I saw a hell-of-a-show the other night. That’s right, gang, you have never heard me say that of any other show in a very, very long time.
On Thursday, May 5, 1983 I sat in the showroom at the Imperial Palace Hotel (now gone but not forgotten) to watch a new concept show make its debut. It was called “Legends in Concert.” Like I said it was a new idea: dead superstars were being re-created by live actors who were close in appearance, and could use their own voice to sing or talk like the person they were doing a tribute to. The creator of the show was a young man from California, John Stuart. It was the opinion of most of us media types after watching the first show, that it would not last through its six-week contract.
And, it wouldn’t have, had Stuart and his small staff, not made some drastic changes, namely recasting a couple of the acts, changing the staging, etc. Remember, this was 34 years ago and I’m writing what I can remember, as the actual history of that first year is rather sketchy to say the least. I remember the cast consisted of Elvis, Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly, Nat King Cole, John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, and Bobby Darin. Within that six-weeks Stuart convinced the entertainment director of the Hotel/Casino, and its owner, to give him one more six-week contract. If the crowds didn’t start coming Stuart would pull the plug himself.
And as they say: “The rest is history!” Today John Stuart is gone. The show is currently owned and produced by On Stage Entertainment, Inc. And, in the years since (34 to be exact), this show has survived and thrived on the Las Vegas Strip, and around the world. At any one time there is at least eight shows hitting a stage somewhere, and also aboard the Norwegian Cruise Lines newest ship Norwegian Epic.
But, let’s talk about the new edition taking place at the Flamingo Hotel. It’s very hard to pick out any one individual as the star of the show, as they are all stars believe me. Any one of them, alone, could headline in a showroom.
The opening dance number is new, and is hot as hell. It should be! The choreography was done especially for the 34th Anniversary show by Lacy Schwimmer, who placed third in the 4th edition of “So You Think You Can Dance,” in 2005, and later competed on “Dancing with the Stars.” The Legend dancers, who perform with each of the stars, and shine in the opening number are: Cassie Silva, Natalia Oliveira, Kylie Miller, Bernard Polk, Nick Miller, and John Marr. And, a big shout out to the five guys who pump out the music: Howard Stroman, music director on bass guitar; Joe Escriba on flute/saxophone; Jimmy Powers, electric guitar; Robert Vazquez piano, and Mark Parody on drums. The Legend singers are Aaron Colby-Begovich and Tina Drouin.
The opening act was also the opening act 34 years ago, (naturally not the same actor), and just happens to be a personal favorite of this writer, having watched her perform as herself for several years, and now as Janis Joplin. Michele Rohl knocks it out of the park gang, believe me. Her medley of “Move Over,” “Down on Me,” and “Momma Said” really sets the tone for the entire one hour and twenty-minute performance. She not only has the gruffly song styling that was Joplin, but the costuming is just wonderful. Brought back some memories of and age long ago. She wraps up her time with a fabulous “Cry Baby,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” and a beautiful “Piece of my Heart.” Wow! I knew I was going to see an exceptional show, ‘cause let’s face it–every one of the next three acts had to try and top the opener. And, I’m not going to say another word on that subject, as you’ll have to go and find out for yourself.
Michael Jackson, as portrayed by Damian Brantley, is perfecto. He has all the steps, moves that Michael was known for (plus some I think Jackson would’ve created eventually) and his appearance is dead on. The opening number is a biggie: “Jam” quickly followed by “Smooth Criminal.” Taking a few minutes to catch his breath (by kidding around with the audience), Damian returns with all six dancers (who are clothed in the weird ghost costumes) and fills the stage with a wonderful rendition of “Thriller.” This is definitely a highlight! The final number is “Billie Jean.”
Now it’s time for the lady who was also an act on opening night 34 years ago, Marilyn Monroe, as presented by Stacey Whitton Summers. Her opening number, assisted by one of the male dancers, is without question another highlight, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” And, you believe it’s the actress up there—the same actress who sang “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy. Summers is juat that good! A cute “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” with a follow up number that uses a guy out of the audience, who is teased and kissed by Marilyn as she sings, ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy”. Stacey’s last number heats up the stage with a full cast of dancers and singers, as she performs “Heat Wave.” What more can you ask for than having Marilyn Monroe singing “Heat Wave” to you personally?
And, here again, from the inception of “Legends in Concert” the closing act has always been and will always be Elvis Presley. This time he is performed by Kevin Mills, who was crowned World Champion at the ‘Images of The King’ Elvis tribute artist contest in Memphis, Tennessee. Hill starts out with “See See Ryder,” with a follow up of “You Gave me a Mountain (one of my favorites), which in turn is followed by the 1968 medley of “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog, and “All Shook Up.” “Love me,” and “Suspicious Minds” are wonderfully presented by the ultimate Elvis Tribute artist. And, of course, there is only one song that can qualify as a closing number for Elvis (or The Man Frank Sinatra), and that song is “My Way,” as written by a former Las Vegas resident Paul Anka.
Over all this is one of the best “Legends” tribute shows that this reporter has witnessed. And I’ve watched a ton of them over the years. I’ve seen great actors paying tribute to the hundreds of performers who have passed on, and even a few who are still kicking dirt. But I must tell ya that if there is a must show on the Las Vegas Strio to see, it’s this edition of “Legends in Concert” at the Flamingo Hotel. What more can I say but get your butts off the sofa and see this fantastic show.
THIS AND THAT QUICKLY:
It’s that time of the year when downtown comes to life with the roar of more than 350 specially built off-road racing vehicles, just waiting for the green flag to wave at Primm, Nevada, this coming Saturday morning. Yep, gang, The 2017 Polaris RZR Mint 400 presented by BFGoodrich Tires kicked off it activities with a parade Wednesday afternoon down the Las Vegas Strip, ending downtown for an early afternoon party at Atomic Liquors.
Thursday, March 2nd, things really get jumping with Time Trails for certain premiere classes during the morning, with everything from a presentation documentary TV show about the Mint 400 to the popular Method Wheels Pit Crew Challenge, and the after party, all happening at 9th and Fremont Street. I estimate there’ll be about 5,000 fans swarming all over the location. Fair warning!
By Friday morning Fremont Street East is filled with contingency sponsors and their products. This is where technical inspection of these fantastic race vehicles of the desert takes place. And, this is where thousands of off-road racing fans get a chance to meet with many of the drivers, and actually touch some of the vehicles. Unlike a lot of motor sports, off-roaders are extremely friendly, anxious to meet fans, willing to take photos all day long, and generally join in the fun. These guys and gals who go out on the desert to beat the odds (only about 40 percent of the 350 plus entries will finish the race) are just like you and me. They generally have 9 to 5
Jobs, and if they win the jackpot is not huge, believe me!
However, there are a few genuine professionals in the field who are fully sponsored, and actually earn a decent living competing all over the world, such drivers as: B.J. Baldwin, Rob MacCrachen (I raced against his father who was one hell of an off-road racer), Steve Oiliges, two-time winner going for a three-peat, Justin Loftin (who raced in NASCAR trucks), Bryce Menzies, the 2013 Mint 400 champion, Jason Voss, and Andy McMillin a champion racer who has won the Baja 500 and 1000, and has come very close to finishing the triple crown with a win at the Mint 400.
Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m. the Limited Division racers get the green flag and start their journey from Primm. Most of these vehicles will race two-laps (each lap is approximately 118 miles), and should be finishing their final lap as the Unlimited Class vehicles are starting the first of three laps around the course.
I can tell you from experience, this is the toughest race in off-road racing. As the founder of The Great American Off-Road Race back in 1967 through 1971. I competed in a ton of off-road races from 1968 through 1982, finishing third in the Mint in 1975, driving a Toyota Mini-Truck. Came close in several other races too, but most of the time I fell prey to the desert like most racers. But, I must tell ya, I loved every bump, every roll-over, and every rib busting ride in the Mint and the Baja races. If I was young again I would be out there mixing it up with the best damn racers in the world.
I’m heading for downtown.