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August 30, 2014

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Live Frankie Moreno taping shakes the Strat; BBR burns as resort officials take notice

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Frankie Moreno performs in the showroom at the Stratosphere on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.

Frankie Moreno Performs at Stratosphere

Frankie Moreno performs in the showroom at the Stratosphere Tuesday, Feb 11, 2014 Launch slideshow »
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Frankie Moreno performs in the showroom at the Stratosphere on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.

Click to enlarge photo

Frankie Moreno performs in the showroom at the Stratosphere on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.

The Kats Report at this writing is the Starbucks at Stratosphere, where the vibe burst skyward Tuesday night with the taping of a live performance by Frankie Moreno.

That show is now being edited, with the plan for it to be pitched around for national broadcast, and suffice to say one interested party is PBS. The idea, too, is for the performance to be issued as a live DVD.

Moreno and his band were primed to perform and never sounded better than they did as they rocked a standing-room-only audience at the Stratosphere Showroom. The audience stood largely because, to create an authentic concert setting, the seats and tables at the front of the stage were hauled away. From what I understand, they were subsequently sold at valet.

Not really.

The room was jammed, jamming, a little nutty. The man at the helm of the production was the eminent Peter Berkow, whom I met not long ago … in 1985. Peter is a fantastic guitarist who once backed Dan Fogelberg and also is a former colleague of mine in Chico, Calif. He wrote for an alt-weekly known as Off the Record, an offshoot of the Chico Enterprise-Record. I was just out of high school, and also out of my mind at times, and Peter became a great friend.

We were eventually roommates in Redding, for a time, as he moved on to teach journalism at Shasta College (and if I ever forget what life was like when I was in my mid-20s, Peter is always there with some anecdote centering on empty beer cans and Black Sabbath being played at ear-piercing volume).

Today, he is a contracted producer and documentarian who has worked with Cake, trained his cameras on legendary artists for a series about the history of the guitar, and also developed a project about the Ray Conniff Singers. Oddly enough, Tamara Conniff, who is Moreno’s manager, is the daughter of Ray Conniff.

And months ago, when Peter took in a Moreno show with me at the Stratosphere, I absolutely knew all of this was going to happen. All part of the Johnny’s masterplan, right?

Hardly.

What a world.

Let’s catch up on some raking, eh?

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Ryan Kelsey, Anne Martinez and Eric Michael Morgan of BBR perform at T-Spot Lounge at Tuscany on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.

• I was honored, thrilled and apprehensive to introduce BBR’s latest showcase at Tuscany’s T Spot Lounge. This show started about when the Moreno show was ending, so for those of us who could make both performances, it was a wildly entertaining night. The “Alice, A Steampunk Fantasy in Wonderland” production was a tighter and, if possible, even more intense show than the first version rolled out back in November.

This is a show fronted by vocalists Anne Martinez (the show’s founder) and Savanna Smith that blasts David Perrico-written interpretations of such songs ranging from Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun.” The band and backing dancers (including co-director Ryan Kelsey from “Pin Up”) are among the best anywhere. The performers wade into the crowd, crawl along the floor and even hop atop the bar to perform the show’s searing acts.

The power of this show is inescapable, and it was too loud even for many industry vets in the audience. That issue needs some addressing, I say. But the appearance of Claire Sinclair as a burlesque-ian Queen of Hearts was a welcome addition. She performed a routine similar to her October witch’s brew number in “Pin Up.”

A pair of Caesars Entertainment officials were in the crowd (Caesars also was represented at the November show), and they came away highly impressed. The next move is twofold: Find a company or individual willing to invest financially in this uniquely inventive production, and find a venue suitable for staging this performance.

At Caesars, the most obvious and most-discussed venue is the Gossy Lounge/Cleopatra’s Barge, with BBR taking over midweek when Goss is not performing. The show is a long trek from there, and other reps have been talking to Martinez about booking the show. More shall be revealed, but that room full of entertainment-industry types was blown away. Totally.

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Brad Garrett and Isabella Quella on the Red Carpet for the opening of Beachers Madhouse MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013.

• Brad Garrett is pulling out of his scheduled performances this month and in March at his Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at MGM Grand. His focus at the moment is on his upcoming book, “When the Balls Drop,” to be published by Simon & Schuster, and the TV pilot of a sitcom based on that book. The first draft of the book is due at the end of the month, and Garrett is sort of stressed, and it is fascinating to watch someone you cover deal with deadline pressure occasionally.

“In a huge crunch” is how Garrett described his disposition this week. He is back in April to celebrate his year anniversary at MGM Grand. Last month, his girlfriend, IsaBeall Quella, turned 30. The couple’s disparity in age has long been fertile ground for Garrett’s standup act, and in the text the 53-year-old Garrett noted, “She broke the pinata in two whacks!”

Gotta love that Garrett. A man after my own heart.

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Jennifer Main, once of Las Vegas, now of Los Angeles.

• For years, Jennifer Main was known as one of the most promising and accomplished artists in the Arts District, a painter featured in the early days of First Friday at Jennifer Main Gallery at the Arts Factory. Just as that area was taking off and such nearby regions as Fremont East began blossoming with hip businesses (including the gallery-filled Emergency Arts), Main bolted for Los Angeles. She operates a gallery now in downtown Los Angeles, but this weekend she returns to Vegas — and on the Strip — as her work is displayed at the Forum Shops in Caesars.

In a groovy little twist, she is appearing at the new Art Encounter shop in the Forum Shops from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Art Encounter owner Rod Maly was the first to present the then-17-year-old Main, at the time a promising art student at Las Vegas Academy.

Main has described her boldly color-splashed pieces as whimsical, colorful, symbolic and expressionistic. She could have remained in Vegas indefinitely, but as is the case with many great artists, she sought a new canvas.

“I was hungry for a new city to explore,” she says. “I got too comfortable, and I wanted to get out of my comfort zone — my life had become comfortable and predictable in Las Vegas. I had no clue about L.A., where I was going to live or anything about it.”

Main is eager to revisit her former home and where her career was launched.

“It’s just exciting to come back to Las Vegas and see what’s happening with the growth in the arts community and all the independent businesses,” she says. “I’m eager to see Fremont Street, Container Park and all of the places that have been opened since I’ve left. It’s become a really cool place.”

• Erin Foley is a first-time headliner at Plaza Showroom this weekend, performing at 7 tonight, Friday and Saturday (tickets are $59.95, plus fees; go to the Plaza website for info). But Foley is not new to Vegas, having previously headlined at the Improv in Harrah’s.

About a year ago, when she was performing a 12-shows-in-six-days stint at the Improv, she was invited to meet a friend at the pool at “one of the major hotel-casinos, one of the really nice ones.” Foley toted a backpack full of books to the hotel, feeling she was going to spend a leisurely morning poolside reading and relaxing. What she found was a “toptional” pool party, with club music blaring and guests already drinking with great vigor.

“It was like 9 a.m., and it was crazy,” says Foley, remembered for her supporting role in “Almost Famous” and her many appearances on late-night talk shows. “It was hilarious. It was a (topless) show, actually. The drinking was, like, the eve of Prohibition. People were just slinging alcohol into their faces, and I was saying, ‘Pace yourselves! It’s 9 in the morning!’ ”

Foley continued, “I’m gay, so if it’s ‘toptional,’ I’m saying, ‘Bring it on!’ But I’ve never seen boobs like these. We started calling them Huge Bags of Self-Esteem With a Hubcap and a Doorknob.’ They were just unreal. I had never seen anything like it. At least not in person.”

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The Las Vegas Philharmonic, performing here with the Las Vegas Master Singers, is one of two resident companies at the Smith Center's Reynolds Hall.

• The Las Vegas Philharmonic is not succumbing to ambiguity with its presentation of “Casablanca” at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Smith Center, in which the score has been stripped so that the orchestra can play the music live (prices are $24 to $95; go to the Smith Center website for ticket info). This is all an effort to capitalize on Valentine’s Day weekend with one of the great cinematic love stories.

The L.V. Phil has become more inventive with its Pops shows, as last year’s “City Lights” performance at Reynolds Hall indicated. The show’s producer is John Goberman, who won an Emmy for his work in “Live at Lincoln Center” and who has been in Las Vegas this week to set up the show. The film’s dialogue and sound effects remain intact, but the score by Max Steiner has been removed so that the Phil can spin its magic. The project has been termed “The Ultimate Surround Sound.”

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

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