Broadway To Vegas


Copyright: October 14, 2001
By: Laura Deni


Getting their wills in order, and being vaccinated for unusual diseases, performers are signing up with the USO to entertain the troops. Holidays are just around the corner. For most in the military, those normally happy festivities will be both lonely and a long way from home.

The United Services Organization, better known as the USO, work as partners with the Armed Forces Entertainment Office (AFEO) in a long tradition of bringing the razzle dazzle of show biz to U.S. troops in distant lands.

The USO recruits celebrity performers and provides production expertise, while the AFEO provides the logistics.

"We're partners with the AFEO. We have a contract with them," explained Washington, D.C. based Jim Pearcy who is head of entertainment for the USO. He spoke with Broadway To Vegas about celebrity involvement and his nonprofit organization.

"I had a wonderful call from the League of Theater Owners and they want to put together some Broadway people to go entertain," Pearcy said as his voice took on an edge of excitement. "If what they say comes through - they are talking the really big name stars. I said - this is great that you called, but aren't you guys having a tough time right now?" said Pearcy referring to several Broadway shows folding and ticket sales off following September 11.

"They said - Yeah, but it doesn't matter. We know that there is no money, but we want to do it.'"

"We're even going to try to help them get their new commercial - you know the one where they are all in the street - on the Armed Forces network," continued Pearcy. "And, if they do a tour for us, there will be a similar commercial promoting the tour. So, it is really amazing because Broadway is having such a tough time and yet they want to help. We're going to try to get a tour together with them for the holidays."

Wayne Newton heads up the Celebrity Executive Circle Photo By: Laura Deni
"Our biggest problem right now is just the climate of uncertainty," Pearcy explained. "We're planning and pressing ahead as we always do. Everything is going to go. But, we sort of live in a minute by minute status as far as travel overseas - where we are going."

Since September 11, the celebrity line is around the block.

Not since World War II has the entertainment industry responded so swiftly. "We've had quite a few calls," said Pearcy. "People are saying, `You need us, we'll be there.' I don't know what to compare it to. For us, it's history in the making," related Pearcy, who has had his current position for two-and-half-years.

A Celebrity Executive Circle has been formed, headed by Las Vegas resident Wayne Newton who performs 40 weeks a year at the Stardust Hotel. Serving with Newton on the committee are Bill Cosby, Tom Hanks, Quincy Jones and Sherry Lansing chairperson of Paramount Studios.

The USO Celebrity Circle actively supports the USO and its mission to "Deliver America" to those serving our country around the world. Celebrity Circle members will participate in various USO celebrity entertainment tours, assist in the recruitment of other celebrities to entertain our troops overseas, and increase USO awareness.

Entertainers like Chris Rock, Larry Gatlin, Jamie Foxx, Jay Leno, Sammy Hager, Martina McBride and groups like the Scorpions, Coolio, the Pointer Sisters, and Aerosmith have all told the U.S.O. that they would be willing to perform for American troops deployed overseas in the response to terrorism.

The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders offer a touch of home to troops
For more than 20 years the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have been helping the USO. In fact, they have participated in 42 tours since 1989. Since September 11th, they've called and are ready to ship out again.

Movie stars say they will do whatever they are asked.

"Jay Leno has been with us twice before," said Pearcy." He's been a great supporter. He's let us know that he is interested in doing something. There are some great people like Wayne Newton who have always been there supporting the military - fashionable or not."

" We never have more entertainers than we need," emphasized Pearcy. "As a nonprofit charity we don't pay a talent fee. We often have to take entertainers when they are available. We're very fortunate, because they are giving up their usual talent fee, which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, they are doing it for the right reasons. We aren't dealing with the temperamental prima donnas. They are people who are usually very down to earth."

"We're very upfront and make sure they know what they are getting into before they get there," added Pearcy. " I think Jerry Seinfeld said it really well. He said - You know, I can afford to write a check and I have - but you want to do some thing and as an entertainer what can I do? I entertain."

"So, it's more than just giving money. It is giving time. The guys and gals just go crazy when somebody famous arrive and they get to meet them, talk to them," elaborated Pearcy. "The stars spend as much time signing autographs as they do performing and tons of time just sitting having lunch or breakfast, meals with the troops. You can just see it lift the morale, put smiles on the faces of the military."

SALMA HAYEK was a real morale booster
"Salma Hayek went to Kosova for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago," Pearcy fondly recalled. "The guys went nuts! They are locked in a dangerous situation all of the time. The commanders were saying this is going to have an effect for weeks for us. So, when you hear that kind of thing, the stars have that kind of an experience - the entertainers always think it is worthwhile."

It all began in May, 1941 when Bob Hope, with a group of performers, went to March Field, California, to do a radio show for airmen stationed there. Throughout World War II, with only two exceptions, all of Bob's radio shows were performed and aired from military bases and installations throughout the United States and theaters of war in Europe and the South Pacific. His first trip into the combat area was in 1943 when he and his small USO troop - Frances Langford, Tony Romano and Jack Pepper visited US military facilities in England, Africa, Sicily and Ireland. In later years his itinerary included the South Pacific.

Bob Hope performing a USO show in 1942
Bob began what was to become a Christmas custom in 1948 going to Germany at the request of then Secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, to entertain the troops involved in the Berlin Airlift. From then on at Christmas time wherever there was a hot spot there was Hope.

In May, 1990 Hope embarked on his final tour performing in England, Russia, and Germany. At Christmas that year, he and wife Dolores, were in Saudi Arabia entertaining the men and women of Operation Desert Storm.

Carrying on the tradition started by Hope are stars such as Newton, who leaves Las Vegas for a USO tour Nov. 12-19 with - thus far - 14 shows so on the docket.

The USO, which can wield some powerful clout, is a nonprofit charitable organization, so in order to get on a base, they need a military liaison organization and that is the AFEO. The entertainment office provides visas, transportation and other essentials. Each tour requires intense logistics support and coordination. Each country has unique requirements.

There are seven entertainment circuits around the world -- the Pacific, Southwest Asia, the Balkans, Europe, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the North -- Alaska and Greenland.

When USO tours fly into the Sinai in Egypt, for example, they have to get approval through the multinational force headquarters in Rome. On Diego Garcia, military flights are invariably canceled and there's no way in or out of that island in the Indian Ocean other than a military flight. Once 20 wrestlers -- 250 pound guys and their 5,000 pound wrestling ring -- were trapped on that island for two weeks.

"That's because there was a weekly fight. If that weekly flight got shut down, you were stuck," explained Pearcy.

HOOTIE and the BLOWFISH a logistical challenge
The biggest logistical challenge in the past few years was Hootie and the Blowfish. The group had 38 people and 42,000 pounds of equipment. There were five shows in six days in five different countries in the Middle East and the Balkans.

Only about 30 percent of the tours the AFEO handles are celebrity USO tours. The remainder are 'non-celebrity' tours made up of up-and-coming performers.

For the celebrity category, handled by the USO, the stars donate their time and talents; sponsors underwrite the cost of transportation, accommodations and stage production.

With the non-celebrity participants the AFEO does everything - from soliciting, hiring and contracting the 'on the rise' star and then put them on tour.

Non-celebrity acts go out from three to six weeks and hit all the countries in a particular area. Most bands get $150.00 a day per person. Out of that, they pay for lodging and food.

Prior to September 11 if a band went on a USO tour to Southwest Asia, for example, they'll go to Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Egypt. At each site, they'd do a two to three hour set and sign autographs. The stage could be anything from the top of a flatbed truck to a stage in a club, to an outside parade ground -- anywhere the troops can support them.

DIXIE CHICKS crossed over from non-celebrity to celebrity
One former 'non-celebrity' act -- the Dixie Chicks -- has crossed over to the Star section.

Even Marlene Dietrich used USO tours as a way to polish her act.

"I'm here, I'm here," Dietrich would say as she'd run down the gangway in her uniform, carrying her case. She would then produce a pair of evening shoes and a dress, and after pretending to start changing on stage, would be led into the wings, to the whistles of encouragement from the men. Dietrich also played the musical saw, which for years had been a feature of her appearances at Hollywood parties.

On the USO tours Dietrich had a 55-lb baggage allowance which comprised the following: tropical uniforms; boots; grey flannel men's trousers, transparent Vinilite slippers; silk-lined cashmere jumper by Mainbocher; lingerie; a strapless brocade dress and two long, sequined gowns in white and gold. The dresses were heavily encrusted with beads so that no crease would show.

Marlene Dietrich
She also carried her singing saw in a black leather case; three months' supply of cosmetics; labeled in huge nail-polish letters - for dressing by torchlight - and a supply of shampoo that she had specially made, to lather in practically no water.

These USO Shows taught Dietrich how to manipulate the audience, time her laughs and deal with hecklers. While on USO tours she contracted pneumonia in Italy in 1944, and in the Ardennes her hands froze. She never complained.

Prior to September 11th a challenge was to entice entertainers to go to world hot spots - lonely locations in the world -- the Middle East, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia; Bosnia and Kosovo; and Korea - especially near the DMZ.

Those are the spots the USO focuses on in particular, and "waves the patriotic flag to the celebrities to say, 'We know you want to go to the Caribbean because it's beautiful, but how about going to the Balkans?' It's a challenge for the USO to get these celebrities to go where they're really needed."

"The military now deploys a lot," continued Pearcy. "If you have never been away from home and your family for a Christmas, a holiday in a foreign country is lonely. You can be trained for war, but I don't think you can be trained for that kind of loneliness. We do a lot of shows during the holidays. That is our peak season, because we don't want people sitting around during their free time thinking - I wish I was home with my family and friends. Or, they are away from their wife and kids and missing a child's Christmas."

Historically, few events have left a more lasting emotional impression on Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and their families than USO celebrity entertainment. USO produces at least 20 overseas entertainment tours each year, reaching tens of thousands of service men and women.

The USO has arranged for celebrities to visit New York's Ground Zero on a daily basis to meet and bolster the morale of rescue workers.

"The main thing I have been trying to tell the press is that there are a lot of great volunteers who have been out there before Sept. 11," stressed Pearcy. "We did 225 shows last year. We fight a lot of what we call CNN wars, where everyone knows about it when it is on the media. One year after Bosnia stopped being on the media the same number of troops were still there. Once the shine wears off this I hope we don't forget that every day of the year there are men and women out there in harm's way. I'm 46 years old and I call them kids There are in their young 20s and they need everything we can do for them."

"A lot of time people only look at the entertainment side of the USO. We have cyber cafes set us for the folks to E mail and send back pictures. We have a lot of mobile canteens which are fabulous, but that doesn't make the press," he complained.

On Oct. 31, there'll be a dinner-dance at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. It benefits the USO Annual Gold Medal Awards at the time of this great organization's 60th anniversary. Being honored are Lt. Gen. Daniel Christman and N.Y.C. realtor Charles Steven Cohen.


Stars from all the Las Vegas Strip hotels have banded together to perform together for the first time in a benefit for the USO.

Bob Anderson, Frank Scinta, Wayne Newton, Lance Burton, Clint Holmes and Earl Turner announce benefit. Photo By; Laura Deni
The Veterans Day, Sunday, November 11, celebration will be held at Mandalay Bay Resort.

The initial stars committed to perform were introduced at a press conference at Mandalay Bay. Also present were Major General L. D. Johnston, Commander of the Warfare Center at Nellis AFB and General John H. Tillelli, Jr., (Ret.) who has been at the USO helm since his active military retirement two years ago.

"This is the first time in the history of Las Vegas that every single segment of the entertainment community has come together. It's all volunteer. And, I think it goes to show that we are all Americans," commented Newton.

Wayne Newton. Photo By: Laura Deni
On the dais were Bill Acosta, Bob Anderson, Lance Burton, Clint Holmes, Newton, the Scintas, and Earl Turner. Siegfried and Roy couldn't attend because they were out of town, but they were represented by their manager Bernie Yuman whose cell phone rang while Newton was speaking - resulting in some teasing from the guy known as Mr. Las Vegas.

LANCE BURTON Photo By: Laura Deni
The brainchild of Lance Burton, who after the Sept. 11 tragedy, called the head of Mandalay Bay and asked if something could be done to help in some way. Great minds think alike. At the same time Clint Holmes and Frank Scinta were making calls to fellow artists. "We wanted to do something to show Las Vegas cares, that it had a heart," said Holmes. "There was immediate support from everyone we contacted."

CLINT HOLMES Photo By Laura: Deni
"Newton gave us focus," explained Holmes.

"At first, we wanted to aid the victims and their families, but then we saw the unbelievable support and assistance given to them," explained Scinta. "When Newton came aboard he told us about the needs of the USO."

The Midnight Idol told the gathering that more than $840 million had been raised for relief efforts since the September 11th attack. "As it turned out, with the big spirit of America, it seems all of those (rescue worker and survivor family) factions are more than amply taken care of."

"It occurred to me that the one group almost overlooked was the military personnel effected by the Pentagon attack," continued Newton. "Maybe the men and woman of our military have been forgotten a little."

Thus, the group united to support the USO.

Newton added that he heard from Phyllis McGuire and that the McGuire Sisters are part of the program as is Rick Springfield with more stars expected to participate.

Speaking on behalf of Siegfried & Roy, their manager Bernie Yuman explained that the German born illusionists knew first hand the horrors of war. As proud Americans Siegfried & Roy were anxious to participate in this event.

Newton thanked Gen. Johnston and kidded that "we were thinking about holding this press conference at Nellis but then it occurred to us that some of you might not be able to clear security and we were sure some of us wouldn't, so Mandalay Bay set this up and we thank them."

With a dais full of entertainers known for their exuberant shows and megawatt personalities, it was a stage filled with thoughtful faces and caring hearts. Frequently Newton's eyes glistened with tears as he addressed the gathering.

Newton was seven years old when he first performed with the USO for President Truman as he was leaving office. "I was turned down by the draft. I wanted to go to Vietnam. I had been in military school for four years prior to that. I was turned down for the draft because of asthma. I thought - Okay, if you won't take me because of asthma, you can't stop me from entertaining. So I went to Vietnam as an entertainer in 66 and 68 and I've been at every confrontation that this country has been in since Vietnam."

Maj. Gen. L. D. Johnston, Commander Air Warfare Center, Nellis Air Force Base. Photo By; Laura Deni
Newton introduced Gen. Johnston from Nellis A.F.B. In an articulate and emotional talk Johnston offered his personal experiences with the USO.

"You've got to know the deep involvement I have with the USO," began Johnston who still has "vivid recollections of what the USO has meant to me."

The first profound memory was in Oct. 1972 when he was returning home from Viet Nam. "When I got home to the United States, at the airport in San Francisco, nobody in the world gave a damn about me being home - except the USO. They gave me a pill to cure an incredibly tough headache and heartache - something to eat, a place and a cot to lie down on. But it was only the USO that cared that I had come home."

General John H. Tillelli, Jr., (ret) Head of the USO Photo By: Laura Deni
Gen. Tilelli flew into Las Vegas from Washington for the press conference. "In American today our soldiers are generally underpaid, underhoused, underserved around the world and for the most part are ignored by the American people, because they do their job so well that you don't know they are there."

When informed of this USO benefit he said, "This is a major event. When I heard about it I was awed by just the thought of it."

Tickets for the 2 p.m. concert went on sale Saturday at Mandalay Bay with Ticketmaster waving their fees. There is only one price, $25. A sell out of the 12,000 seat arena would mean $308,000, with Newton stressing they have already obtained some corporate sponsors, so the end figure will be substantially higher. Newton indicated if there is enough interest a second show will be offered. When public relations representative Frank H. Lieberman announced that there would be no comps Newton quipped, "I wasn't going to tell the press that until after they printed their nice stories."

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THE RITA RUDNER CHARITY GOLF TOURNAMENT benefiting Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, Oct. 22, at the Stallion Mountain Country Club in Las Vegas. And, did you know that Americans spend more than $63 million per year on golf balls? Well, now you do.

XANADU LIVE a stage musical based on the critical flop turned cult movie favorite, Xanadu, which starred Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly with glorious music by the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). It's music that we could use right now.

In the movie a young album-painter learns a lesson about daring to dream when he is kissed by a magical muse. Throwing caution to the wind, he partners up with a wealthy former jazz musician to start-up a roller disco nightclub, but finds that one of his dreams might be too lofty--even for the powers that be.

The movie contained magnificent music including Magic, Suddenly Dancin', Suspended In Time, Whenever You're Away From Me, and I'm Alive.

This stage production is produced by Amy Pietz of Carolina In The City fame and was conceived, adapted and directed by Yale School of Drama graduate Annie Dorsen.

Annie Barsky, well-known competitor on CBS's The Amazing Race stars in the Olivia Newton-John part. Kenneth Alan Williams, the husband of Pietz and the show's executive producer, stars in the Gene Kelly role.

In a wide ranging interview Pietz spoke with Broadway To Vegas. That in depth interview with this extremely intelligent, articulate and sensitive actor/producer running the gamut from - how she intends to mount this show as an off-Broadway production to what the Wisconsin raised Pietz did with her cheese head - will appear next week.

First showcased at the Williamstown Theater Festival, this production is endorsed by Olivia Newton-John.

"I am thrilled that after 20 years Xanadu is being celebrated live on stage," said Newton-John. "And I am moved that they have chosen to benefit a cause that is close to my heart," continued the star referring to Xanadu Live being tied into Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

A portion of the proceeds from Xanadu Live will benefit both the American Cancer Society's breast cancer programs and Equity Actor's Fight AIDS

The production features a cast of 24 colorfully costumed actors, dancers and roller skaters who mime the actual film performance in a loving homage to faith and hope. The movie may have been out of sinc twenty years ago, but the concept is right in step now. Believe in the magic. Go see Xanadu Live, which opened Thursday in its world premiere at the Gascon Theater, Los Angeles. Performances through November 11.

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE ABRIDGED an irreverent, hip, young director, Jeremy Dobrish, brings his unique comic vision to this venture. Peter Ackerman, Jeremy Shamos and David Turner, tackle 75 characters, 100 props, dozens of costumes and more than 200 light cues to bring us laughter and mirth. Forsooth get thee to the Century Center for the Performing Arts NYC. Officially opens on October 15

45 SECONDS FROM BROADWAY Comedy by Neil Simon. Directed by Jerry Zaks. Producer: Emanuel Azenberg. Cast: Lewis J. Stadlen, Joan Copeland, Marian Seldes and Alix Korey. Previews begin October 16, a the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

MAMMA MIA! Musical based on pop songs by ABBA. Book: Catherine Johnson. Music & Lyrics: Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus. Director: Phyllida Lloyd. Choreography: Anthony Van Laast. This eagerly anticipated opening takes place October 18 at Winter Garden Theatre in New York City.

DENVER CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS citing fallout from September 11, has announced they have scaled back proposed productions. In addition, plans for a company to tour the West has been postponed. Next season 8 shows instead of 12 will be produced. Production costs will also be slashed as will the size of the shows. Pierre by Herman Melville was on the drawing board as a lavish production with 30 actors. That has now been trimmed to a show using 12 to 18 actors.

WIT by Margaret Edson is the opening production for the 56th season of the Asheville Community Theatre in North Carolina. The production stars Kay Galvin and is directed by Ralph Redpath.

Wit marks a unique collaboration between Asheville's medical and arts communities: Medical resource specialists are available to the audience after every performance. Special talk-backs with cast members and medical professionals were held after the October 12-14 performances.

Doctors and nurses worked with the director to block specific hospital scenes and Mission St. Joseph's loaned medical equipment to the production.

Wit is sponsored by: The Ethics Committee of Mission St. Joseph's Mountain Area Hospice, Helen Powers Women's Health Center at Mission St. Joseph's, Mission St. Joseph's Cancer Services, Asheville Hematology and Oncology Associates, Cancer Care of Western North Carolina, Hope, A Women's Cancer Center, Mountain Radiation Oncology, P.A., and Radiation Therapy Associates.

Winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Wit is an extraordinary first play by Margaret Edson. Actress Galvin portrays Vivian Bearing, a renowned professor of English who has spent years studying and teaching the brilliant and difficult metaphysical sonnets of John Donne. Bearing has recently been diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. During the course of her illness, she comes to reassess her life and work with a profundity and humor that are transformative both for her and the audience.

Performances through October 21


NEIL DIAMOND center stage tonight and tomorrow in Cleveland, OH at the Gund Arena. On Wednesday and Thursday the spotlight hits him in Philadelphia, PA at the First Union Center and on Saturday the place to be is Grand Rapids, MI at the Van Andel Arena.

KRISTIN CHENOWETH made her Las Vegas debut last night (Saturday) at the Performing Arts Center. The Tony Award winner is slated to star opposite Matthew Broderick in the new movie remake of The Sound of Music.

STEVE LAWRENCE AND EYDIE GORME perform at Resorts in Atlantic City on October 19-21.

TORI AMOS is center stage tomorrow in Boston, MA at the Wang Center. On Thursday the show is in Detroit, MI at the Fox Theatre and Friday find the performer entertaining in Toronto, ON at Massey Hall.

DAVID CASSIDY continues his tour with a two night gig Wednesday and Thursday in Kansas City, MO at Harrah's Casino. On Friday the Las Vegas resident can be found performing in Phoenix, AZ at the Arizona State Fair.

EVA MARIE SAINT who won an Academy Award as best supporting actress in the 1954 Elia Kazan classic On the Waterfront opposite Marlon Brando, and her husband, actor-director Jeffrey Hayden, spent the past week on campus at Vanderbilt University as part of the Fred Coe Artist-in-Residence program. Saint and Hayden gave master classes for theater department students. They also gave a special performance of A.R. Gurney's play Love Letters

GLADYS KNIGHT is center stage Saturday in Birmingham, AL at the Convention Complex.

DON RICKLES insulting the happy crowd Wednesday in Morristown, NJ at the Community Theatre. Then Mr. Warmth takes the patter to Morton, MN for a Friday performance at Jackpot Junction Casino.

JIM NABORS brings his mirth and music to Leelanau Sands Casino in Peshawstown, MI for a Saturday night performance.

JOHNNY MATHIS October 19 & 20 in Las Vegas, NV Las Vegas Hilton.

LINDA EDER October 19 and 20 at the Atlanta Symphony Hall.


BETTER THAN BAYER scientists say that sex can relieve arthritis pain for up to six hours.

Next Column: October 21, 2001
Copyright: October 14, 2001. All Rights Reserved. Reviews, Interviews, Commentary, Photographs or Graphics from any Broadway To Vegas (TM) columns may not be published, rewritten, broadcast, rewritten, utilized as leads, or used in any manner without permission, compensation and/or credit.
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Laura Deni

U.S. Postal Address: Post Office Box 60538, Las Vegas, NV 89160