Claire Voyant's Las Vegas Gossip Column



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Claire Voyant  

Note: This is a past column from April 25, 2008
You can find the current column HERE


Las Vegas - April 25, 2008


NORM-a-THON Curtain Call

It could be an episode of Mission Impossible. Here is the plot. There is an 86-year-old Las Vegas pioneer who is going through a health crisis. Much of his insurance coverage has been exhausted, yet he needs months more of physical therapy and professional care. What to do to help...quickly? It made it a little easier that the ailing gentleman has been a member of the entertainment community since the 1950s. Entertainers almost always come to the aid of one of their own. With so little time to plan everything, and the earliest date we could get a showroom falling on the Jewish holiday of Passover, what were the chances this would work? Could a group of, mostly novice, people pull this off? Thus, in only three weeks, a variety show, performed in an 850-seat theater at a well-known locals hotel/casino, culminated on Sunday, April 20th, when the Enormous NORM-a-THON, honoring Norman Kaye, took place in the theater at The Orleans.


Mary Kaye Trio

Norman Kaye at NORM-a-THON

Nelson Sardelli

Norman Kaye photo by Kid Cary

Mary Kaye Trio photo by Maurice Seymour

There are so many people who deserve credit for creating what turned out to be a very successful event. We are going to take the time and space to acknowledge them (deal with it).

The NORM-a-THOM committee members (in alphabetical order, or disorder)...Robert Allen, Peter Anthony, Ben Ardito (owner of Take 1 Nightclub, who generously made his place available for the planning meetings), Jeanne Brei, Paul Campanella, Robert S. Ensler, Linda Glynn, Andrea Gross, Norm Johnson, Don Lance, Rolando Larraz, Jim Marsh, Nik Mastrangelo, Lee Michaels, Nelson Sardelli, Lou Toomin and Rick Vittallo (Good guy Lou Toomin covered the costs of all the printed fliers, posters and programs, as well as treated the committee members to lunch the Monday after the show. Look for his name on an upcoming ballot.) Boyd Gaming Corporation/The Orleans crew...Terry Jenkins, Mary Marshall, Candi Cazau, Stacey Medall, Amanda Anderson, Anthony Orseno and the backstage workers, both the Boyd employees and the volunteers...Gary Alan, Ada Brei, Paul Campanella, Natalie Fleming and Pietra Sardelli among them. An extra tip of the hat to Shannon O‘Day who handled the lighting for the show. Atmosphere people, who kept the folks waiting in the long lines amused and entertained... Robert Allen and Adam Flowers doing close-up magic, look-alikes Linda Angeline as Marilyn Monroe, Frank Grata as Rodney Dangerfield, and Roy Hammock as Willie Nelson, providing plenty of photo ops, and Felix Silla (Cousin Itt in TV‘s The Addams Family) handing out programs and visiting with the crowd. Entertainers (in approximate order of appearance)...Nelson Sardelli (host/MC), Paul Campanella (Let the Good Times Roll), comic Pete Barbutti, Michaelina Bellamy (It's Almost Like Being In Love), The Mentalist - Gerry McCambridge, Roy Hammock as Willie Nelson (Whiskey River/To All the Girls I've Loved Before/Crazy/You Were Always On My Mind), Artie Schroeck and Linda November (We Love a Piano), Nik Mastrangelo (That Old Black Magic), Chef Chas La Forte (You Don't Know Me), Jimmy Hopper (The Prayer), Bill Nolte (On the Road Again/I've Been Everywhere with special added lyrics by Mark Waldrop), Sammy Shore, Genevieve (One Moment In Time), Earl Turner (Treat Her Like a Lady), Kathleen Dunbar, Dennis Bono and Lorraine Hunt-Bono (Goody Goody, Our Love Is Here To Stay), comic/impressionist Bill Acosta, Rich Little, The Las Vegas Tenors (You Raise Me Up, Nessun Dorma), Linda Angeline as Marilyn Monroe (My Heart Belongs To Daddy), Charlie Callas, Ronnie Rose (That's Life), Steve Rossi, Loretta St. John (This Will Be My Shining Hour, S'Wonderful), Jerry Lopez with Santa Fe and The Fat City Horns (Ain't That Peculiar), and Clint Holmes (I Sing, written by Holmes and his musical director Bill Fayne). What was most impressive and somewhat surprising...a three-plus hour show, without an intermission, and very few people left before the very end. And a big round of applause to the 22 talented musicians. With no rehearsals, these pros, combined or individually, were able to make the singers sound like they had all been performing together for years. The "core group" was made up of The Gary Olds Trio - with musical director Gary Olds (he's the one wearing the Clear Com headset) on drums, Danny DeMorales ( Dionne Warwick) on bass, and Jeff Johnson (Sheena Easton) on piano and synthesizer - plus four, Vincent Falcone (Frank Sinatra, Diahann Carroll, Vic Damone) and Tommy Deering (Joe Williams, Pearl Bailey, Bobbie Gentry) sharing piano duties, Dr. George Ritter and Don Hill (Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and 55 years with The Treniers) on saxophone, and Artie Schroeck (Frankie Valli, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Liza Minnelli, Laura Nyro, Kenny Rankin) on vibes. As if this list of players weren't impressive enough, there was Jerry Lopez, Santa Fe and The Fat City Horns, (currently backing Bette Midler in her production at Caesars Palace). The 14-piece band is made up of Lopez on guitar and vocals; Michael Grimm, Tony Davich and Abe LaMarca, all on vocals; Bill Zappia, keyboards; Rochon Westmoreland, bass; Pepe Jimenez, drums; Gabriel Falcon, percussion; Danny Falcone (son of Vincent Falcone), trumpet; Glenn Colby, trumpet; Nathan Tanouye, trombone; Eric Tewalt, baritone sax; Miguel Rodriguez, alto sax, and Rob Mader, tenor sax. Almost unheard of today, when it comes to fundraisers, every cent that was raised through ticket sales (a total of 673), collected in jars and/or received in mailed in donations, was turned over to the Kayes for Norman's care. Bottled water, paper clips and rubber bands, long distance phone calls...NOTHING was taken out of the proceeds as "expenses" to put this "labor of love" together. There were no fancy, ego-driven paid-for newspaper ads. Instead, the group counted on the local media to use their voices and ink to help promote the NORM-a-THON. People, including Jerry Fink (Las Vegas Sun), Norm Johnson (Las Vegas Leisure Guide), Rolando Larraz (Las Vegas Tribune), Duke Morgan (KJUL 104.7 radio), John L. Smith (Las Vegas Review-Journal and KVBC Channel 3), and Mike Weatherford (Review-Journal), all came through for the cause. No money was taken out of the donations to pay musicians or anyone else. A group of approximately 22 musicians stepped up to the plate to do their part in making the afternoon a big success. Robert Allen and Adam Flowers, snappily dressed in pinstripe suits and fedora hats, who, not only entertained people waiting in line for the showroom doors to open (the line was so long that the doors were opened almost a half-hour earlier than scheduled), they also escorted the acts onto the stage and "encouraged them" (is "strong-armed" too harsh of a word?) to drop some money into the jugs provided for such purposes. It might be noted that it was all "folding money" and not a "clink" was heard. The NORM-a-THON might be called a "pay to play" benefit. To top off an already wonderful afternoon, there were a couple of proclamations presented to Norman. From Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, came the news that April 20th, 2008, was declared Norman Kaye Day in Las Vegas. And from the Office of the First Lady State of Nevada, a Certificate of Special Recognition was presented to Norman Kaye by Robert S. Ensler (who did his Donald Trump impression earlier in the afternoon), "In honor of Norman's lifetime achievements in many fields including: entertainer, humanitarian, philanthropist, educator and entrepreneur, and as Poet Laureate (now Emeritus) of the State of Nevada since 1967." The certificate is signed Dawn Gibbons, First Lady of Nevada. A big plus was that Norman Kaye was present to see this outpouring of kindness for himself. Although he looked quite frail sitting in his wheelchair in the front row, Norman was smiling throughout the afternoon. Against all odds, what might have been a bust, turned out to be possibly the best benefit of this kind in decades...maybe EVER! Mission Impossible? Thanks to those acknowledged above, and anyone we may have inadvertently omitted...Mission Accomplished! Almost 700 people attended (including Paul and Sue Lowden), and more than $20,000 was raised. This is the kind of caring community that Las Vegas can be. This is the kind of caring community that Las Vegas SHOULD be. This is the kind of caring community that Las Vegas WAS in The Orleans Showroom, from noon to 3:15 p.m. on Sunday, April 20th, 2008.

And speaking of Gary Olds, he is currently playing at the South Point with John Jones and "Lucky" Lee Hendler in the Piano Rockits Show. Featuring dueling pianos plus Gary on drums, the trio performs in the Del Mar Lounge, Thursdays through Saturdays, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.


Gary Olds

Babe Pier

Neil Diamond

A special thank you to Ronnie Rose who sold copies of his Ronnie Rose Sings Unforgettable Hits and donated the $400 collected to Norman. Mr. Rose informs Cousin Claire that tonight (April 25th), from 7 to 11 p.m., the Slick Willie Orchestra (with Rose in front), will be performing at the Louis Fish Camp Restaurant in the new Town Square Mall, 6599 Las Vegas Blvd. South (The restaurant is located on the second floor, behind the Rave Movie Theater.)

One of this city's talented entertainers was noticeably missing from the Sunday afternoon show. Comic/impressionist Babe Pier, who is always more than happy to help out a fellow performer like Norman Kaye, is working in the Palm Springs Follies and could not be here to participate. Babe has spent the past six months, since October 30th, as part of the Follies' current Tin Pan Alley production. Headliners for the Follies 17th season were Kaye Ballard, The Four Aces and Melba Moore. Anna Maria Alberghetti is the show's current star and, with Babe, will close out the season on May 17th. A few weeks ago, while an audience member at the famed McCallum Theater, Pier was invited on stage to join the cast of That's Italian! - Pete Barbutti, Dick Contino, Julius LaRosa and Frankie Randall. As usual, he had the crowd in stitches. Babe Pier celebrated his natal day, yesterday (April 24th). Happy birthday!

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Neil Diamond fans, listen up. From Mr. Diamond's fan club (check www.neildiamond.com) comes this news. On Tuesday, April 29th, Mr. Song Sung Blue will be mentoring the five American Idol finalists. The next night, he will perform on the top-rated reality show. (You can check your local FOX affiliate for times in your area.) Also, on Tuesday, Neil will be playing on the Jimmy Kimmel Show in Los Angeles. It will be an outdoor, five-song free "mini-concert," and up to 400 fans can attend (it will be first come-first serve). Check your local listings for times. Normally the concert would air the same day, but that has not yet been determined. Neil's portion of the show might be broadcast at a later date. Next Friday morning, Jay White's favorite entertainer will be on NBC's Today as part of the show's Toyota Concert Series. Neil will be performing on the Plaza in New York City. All of this is leading up to the release of his new album, Home Before Dark, and the launch of his upcoming United States and Canada tour. The legendary 67-year-old singer, songwriter and performer will return to the concert stages on July 19th. St. Paul, MN will be the beginning of a 37-city North American tour. No word yet on if Las Vegas will be one of those 37 cities.
Thanks to Jean Scigliano, Iris Gerhardt and Eydie Ruth, administrators of www.iaisnd.com (if you didn't already figure it out, the letters stand for I Am I Said Neil Diamond) for this information.

As we have mentioned before, Neil's longtime percussion player, King Errisson, makes his home in Las Vegas. When he is not working with Mr. Diamond, he can frequently be seen sitting in with Neil's favorite tribute artist, Jay White, who performs in the Le Bistro Theater at the Riviera Hotel in The Entertainment Capital of the World.

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And, if you are a Bobby Darin fan, next weekend, at the Alexis Park Resort in Las Vegas, there will be three days of Darin-related activities taking place, including a Friday night (starting at 7:30 p.m.) auction of Bobby Darin memorabilia. The auction will be hosted by The Darin Lifetime Group. Some of the donated items will be coming from Dodd Darin, the son of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee. We will have more details about the weekend in next Friday‘s column. For more information, please visit www.DarinLifetimeEvents.org.

* * * * * *


Christa Helm

Sal Mineo

Gale Baker

Milwaukee reader/friend Darlene Thoresen sends this information...

"Mark your calendars and watch me on CBS TV's 48 Hours Mystery, Saturday, April 26th. This is a show about my friend Sandy from Milwaukee who was murdered in Los Angeles 30 years ago. Sandy moved to New York and then to L.A., and changed her name to Christa Helm. She was thought to have kept a "love diary" with names of people that she was involved with (including many well-known personalities such as Joe Namath, Desi Arnaz Jr., Johnny Rivers, Roman Polanski, the Shah of Iran, Mexico's president and others). It was thought that perhaps she had been murdered (brutally stabbed to death) because of her involvement with these individuals or perhaps mafia ties. It was also thought that her murder had something to do with actor Sal Mineo's death because they happened at basically the same place and time, but I believe that has since been ruled out. I could go on and on about this. If you want more info, there is a Web site about her if you care to read it and learn the whole story. It makes for a VERY interesting story, I might add!" By the way, Darlene is the sister of the late Jerry Grasse. Jerry was one of Cousin Claire's first Las Vegas show business friends. She met him in 1977, when he was a principal performer in Donn Arden's Hallelujah Hollywood at the MGM Grand (now Bally's). He was a very talented singer, dancer, impressionist and more. He was also very funny. (You can learn more about Jerry in Neon Queens - Fifty Years of Las Vegas' Finest Feathered Femmes, written by former Las Vegan, and Jerry's close friend and Hallelujah Hollywood cast mate, Gale Baker.) Jerry moved away from Vegas at the end of his Hallelujah Hollywood contract. He left this world much too soon, dying in 1992 at the age of 49. As show business was his life and love, Jerry had planned and staged his own funeral when he knew he was not long for this world. Darlene tells us, "We (her family) were in Puerto Vallarta for my niece's wedding last month. Jerry was her godfather and she loved him so! I took a video tape from my 1983 wedding where Jerry sand They Were You, from the Fantasticks. I had it edited and copied to a CD which was played at my niece's wedding. It was SO beautiful. You would have sworn Jerry was there!! It was awesome!!! I told my niece - Uncle Jerry singing at your wedding = PRICELESS! She also had a lit candle with flowers around it with Jerry's name in a pool of water. Wow! It was truly beautiful!" We are sure it was, Darlene. Jerry, ever the performer, must have been smiling down from his little star-covered cloud.

And speaking of Gale Baker, who, in addition to being a Hallelujah Hollywood performer, was also a member of the Frankie Carr and The Novelites music/comedy revue. After leaving Vegas, Gale headed for Hollywood. She spent a number of years there and, in 2004, Gale moved to Chesterfield, South Carolina. She became a journalist for the Cheraw Chronicle and Chesterfield Advertiser in Cheraw, where she won two South Carolina Press Association (SCPA) awards and Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year in 2005. She is still doing musical theater and writing music and plays. An international recording artist and performer, Gale's first album, Way out with Gale, spent 13 weeks on the FM pick hit list. From Nashville, she grew up immersed in country music but defected to tour internationally as a solo jazz artist with some of the genres top artists, before hitting Las Vegas showrooms as opening act for such names as Rodney Dangerfield and Don Rickles. Then Hollywood called. Film and television roles in Space, Favorite Son, The Millionaire, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, General Hospital, Fast Forward, True Confessions, The Tortellis and others, a film and theater writing career emerged. Gale has created numerous plays, films and television shows, including Waterin' Hole, Punching Judy, Showboy, Pin Curls, DooWop Daze and Showgirl Showdown among others. Gale is currently a staff writer for the Now at SC 4th Circuit Solicitor's Office, a member of the Chesterfield Arts Commission and is teaching musical theater and acting. She also presents arts training for at risk juveniles. For more information, check www.solicitor4.com.

* * * * * *

If you are a fan of theater music, and you weren't at last Friday night's Too Darn Hot! The Golden Age of Broadway, too bad for you. You missed out on one of the best events of this type that we have been to in three decades. If there were any empty seats in the 1922-seat Cashman Theater, they were few and far between. Cousin Claire knew we were in for a real treat a few notes into the familiar overture from Gypsy, played by the outstanding 27-piece orchestra. There wasn't a weak moment in the program. Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular's handsome Brent Barrett (who, with Wendy Randall, also served as producer), his cast mate Tina Walsh, and Spamalot's Reva Rice, were all topnotch. Enhanced by the Red Mountain Choir, with Jeffrey Skouson as Artistic Director and his brother David Skouson as Musical Director, the production also featured Brandon Albright and Steve Huntsman in supporting singing roles. Bernie Blanks directed and choreographed Too Darn Hot! An actor/singer/dancer himself, Bernie was a principal in the German production of Starlight Express. Proceeds from the Too Darn Hot! ticket sales go to the Red Mountain Music Company in Boulder City. This is the largest, most successful fundraiser for the 10-year-old organization. No surprise to us. Among those spotted in the Friday night audience were Mike and Joan Weatherford and daughter Jillian, John Katsilometes, Kelly Albright, Nancy Lee Parker Andrews, Tulara Gilbert, Ray Jarvis, Jerry Ritholz, Darin Hollingsworth, Fernando Quevedo, Michael Caprio, Randy Slovacek and Jeanne Brei.

And speaking of Phantom, on Tuesday, American Idol contestants sang the music of the Tony-winning composer, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, who, as most people know, wrote the music for Phantom, as well as Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita, Starlight Express and Jesus Christ Superstar. The, then, six Idol competitors spent some time in Las Vegas where they took to the stage of The Venetian's beautiful opera house/theater where Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular is currently playing. Lloyd Webber guided the contestants through their song choices and rehearsals. On Wednesday‘s results show, the audience was shocked to learn that Carly Smithson, who sang Superstar the night before, was out of the finals. Next week, as mentioned above, the five remaining singers will perform Neil Diamond songs.



Bernie Blanks

Van Morrison

Billy Stritch
* * * * * *

This romantic little tale would have been perfect for our Valentine's week column. At the time, we didn't know the story. The lady was only 17 when she became a showgirl in a Strip production. A lover of animals and singer Van Morrison, 17 years ago, she married a well-known Las Vegas professional who shared her passion for cats and Morrison. In spite of the fact her bridegroom was 17 years older, the couple had a loving, fulfilling marriage. Sadly, he died of cancer almost two years ago, leaving a grieving 45-year-young widow with just her memories. Health issues have somewhat limited her activities but, in December, when she learned Van Morrison would be performing in San Francisco, she decided to make the trip. As fate would have it, at the concert she met a San Francisco businessman who, obviously, is also a Van Fan. Over the past four months, the friendship has blossomed into love. It's a long-distance romance, with him making frequent trips to Vegas and she racking up frequent flyer miles between here and the City By the Bay. Everyone is smiling. We wish the happy couple a long and lovely Moondance into the future.

* * * * * *

Happy anniversary to the Composers Showcase! The monthly "reality show" celebrated two years of life and the end of its first year in the Wes Winters Showroom at the Liberace Museum. The showcase was the brainchild of Keith Thompson and Michael Brennan, and was launched in April of 2006. It took its baby steps at Suede, a local nightclub located in the "Fruit Loop" on Paradise Road between Harmon and Tropicana. It didn't take long for word to get around, and by the end of its first year, the music writers and performers (most associated with major Strip productions such as Mamma Mia!, Spamalot, Ka, Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular, The Producers, Jersey Boys and others) had outgrown the small club space and the even smaller parking lot. The April edition of the Composers Showcase took place on Wednesday night, beginning at 10:30 (after theater). Songs written by local composers and songwriters, Jason Andino, Michael Brennan, Thom Culcasi, Jean Francois Cyr, Wayne Green, Kristi Holden, David Milnes, Richard Oberacker, Rob Taylor and Keith Thompson were presented. Vocalists included Natalie Gauvin, Elena Gutierrez, Ben Hale, Greg Kata, Nicole Pryor, Lisa Richard, Joan Soble, Vicki Van Tassel, Danielle White and Renatta Wilson. The amazingly talented Kasey Carmody on guitar, Philip Fortenberry on piano, Rebecca Ramsey on violin, and cellist Moonlight Tran also performed. We spotted some new-to-the-showcase faces in the audience on Wednesday, among them Ray Jarvis, Mark O'Toole and New York-transplant, Phillip Officer.

* * * * * *

A reminder...Tomorrow night, it's Tony Award-winner Christine Ebersole (42nd Street and Grey Gardens) at UNLV as part of their New York Stage & Beyond series. Although it hasn't been announced, there is a good possibility that Ms. Ebersole will be accompanied by Billy Stritch at the piano. Stritch has produced, arranged for and performed onstage with world-renowned icons including Liza Minnelli, Christine Ebersole, Marilyn Maye and Charles Aznavour, and was a guest conductor for The Rosie O'Donnell Show. As a composer, Stritch co-penned the 1994 Grammy Award-winning song, Does He Love You?, recorded by Reba McEntire and Linda Davis, which has sold more than four million copies and was named one of the Top Ten Country Songs of that year. In Manhattan, Billy has headlined at Rainbow and Stars, The Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, The Russian Tea Room, The Blue Note and Birdland, as well as performed at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. In 2001, he landed the role of piano-playing crooner "Oscar" in the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of 42nd Street, opposite Ebersole which led to a long-standing and hugely celebrated professional partnership, across dozens of stages and television shows. Stritch is also the winner of the Nashville Music City News Award, a BMI Song of the Year Award and four awards from the Manhattan Association of Clubs and Cabarets. Recently, Billy has been touring in a show called Billy Stritch Sings Mel Torme. On a Las Vegas note (a B flat, perhaps?), Billy Stritch appeared in the lounge at the Desert Inn (now Wynn Las Vegas), and appeared with Liza You-Know-Who in a Golden Rainbow Ribbon of Life show a number of years ago. If Billy DOESN'T show up for this engagement, you now know a bit about him for when he does make an appearance. Tickets for Christine Ebersole, with or without Billy Stritch, range from $40 to $85. Show starts at 8 p.m. Call (702) 895-2787 for reservations. See you there.



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