Luxe Life Blog
‘Frozen?’ ‘Set?’ Not ‘Vegas! the Show,’ still evolving as it turns 2
By John Katsilometes
“Vegas! the Show” is designed to take you back in time.
But time never stands still for the production at Saxe Theater at Miracle Mile Shops in Planet Hollywood. The show is never finished, always in development, reflecting the restless imagination of producer David Saxe.
“I’m not accustomed to how shows work on Broadway,” Saxe says as his most ambitious production turns 2 years old this week. “I’ve been asked if the show is ‘set,’ or ‘frozen,’ and I’m saying, ‘Frozen? What does that mean?’ There is no such thing with me.”
Saxe is a famously Las Vegas-rooted entertainment figure who talks of suffering from adult attention deficit disorder. Thus, “Vegas! the Show” is a stage adaptation of both qualities. The show darts fancifully from act to act, lavishing tribute on Tom Jones one moment and Elvis and Ann-Margret the next. The dazzling appearance by twin tappers Sean & John is given equal prominence as the “Jump, Jive and Wail” scene evoking the heyday of Louis Prima and Keely Smith.
The torrid pace and swift changes keep the show, which is rolled out a staggering 14 times each week, from lapsing into stagnation. The performers who can’t handle the schedule simply don’t handle it. They drift off. Cast members are given a night off each week, and subs handle various roles.
Even so, it is an artistically and physically demanding schedule -- by today’s standards. But not necessarily by the standards under which Saxe’s father, the late sax man Richard Saxe, worked as one of the city’s busiest bandleaders. He often performed at three lounge gigs a night. Saxe’s attitude could be a simple case of, “If my dad could do it …”
“When I first started this show, my attitude was “(Forget) it, I’m bringing back Old Vegas,” Saxe says. “In Old Vegas, you would do two shows six days a week. That’s what we are asking.”
Two years on, the pure numbers and quality of the production have sustained for “Vegas! the Show.” The band is still filled with 11 musicians, still led by Pat Caddick and Jerry Lopez. The live music gives the show a spark that Saxe knows can’t be achieved with tracks. The entire show employs more than 80 individuals, counting those onstage, the wardrobe staff, the stage crew and the team that manages lights and sound.
Those out front are established stars and the chief reason the show affords a relatively steep ticket price of $79 and $99.
Eric Jordan Young continues to address the audience at the opening, as the costumed custodial character Ernie and display a remarkable range covering Sammy Davis Jr. to Sonny Bono. Reva Rice and Trina Johnson-Finn are star-quality vocalists. Lou Gazzara is the rare vocalist who can sample Wayne Newton and Tom Jones. Cast mate Gabriel Burrafato inhabits the spirit of Dean Martin, giving the male leads a difficult-to-attain Rat Pack flair. The increased showcasing of principal dancer Tara Palsha has made her one of the show’s more recognizable performers; having her visage splashed across bus wraps and billboards also has boosted that effort.
The show could well stand as-is, “frozen” or “set.” But Saxe says he has “a ton” of changes he wants to make. He’s already wielded the producer’s blade and lopped an acts he didn’t like, even those many audience members applauded energetically. An example: The tiny Liberace puppet handled ably by Joseph Gabriel. Saxe has recognized the need for a Liberace presence in the show, but the tiny, leering puppet was not the answer.
“I thought it was creepy,” Saxe said. “Joseph had the puppet, and it was a cool visual, but it was a really polarizing act. Half of the audience loved it. Half hated it.”
Gabriel remains the show’s master magician and caretaker of the potentially dramatic macaw used in the production. To account for Liberace, Saxe hired a great Liberace impressionist, Will Collins.
As an usher.
“You have to have Liberace in a Vegas show,” Saxe says. “He walks along the entrance and greets people.” There are no plans, at the moment, to use Collins onstage, however. He’s fine with the usher gig.
Saxe plans more changes. Cast shakeups are always possible, as Saxe is forever holding open auditions for prospective singers and dancers. “If someone is better than who we have, we would use them,” Saxe says. “I know I can replace anyone, and it keeps everybody competing.”
Saxe has lured an entity known as Professor Wacko, a Russian trampoline comic who projects aggressive wackiness, to the show. He has in mind a new scene centered on the Glass Pool Inn. He wants to add a scene, somehow, evoking the schtick of such famed Las Vegas comics as Redd Foxx, Don Rickles and Totie Fields. He wants to expand the Ann-Margret and Elvis scene starring Palsha and Gazarra and bolster the script a bit to add more narrative to Young’s custodial character. Even some elegant design effects to the theater, built by nomadic magician Steve Wyrick, are in the offing.
An ode to Evel Knievel also is roaring through Saxe’s mind.
“I’d like to get a stunt guy to jump over the audience. We could build a ramp in the back, take out some seats and angle the jump over the audience.”
One problem is, the audience is facing forward and might not realize faux-Evel is planning to leap from the back of the theater to the stage.
Another problem is this is friggin’ crazy.
“That’s why you have insurance,” Saxe says, laughing.
Somehow, no matter if the bike lands safely, the outcome would fit “Vegas! the Show” perfectly.