Broadway To Vegas


Copyright: October 19, 1998
By: Laura Deni


The latest edition of Cirque Du Soleil, 0 phonetically speaking, the French word for water, is the creation of a bevy of individuals who permit their minds to be a canvas and allow imagination to create artistic masterpieces.

Erte' used fluid lines and sensuality. Picasso developed an exploration of form with special emphasis upon dreamlike images or the cubism of figures with masks rather than faces, posing in a jagged, distorted way - yet, giving each a life of its own.

In the same genre, O comes to fruition on the Bellagio stage. It's not a definable production. It's an emotional and sensual experience. Each person leaving the theater will interpret the show differently. Like all Cirque Du Soleil productions O defies pigeonholing. Whatever it is, it's the best of it's kind.

In this edition water is the stage (See October 5, 1998) The 75 talented performers are showcased in, under and above the water. Platforms emerge from the watery depths to meet the performing needs and then artistically disappear.

As with other Cirque productions, 15 minutes before showtime the entertainment begins in the aisles. A calliope player strolls along followed by Victorian pedestrians and two clowns. Using umbrellas and water their prestidigitation delights the crowd. While a "baby" with a ball serves as a scene breaker at the Cirque's Mystere production, at Treasure Island Hotel, in "O" it's the clowns, performing on icebergs.

From the moment a trapeze artist descends from the blue domed ceiling, the spectacular is magnificent. A mid-air carousel dominates one scene. In another segment, an all engulfing fire, licking like a consuming desire until the wind blows in, holds the audience in awe. Suspended cradles and hoops, seemingly boneless human beings turned into swans and pelicans. An Oriental Sailing Junk or are those Aeriel Cradles and Parallel Bars? A Washington Trapeze and a Russian Swing. No, not political romances, although the effect the performers have while utilizing them is sensual.

The production is capable of touching one's soul and engulfs the senses. Equal to the performers are the lighting, sets, costumes and background music. They are an unbroken circle of equality.

The silent alchemists who deserve low bows for their creative genius are: Writer and Producer Franco Dragone; Gilles Ste-Croix, director of creation; Dominique Lemieux, costume designer; Benoit Jutras, composer and musical director; Michael Crete, set designer; Debra Brown. Choreographer; Jonathan Deans, sound designer; Luc Lafortune, Lighting designer; Francois Bergeron, sound designer.

In addition to 27 coaches, the production carries two physical therapists and one massage therapist.

The majestic Bellagio opera style theater permits the audience to be comfortable while being enthralled. The chairs rock. The aisles are wide enough for Big Foot. Refreshments can be purchased before entering the theater. Individual cup holders hopefully will prevent the contents from damaging the red fabric covered chairs.

At the beginning of Monday night's performance (Oct. 12) Elaine Wynn, wife of Steve, and herself a head honcho, took to the stage and asked the audience to remain after the show and participate in a dress rehearsal for last Saturday night's VIP grand opening.

Everyone happily obliged.

Trumpets heralded our departing the theater. Awaiting us were all 75 members of 0 dressed as footmen in red tailcoats - some in white mime faces. None broke character as they walked in minuet strides, escorting us down a red velvet corded off walkway to the Grand Ballroom.

The Grand Ballroom can easily accommodate 10,000. Last Saturday night it was the setting for the gourmet meal to end all gourmet feasts which followed the 0 production. At the entrance to the ballroom, greeting the guests, I counted 30 red coated footmen, each carrying gold candelabras. The Wynns are going to have to think hard to top themselves on this one.

Hotel officials assert that of the ten top chefs in the world, the Bellagio has latched onto five of them. Having eaten my way through the entire resort, I don't think they are exaggerating.

Any of the restaurants has food fit for the gods and the hotel looks like a palace any of the gods would revere in calling home, the production of 0 is an emotional experience. Don't expect anything specific. Just permit yourself to be engulfed.


David Regal, who once threatened to chase a critical reviewer out of his theater, has stepped down as department head and assumed the role of artistic director of the University of Detroit Mercy theater department.

The actor turned director came to Detroit in 1967 as part of the Hilberry Theatre with Jeffrey Tambor from San Francisco State. From actor he became an instructor at the University of Detroit Mercy theater department, then artistic director in 1973 and chairman of the department from 1975-98.

In stepping down from department chairman after 25 years, Regal told The Detroit Free Press he's delighted that he doesn't have to attend "those silly chairman meetings and not have to deal with the stupid university education processes and committees."

He remains outspoken, critical and passionately devoted to the theater.

His taste is "edgy" and he wants to find playwrights who "have something to say." He's worried about the future of theater in Detroit and he's upset with the big guys like the Nederlander Organization for being businessmen, not artists - for not contributing to other professional theaters. At least if they do, Regal doesn't know about it.


Tommy Tune
The multi-talented Tommy Tune, all 6' 6 1/2" of him, has been wooed and won over to become the star of the $45 million EFX show at the MGM-Grand Hotel, in Las Vegas.

EFX is an acronym for effects. The production originally opened with Michael Crawford as the star. When I saw that production I thought Crawford wasn't used to the best advantage of either himself or the production. The concept required Crawford to stay in character as storyteller, which he did. Then the hotel didn't defend him when critics carped that he didn't sing songs from Phantom.

Crawford was replaced by David Cassidy. The show was re-vamped to emphasize Cassidy's Partridge Family appeal. In capitalizing on Cassidy's hit TV series image the show drew a bigger, more enthusiastic crowd.

However, in any production of EFX, the effects remain the star. The night I saw the show starring Cassidy something broke and the show came to a dramatic halt. Customers waited 20 minutes before the problem was fixed. When mechanics rule the show, the smallest glitch can stop a production.

There are plenty of things that can mess up.

There are 13 miles of control cable, over 16 miles of electrical wire from the lighting booth to the rear projection booth alone. With 60 light curtains, there is a 48 channel Yamaha PM 4000 mixing console and 20 gigabytes of hard drive.
The sound system features 85,000 watts of state-of-the-art Crest stereo amplification designed to drive 300 loudspeakers, including 184 theatre sub-woofers and another 136 sub-woofers located under audience seats. There are 300 pounds of drywall screws and 35,000 feet of 3/8" cable, 10 automated light towers, 70 performers, 60 technicians and a lot of Tylenol.

While Cassidy is not staying on, both sides stress they are parting as friends. Crawford is still embroiled in a lawsuit against the hotel due to a work related injury claim.

With Tommy Tune putting his stamp on the show it will be interesting to see how the production utilizes his talents.

A plus for Tune is that the hotel already has high ceilings. Everything about the place is huge. The stage dimensions are 196' x 115' with the proscenium opening nearly double the size of a conventional theatre - 108' x 32'. The theatre features two 15' x 30' stage elevators necessary to move large, elaborate sets. That ought to accommodate Mr. Tune's lanky frame. In his New York apartment he had to raise everything nine inches; doorways, counters, sinks, tubs, shower head and even the toilet.

Because the production was changed to personalize Cassidy there will have to be significant changes when Tune, 59, climbs on board. Tune's Broadway shows have always conjured up extravagant stage magic, so it's easy to understand why the Texas native would relish the opportunity to take over EFX.

The razzle-dazzle showman who sings, dances, acts, choreographs and directs, has won nine Tony awards. He's one of the last great Broadway dance masters. He started with Seesaw in 1973, choreographing himself dancing down a staircase wearing clogs and carrying balloons. Tune has imprinted his own style. It is anticipated that he will do no less in Las Vegas.


Harry Connick,Sr.
Following in his son's footsteps - it's Harry Connick, Sr. - that's right senior. The guy is on the road, singing with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra.

Connick, Sr. was first elected New Orleans district attorney in 1974 and continuously re-elected, although at one time he did find himself under federal indictment for an alleged gaming scam.

He stood trial and was acquitted. He announced he celebrated that acquittal by playing his son's video.

Little did his son suspect that perhaps what papa was doing was studying the act!

Connick, Sr. has made a career of trying to make the bad guys sing. Now he's up on stage crooning away.

Backed by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra with Christopher Riddle conducting, Connick, Sr. is giving his son some competition - doing a Tribute to Frank Sinatra.

They perform this Friday, October 23, at the Music Hall in Detroit.


Renovation and expansion are in epidemic stages as southern states try to save areas, and increase tourism.

From shopping to criminals - whatever it takes to bring in the tourists - is used as a hook.

Opryland USA theme park closed, making way for a $230 million Opry Mills megamall with planners predicting it will be Tennessee's main tourist attraction, even outdrawing the Great Smoky Mountains.

The Opry Mills project with Gaylord Entertainment Co. is expected to draw 17 million people in the first year. In it's best year the shuttered theme park only drew 2.4 million. Virgin Megastore will have 25,000 sq. ft. of music, video and computer software. There will be an 18 screen Regal Cinemas movie theater, the Rainforest Restaurant, Wolfgang Puck's Cafe and Alabama Grill, which features memorabilia on the country music superstars. About 200 retailers are expected to lease space.

The Biltmore Estate
The Lake Lure, North Carolina folk were desperate to increase tourism through the winter months. Ten year resident, restaurateur Jimmy Hinkle convinced the powers that be that he was the man with the plan.

A Conference Center with a tie-in to scenic spots such as; Chimney Rock, the Bat Cave, downtown Asheville and Hendersonville with their many antique stores, historical sites such as the Carl Sandburg Home, and the glorious Biltmore Estate, was what the town needed to keep the economy growing.

Asheville, North Carolina
Hinkle convinced the officials, who decided to renovate a building constructed in 1927. Former location of the Vanderbilt Shirt Factory, the building had not been fully occupied since World War II.

Our roving reporter Trudy Knight-Peek spoke with Paul E. Fisher, the general manager of the Conference Center."We are focusing on conventions which meet usually twice a year, or quarterly. Many boards in the southern states meet during September and April including Xerox, and Best Buy. We have 497 rooms on this side of the county and the average group size needs 150 rooms. Our concept is to have meetings come to Lake Lure and experience a complete scenario. Transportation from one of our bed and breakfasts will be provided to the conference center and transportation will be provided to lake and sight seeing tours, much like a ski resort."

"The main entrance will include a concierge," Fisher told Knight-Peek. "Upstairs will include a secretarial pool and a switchboard capable of taking calls for 13 different companies. The 5,000 sq. ft. roof top patio with greenhouses, tables and a barbecue will look out over the mountains."

Downstairs is the area's first brewery and Jimmy's Restaurant. Official opening is October 24 with State Senator Walter Dalton doing the ribbon cutting honors.

The Shelton
It was Tony Bennett that performed the grand opening concert after Gloria White, chairman of the board of directors, officially opened the $5 million renovation and expansion of The Sheldon in St. Louis.

The run down building had been bought in 1990 for $1.6 million on behalf of the Sheldon Arts Foundation. The small concert hall was acoustically perfect, despite its cracked wooden seats, making renovation a viable option.

Five different art exhibition galleries connect to the concert hall through a glass-walled bridge, which looks down on a courtyard, where a fountain from the turn of the century has been restored in time for the next century.

700 patrons so enthusiastically applauded after Bennett's performance that the crowd refused to permit Bennett and the Ralph Sharon Quartet to leave. All five musicians responded with an extra session.

The Arlington Hotel
Also utilizing celebrities - both the infamous as well as famous - is the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Al Capone regularly reserved room 442 and his staff and bodyguards occupied the entire floor. Both Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt have stayed there. So has Jack Benny and H.L. Hunt. President Clinton attended his junior and senior proms in the Crystal Ballroom.

The Arlington first opened in 1875. Razed in 1893 and destroyed by fire in 1923, the hotel is currently in its third incarnation.There are 484 guest rooms, 50 with mineral water directly piped in. A special use government permit allows the facility to receive thermal spring water from Hot Springs National Park.


THE NATIONAL MUSIC FOUNDATION with chairman Dick Clark, stages a benefit on Tuesday, October 27 at the Marriott Marquois Hotel (NYC), to raise funds for a retirement community for musicians. The Accidentials will be singing at the event, which is a tribute to Marilyn Bergman, Betty Comden, and Dionne Warwick, who are scheduled to appear. For information, contact Abby Schroeder at (413) 528-1824.

ERINN COSBY daughter of Drs. Bill and Camilla Cosby, recently became the bride of Dr. Michael Cannaday. The ceremony took place in her parents' Philadelphia home. Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young officiated. Among the guests were Cosby co-star Phylicia Rashad and her son, William Bowles III.

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BRENDA VACCARO is in Cincinnati, starring as Diana Vreeland, the madcap high priestess of fashion in the play Full Gallop. The one woman show, written by Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson, continues it's Cincinnati premiere through November 1 at the Ensemble Theater of Cincinnati.

ANNIE starring Conrad John Schuck as Oliver Warbucks, Sally Struthers as Miss Hannigan and introducing Brittny Kissinger as Annie, opens October 20 at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati. Production runs through November 1.

MARILYN VOLPE set to perform, Oct. 29, as part of the Cavalcade of Cabaret series, in the famed Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, New York. Her successful show, You Fascinate Me So - Marilyn Volpe sings Cy Coleman, was recorded live at Tavern on the Green in 1996, and released by Original Cast Records.

VICTORIA THOMPSON stars in Dorothy Parker; Lady of the Corridor at the Sacramento, Calif. Theatre Company's Stage Two. Production continues through Nov. 28.

JOLSON a spectacular musical, winning the Laurence Olivier Award as London's Best Musical in 1996, is on tour in America. Production closed Sunday at the Allen Theatre in Cleveland. Set to open Nov. 17 at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit.

BOB SAGAT AND DAVE COULIER co-stars of Full House perform their stand up comedy - for mature audiences - Friday, Oct. 23 at the Westport Playhouse in St. Louis.


AUDITIONS being held in Las Vegas this week for the national touring company of Rent.

Next column: October 26, 1998
Copyright: October 19, 1998. All Rights Reserved All Rights Reserved. Reviews, Interviews, Commentary, Photographs or Graphics of any type from any Broadway To Vegas (TM) columns may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, utilized as leads, or used in any manner without permission, compensation and/or credit.
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Laura Deni