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 January 18, 2008
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - January 18, 2008

Rich Affannato Sandra Benton Marvin Hamlisch

Keith Thompson has returned to Las Vegas after being away for three months. He spent time in both New York and San Francisco getting ready for the April opening of Jersey Boys at the new Palazzo (adjacent to The Venetian). Thompson isn't wasting any time getting back into the swing of things at home. He is back in front of the orchestra of The Producers, leading the talented group of musicians. That job will end when the curtain falls on the final Las Vegas performance of The Producers, February 9th. Thompson will then move to the Palazzo and Jersey Boys, where he will serve as the show's musical director. That's not all that will keep him busy, busy, busy. Get out your pens and your calendars. This is some of what you have to look forward to over the next couple of weeks if you are in or around Las Vegas. January 29th will offer a goldmine of musical treats, thanks to Mr. Thompson. At 2 p.m., a staged reading of IDAHO! will take place in the intimate (that means very limited seating) Black Box Theater in the Alta Ham Fine Arts Building on the UNLV campus. If you missed this audaciously funny new comedy-musical when it was presented last August, hopefully, you will get a chance to see it this time around. The talented cast of singer/actors (all from The Producers, unless otherwise indicated) delivering the goods are (in politically correct alphabetical order) Rich Affannato, Melanie Allen, Jim Ambler, Sandra Benton (Menopause The Musical), Patrick Boyd, Bill Gilinsky, Chris Holly, Shari Jordan, Chris Klink, Bill Nolte, Jay Rogers (coming in from New York, just for this occasion), Elizabeth Share (Mamma Mia!), Jessica Sheridan, Rob Sutton (Mamma Mia!) and Alet Taylor (formerly Hold Me, Touch Me in The Producers). Stage manager is Joe Sheridan. The creative geniuses behind this punny and clever theater piece are Morris T. Sheffield (book, lyrics and music) and Keith Thompson (music). To secure your seat for IDAHO!, RSVP very quickly to [email protected] or call (917) 705-6899.

And speaking of The Producers (which we do frequently), multi-talented Lee Roy Reams, a scene-stealer as the flamboyant Roger DeBris, took a night off from the show to head to San Francisco where he directed a fundraiser starring Marvin Hamlisch and former America Idol competitor and recent Oscar-winner (for Dreamgirls) Jennifer Hudson on Monday night. There is much more to Mr. Reams than his in-front-of-the-curtain song and dance skills. He is also a much sought after director and choreographer. As mentioned in a previous column, after he leaves Las Vegas, he heads to Texas where he will direct Leslie Uggams in Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! As for the event in San Francisco, it was a gala black-tie event to benefit the Help Raise Healthy Children organization. Among the honored guests in attendance were former president Bill Clinton, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. As for Hamlisch, here's a bit of impressive trivia about him. The former rehearsal pianist is one of only two people in history (the other being Richard Rodgers) to have won the five major artistic achievement awards - an Emmy (for Barbra Streisand: The Concert special), Grammy (for The Way We Were), Oscar (for The Sting and The Way We Were), Tony and the Pulitzer Prize (the last two for A Chorus Line). Marvin has performed in Las Vegas numerous times over the years, including as part of UNLV's New York Stage series.

Bill Clinton Rebecca Spencer Jeff Hobson

And also on January 29th, at 10:30 p.m., the very popular, much anticipated monthly (except in busy, holiday-filled December) Composers Showcase returns to the Liberace Museum! This month will feature the music of Tom Caruso, Thom Culcasi, Wayne Green, Richard Oberacker and Keith Thompson. Some of the singers involved will be Rob Sutton (Sam in Mamma Mia!), Jessica Sheridan (from The Producers), Ryan Silverman (Raoul in Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular), Rebecca Spencer (Madame Giry from Phantom), and special guest, Jay Rogers. Jay is a Drama Desk nominee for When Pigs Fly, and the star of Thompson's original comedy revue, Kooky Tunes.

And speaking of Rebecca Spencer, this will be her last time participating in the showcase... unless she decides to come back to visit her friends and former Phantom cast-mates sometime in the future. Becky, as she calls herself, will be heading back to New York and her home and husband following her February 9th performance. If you want to hear more of her glorious voice after her departure from Las Vegas, you can do so via one of her two solo CDs, Wide Awake and Dreaming (accompanied by current Las Vegas resident, piano virtuoso Philip Fortenberry, and produced by Spencer, Fortenberry and Keith Thompson) and Fair Warning (also with Fortenberry at the piano and the uniquely-named Moonlight Tran on cello). You will read more about the newly shorn (that means he cut off his once-long hair) Mr. Fortenberry in upcoming columns.

As we have mentioned, more than once or twice, The Producers will close on February 9th following a one-year run in Las Vegas. We loved this show, and many of the talented cast members have become friends over the past 12 months. We feel if the record breaking, Tony Award-winning musical comedy had been better promoted (like with TV commercials, for example), it would have resulted in a longer stay in our city. If you haven't already seen The Producers, or if you want to see it again before it departs, show times are 8 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. Tickets start at $69. Call Paris Las Vegas at (877) 374-7469 for reservations.

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Those men from FIORE (Fun Italians Organizing Ridiculous Events), the non-club club where everyone is president (no great big egos here), will hold their 3rd Annual Valentine's Day bash on Tuesday, February 12th, beginning at 11:30 a.m. How appropriate that a group full of presidents would hold an event on Abraham Lincoln's birthday (We wonder if they thought of that when coming up with the date!?!). As has been the case in recent months, the luncheon/party will be held at Ben Ardito's Take 1 Nightclub/Restaurant in downtown Vegas (707 E. Fremont). At this point, there are only two non-meetings a year where the ladies are invited, and Valentine's Day is one of them (the other is the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/ New Year's get together). Based on the big turnout for that December holiday gathering, maybe the girls should be invited a little more often (just a thought, fellows). There will be live music, entertainment, dancing (we understand that FIORE only offers this option when the ladies are invited), a buffet lunch, raffled items and other fun things. Although the event is not open to the general public, you can earn your way in if you meet the following requirements. If you are of the male species, you need to be Italian (or not), know and like one of the presidents, play well with others, and come up with the $25 (in American bucks) to cover the cost of the food and pay those live musicians a little something for their troubles. If you are of the female species, you need to be Italian (or not), know and like one of the presidents (or not), play well with others, and come up with a president who has the $25 (in American bucks) to cover the cost of the food and pay those live musicians a little something for their troubles. Hey boys, this, and a box of Lady Godiva chocolates (or a Snickers bar) could be a cheap way of impressing your wife, girlfriend, mother, mother-in-law, secretary or all of the above. If you want to join in the Fun (as in Fun Italians Organizing Ridiculous Events), contact president Nelson Sardelli at N[email protected], or president Conrad Villella at [email protected].

Among those expected to attend the FIORE luncheon are president Artie Schroeck and his first lady, Linda November. Look for a blurb about this talented twosome in next week's Claire Voyant column.

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To our list of Worst Las Vegas Shows, a reader suggests we add Little Legends, currently playing at Krave or the Harmon Theater or whatever they are calling it these days. Our reader felt this show came off as embarrassing and exploitive. Little people sing to tracks, attempting to impersonate stars, similar to Legends in Concert and American Superstars, but on a smaller scale. The best part of Little Legends (billed as Little People, Big Show), we were told, is the comedy host - usually funnyman Jeff Hobson, but on the night our critic saw the show, it was magician Joseph Gabriel holding down the fort. The variety show features a Mini Elvis, Mini Britney Spears (Why would anyone want to be the troubled pop-tart, even for a night?), Mini Tina Turner, Mini Milli Vanilli, Mini Sonny and Tall Cher, along with two, count them, two, Mini Michael Jacksons (And why would anyone, of any size, want to be the troubled onetime King of Pop today?). If you want to see Little Legends in spite of this reader's warning, it's at the Harmon Theatre in Krave on the south side of Planet Hollywood off Harmon. (The free "valet service" at Krave is almost non-existent. Don't count on getting your vehicle into one of the very limited valet parking spaces. Instead, count on a long hike from wherever you wind up leaving your vehicle.) Show times are 7 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays. Cal 702.836-0836 for show tickets or information. We had another vote, this one for The Beauty of Magic that closed recently at Planet Hollywood's Theater of the Performing Arts after a six-month run. We haven't seen Little Legends, so we can't offer our opinion. We did see Hans Klok and Pamela Anderson in the much-ballyhooed magic show and we would have to agree, that it wasn't one of the best things we ever saw here. We would have to call the show a major disappointment, not just a bad show. With the budget they had to work with, it should have been a blockbuster with a long run. Other than some good choreography executed by some excellent dancers, there was nothing original offered. If you have ever seen Siegfried & Roy, Rick Thomas, Kevin James or any of the other top magicians who are performing in Las Vegas, or have performed here, you have already seen all of Mr. Klok's illusions. As for Pamela Anderson? She should have felt very guilty for accepting the money we hear she received, doing pretty much nothing ($4 million for the show's first three months).

Kevin James T. Fox Maxine Weldon

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A name (or two) that has appeared in this column before, turns up here once again. Freddie House, who tried to convince the public that he was the son of the legendary Billy Eckstine, by telling tall tales and legally changing his name to Freddie Eckstine, has apparently (we hope) seen the errors of his way. We are sure that a DNA test, the results which proved his story to be false, helped to convince House to cease and desist this sham. Today, he is billing himself as Frederick House and is a cast member of Hitzville the Musical. The Motown tribute revue, starring Jin-Jin Reeves, is playing in the Hilton Shimmer Cabaret on Thursday nights. We consider this a very wise move on the part of Mr. House, allowing him to move on (in the right direction) with his career. We also feel this move will bring some peace to the REAL Eckstine family.

Next week, we will be exposing yet another phony in the entertainment field. This character uses the name of T. Fox. Wait until you see what HE is trying to pull off!

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A little more info on Hats!, the new-to-Las Vegas musical, now at Harrah's. In addition to Dolly Coulter and Corrie Sachs, both mentioned in last Friday's column, cast members include, from Las Vegas, Lynn Steinhurst and Kathy Arianoff; from Los Angeles, Toni Malone, Jane Kinsey, Deb Owen and Maxine Weldon; and from Illinois, Jalayne Riewerts. After you have been through menopause and/or seen Menopause The Musical, check out Hats! It is what follows the major change in a woman's (and her family's) life. If you haven't experienced it first-hand, Hats! shows what happens to women after, or around the time they reach the age of 50.

If the name Maxine Weldon sounds familiar, it's because she has a long history in show business. Described as "One of those endlessly versatile vocalists who eventually earn the tag "song stylist," Maxine Weldon is equally at home singing soul, jazz, or blues, and often blurs the lines between all of them." Weldon cut her first LPs, Right On and Chilly Wind, for Mainstream over 1970-1971; despite an overall soul flavor, she received significant support from members of the Jazz Crusaders, among others. Weldon next turned up on the Monument label with 1974's Some Singin', a Southern-style country-soul outing that nonetheless bore the hallmark of Weldon's innate sophistication. It became her biggest seller, climbing into the Top 50 on the R&B album charts. She followed it in 1975 with Alone on My Own, but concentrated much less on recording in the years to come. Weldon remained active, though, performing regularly over the next several decades. She was a cast member, along with Linda Hopkins and Ruth Brown, of the Broadway show Black and Blue, touring with the European production from 1995-1997. She subsequently put together a homage to Ray Charles revue called Wild Women Blues, where she once again worked with Linda Hopkins, as well as with Mortonette Jenkins.

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Charles Aznavour Sierra Boggess

From reader Vince Falcone comes this e-mail...The proud father wants everyone to know that his son, Danny Falcone, is the lead trumpet player with Las Vegas' own Fat City Horns. As mentioned in last week's column, the local favorites will be playing with Bette Midler when she opens her Caesars Palace show on February 20th. For those that don't read Claire Voyant on a regular basis, you may not know much about the senior Mr. Falcone. The New York-native has been a Las Vegan since 1970. He served as house pianist at Caesars Palace until 1976, when Frank Sinatra hired him away from the Palace to become The Chairman of the Board‘s musical director and pianist. The relationship between Sinatra and Falcone lasted until 1986. As if that wasn‘t impressive enough, Vinnie has also worked with everyone from A to Z - with Paul Anka, Charles Aznavour, Tony Bennett, Diahann Carroll, Connie Francis, Robert Goulet, Jack Jones, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, the McGuire Sisters, Frankie Randall, Andy Williams and Pia Zadora among them. Based on the gene pool, it isn't too surprising that son Danny is so successful. Vincent Falcone is also the author of a 2002 book called Frankly - Just Between Us, chronicling his career through the years. It should make for good reading.

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If the interest in last Sunday's debut of the new cabaret series at the Liberace Museum is an indication of the months to come, we say Second Sundays will be a big hit. The Wes Winters Showroom, with birthday boy Bruce Ewing launching the series, was Standing Room Only for both the 1:30 and 3 p.m. shows at the January 13th launch. Ewing, as we have mentioned before, is a former Forever Plaid cast member and is currently playing (Monsieur Reyer/ Jeweler) in Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular. There is no set charge for the shows, but donations to the Liberace Foundation are graciously accepted. For Ewing's concert, half of the raised monies will go to Family Promise, a favorite charity of Bruce's. Family Promise gets homeless families off the streets, providing living quarters and help in getting back into society, while the Liberace Foundation provides scholarships for performing and visual artists - both very worthy causes. Thanks to the generosity of the show goers, a very impressive $2496 was raised.

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From Vegas to Broadway...That's the route that Sierra Boggess took to become the star of the Great White Way's newly opened musical, The Little Mermaid. Prior winning the role of Ariel in the Disney-inspired Mermaid, Sierra understudied Cosette in the National Touring Company of Les Miserables. The Denver, Colorado-native got her big break in June of 2006, when she won the part of Christine Daaé in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular. Boggess also has played Maria in West Side Story, Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, Polly in The Boyfriend and the lead role in Sweet Charity. Look for Sierra Boggess at the next Tony Awards.

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Happy birthday to fellow Aquarians (January 21 to February 19) Wyntergrace Williams (13-year-old daughter of Las Vegas-native Grace Moehrle (Bambi Jr.) and Montel Williams), Neil Diamond, Jim Seagrave, Terry Jenkins, Walter Mason, Doug Saleeby, Elliot Krane, Ray Jarvis, Nino Frediani, Arian Black, Ashleigh Hackett (2-year-old daughter of Lisa Dawn Miller and Sandy Hackett), Jim Semmelman, Ron Andrews, Nancy Lee Parker Andrews, Joe Krathwohl, Cindy Raft, Martin Nievera, Natalie Cole, Bobby Dickerson, Maurice Hines Sr., Eddie Foy III, Joey Zarzecki, Dacoda Collins (10-year-old son of Will Collins), Norm Johnson (who celebrates on Valentine's Day), Sean Grady and twins Anthony and Eddie Edwards.

Ashleigh Hackett Jim Seagrave Norm Johnson

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Thanks to requests by previous attendees of the show, Let's Dance! returns to the Starbright Theatre in Sun City Summerlin on Sunday, January 27th. Led by Michael Kessler and Melinda Jackson, the 14 cast members of the M&M American Dance Theatre will perform a show at 2 p.m. Tickets for this popular presentation are $25. For additional information, including directions to the theater, call (702) 363-1341, (702) 966-1410, or (702) 240-1301.

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And you thought we were through writing about the remnants of The CAST Inc., or whatever they are calling it these days. As long as there are things to report, we will continue to do so. Communist-type tactics reign supreme in this once valid and legitimate organization, formed in 2002 by a group of caring entertainers. The original idea was to help aging and/or needy entertainers who had fallen on hard times or could use a temporary hand due to illness or circumstances beyond their control. Last Saturday, a General Membership meeting was held at Josette's (the owner of the restaurant happens to be a very, very close friend of the CAST president). If you are a Las Vegan who reads the Neon section of the Review-Journal newspaper on Fridays, you may have seen the display ad touting this upcoming gathering (and we thought those monies were to help entertainers in need). What was thought by the interested few to be a donated lunch was, in fact, being paid for out of the CAST treasury (and we thought those monies were to help entertainers in need). Here is something to ponder when thinking that we may be too hard on the current president. If the "bargain price" paid for ad in the R-J had resulted in a great big turnout for Saturday's get-together, how much was the CAST prepared to spend on the lunches? It seems that today, money is no object when it comes to outgo. With all of the unnecessary expenses incurred by the group, how will there ever be anything left to help those in need? This last so-called meeting has only done more to convince us that this is self-promotion by a self-indulgent wannabe who is really a never was and never will be. What went on at this meeting to improve the image of the floundering organization? Well, there was a "vote" to decide whether to keep the tarnished name of the CAST (just changing the name won't help to clean up this mess). The three choices that were presented to the paid up members were (1) keep the name of the CAST, or (2) Show Business Society or (3) Show Biz Society. When some of the people stated that they didn't like any of the choices and could other possibilities be up for a vote, they were told by their esteemed leader/dictator that these were the only three choices they had. It was also made very clear, which name Mr. President preferred. We strongly suspect the name will be changed to the one he obviously wanted. One of the current board members, Society of Seven's Tony Ruivivar, as well as a longtime ally of the president, entertainer Lawrence T., seemed a bit disenchanted at the meeting. Mr. T. even used the word "intimidated" in describing his feelings. We wonder just how long it will take these two (as well as the few others who still have interest in the (dis)organization to get the picture and abandon the captain and his sinking ship. It was also announced that there would be elections to create a new board of directors. When someone in the group asked when those elections would take place, the president had no answer. This is democracy in action, folks. Wouldn't you want to be a member of this compatible and friendly bunch? Then there are, of course, money issues. If, as indicated by the group president at the Saturday meeting, the membership has grown from 13 to 40 (way down from the number of active and paid members of a few years ago) since he became head of the group, where is the approximately $4000 dollars in membership fees? To read the presidents bio in the General Membership Meeting handouts, you would think you were listening to an opera singer (Me, Me, Me, Me), or a Mariachi group (I, I, I, I). Will this guy ever stop patting himself on the back? He told the people in attendance at this gathering, that there would be no more small luncheons (at one point, those small luncheons were occurring and raising some money for the treasury on a monthly basis). Instead, the plan is to have BIG events to raise BIG money. Oh really? We have to wonder, how much will be taken out of the treasury to implement this idea? Maybe no one has mentioned to the board that when you spend more than you make in the name of charity, it ain't charity!

By the way, if the minimally talented CAST president (Where is Simon Cowell when you need him?) can't BE a star, he wants to BUY one. Of course he doesn't want to spend his own money, so he is hoping his many friends and fans will cough up the $15,000 so his name can be permanently embedded in concrete somewhere in Las Vegas. He has even sent out letters seeking donations. If this was a charitable man, he would be soliciting funds for the "philanthropic" group instead of for some other "honor" to add to his resume. Since Happy Harry, the late restaurant owner, never felt this blowhard important enough to name a salad or sandwich in his honor, perhaps a paid for star will guarantee his longevity in the Entertainment Capital of the World. And the saga continues...

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