Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun
Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 | 10:57 a.m.
It’s a classic case of satisfying mutual needs: The rockers need a room, and the hotel needs to be rocked.
Thus, “Raiding the Rock Vault,” which seemed it would not survive 2013 at LVH Theater, is back at the hotel in 2014. The roaring musical centered on an unearthed vault filled with rock classics and teeming with veteran rockers returns Jan. 24 and will run through this year.
The show is now in a long-term contract with the hotel, principally resort operator Goldman Sachs, which has committed to a significant financial investment in the show (the sum of which is not specified), but easily millions of dollars are being delivered to the production. That decision effectively saved "Rock Vault" from closing at the theater and being forced to find a new home.
“At the end of the year, we got to the stage where we were spending an incredible amount of money to keep the momentum going,” the show’s co-writer and de facto frontman John Payne says. “We needed the support of the hotel or to find another property and take the show that way. This is a huge investment for them, but they did see the show in November and loved it.”
Crucial to the survival of “Rock Vault,” which opened in March, was a show performed on Nov. 27. Representatives from Goldman Sachs were in the crowd, which was built to more than 1,600 for what proved to be the most important audition yet for the artists in “Rock Vault.”
“The stars aligned, we had a full house, and it was the most nervous I’ve been onstage,” says Payne, known mostly for his days touring with Asia and who has developed the show in partnership with Grammy Award-winning producer David Kershenbaum and British investor "Sir" Harry Cowell. “If Goldman Sachs had said ‘no’ to us after that show, it would have been six months before we could have started it up again. It was very crucial that they saw the kind of local support we have, and they did not want to lose the show to another hotel.
“This gives us a great place to perform, and it helps increase the hotel’s profile.”
Changes onstage are in the offing, as guitarist Doug Aldrich of Whitesnake is stepping in for the deposed Tracii Guns (whose erratic behavior was too much even for his fellow rockers). Returning with Payne are guitarist Howard Leese (Heart); vocalists Robin McAuley (MSG, Survivor), Paul Shortino (Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot), Andrew Freeman (Lynch Mob, The Offspring); drummer Jay Schellen (Badfinger, Asia); and keyboardist Michael T. Ross (Lita Ford Band).
Payne is still working to line up guest vocalists, having lured Mickey Thomas of Starship, Lou Gramm of Foreigner, Jon Anderson of Yes and Bobby Kimball of Toto to the show in its first year. The band does have plans to feature a female singer for the first time, as Starship vocalist Stephanie Calvert, who joined Thomas onstage during his stint with the show in July, has been recruited to join the show.
Calvert’s appearances are still being sorted out to fit with her touring schedule with Starship, but do expect some Pat Benatar, Heart and Fleetwood Mac to be sampled in the show. One of the city’s great rock singers, Calvert says she’s thrilled to be asked, and her appearance addresses one complaint among many audience members after they have seen the show: There have been no women singers.
As Payne notes, in the early years of classic rock, women who fronted bands were fairly scarce. And finding the right person to fit the “Rock Vault” model is not so easy.
“Stephanie delivers, both as a performer and as someone who is still working with a major band,” Payne says. “It’s important we’re introducing her in the show. I think it’s going to be a great dynamic.”
The “Rock Vault” setlist is being adjusted to add Aerosmith (a regretful omission so far) and an AC/DC medley. The production will revamp its lighting in the second half of the show, but what has been performed onstage will be largely unchanged when the show returns. The story arc, the dancing, the narration, the images on the big screen, will remain.
What is changing, or accelerating, is LVH’s effort to market the show inside and outside the hotel.
“The whole key is that we know the show is something that is very popular with people who have seen it,” LVH exec Rick White says. “The show is something that people really like. You don’t find a show like that very often, so we wanted to partner up and make the show be a long-term attraction here.”
Boosted by the new ad campaign, “Classic Rock By Those Who Rocked It,” the hotel is essentially turning into Rock Vault Central in the same manner in which it once slapped Star Trek logos all over the property. The “Rock Vault” production is the first long-standing production in the theater since Barry Manilow’s five-year run at the hotel ended in 2010.
The place was called Las Vegas Hilton back then, but the scene has totally changed. LVH is now rocking out and banking on the crew from “Rock Vault” in a big, bad way.