, Ruckus (circa 1991). The host of the wild, slapstick affair was none other than comedy-magician The Amazing Johnathan, who presently performs at the Sahara. Ruckus emanated from Griffin's Atlantic City casino. WNBC in New York City was the only station that agreed to air the program. At the end of the show's 13-week run, plans were in the works to get the show syndicated nationally. The story goes that the project fell apart when the Johnathan walked away over a contractual dispute. Ruckus ended as a cult favorite, especially among kids, teens and college students. Another, then relatively unknown personality was hired by Griffin to host a game show called Click. That young man was Ryan Seacrest who has since found fame as the host of American Idol. Then, of course, there is Vanna White who is the most famous letter-turner in the world, thanks to Wheel of Fortune and, again, thanks to Merv.

And speaking of Nancy Sinatra, the man responsible for much of her musical career, singer/songwriter/producer/arranger Lee Hazlewood, died in Southern Nevada on August 4th. It was Hazlewood who wrote Nancy's biggest hit, These Boots Were Made For Walkin.' He also wrote Sugar Town, Jackson, Lady Bird and Some Velvet Morning for Nancy (With the Laughing Face), and produced Somethin' Stupid, a hit duet for Miss Nancy and her daddy, Frank Sinatra. Dean Martin had success with a Hazlewood tune called Houston. The fact that Hazlewood lived in Henderson, an appendage to Las Vegas, when he died, came as a surprise, even to friends who thought they knew him. Lee Hazlewood was 78.

And speaking of Nancy Sinatra yet again, it is hard to believe that yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the death of her Speedway co-star, Elvis Presley. Like many other milestones in the past four or five decades, Cousin Claire remembers where she was when she heard the news of The King of Rock & Roll's passing. For fans of Presley's, Las Vegas offers many versions, and many sizes, of The Next Best Thing - Matt Lewis, who portrays Elvis in Legends In Concert at the Imperial Palace; Darren Lee in American Superstars at the Stratosphere; Pete "Big Elvis" Vallee at Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon (formerly the Barbary Coast), and Trent Carlini, currently at the Sahara, who won $100,000 and the title of The Next Best Thing in the ABC reality television competition, are all keeping the spirit of the King alive. A favorite of the Boyd Gaming Corp., Brandon Bennett has performed in Elvis My Way at The Stardust, Sam's Town, The Orleans and, in June, at the Suncoast showroom. Earlier this week, Brandon was featured in a segment on the national news.

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Last Saturday night, Cousin Claire and a couple of gal pals had a hoot at Hooters (and, no, it's not just a Boy's Club). At 6 p.m., we saw Gerry McCambridge, The Mentalist, and at 8, it was funny man Bobby Slayton with opening act comedian, Kathleen Dunbar. This was Cousin Claire's second time seeing both shows. We much preferred McCambridge in this more intimate venue at Hooters, as opposed to the large Stardust Theater (where The Mentalist performed until the hotel's closing last year). Since someone we knew unexpectedly became a part of the show, we were not just entertained...we were amazed! We have no idea HOW McCambridge does what he does, but we are still talking about our experience a week later. McCambridge has been at Hooters since June 19th. His is probably one of the most unique shows in the city. The Mentalist will have the audience asking "How does he do it?" He seems able to read the minds of total strangers, leaving them, and the rest of the audience, in total awe. Gerry McCambridge has been on dozens of television shows including the Today show and The Late Show with David Letterman. He also had his own NBC special. Tickets for The Mentalist are $36.95 per person and may be purchased through the Hooters Box Office. Call (866) LVHoots (866-584-6687). Show times for McCambridge are on Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 6 p.m.

As for Slayton, who also performs in the Hooters Night Owl Showroom, he is a laugh-a-minute riot. Politically correct? Not hardly. Funny? You bet. No one is safe from the barbs and jabs delivered by "The Pitbull of Comedy," so be prepared. The man knows how to work a crowd. Dunbar was a perfect opener, delivering material that every woman (and some understanding men) can relate to. We hear from a very reliable source that Ms. Dunbar will return to Hooters in the fall. Slayton's show times are at 8 and 10 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays, and only at 8 p.m. on Sundays. Call the Hooters Box Office at (866) 584-6687 for reservations.

On the night we were there, we spotted comic/magician Fielding West in the audience. We first saw Fielding a couple of decades ago in a revue at the Sahara called Over the Top (which it was). Eddie Foy III co-produced the show along with Cary LaSpina. Charlie and Sherry Frye, along with The Diving Fool were also featured in Over the Top. One of the funniest sight gags we ever saw took place in that short-lived revue. It involved an elephant and a stage curtain that malfunctioned while rising. All that could be seen by the audience were the feet of an elephant, as the "trainer" put the pachyderm through its had to be there.

And speaking of Gerry McCambridge, his brainchild, Vegas Seat Fillers, has been bought out and, effective last Wednesday, is now known as ShowTickets4Locals. The new owners are Chip Lightman and Laura Herlovich. If Lightman's name is familiar, it may be because he was the longtime manager of Danny Gans. The twosome severed their management agreement in 2004, after 13 years of working together. Lightman was also the producer of the Gladys Knight show at the Flamingo. Earlier this year, Lightman and his partner, attorney James "Bucky" Buchanan, took over the popular Coachman's Inn, on Eastern near Desert Inn. The Coachman has been serving meals to Las Vegans for almost 40 years. Herlovich is the owner of PR Plus, a marketing firm that has been around promoting clients since 1991. Along with the name change, more shows will be offered to ShowTickets4Locals members. We hear that a limited number of free tickets will be available for members to see Danny Gans at The Mirage.

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Kevin James Tamyra Gray Sabra Johnson

Now that he has been (unfairly, in our opinion) ousted from NBC's America's Got Talent, magic man Kevin James was able to share a little about the behind-the-scenes activities at the popular summer TV show. In the early stages, when going through the elimination portion of the competition, the semifinalists spend four days a week in Southern California. Transportation is paid for, or reimbursed, and the performers are housed at the Sheraton Universal Hotel. Lucky for Kevin (and Gregory Popovich and any of the other Vegas competitors), some of the "boot camp" elimination process also took place here at Planet Hollywood. In his third week as a finalist, we wish that the very clever James had not followed the advice of the folks at the show who suggested he not perform a couple of illusions that had been used by Nathan Burton (appearing in the V Theater at Planet Hollywood) during last year's competition. Here's the deal. Those particular illusions were invented/designed by Kevin James, so who better to perform them? In our opinion, if Kevin had done his bowling ball, magic rose or the amazing snowfall trick, he would have been among the last four standing and may have even come out the winner. James is not complaining. He participated in America's Got Talent (TV's top rated program last week, with 10.84 million viewers), not necessarily to win, but for the national exposure. It appears to have worked, as he has gotten lots of calls and e-mails from producers, corporate event planners and television shows from around the world. As a matter of fact, last week, James traveled to Florida for a guest appearance on the Don Francisco Presents TV show. The variety show, geared primarily to a Hispanic audience, airs Wednesdays on Univision - in Las Vegas, that's on Channel 15. Kevin James' episode will be shown sometime in August, although we are not sure on what date. No Se habla Espanol? Don't let the language barrier stop you from watching, as James' is a visual, not verbal, act. In the meantime, you can catch Kevin James, and his "accomplice" Antonio Hoyos, in The World's Greatest Magic Show where it does very good business, seven nights a week at the Greek Isles on Convention Center Drive. And, in case you missed it in previous columns, the show is produced by Sandy Hackett and Dick Feeney (you know how to spell it). Hoyos, by the way, is currently doing double-duty, performing in both The World's Greatest Magic Show and the Little Legends "mini revue" at Krave‘s Harmon Theater.

And speaking of TV talent competitions, we have been watching American Idol Rewind airing on the weekends. It is almost more interesting to see these shows after knowing how they all played out a few years back. In seeing the week, during the first season, where Tamyra Gray was sent home, while Nikki McKibben stayed on, it is more proof that these competitions have little to do with talent and more to do with popularity and/or, heaven forbid, "voter" manipulation. (Can you say Ruben Studdard vs. Clay Aiken, or George W. Bush vs. Al Gore and those damn Florida "hanging chads"?) How can people like Leonid the Magnificent, Boy Shakira, William Hung, and other Gong Show-quality acts, make it through, or get anywhere even close to the finals, while real talent (with a chance of winning) is sent home. That's a rhetorical question and does not require a question mark...or an answer.

Last night, the winner of this season's So You Think You Can Dance was announced. Sabra Elise Johnson beat out the talented competitors to win $250,000 and be deemed the world's best dancer. The really big loser of the night was Cat Deeley, the hostess of the show. That dress! Ohmygod! Whoever designed that mess should change their name, don a disguise and go into the Witness Protection Program. Deeley's hair don't and shoes did nothing to help the situation (doesn't this lady own a full-length mirror?). In our opinion, the show's finale episode should have been called So You Think You Can Dress. Call the fashion police!

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At the rate things are going, the Bootlegger Bistro may become better known for entertainment than for its Italian cuisine. There is something happening at the South Strip establishment seven nights a week. Some of the performers scheduled for upcoming appearances in Kelly Clinton's Celebrity Spotlight are Gladys Knight backup singer Neil Taffe on Sunday, August 19th, and Bill Fayne who will perform My Life in Music, on Sunday the 26th. We are reasonably sure Fayne's life in music will include at least a mention of his longtime association with Clint Holmes and his connection to the Las Vegas Tenors. Dinner seating takes place at 7 p.m. for the Celebrity Spotlight series, with entertainment following at 8. Also at the Bootlegger, on Friday, August 24th, Kelly will present singer Michelle Rohl Justice from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

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Happy birthday to former Las Vegan, Buddy Greco, who celebrated number 81 on the Tuesday, the 14th. About two years ago, the Philadelphia-born singer/pianist and his songstress wife, Lezlie Anders Greco, sold their little ranchero in the south part of the city and headed for Palm Springs. In March of last year, they opened Buddy Greco's Dinner Club in Cathedral City (right outside of Palm Springs) where both Mr. and Mrs. Greco perform. If you are too young to know who he is, Buddy Greco has been playing piano since he was four years old. His first professional job was with Benny Goodman's band (Nice Work If You Can Get It). Over the years, Greco has recorded more than 60 albums. He is probably best known for his version of The Lady Is a Tramp. He has had an active concert career, playing in symphony halls, theatres, nightclubs, and showrooms around the world. If you are in the Palm Springs area, stop by and say hello.

Buddy Greco & Lezlie Anders Greco Hilary Duff Lee Roy Reams

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From acting on television and the big screen, to performing sold-out shows around the world, Hilary Duff is no stranger to the spotlight. She brings her mix of pop, rock and dance from her latest studio album to the 2,500-seat Pearl at the Palms Casino Resort tomorrow night (August 18th) at 8 p.m. Born in Houston, Hilary was a household name by the time she hit her early teens. She has managed to maintain a successful music career while also acting in major motion pictures and launching successful fashion and home lines available throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Duff first caught the attention of audiences with her role in Casper Meets Wendy. She later found even more success as Lizzie McGuire on the Disney Channel.

The Pearl provides intimate viewing of your favorite acts. Private and semi-private skyboxes - offering bars, lounges and restrooms - are located on each side of the venue. A marvel of modern technology, The Pearl uses top quality sound and video equipment throughout the facility. Tickets for Hilary Duff range from $68 to $103. For reservations (Hilary may be sold out) and information on upcoming shows, call (702) 942-7777.

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Happy birthday on Thursday to the multi-talented Lee Roy Reams who celebrates on Thursday. As his gift to the community, on Sunday afternoon, August 26th, Reams will perform his Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance one-man show at the Clark County Flamingo Library. In case you don't know, Reams is currently playing the over-the-top Roger DeBris in The Producers at Paris Las Vegas. Lee Roy will be accompanied by Keith Thompson on piano. Thompson is the musical director for The Producers. Show time is at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15. For reservations, call the Performing Arts Society of Nevada at (702) 658-6741.

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Since we are planning to see Clint Holmes' new show at the Excalibur on Monday, we are going to hold off doing our story on Domenick Allen until next Friday. That way, we will be able to let readers know exactly what they can expect to see and hear when they attend the show. Domenick and Bill Fayne share the stage with Clint in the limited engagement (it ends on August 31st) of Clint Holmes Unplugged JAM (JAM referring to songs from Clint's autobiographical musical called Just Another Man). Show times are at 7 p.m., dark on Sundays. For reservations, call (702) 597-7600.

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