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 16, 2009
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - January 16, 2009

Tropicana's Folies Bergere

"Oscar Mayor"

Bob Mackie

It's like imploding another legendary hotel. The Tropicana Hotel's classic revue, Les Folies Bergere, will end its nearly half-century run on March 28th. The 80-member cast and crew were notified of the major entertainment change on Wednesday, with the news being made public yesterday. The famed production will continue its regular performance schedule for the remainder of the engagement. An import direct from Paris, the Folies Bergere opened in Las Vegas on December 24th, 1959, under, then, Entertainment Director, Lou Walters, former owner of New York's Latin Quarter nightclub, and father of TV host/news correspondent Barbara Walters. The show has entertained audiences from around the world through almost a half century. "Folies Bergere enjoyed an amazing and unprecedented run on the Las Vegas Strip," said Ron Thacker, Tropicana Las Vegas President. "We are extremely proud to have been part of such an iconic Las Vegas production and offer a sincere thank you to the cast, crew and support staff for their many years of excellence." The property is currently in discussion with prominent producers and will announce its plans for the 850-seat Tiffany Theater within the next few weeks. The closing of the Folies means that Bally's Jubilee! is the sole survivor of the lavish production shows of old Vegas. Tickets for the Folies Bergere begin as low as $35, plus tax and surcharge, and are available at the Tropicana Box Office or by calling (702) 739-2411. See it while you can.

We have also learned that Polly Esther's Nightclub, which opened at the Stratosphere in early 2007, has closed up shop. The first Polly Esther's opened in New York City in 1991 and has since expanded to San Francisco, Boca Raton, Princeton, Chicago, Washington D.C., Denver, Philadelphia, Miami's South Beach, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, San Jose, Portland, Seattle and Montreal. And both The Scintas and Menopause the Musical will be gone from the Hilton by early April. The Scintas - a musical comedy/variety act featuring siblings Frankie, Joe and Chrissi Scinta, and "adopted family member," Peter O'Donnell - will be the first to depart the property, on March 14th. After relocating to Las Vegas, the East Coast imports opened in the NiteClub at the Hilton, moving to the main showroom at the Rio in 2001. After five years at the Rio, the Scintas moved into the Sahara showroom for a one year run, from May of 2006 to May of 2007. In September, 2007, the entertainers returned to the Hilton with their new Laugh Out Loud show. There has been some talk about a Scinta reality TV show, but no information about a new performance space for them in Las Vegas. Menopause is a musical revue about four women who connect at a lingerie sale in Bloomingdale's. The ladies share some things in common - memory loss, hot flashes, night sweats, hormones, and not enough sex, among them. The fun show uses parodies and pop songs of the 1960s and '70s to celebrate life after 40. In recent months, the version at the Hilton (opened in March of 2004), has been disappearing a piece at a time. The double cast was cut some months ago, live musicians were replaced with prerecorded tracks, and the number of weekly performances has dwindled down to a precious few. The ending of shows like these seems like a damned if you do, damned if you don't issue. If this is a money saving effort on the part of the hotel, what about the customer who is looking for good, affordable entertainment without the word Cirque in its title? What will take the place of these two revues? No one is saying at this time. The current economy (or lack of it) has everyone quite nervous these days. Is the answer to give the consumer less? Fewer choices? When Planet Hollywood's Robert Earl was questioned about the decision to open a new production (Jerry Mitchell's PEEPSHOW) during these challenging times, he stated (maybe not in exactly these words), that if Vegas doesn't offer people new reasons to come here and interesting things to do, they will stay home. No one wants that, do they?

* * * * * *

He calls himself the "Happiest Mayor On Earth." Why wouldn't he be? Las Vegas mayor, Oscar B. Goodman, heads up a city that always has a party going on someplace within its boundaries. Often our Oscar is in attendance at those parties, many times with a glass of Bombay gin in his hand (maybe that B. between our esteemed leader's first and last name stands for Bombay). The onetime mob defense attorney (Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal and Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, both deceased, were former clients of Oscar's) is, or was, actually a spokesperson for Bombay Sapphire. We know Oscar likes show business and theatrics. We have seen the Oscar bobble-heads and we know he has earned acting credits in some films. We find that somewhat amusing. Yet, we have questioned some of his decisions - like giving unearned "titles" to people who don't deserve and haven't earned them, and not making some arrangements to bring the documentary, Lost Vegas: The Lounge Era, to the city for the masses to see. The late Tim Onosko, and his wife Beth Abrohams' film, shown once during CineVeags 2005, would have been a natural for downtown's Neonopolis movie theater (now closed), but letters to Mayor Goodman about this subject went unanswered. Goodman is now on a crusade of sorts to get a Mob Museum into the community. Just what we need (NOT!). This project is estimated to cost $50 million. Yes, we said $50 MILLION. The plan is to use federal grants and/or taxpayers money to fund this museum while, at the same time, county school teachers are expected to take a six percent cut in their salaries. To us, this seems ludicrous! We don't want to change the Happiest Mayor on Earth into Oscar the Grouch by saying that we hate the idea of devoting a building to the mob, especially when the funds could be put to much better use...but we hate the idea. For those interested in the mob's Vegas history, we recommend Robert Allen's Vegas Mob Tour, a two and a half hour bus ride that shows and reveals the sordid history of our city. Instead of a building paying homage to the bad guys, even if they were instrumental in developing Vegas, why not a museum honoring the positive side of what really made us unique and glamorous - the entertainers and entertainment? Since the Casino Legends Hall of Fame disappeared from the Tropicana, other than an occasional exhibit at UNLV, there is no place in the city or county that honors the real legends. As we have mentioned more than once, we consider, for the most part, those "tributes" on the sidewalks along the Strip to be nothing more than a very expensive (now $20,000 a square) embarrassing joke. Even for the people who deserve the recognition, their names on a sidewalk hardly tells, or shows, the story. Let's bring back the costumes and/or drawings by the likes of Jose Luis Vinas, Pete Menefee, Bob Mackie, and Michael Darrin among others. How about a section to honor the pioneer entertainment writers and P.R. folks, the ones who really got the word about this place in the desert - Joe Delaney, Forrest Duke, Pete Mikla, Ralph Pearl, Sig Sakowicz, Jim Seagrave, Mark Tan and Bill Willard, to name some? Frankie Laine, who, although he headlined in Vegas in every decade from the 1940s to the year 2000, has never been given the credit he earned and deserved for his Vegas contributions during his lifetime. Let's do it now. How about Johnny Carson, Abbe Lane, The Treniers, Andy Williams (the first headliner at Caesars Palace in 1966), The Mary Kaye Trio, Dean Martin, Bob Newhart, Freddie Bell, Don Rickles, Wayne Newton, Robert Goulet, Totie Fields, Anthony Newley, Louis Prima & Keely Smith, Juliet Prowse, Shecky Greene, Sammy Davis Jr., Lola Falana, Liberace (yes, we know he already has his own museum), Buddy Hackett, Siegfried and Roy, Frank Sinatra, Ann-Margret, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme and many, many others? How about Elvis??? These people brought pleasure and joy to this city over many decades. They deserve a museum and should be honored and remembered with a museum, rather than the hoods, and their weapons, and bullet-riddled and blood-stained pin-striped suits and automobiles. We would like your opinions...even if you disagree with our thinking.

Jim Seagrave

Frankie Laine (1949)

George Jones

* * * * * *

On last Monday night's show, the new television series, Masters of Illusion, produced by Gay Blackstone, the widow of Harry Balckstone Jr., featured a number of Las Vegas regulars, Jason Byrne, Dan Sperry (Dick Feeney's World's Greatest Magic Show, last at the Greek Isles), and Kevin James with Antonio Hoyos. James, not TV's King of Queens star, really got the most face time during the hour, with four of his illusions ( the bowling ball trick, the rose, the egg-laying chicken and the snow fall) being presented. In its debut (January 5th), Masters of Illusion presented a number of other illusionists with Vegas history - Jeff McBride (late of Palace Station), the Amazing Johnathan (Harmon Theater at Krave), and Scarlett (V Theatre). Gay Blackstone was her husband's co-star and chief onstage assistant throughout his career.

* * * * * *

George Jones, who was recently honored at the Kennedy Center, along with choreographer Twyla Tharp, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry of The Who, actor Morgan Freeman and Barbra Streisand, comes into the Silverton on January 23rd and 24th. The multiple award-winning country music singer has had 14 No. 1 hits during his career, including White Lightning, Walk Through This World With Me, Golden Ring, and He Stopped Loving You Today. Jones is best known for his distinctive voice and phrasing, as well as for his marriage to his singing partner, Tammy Wynette (the third of his four wives). If no one has made a movie about the life of George Jones, they should. There is quite a story to tell. Until then, see him at the Silverton. Show times are at 8 p.m., with tickets priced at $35 plus taxes and fees. For reservations, call toll free (866) 722-4619. Attendees must be 21 or older.

* * * * * *

The Las Vegas Black Historical Society, in association with Flowers & Flowers Entertainment and the Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce, present the Las Vegas Obama Inaugural Ball. This historical event, a celebration of the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, will take place January 20th in the Triple Crown Ballroom at the Plaza Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas. Cocktails and conversation will begin at 6 p.m., with a sit-down, buffet-style dinner from 7:30 until 9 p.m. Entertainment will be provided by Phil Flowers, his band A Tough Act to Follow, recording artist/performer Freda Payne, and vocalist Genevieve. Tickets are $44, $55, and $75. Sponsorship packages are available for corporate partners. To obtain information regarding sponsorship, contact Katherine Duncan at (702) 646-2551. For ticket information, please call (702) 463-3026.

Loretta Holloway

Frankie Avalon & Bobby Rydell

Reba McEntire

And at about the same time, in another part of the country, former Las Vegas entertainer, Loretta Holloway, will be featured in another similar celebration. The Democratic Parties of South Carolina and New Hampshire will jointly celebrate the historic inauguration of President-elect, Obama, and Vice-President elect, Joe Biden, with a Grits and Granite Inaugural Ball, to be held on Tuesday, January 20th, from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m., at the Fort Myer Officer's Club in Arlington, Virginia. Citizens of South Carolina and New Hampshire, along with Americans from across the United States, will come together to celebrate the inauguration of the first American of African descent to be elected as our national Commander-in-Chief. Attending guests will be treated to four hours of star-studded live entertainment provided by the legendary Skipp Pearson, South Carolina's official "Ambassador of Jazz ," along with a host of master musicians, including trumpeters, Dick Goodwin and Fred Wesley, clarinetist, Pete Neighbour, percussionist, Sonny Thornton, and saxophonist, Shellie Thomas. Vocal performers are Ms. Holloway, on-air personality, Tre' Tailor, and Lorie Rivers. Among those expected to attend are the Honorable James. E. Clyburn, Congressman-elect from South Carolina's 6th District, and Democratic Majority Whip; Representative John Spratt, Congressman from South Carolina's 5th District; the Honorable John Lynch, Governor of the state of New Hampshire; United States Senator, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and South Carolina Education Superintendent, Jim Rex, in addition to other local, regional, national and international leaders from the South Carolina and New Hampshire civic and business communities.

Interesting to note that the inauguration of Barack Obamatakes place the day after Martin Luther King Day. How said that Mr. King did not live to see this historical event. He had a dream.

* * * * * *

This weekend, it's former teen idols, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell performing together at The Orleans. In the 1950s, these two teen idols from the same South Philadelphia neighborhood ruled rock and roll and, today, more than 50 years later, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell continue to be an overwhelming concert success. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Avalon was the country's reigning teen singing idol. De De Dinah was his first Top 10 song. From there, it was an unprecedented run of hits, starting with his first No. 1 single in 1959 entitled, Venus. It sold more than a million copies in less than one week. In 1957, Frankie made a transition from singer to actor and, along with Annette Funicello, reinvented himself as a clean-cut, pretty-boy surfer in a widely successful batch of Beach Party movies that got him through the '60s. Bobby Rydell has earned a reputation as a classic performer and a superb singer. He has proven himself to be an outstanding drummer, an agile dancer, and a fine actor, with an unsurpassed gift for comedy. His memorable movie roles include Bye, Bye Birdie and West Side Story. Bobby's million selling hits include Volare, Wild One, We Got Love, Swingin' School, Kissin' Time and Forget Him. During his career, Rydell has sold more than 25 million records. Show times for Avalon and Rydell are at 8 p.m., tonight through Sunday. Tickets start at $39.95 plus taxes. Call (702) 365-7075.

Also at The Orleans, in the Arena, it's that saucy redhead, Reba McEntire, tomorrow night. McEntire was the most successful female recording artist in country music during the 1980s and 1990s, scoring 22 No. 1 hits and releasing five gold albums, six platinum albums, two double-platinum albums, four triple-platinum albums, a quadruple-platinum album, and a quintuple-platinum album, for certified album sales of 33.5 million over a 20-year period. While still recording, Reba expanded her activities to include TV, where she starred in her long-running situation comedy, Reba. Appearing at the Orleans Arena with Reba will be actress/comic Melissa Peterman (Peterman played "Barbara Jean" on the Reba show). Reba and Melissa will perform tomorrow, the 17th, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $60 and $75. For reservations, call (702) 284-7777. In 2006, there was talk that Reba would be signing a two-year exclusive contract with the Las Vegas Hilton. We don't know what happened there but, these days, she seems to be playing musical chairs, appearing a couple of times at the Hilton, as well as in the Star of the Desert Arena in Primm, Nevada, and now at The Orleans. Confusing, eh?

* * * * * *

Mary Wilson & Larry Atello

The Jackson 5

Ray Dennis Steckler

When actor/musician Larry Atello was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, he used to sit cross-legged on his bedroom floor watching his Diana Ross and The Supremes albums spin on his little Show 'n Tell record player. Larry says he was particularly intrigued by the Farewell album, which was their last live performance at The Frontier Hotel on January 14th, 1970 (at 11:54 p.m. to be exact) Using a Statue of Liberty replica as a "microphone," the youngster used to "sing" into it and dream of being a singer in Las Vegas. Today, Atello lives in Las Vegas and sings into a REAL mic, both in his Have a Nice Day Bon Jovi tribute band, and as a cast member of the Rio's Tony 'n Tina's Wedding. He could never have imagined that one day, the Supreme Mary Wilson would be coming to see him perform. That's exactly what happened last Friday night. "Having someone whose picture has been on my walls ALL of my life call me up and say she'd like to come see the show!," says Atello. "Talk about a surreal experience." Larry goes on to say, "Mary Wilson could not have been more gracious. She enjoyed the show and told me 'that you work hard and you ARE the party here!' She also said that I was "versatile" as a singer, when my company manager asked her what she thought of my performance." The moral of the story? Dream and DREAM BIG!!!!!! Larry sends along a photo from a night he will never forget. Who says dreams don't come true.

And speaking of Mary Wilson, Motown (Tamla), the record label that launched the careers of Diana Ross and The Supremes (and Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5, The Temptations, Mary Wells, The Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Spinners, The Marvelettes and Gladys Knight and The Pips among others), celebrated its 50th year on January 12th. It's hard to believe, but Berry Gordy started Motown with an $800 loan from family members. Not a bad investment.

* * * * * *

Rebel filmmaker Ray Dennis Steckler, writer/director/star of one of the most wonderfully bad movies of all time, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?, passed away in Las Vegas on January 7th at the age of 70. We last saw Mr. Steckler, an unofficial member of the Ed Wood school of directing, in July of 2006. The occasion was the Grindhouse Film Festival at the Tropicana Cinemas on East Trop and Pecos in Las Vegas. Presented by Eric Caidin and Brian Quinn of Hollywood Book and Poster, the featured films on that hot summer night were director/producer Steckler's The Thrill Killers (1964) with Liz Renay, Carolyn Brandt, and the director himself, using the name of "Cash Flagg" to play Mort "Mad Dog" Click in the film. The second festival feature was Ted V. Mikels' The Astro-Zombies (1968), starring Wendell Corey and John Carradine. Among Steckler's other films was 1979's The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Strangler, with "The Duke of Las Vegas," entertainment writer Forrest Duke; TV host, Jim "The Vegas Vampire" Parker, and Jim's then wife, P.J. Parker, in small roles. Steckler, Brandt, Mikels and Renay, all Las Vegas residents, were present at the festival, posing for photos, signing autographs and meeting their fans. Among the fans, we recognized actor Bart Williams (Anything Goes and Top Banana at the downtown Plaza, and Guys and Dolls at the Desert Inn, now Wynn in Las Vegas), and composer John Buonomo in the crowd. Services were held in Las Vegas. Our sincere sympathies go out to Mr. Stecklers' family.

Liz Renay & John Buonomo

Entertainment Pioneers

* * * * * *

Angel Gloria Hill (she and her collection of angels were recently featured in a recent Las Vegas Review-Journal story), musician Don Hill's bride of 15 years, e-mailed Cousin Claire a photo that she took at Carme Pitrello's recent 75th birthday party. There is a combined total of 287 years of professional show business history in the five men pictured. Pictured from left to right - comic magician, Fielding West (35 years); comic impressionist, Babe Pier (59 years); singer/comic, Carme (55 years); Judy Coco (who isn't an entertainer, per say, but has worked with them for lots of years); sax man, Don Hill (73 years, including 50 with The Treniers); and songwriter/arranger/musician, Artie Schroeck (65 years, beginning at age five). We're impressed.

* * * * * *

The Snoop Sisters? Dame Edna's mother and aunts? We're not sure. What we are sure of is that these four dames are out to change the world, or change your minds. Their names are Agnes, Edna, Maud and Pearl, and collectively they are known as LACE (Ladies Auxiliary for Cultural Enrichment) Grannies. The award-winning "ladies" have shown up, expectedly and unexpectedly, on foot, or riding electric mobility scooters, in parades, at fundraising events, visiting patients in hospitals, and other interesting places. They have their own unique take on just about everything, including safe sex and voting. Watch for these gals in a neighborhood near you.

LACE Grannies

Britney Spears


* * * * * *

Britney Spears brings her Circus to the MGM Grand Arena on February 24th. With the Pussycat Dolls as her opening act, expect to see the, hopefully, now in control and in shape Ms. Spears perform not only Circus and Womanizer from her latest CD, but older favorites as well.

And it's another hot blonde, the one and only Charo, coming into the South Point for shows on February 5th and 6th. Belated birthday wishes to the forever young "Cuchi Cuchi" girl who celebrated her natal day yesterday, January 15th.

* * * * * *

On January 29th, it's the Winter Wonderland Dance, with music provided by Nobody Famous and the Infamous Horns, at the Italian American Super Club. You can showoff your skills in all styles of dancing, or even take a lesson via Robert Baumann of Dance Charisma. Doors open at 6 p.m., with lessons from 6:30 to 7:30 and open dancing from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tickets at the door are $12 for singles and $20 for couples. Save a couple of bucks by purchasing them in advance at $10 for singles and $18 for couples. Dinner is available in the Sorrento Room, from 5 to 9 p.m. Ticket prices do not include dinner. For advanced reservations, call (702) 220-6325. The Italian American Club is located at 2333 E. Sahara (corner of Sahara and Eastern). There is easy access and plenty of free parking.

Have a question about Las Vegas? Want to make a comment (be nice, now)?
If so, drop an e-mail and ask. Click Here
Cousin Claire will do her best to find the answer for you.
You can find Past Columns HERE

     Like to be notified when Claire Voyant's next column is available?
Then join Claire Voyant's announcement mailing list!
Enter your email address below, then click the 'Join List' button:

Claire Voyant's portrait by Charlie Frye