Las Vegas Backstage Talk

April Las Vegas Backstage Talk column by Michele LaFong

April Las Vegas Backstage Talk column in Casino Player Magazine, and Gaming Today.

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Remembering David Brenner

It doesn’t get much than better listening to show-biz stories from David Brenner and Shecky Green in a Las Vegas coffee shop.  It wasn’t that long ago I was doing just that.  I was shocked when I heard that David Brenner lost his battle with cancer at age 78. II was fortunate enough to have interviewed him when he was promoting his last engagement at The Suncoast Showroom.  In that interview Brenner talked about how his father taught him to always leave the audience laughing.  And he did…even till the very end.  I reran that interview on March 20, in David’s memory.  The audio is archived on lasvegasbackstagetalk.com.

After interviewing countless comedians and singers on LVBST for almost three years and following up to watch their shows, I started to realize that artists and audiences often have very different agendas. Audiences always want to be entertained and look forward to hearing their favorite bits or hits of the artist that they pay to go see…and artists want to entertain but also want to grow and continue to evolve, develop and explore.  With the double-edged sword of name recognition and fame come expectations from fans of what that artist often perceives as keeping them stuck in the past, and pigeon-holed.  Finding that perfect balance of “old” and “new” is the answer to satisfying both the audience and artist whether a comedian, or singer.  Tom Jones is a perfect example of someone who has mastered not only combining old with new, but also in re-inventing his band and updating his bluesy arrangements, keeping his material fresh yet in-step with his brand which also keeps him relevant.  A crowd-pleaser like Tony Orlando, who is known for opening his show with his biggest hits right off the bat then following up with everything from Led Zeppelin, to The Beatles, always delivers a feel-good contemporary show, is always “on,” and has that special connection with his loyal audience which explains his lasting popularity and sell-out performances. Bill Maher, and Jerry Seinfeld are examples of comedians that are committed to keeping their material updated, presentation smooth, and take pride in the quality of their shows without sacrificing laughs.  Paula Poundstone, Chuck Negron, Mickey Gilley, Marty Allen, Rich Little, Gallagher, Gary Puckett, Carlos Mencia, and Judy Tenuta are all examples of artists that not only embrace their audience but also include a Meet & Greet following every show.  Another performer that is very pro-audience and eager to please was Burton Cummings, former lead singer for The Guess Who.  Cummings sang hit after hit when headlining at The Orleans in January, and received several standing ovations throughout.  He even allowed flash photography during his performance and went as far as inviting fans to videotape the show!  However not all artists are even close to being as giving and grateful on and off stage, committed to taking the audience up as high as they can.  70’s Pop Star Helen Reddy had a packed house.  Before the show began at The Orleans Theatre, I over-heard audience members anticipating which hit Reddy might open with.  But no one called it right!  She didn’t sing any hits until forty minutes into the show.  Although her voice sounded as good ever, the fans that came out expecting to hear her many, many hits were clearly out of luck, as I counted three hits in total including the iconic and mandatory “I am Woman.” Oh…And of course, no pictures, nor autographs for anyone with no exceptions, and certainly no backstage passes!  I can’t say I was that surprised because when I interviewed Reddy a couple of weeks prior to the show, and asked her why she had quit the business and stopped singing for over ten years, her reply was “I was bored.  I was tired of singing the same songs over and over again.”  I asked why she decided to return, her reply was “I was at my older sister’s 80th birthday party, and she asked me to do her a favor and sing a duet with her …and you don’t turn down your big sister…so I sang… got a huge standing ovation, and I heard my voice coming out of the monitor and thought “gee, that’s not so bad…maybe I should go out and do that again…and here I am.”  Before my interview, I asked her if she will be gambling while in Vegas?  Her reply? “I don’t gamble, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I’m a celibate!” (Not exactly what I was expecting!) I immediately recalled a videotaped interview I did with Comedian Sal Richards in which I asked if there was a celebrity he worked with that wasn’t what he expected them to be.  His immediate reply was “yes Helen Reddy!” And the story he told about her was pretty outrageous and shocking!  It really shows what can go on behind the scenes in Show Business.  It is posted on casinocenter.com and promises not to disappoint!

Singing funnyman Michael Shane was such a hit at Bootlegger Bistro on Thursday nights that he is “back by popular demand” on every Friday & Saturday in April from 6:30PM on.  He will be taking your requests and is very difficult to stump!  The food is great, especially the pizza, and you’ll be thoroughly entertained.

My picks for April are Ray Romano/Kevin James, April 4 & 6, Mirage, Brian McKnight, April 5, Eastside Cannery, Rob Thomas, April 4, Palms, DL Hughley, Orleans, April 4 & 5, Palms,  Gary Lewis & The Playboys, April 4 & 5, Suncoast, Jeff Ross, April 5, Mirage, Olivia Newton-John, April 8- 12, Flamingo, Jason Alexander, April 11-May 4, Harrah’s, Wayne Brady, April 11, Mirage, Bryan Ferry, April 12, Palms, Jay Leno, April 12, Mirage, Foghat, April 12, Cannery, Las Vegas Soul Festival, April 12, UNLV, Megadeth and Motorhead, April 17, Palms, The Bronx Wanderers, April 18-20, South Point, Gabriel Iglesias, Mirage, April 18 & 19, Jim Belushi & Chicago Board of Comedy, April 18 & 19, Venetian, Robert Cray, April 18, Cannery, Restless Heart/Sawyer Brown, April 19, Eastside Cannery, Jeff Tracta, April 24, LVH, Tony Orlando, April 25-27, South Point, Bobby Rydell, April 25-27, Suncoast, Tracy Morgan, April 25, TI, Little River Band, April 26, Cannery, Temptations, April 26 & 27, Orleans, Rod Stewart, April 30-May 17, Caesars Palace

 

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Helen Reddy, Dom Irrera, Desi Arnaz Jr.,- LVBST

Feb. 13, 2014- 6-7pm PST 1230am KLAV in Las Vegas & streaming live

Audio of interviews posted below (Scroll down)

Helen Reddy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pop Icon Helen Reddy, Comedian Dom Irrera, and Desi Arnaz Jr. guest on Las Vegas Backstage Talk radio show with Comedian Michele LaFong.

Best known as a recording artist, Helen Reddy had more than a dozen Top 40 hits in the United States. She was the first Australian to win a Grammy Award and to have three #1 hits in the same year. In television, Helen was the first Australian to host her own one-hour weekly primetime variety show on an American network, along with several specials that were seen in over forty countries.

Her best-selling memoir The Woman I Am (Tarcher/Penguin), reveals that at the height of her career, Helen’s world was shattered by the death of both her parents and, simultaneously, the news that she had a rare and incurable disease, A riveting, frank and ultimately brave memoir, she recounts the emotional highs and lows that have shaped her life as an artist and as a complex woman, with a rich inner life sustained by a strong spiritual faith.

Helen Reddy is appearing at Orleans Showroom on Feb. 15 & 16

 Dom Irrera

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Dom projects a charisma that firmly engages audiences from the moment he steps out on the stage! His first big break was in, Rodney Dangerfield’s, “Nothing Goes Right,” comedy special for HBO. Irrera’s own, “One Night Stand,” on HBO, earned him his first of several Cable ACE Awards for, “Best Stand-up Comedy Special.” He has appeared on: “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Late Show with David Letterman,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “The View,” and several times on “Oprah.” Irrera also guest starred on episodes of “Seinfeld,” “Becker,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “King of Queens.” Film credits include a featured role in Robert Townsend’s, “Hollywood Shuffle,” a cameo in the Coen Brothers film, “The Big Lebowski,” and “The 4th Tenor,” starring his old pal Rodney Dangerfield.

When Dom Irrera takes the stage, he does not simply get on it–he owns it! Irrera will be appearing at the Laugh Factory inside the Tropicana Hotel & Casino, Feb. 10 through Sunday, Feb. 16.

Desi Arnaz Jr.

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Part 2 will be aired of Desi Arnaz Jr.’s interview from last week.

In a rare interview, Desi Arnaz Jr. speaks of his life and promotes the upcoming “Dam Short Film Festival,” on Feb. 12-16 at the Historic Boulder Theatre, which he owns has since 1986,  and helps direct non-profit Boulder City Ballet Company (BCBC) with his wife, Amy Arnaz. For more info: www.damshortfilm.org

Boulder Theatre was built in 1932 during the construction of Hoover Dam and operated as a movie theatre until it could no longer compete with the new, modern movie theaters in Las Vegas. When it closed, Desi purchased the theatre and converted it into a live theatre where BCBC performs and where Desi has produced many shows including: “Ricci, Desi & Billy” (a new version of Dino, Desi & Billy), “An Evening with Linda Purl”, Torme’ Sings Torme’, “The Legacy of Laughter”, “An Evening with Lucille Ball” (starring Suzanne LaRusch as Lucille Ball), Michael Johnson, “A Tribute to Dean Martin” (by Ricci Martin), “Dam Short Film Festival”, “Chautauqua”, “The Nutcracker”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Swan Lake”, annual children’s dance recitals from Dance Etc. and many more shows. Haley Arnaz is his wife’s child from her first marriage and Desi adopted her when they married in 1987. Desi also has an older daughter, Julia, who lives on the east coast. Recently, Desi has performed “Babalu” (a show dedicated to the music of his father) with his sister Lucie Arnaz in NYC, Miami and in Washington D.C. at the Library of Congress. Most recently, Desi & Lucie appeared at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, discussing the music of I Love Lucy (1951) and performed two of their father’s songs – “Old Straw Hat” & “Cuban Pete” – with the accompaniment of Ron Abel on the piano.

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Las Vegas Backstage Talk column

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Feb. Las Vegas Backstage Talk column in Casino Player Magazine, and Gaming Today.

by Michele LaFong

With the advent and popularity of Smart TVs, where it is now possible to watch web TV on your main set, alternative programming and new opportunities for entrepreneur talent for internet entertainment is growing daily.  This new popular trend couldn’t have been more evident than at the IAWTV awards, “the Oscars” of the Internet Shows held at The Rio H & C last month.

Many familiar faces were seen on the red carpet like “Fitness Celebrity”, and “Infomercial King” John Basedow, inventor and star of “Fitness made Simple.” Basedow was a presenter, and was also nominated for three awards.  When John guested on LVBST with Guinness World Record holder, Comedian Fran Capo, “World’s Fastest Talker, John explained what awards he was up for this year; “(Best Variety Series) is for CULTURE POP, my YouTube series where I take to the streets getting people’s opinions on the top entertainment, celebrity and pop culture news. The second is for FIT NOW with BASEDOW (Best Writing), in which I give fitness, exercise and nutrition tips for people to improve their bodies and lives, The third is for the work I do with Buzz60 Entertainment News (Best News Series) and that’s awesome since they’re one of the first companies to give me a job where I get to keep my shirt on.”  Both Fran Capo, and John Basedow’s interviews are archived on lasvegasbackstagetalk.com

Following a successful 7 month run at The Laugh Factory at The Tropicana, Legendary prop comic and watermelon-smasher Gallagher quietly closed his seven-night a week show on December 30.  It’s a wonder that this eccentric free spirited, flighty, highly creative, mad comedy genius could stay in one place for that long!  I’m definitely going to miss him and the backstage drama that always seemed to follow him.   I’m sure every comic that has worked at The Laugh Factory in the last 7 months, has a “Gallagher story” to tell!  When I asked what his plans were after his out of state gigs were over, his response was “wherever I end up!”  He explained his state of mind at this stage of his life quite well in a recent interview that I entitled “Getting really personal with Gallagher.”  That video can now be seen on casinocenter.com.

Dana Carvey, one of my favorite and funniest guests returned on LVBST to promote his upcoming dates at The Orleans Showroom, Jan. 31 & Feb.1.  Right off the bat, he did a very funny but scary impression of me…I hope it wasn’t as dead-on as it sounded!  Not only is he always upbeat, freshly hilarious, and topical, but he’s also one of the nicest mega-talents in show business.  Dana shared some of his comedy writing, and developmental process. “I tape all of my shows but it’s really hard to get myself to listen to it…yet it’s incredibly instructive.  I’m really hard on myself.”  After a show, from time to time, you might find Dana trying his luck out at The Black Jack tables. “Paul Anka taught me how to play… You gotta whack it.  You really gotta whack it!  I was reminded what Paul Anka sounds like when he’s talking…and I must say…it was a little eerie.  We touched on many interesting subjects including Mike Meyers and the possibility of more Wayne’s World projects.  The interview will air on Jan. 30.

Grammy Award-winning musician and acclaimed actor Meat Loaf will return to the RockTellz & CockTails stage at the PH Showroom inside Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.  Meat Loaf will perform 24 dates, beginning Feb. 13, kicking off the 2014 series.  Shows will be every Thursday, Saturday and Tuesday, Feb. 13 to April 8, at 7 p.m.  Meat always delivers a dynamic and dramatic show and is a very interesting character.  The legendary musical group and Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Jacksons are the next legacy artists of the RockTellz & CockTails series. The Jacksons, including Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon, will perform 40 shows, beginning Feb. 20.  Thurs.-Sun. 9:30pm

I finally went to check out Golden Globe winner,Pia Zadora’s new nightclub show at Pia’s Place @ Piero’s.  Her residency there started in Sept. and is open ended Thursday-Saturdays at 9pm.  Pia Zadora is at home working the room, singing, telling funny stories, and even has special guest drop- INS like Jerry Lewis, Rich Little, Steve Rossi, and other notables.  Pianist Vince Falcone, former musical director for Frank Sinatra heads her quartet in an intimate, throw-back setting that recreates “Old Vegas”.  A great time!  Pia invited me to do some comedy…and next time I will…

Another gem not to be missed of headline entertainment without a cover charge is Singer/Piano player/Funnyman Michael Shane.  Shane was hand-picked by Steve Wynn, to perform at Wynn’s Tower Suite Bar, and is a regular on LVBST.   Michael keeps the night moving from behind the piano with never a dull moment and lots of personality.  He also takes requests and can’t be stumped.  I love it!  Like Pia, Michael is popular and puts on Special Guest Star drop-ins .  He can be seen on some Thursdays at Bootleggers Bistro at 5:30pm. Be sure to check their schedule as they don’t give out dates too far in advance.

Other acts not to miss this month include Comedian Amy Schumer, Feb. 7& 8, The Mirage, Herman’s Hermits with Peter Noone, Feb. 7-9, Clint Holmes, Feb. 8, Smith Center, Clint Black, Feb. 13, The Smith Center, Dion, Feb. 13 & 14, The Orleans, Crystal Gayle, Feb. 14-16,  The South Point, Ron White, Feb. 14 & 15, The Mirage, The Eagles, Feb. 15 & 16,  MGM, Boz Scaggs, Feb. 15, Eastside Cannery,  Mike Epps, Feb. 15, The  Palms, Helen Reddy,  Feb. 15, The Orleans Showroom, George Lopez, Feb. 21 & 22, The Mirage, John Pinette, Feb. 21 & 22, The Orleans, Adam Carolla, Feb. 21, TI, Danny Wright, Feb. 23, The Smith Center, George Thurgood & The Destroyers, Feb. 27, The Smith Center, Rob Schneider, Jan. 30- Feb. 1, The South Point, , Ray Romano, Feb. 28 & March 1, The Mirage.

Your comments are always appreciated.

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