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July 25, 2014

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With ‘Pin Up,’ Stratosphere has it covered — which is not the best idea for Claire Sinclair

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

The grand opening and red carpet of “Pin Up” starring Claire Sinclair at the Stratosphere on Monday, April 29, 2013.

Kats With the Dish

'Pin Up' with Claire Sinclair

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Kats and the Dish talk to Claire Sinclair, the star of the new “Pin Up” at the Stratosphere.

Grand Opening of 'Pin Up' at Stratosphere

The grand opening and red carpet of Launch slideshow »

'Pin Up' Sneak Peek

Claire Sinclair, Playboy's 2011 Playmate of the Year, performs in an October-themed sequence during a media preview of Launch slideshow »

“Pin Up” at the Stratosphere draws its celebrity power from Claire Sinclair, known mostly as the 2011 Playboy Playmate of the Year. It is a late-night show at the tip of the Strip that promises sexy production numbers, many centering on the show’s curvaceous pinup model.

So it is understandable for many ticketholders filing into Stratosphere Showroom to expect Sinclair to burst live from the pages of Playboy and reveal as much onstage as she did when posing for the magazine.

And, yes, there is a topless performer in “Pin Up.”

He’s the lone male dancer, Ryan Kelsey.

Kelsey is the one who takes his shirt off during the show. The ladies love it, but it’s unlikely a topless Kelsey is what the guys lured to “Pin Up” hope to see when deciding on attending a show starring Sinclair. The will-she, won’t-she issue is important and obvious to the show as it finally rolled out is official premiere Monday night.

Yep, that’s right. The Stratosphere’s labor of love has finally, formally opened. The show’s preview opening was March 2, nearly two months ago. Some shows open, play and close in that span of time. “Surf the Musical” lasted just six weeks at Planet Hollywood. Two months is ample time to ratchet down a show’s pacing, make the requisite personnel changes and even add an act or two.

All of that has happened in “Pin Up.” Anne Martinez is the new singer, stepping in for Autumn Belanger, who opened the show in March. Two dancers have been swapped out. The show’s clunky transitions — the hauling of such heavy set pieces as a fighter-plane propeller and witch’s cauldron — have been smoothed over. Canned music played between scenes, specifically the Dick Dale surf classic “Misirlou,” has been replaced by a live performance by Dave Perrico and the Pin Up Six, which is not the band’s actual name but how I refer to it in my head.

The months flip by in the calendar-themed dance show. What we find in this timeless exercise are some pretty enjoyable musical numbers sung by Martinez and performed by the five powerhouse dancers backed by that great band. The costumes are fun to look at; the vintage World War II attire in the Rosie the Riveter segment seems pulled from an old postcard.

The show’s set pieces are sometimes inspired — the magic pillow Sinclair plays with that seems an actual living entity is quirky fun. At times, these sets are lavish, such as the steaming cauldron Sinclair stirs to produce a real person, the omnipresent Kelsey. And, disappointingly, they are occasionally rote; the pole employed during “Girl on Fire” seems a fall-back decision, similar to how a prop comic will grab a rubber chicken when he runs out of ideas.

Where “Pin Up” works, mostly, is in its execution of song and dance. I’ll say this until my face is as purple as the gown Sinclair wears when chatting up the audience: A great live band can mask a multitude of defects. Perrico’s crew, which feels like a pared-down version of his Pop Evolution show band, is the repeated finger snap that keeps the audience engaged.

Since opening, the sextet of musicians has waded more frequently toward — and even into — the audience. Drummer Brian Czach resurrects a routine I’d first seen him perform when he was Rick Faugno’s bandleader at the Palms: drumming across the stage while his partner, in this case the wildly effective Sarah Short, tap dances. This is as Short dons something like a sequined Dodgers uniform and wields a regulation Louisville Slugger.

The scene is priceless. These two are clearly invested in the segment, with Short pounding the platform with machine-gun precision and Czach hitting the stage set and nearby tables and cocktail glasses with such velocity that he sometimes breaks a stick (that happened Monday).

But eight weeks on, you’re still left wondering, what is the point of all this activity? Some of us simply enjoy a roaring band, a fine live voice and tight choreography. But what is the reason an audience loaded with tourists, many of them young guys, visits a Las Vegas show hosted by a Playboy Playmate?

It’s not just to watch a pretty girl in a nightie fluff a pillow.

I’ve long guessed that it’s just a question of when, not if, Sinclair performs the sort of striptease payoff her friend and mentor Holly Madison (who was in the audience Monday night) so effectively executed in “Peepshow” at Planet Hollywood.

The point is not to suggest turning “Pin Up,” loaded with talent and promise, into a full-scale strip revue. The point is to make a stronger case for hiring Sinclair in the first place. The production has made every effort to play to the strengths of its performers — except for the young woman who has achieved the highest honor bestowed by the world’s most famous adult magazine.

“Pin Up” is lucky in that has a bona-fide pinup as its star. As they say in poker, feel free to play the ace. Ask the guy onstage how to deal that card.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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