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October 22, 2014

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At five years, Terry Fator’s act is smokin’; Frankie Moreno makes tough call in band shakeup

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

The 2013 Miss America Pageant contestants attend Terry Fator’s headliner show at The Mirage on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013.

Military Honors Terry Fator, Taylor Makakoa

Terry Fator and his wife, Taylor Makakoa, are honored by the military Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, at the Mirage in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

The Kats Report highlight phone call from the weekend was from Tempest Storm, who has booked an appearance at the 4th Annual Kansas City Burlesque Fest at Folly Theater.

Having just turned 86 (she’s a Leap Day baby, baby) Tempest is still a hot one, and by “one” I mean “commodity,” of course.

We’re (or, at least, I am) making arrangements to get Tempest to the first anniversary of “Pin Up” at the Stratosphere on Thursday, where she can check out the changes in that show. The cast has been rehearsing new numbers, using star Claire Sinclair more frequently in choreographed scenes.

Tempest has long been a supporter of Sinclair and has seen the show a few times during its development over the past year. When I asked Tempest what else was happening in her career, she told me about an interview she’d conducted recently for a story in the London Daily Mail. That led to this back-and-forth:

Me: “Why was the London Daily Mail interviewing you?”

Tempest: “Because I am famous.”

Ha. I love that lady.

Let’s rake away:

• The greatest difference between Terry Fator’s performance today and when I first caught his act years ago at the then-Las Vegas Hilton is his confidence. The guy is a star, and he wears it well, all swaggering and fit in his charcoal suit during Friday night’s fifth-anniversary performance at the Mirage.

Fator rolls out the same type of performance as he has over the course of his run in Vegas, producing a wide variety of characters (Winston the Impersonating Turtle, crash-test dummy Wrex, country bumpkin Walter T. Airedale, Elvis impressionist Maynard Tompkins, among them) in song and comedy bits.

But while many vocal impressionists are reluctant to sing at all in their own voices (at the peak of his fame, Danny Gans sang one song in his own voice, and Veronic doesn’t use her natural voice at all in her show at Bally’s), Fator sings three songs in his own voice.

Because he can.

When Fator opened at the Mirage in 2009, he was boosted by surprise-but-planned visits including from The Commodores, who were in town that weekend. Lou Ferrigno also took the stage.

He needed no such onstage boost Friday, as the one celeb that he mentioned was the wonderful-if-long-lost ventriloquist trailblazer Willie Tyler (sans Lester). Others around the room included Harrah’s headliner Mac King (who had never seen Fator’s full show until Friday) and Fator’s buddy Fred Willard. In an only-in-Vegas moment, all three of us were in line in the men’s room after the show.

Fator never finds the need to mention that his sinewy stage assistant, Taylor Makakoa, is his wife. Better to not distract the audience with that piece of information. Fator’s show carries a red-state air, with audience members booing the preshow video clip of former “America’s Got Talent” judge, CNN host and aggressive gun-control advocate Piers Morgan offering good luck and congratulations.

But Fator does invoke some recreational drug humor, as his smoked-out character Dougie Scott Walker introduces a series of pot-based products, including Dougie’s Doobie Snacks. The audience roars at that stretch.

After the show, I remarked to Fator that, aside from Carrot Top, he might have the most direct references to marijuana in any show on the Strip. He laughed and said, “Well, I’m just glad to be the one to do it.”

It’s all goofy fun from one of the most self-assured performers in town.

Frankie Moreno Performs at Stratosphere

Frankie Moreno performs in the showroom at the Stratosphere Tuesday, Feb 11, 2014 Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

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

• It’s not fun to see your friends split up, but that happened over the weekend when Frankie Moreno cut loose three members of his backing band at the Stratosphere.

Gone as of Saturday are longtime guitarist Russ Letizia, sax player Rob Stone and violinist Jennifer Lynn. Making the move official was Moreno’s manager, Tamara Conniff (who is expected to take a position as an executive with Roc Nation next month and is the former editor of Billboard Magazine), who informed the three musicians Saturday.

Conniff said, “Russ, Rob and Jen are amazing musicians, and we have been honored to work with them. As Frankie continues to evolve his sound and show for his fans, it was time for a format change.”

Cellist Mandy Andreasen, who played select dates, was told recently that she’s performed her last show. By month’s end, drummer Pepe Jimenez also will be a sub, a move made because of his touring and recording commitments with Carlos Santana’s band.

These are all A-plus players, believe it. And Moreno’s is an A-plus show. So why implode the act?

Artistic differences. Business differences. Moreno has wanted to change the look of his stage show, adding movement in the pattern of Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake and bringing in Lacey Schwimmer to choreograph the musicians and redesign the stage presentation. A dance pro on “Dancing With the Stars” and a star of the stage production at the Tropicana, Schwimmer is dancing in the show regularly, and the production has been almost entirely overhauled since it opened in November 2011.

Also, Moreno had disputes with his musicians over compensation for outside gigs, dates on the road and (especially) the recorded performance at the Stratosphere on Feb. 11.

It’s tough to watch, personally. Letizia has been with Moreno since the days of the Golden Nugget’s Rush Lounge. Stone is a widely respected and accomplished player who is a member of David Perrico’s all-star Pop Evolution lineup at the Stratosphere and also plays in the Lon Bronson All-Star Band. Lynn is a highly educated and skilled player from L.A. who is one of the show’s most popular live performers. Andreasen is a member of Shania Twain’s stage show at the Colosseum. If anyone is looking for crack musicians in Las Vegas, or anywhere … opportunity knocks.

As for Moreno, he is always experimenting with new music and ways of presenting that music. He’s making changes in his career that he didn’t not originally envision, certainly. This is the business end of show business, pure and simple.

Cue the orchestra.

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

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