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 31, 2007
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - August 31, 2007

Sandra Benton Lee Roy Reams Ann Miller

Last Saturday afternoon (August 25th), a group of entertainment professionals gathered in the Paul Harris Theater at UNLV to do a reading (and singing) of Keith Thompson and Morris "Buddy" Sheffield's comedy musical, IDAHO! Menopause the Musical's Skye Dee Miles; our favorite Phantom (even if he didn't autograph his Kander & Ebb CD for us), Brent Barrett; entertainers, Tony Arias and Lloyd Ziel; tapping, jazzy producer, Jeanne Brei, John Meren and Tom Gallagher of the Performing Arts Society of Nevada; and the Liberace Museum's Darin Hollingsworth, were among the audience members who happily turned out to see what Thompson and Sheffield had up their creative sleeves. The "cast" included Rob Sutton, Elizabeth Share, Jessica Sheridan, Jay Rogers, Bill Nolte, Sandra Benton, Patrick Boyd, Alet Taylor, Rich Affanato, Jim Ambler, Chris Holly, Chris Klink, Shari Jordan, Melanie Allen and Bill Gilinsky. Joe Sheridan served as Stage Manager. A takeoff on OKLAHOMA!, IDAHO! includes song titles such as Heck, It's a Hellava Day, Boise's Just As Noisy As Can Be, The Boys Are Never Put Out (Because I Do), Pearlie's Fate (Let's Get Something Straight Between Us, Lonely In The Barn, The Double Standard Blues, and Mean To Be Mean. You know this little-bit-naughty production has to be fun. In our opinion, IDAHO! more than earns its exclamation mark!

Cousin Claire loves to name drop, and talking (or writing) about song and dance man Lee Roy Reams, gives us the opportunity to really use our bold type option. On Sunday (the 26th), the veteran Broadway performer gave the community a chance to see just why he has had a career lasting for more than 40 years. Reams, who is playing the flamboyant Roger DeBris in The Producers at Paris Las Vegas, did his own one-man show at the Flamingo Library. Reams has been lighting up the musical theater stages since 1966, when he made his debut on the Great White Way as the "Young Spanish Man" in Sweet Charity (he also appeared in the 1969 film, starring Shirley MacLaine). In the four decades since Charity, the Kentucky-born entertainer has added roles in Applause, Lorelei, Hello, Dolly!, 42nd Street (Reams was nominated for both a Tony and Drama Desk Award for his role as Billy Lawlor in 42nd Street), La Cage aux Folles, Beauty and the Beast, An Evening with Jerry Herman, and The Producers (he played the Roger DeBris role in New York before coming to Vegas to replace David Hasselhoff), to his impressive resume. In 1989, Lee Roy appeared in the PBS Great Performances production of Show Boat. In addition to his history as an entertainer, Reams is also much sought after as a director and choreographer (he has background credits for productions of Hello, Dolly! and shows featuring Jerry Herman). Lee Roy Reams has earned the right to perform with some of the biggest stars of stage and screen, among them (in alphabetical order) Susan Anton, Bea Arthur, Lauren Bacall, Anne Bancroft, Len Cariou, Carol Channing, Cyd Charisse, Michael Feinstein, Bonnie Franklin, Davis Gaines, Mitzi Gaynor, Tammy Grimes, George Hearn, Joey Heatherton, Janet Leigh, Lorna Luft, Ethel Merman, Ann Miller, Liza Minnelli, Rita Moreno, Karen Morrow, Jerry Orbach, Jane Powell, Stefanie Powers, Juliet Prowse, Red Skelton, Leslie Uggams and Gwen Verdon. He has worked with world famous choreographers and directors, including Gower Champion (who died August 25th, 1980, on the opening night of his 42nd Street production), Tony Charmoli (Dinah Shore Show, Cher, Julie Andrews, Liberace), Ernie Flatt (The Garry Moore Show, Carol Burnett), Bob Fosse (Liza with a Z, Sweet Charity, Chicago, Pajama Game, Damn Yankees), Peter Gennaro (Judy Garland Show) and Tom Hansen (Red Skelton Show, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley). Accompanied at the piano by The Producers' musical director, Keith Thompson, Lee Roy charmed the audience with songs, dance, and tales of his show business history. One of the cutest stories finds a pajama-wearing Reams sharing a bed with a nude Juliet Prowse. Juliet was starring in Sweet Charity at Caesars Palace in 1966, and had flown Reams in to see the production. Juliet earned the Las Vegas Performer of the Year award for her portrayal of Charity Hope Valentine in that production, while Lee Roy was rewarded with fond memories and a story he could retell more than 40 years later. Presented by the Performing Arts Society of Nevada, the library's hour and 15 minute program opened with a medley of dance songs (Broadway Rhythm, Shall We Dance, Change Partners, Let's Face the Music and Dance, and, in a pitch black theater, Dancing In the Dark), followed by numbers including Don't Blame Me, a Sweet Charity medley (Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now, Where Am I Going), What I Did For Love and I Could Have Danced All Night. A bonus surprise number was added at the end of the program. When he returned to the stage for his second curtain call, Reams was dragging a familiar red feather boa...a definite sign that the audience was going to be treated to the Reams version of the title song from Jerry Herman's La Cage aux Folles. No one does that number like Lee Roy Reams. As a matter of fact, we consider his performance to be the highlight of the star-studded Jerry Herman's Broadway at the Hollywood Bowl concert (done, we believe, in 1993). The show aired first on Pay-Per-View, then on PBS's Great Performances and is now available on DVD. Seen in Sunday's audience, and very much enjoying the afternoon's activities, were Tony Danza (new in the role of Max Bialystock in the Vegas version of The Producers), Tim Searcy, The Producers Katrina Loncaric (filling in for Leigh Zimmerman as Ulla on September 3rd and 4th), Michael Cassano, Jerry Ritholz, Ray Jarvis, Jeanne Brie and her mama Ada (spelled the same way backwards and forwards) Brei, Tony Arias, Lloyd Ziel, Michael Caprio, Randy Slovacek, Gary Oakes and the Las Vegas Sun's Jerry Fink. We have no idea just how many of Lee Roy's fellow Producer cast members were in attendance at the library theater, but we think this show should have been mandatory viewing by all of them. This was like a Master Class in musical theater, and a very rare opportunity for the public to see a longtime pro like Reams at work. What a treat!

And, because we haven't mentioned the talented Keith Thompson quite enough in recent weeks, here comes his name again...but, this time, to describe the new job of the equally talented musician, David Kancsar. David served as accompanist and musical director for Forever Plaid at both the Flamingo and Gold Coast, up until the show's closing last April 1st (no fooling!). He was just hired as assistant conductor for The Producers, where he will work with musical director Thompson. David's first official day is tomorrow. Break a baton, David!

David Kancsar Stephen Sorrentino Joe Bologna & Renee Taylor

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In recent months, The Entertainment Capital of the World seems anxious to give plenty of advance warning when it comes to impending show closings, i.e. Celine Dion's wind up in December, and next summer's end (that's 2008, we're talking about) of Mamma Mia! at Mandalay Bay (we got a year-and-a-half notice on that one). In the other corner, we have plenty of advance notice of upcoming events. Tickets have already gone on sale for Jersey Boys, even though The Palazzo, where the Tony-winning musical will play, isn't scheduled to open until late December. The Palazzo, sister hotel/casino of The Venetian, wants to give theater lovers the chance to make plans early. Jersey Boys, based on the life and career of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is supposed to open on April 4th. We say "supposed to, "because the South Point had to cancel acts like Bill Medley and the annual Joe Williams Scholarship Concert, when their new theater/showroom was not ready by the date originally anticipated. Hurry, hurry over to The Venetian box office...before all the tickets are gone for this hoped for, long running production. Prices range from $65 to a $250 VIP package (plus handling fees). Call (866) 641-7469 for reservations.

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The Las Vegas Tenors - Bobby Black, Teddy Davey, Bill Fayne and Mark Giovi - will perform in the big Las Vegas Hilton Theatre, September 7th and 8th, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 and $40, plus applicable taxes and fees, and may be purchased by calling the Hilton box office at (702) 732-5755 or (800) 222-5361. These four talented gentlemen have come a long way, baby. Their success is well deserved.

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Before we are bumped from his guest list, we had better mention this fellow again, and quick! On Monday night, Cousin Claire attended another one of producer/director (he also teaches) Gerald Gordon's "final" Actors Showcases. The drama coach has been saying, "that was my last one" for years. We suppose he really means it when he says it, but, the lure of eager, hopeful thespians always seems to win out. And we think that's a good thing. The end result of six weeks of whip cracking by the taskmaster, and intensive studying by his students, always has a big payoff, for both the performers and the audience. A day that started out with torrents of rain, wound up revealing torrents of talent. This particular session was made up of 18 pupils - Sam Abdul, Cara Dace, Nathan Ferrier, Holly Feland, Leyla Gatamova, Kenny Harlow, Inga Hakan, James Lake, Anthony Owliaie, Samantha Jenkins, Stephen Sorrentino, Jenna Michelle, Bryan Tavary, Zenaida Mirz, Chantana Reekers, Yancey Taylor, Jean Vignola and Olga Verchinina. As in the case of his previous classes, this group of Gordon students is extremely diverse. They range in age from 19 to 40-something and come from as far away as Britain and St. Petersburg, Russia. When they are not studying theater, some are business owners, realtors, bartenders, paramedics, educators, retail merchandisers, dealers in gaming and a nightclub hostess. One student is a former cast member of Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity at New York - New York, one portrays Caesar at the Strip Palace of the same name, another is a onetime opera singer, one is a dancer with Toni Braxton at the Flamingo, one is a professional stilt-walker, while another has had his own show on the Strip and served as opening act for a number of headliners. There is even a handsome Metro police officer in the mix. For some, this is their very first experience with stage work, while for others, they are returning for more classes and more guidance. By the time these people hit the spotlight on Monday, they came across so well, it was almost impossible to tell who were the freshmen and who were the seniors. Of course, that is a tribute to their teacher.

We were very impressed with the performances. Our favorite scenes were probably the ones from Lou Gehrig Did Not Die of Cancer, I Ought To Be In Pictures, The Baby With the Bathwater, and The Boys In The Band. Cousin Claire has a special affection for Mart Crowley's The Boys In the Band, maybe because she knew/knows people very much like the characters in the story. The Boys In the Band (it's not a musical), is bitter, bitchy, and scathing in the tradition of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The story goes that it was actress Natalie Wood who financially supported her friend Crowley so that he would be free to write his controversial, for its time, play. Crowley, who first met Wood while working as a production assistant on her movie Splendor in the Grass, served as an assistant for Wood and her husband Robert Wagner for many years. The off-Broadway production opened on April 14, 1968. It ran for 1000 performances, very impressive for both an off-Broadway production and one not geared to a mainstream audience. The cast included Kenneth Nelson as Michael, Peter White as Alan, Leonard Frey as Harold, Cliff Gorman as Emory, Frederick Combs as Donald, Laurence Luckinbill (he's married to Lucie Arnaz) as Hank, Keith Prentice as Larry, Robert La Tourneaux as Cowboy, and Reuben Greene as Bernard. When the William Friedkin directed film came out two years later, the same actors who did the play, were also cast in the movie. Although it would be 20 years later that the term AIDS became a part of our language, in a touch of sad irony, by the early 1990s, five of the nine principals - Nelson, Frey, Prentice, Combs and La Tourneaux - would be dead of AIDS-related diseases.

Those familiar with the name Stephen Sorrentino probably know him best as a comic/impersonator, most notably as Elton John. Sorrentino has performed in Legends In Concert, in his own show Voices In My Head and in shows all around the country. In Monday's showcase, Sorrentino proved he could handle drama as well as comedy in a couple of well developed scenes, first as Herbert Tucker in Neil Simon's I Ought To Be In Pictures (played in the 1982 film by Walter Matthau), and then as bitchy Harold, the birthday celebrant in The Boys In the Band. Since Sorrentino is working on a couple of exciting projects (and we are running out of time and space), expect to read more about him in future columns.

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Are there any readers who know or knew Lenadams Dorris, the creative fellow who ran The Newsroom coffee shop across from UNLV, and later the Enigma Café near downtown Las Vegas? Cousin Claire would like to know where he disappeared to, so if anyone can help, please make contact. Thank you.

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Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor have the late Merv Griffin to thank, or blame, for their long relationship. The twosome, who will bring their If You Ever Leave Me...I Am Going With You show to the Suncoast next month, met through the television host on whose show Taylor was a regular during the mid 1960s. Joe and Renee fell in love and married after a three-month whirlwind courtship. Joe is from a strong Italian Catholic family, while Renee is Jewish. Their families believed it was like mixing oil and water and declared that the marriage would never work. A wedding boycott was anticipated. Merv decided to throw the wedding party on his daytime variety show, which meant everyone would show up. They did, and everyone had a good time, with the Italians and Jewish guests dancing and eating together. Since the original ceremony, the couple has had four more weddings where they renewed their vows in different religions. Film clips from their numerous ceremonies are incorporated into their show. "A lot of people said this marriage wouldn't last," states Taylor. "We were two of them," adds Bologna. Obviously, this not-so-odd couple proved the skeptics wrong. See why, when Taylor and Bologna bring their lesson in matrimony to the Suncoast, September 7th through 9th. For tickets, call (702) 636-7075.

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More on the subject of The Village People and the fact that the fellows were just eye candy and did not sing...except for original member Victor Willis. Tonight, the House of Blues will feature Willis, the group's cop and naval officer, in his first live stage performance in 28 years. It was Willis who wrote the lyrics for most of the Village People's hits. Victor, who was married to Phylicia Allen Rashad from 1978 to 1980, left the group in 1980, just as they were preparing to make the Allan Carr produced film, Can't Stop the Music (the movie was a bomb). Victor appeared on Broadway in The Wiz. For tonight's special House of Blues appearance, the background vocals will be provided by five Las Vegas singers, REAL singers, Danny Calico, Corky DiFini and Joey Lomello (former members of a popular musical ensemble called Chazz), Rod Henley (a onetime member of the Four Freshmen), and Paul Xavier Campanella. (FYI...The other two members of Chazz were Bob Lyman and Diane Ellis.)

Victor Willis Wayne Newton

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On Wednesday, contestants for ABC's Dancing With the Stars were announced. When the show begins its third season on September 24th, among the competitors, viewers will see Beverly Hills 90210's Jennie Garth, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., singer Marie Osmond, actress Jane Seymour and, look out, Vegas veteran Wayne Newton. If the TV viewing public thinks that The Wayner is still "Mr. Las Vegas," it could set the local entertainment scene back 30 years! We can only hope that he dances a hell of a lot better than he sings. Sorry, Wayne, but we calls 'em like we sees (and hears) 'em.

And speaking of Jane Seymour, the star who played TV's Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and the late Christopher Reeve's love interest in Somewhere In Time, is now almost as well known as an artist as she is an actress. Seymour has had her work shown in art galleries around the country and will be one of the featured celebrity artists at Artexpo Las Vegas, held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center from September 28th through the 30th. Unfortunately, this art exhibition is open only to dealers, not the general public.

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If you are reading this early enough, you may still have time to catch Clint Holmes and friends at the Excalibur. Clint Holmes Unplugged JAM, has received raves from both critics and audience members alike. If you can, get over to the Excalibur (call first) to see Clint, Bill Fayne and Domenick Allen as they wind up this special engagement, we suggest you do so. Expect to see and hear more from this talented combination. The number for reservations is (702) 597-7600.

And speaking of Holmes, his lady, Kelly Clinton, is staying very busy with her jobs at the Bootlegger. Clinton, or "Kelvis" as we lovingly call her, does much of the booking at the South Strip bistro. Under her Celebrity Spotlight banner, Clinton will present Dangerous Curves on September 2nd. Featuring a trio of talented and beautiful vocalists - Karen Michaels, Lisa Smith (from Shades of Sinatra) and Kai Solsaa - the ladies of Dangerous Curves perform songs made famous by some of the greatest female singers of all time. From Judy Garland to Linda Eder, hear the hits of yesterday and today as interpreted by Karen, Lisa and Kai. For reservations, call the Bootlegger at (702) 736-4939.

Dangerous Curves Aaron Russo Michael Jackson

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We are saddened to report the recent deaths of two men with connections to the arts and Las Vegas. Gregory Etchison was a contributor to both the performing and visual arts. As an actor, Etchison is probably best known locally for playing Ebenezer Scrooge in Lawry's restaurant A Christmas Carol during the holiday season. From 1996 to 2000, Gregory portrayed Santo at Caesars Palace's Magical Empire. (We miss that unique special attraction.) Etchison was a fine painter, having earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Maryland Institute of Fine Arts in Baltimore. Three years after the attack on the United States, the Las Vegas Art Museum commissioned Etchison to paint a 60-foot mural depicting the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. This months long effort was never promoted or used as Gregory had hoped it would be. The last time we saw it, the canvas was rolled up and "stored" in an office at the museum. Described as an American Expressionist, in 2004, the Summerlin Library Gallery held an exhibit of Etchison's wonderful works. This is a man who, in life, never received the recognition he deserved from this community. Maybe, in his memory, someone will try to remedy that situation. Gregory Etchison was 62 when he died here on August 14th. Aaron Russo was a colorful, larger than life character. Although he wasn't a true Las Vegan, in 1998, he did make a run for the state's governors office. He did not succeed, losing to Kenny Guinn. In his non-political life, Russo was involved in the entertainment field. He helped guide the careers of Led Zeppelin, The Who, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Manhattan Transfer. It was Russo's seven-year association with Bette Midler that earned him his greatest success. From the Tony Award-winning Clams On the Half Shell and the TV special Ol' Red Hair is Back, to The Rose, Aaron Russo's creative touch was instrumental. After a six-year battle with cancer, Russo died at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles on August 24th. He was 64.

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Happy August 29th birthday to producer Bill Moore. With his partner, the late George Arnold, Moore produced small ice and dance revues as well as lavish productions all around Las Vegas, from the El Cortez, Silverbird, Hacienda and Union Plaza, to the Las Vegas Hilton and Caesars Palace. The last place to have the Arnold and Moore names on a local marquee was at the Flamingo for City Lites. City Lites was at the Flamingo for 14 years. It's hard to believe, but The Boy Who Never Grew Up, Tinkerbelle, Peter Pan, or whoever he thinks he is, also had a birthday on Wednesday. Michael Jackson, the onetime self-proclaimed King of Pop, also had a birthday on Wednesday. Michael Jackson is 49 years old, folks, and yet this man/child does not think that the rules most civilized people live by should apply to him. As a result, his questionable, bizarre behavior has cost him much of his career. It has been years since Jackson has performed or had a successful album. Even though he moved here last December, it seems that even Las Vegas isn't prepared to welcome him to the community, or a showroom stage, with open arms. In his prime, Michael Joseph Jackson was probably one of the most exciting live performers ever. What a waste. What a damn shame. Also celebrating a birthday this week, today in fact, is Vera Goulet, the wife of longtime Las Vegan, Robert Goulet. Tomorrow (September 1st), future actress Cara Dace (mentioned in the above item on Gerald Gordon) officially leaves her teen years behind as she turns 20, and it's multi-talented (singer/musician/impersonator/actor) Robbie Howard's turn to blow out candles on September 6th. We say, happy birthday to one and all.

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Due to time constraints, look for something on the August Composers Showcase (held last Tuesday) in next week's column.

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