Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009 | 1:31 a.m.
Chris Phillips talks with great passion of this dream he’s had for years, his dream of a lifetime. He wavers on how long he’s had the dream. Sometimes it's 35 years. Sometimes it's 32. Sometimes it’s 40, from the moment he first heard “Elvis in person at the International Hotel” in 1969.
Whichever, it is the dream to keep alive the essence of Las Vegas, that maverick, coo-coo, Rat Pack-ian swagger on which the city’s entertainment reputation was forged.
In this dream, Phillips is half of the act billed as Zowie Bowie. He’s singing with a partner, the buxom and blustery Marley Taylor, so stacked she makes Jayne Mansfield look positively dowdy.
Setting up residency in his dream is a 16-piece orchestra conducted by trumpet player and pianist David Perrico (who sits in with the great Lon Bronson on Thursdays at Green Valley Ranch and is rehearsing for the Cirque/Elvis show to open at CityCenter in December) and featuring Bronson himself in the horn section. Famous friends stop by in this dream, played out onstage at Monte Carlo’s Lance Burton Theatre. There are a couple of the “Rat Pack Is Back” performers from the Plaza, up for a frenetic “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.” There’s Vince Neil of Motley Crue, decked out in a charcoal suit and soaring through “Fly Me to the Moon,” carefully steering the tune like an IndyCar driver suddenly plopped into a Bentley. There is even a famous canine, Alicia Jacobs’ Star, a doggie by now famous enough to require her own agent, who is invited onstage as Taylor chirps “Crush on You.”
It’s an adventure in wonderland, this dream. And as you sit and watch and listen to the highly persuasive, bronzed, blond-frocked Phillips repeatedly claim that old Vegas will never die, not as long as he has a voice in the matter, you wonder: Is this dream too big, too grandiose, for these two?
The “Vintage Vegas” show Phillips and Taylor are four-walling at the Burton Theatre each Sunday night might be a simple case of a very good lounge show moved into a venue that strips that show of its intimate appeal. On Sunday night, during the gala opening, the theater seemed to engulf the performers -- no small feat, considering the magnitude of their collective personalities and Taylor’s impossible-to-ignore physical appeal (when your gay friends are saying even they can’t stop staring at her chest, you know you’re in rarefied territory).
Crucial to Zowie Bowie’s long success is the relationship-driven shtick between Phillips and Taylor. The two have been famously engaged for nearly a decade with no wedding date in sight, and the comic material rises from this concocted tension -- “Get Me to the Church on Time” is played to start and end the show. But the give-and-take between the two was far more comfortable in a smaller setting -- like Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort or The Lounge at the Palms. Somehow it’s not quite hitting the mark in the big showroom; you wince when Phillips slaps Taylor on the rear and tells her, “Beat it, will ya?” trying to channel Sinatra, I guess. But Taylor does have a couple of good zingers, mocking Phillips’ spiked-out hair by saying, “Shut up, Beavis,” and referring to him as “Tweety Bird.”
Musically and vocally, the show works well as a recitation of famous songs that fit the “Vintage Vegas” theme. Taylor’s “Diamonds Are Forever” and Diana Ross’s “Touch Me in the Morning” prove she’s a lot more than a gown model. Phillips has some fine moments. “Delilah” didn’t have Tom Jones’ force, but Phillips sings it with grit and passion. He embarks on a fun medley of old TV show themes, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Jeffersons” and “Love Boat.” They uncork “American Trilogy” near the end, but in these instances, the numbers are carried mostly by Zowie Bowie’s heartfelt desire to be great. And if anyone is looking to improve this show, right now, address the out-of-step, oddly costumed backup dancers. Even occasional show-goers recognized that strips of gold and silver sequins and attention-grabbing headdresses (which seem borrowed from the “Jubilee!” cast-off pile and appeared to startle even Taylor) are no substitute for grace and precision.
All this for $30 a ticket, incidentally, which is $30 more than the same performers charge for their medley-fueled, hip-hop shows each Friday and Saturday at The Pub, around the corner from the Burton Theatre.
Two of the more popular personalities to arrive on the Vegas scene in a long time, Phillips and Taylor have a 90-day commitment in this theater. By their sheer force of will and boundless belief in their act, it might well grow into a show that reaches the furthest recesses of the showroom. But at the moment, that type of rousing production is but a dream.
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