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December 11, 2016

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Frankie Moreno’s ‘Under the Influence’ headed for Planet Hollywood residency

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Ira Kuzma

Frankie Moreno performs during Travis Cloer’s “Christmas at My Place” at Cabaret Jazz on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, at the Smith Center.

Frankie Moreno at Carnegie Hall

Las Vegas headliner Frankie Moreno performs at the Launch slideshow »

Frankie Moreno and Joshua Bell at the Hollywood Bowl

Violinist Joshua Bell & friends perform at the Hollywood Bowl in LA, California on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Frankie Moreno Performs at Stratosphere

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

Ages ago, at Golden Nugget’s rowdy Rush Lounge, the production effects in Frankie Moreno’s show were a smudged glass jar at the edge of the stage with a sign reading “tips” taped to the top.

And for choreography, we had Moreno and a backing musician sprinting through the casino. That was the case one night when a lounge lizard who was aptly “under the influence” grabbed the tip jar and fled the room.

Moreno and his drummer, Matt Belote (better known as “Peanut Butter”), chased down the guy in the casino, tackled him and held him down until security arrived.

They got the money back and even finished the song, which sadly was an ironically named original, “Smile,” and not Steve Miller’s “Take the Money and Run.”

It’s sort of always been about the chase, and the influences, for Moreno. He’s moving his fiery and freewheeling stage show, “Under the Influence,” to Planet Hollywood Showroom beginning April 20.

Show times are 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Tickets are $33-$88 and on sale beginning Wednesday at 10 a.m. at TicketMaster.com, by phone at (800) 745-3000 and by visiting the PH Showroom box office.

Moreno’s new home is a familiar haunt, the onetime venue of such productions as “Stomp!,” “Peepshow,” “RockTellz & Cocktails” and, most recently, Jeff Dunham’s ventriloquism production. Also expect a second production, starring yet another ventriloquist, “America’s Got Talent” champ Paul Zerdin, in PH Showroom by year’s end.

The room has been dark for months as Moreno has vaulted around the Strip seeking a residency after being cut loose by Stratosphere, where he performed from November 2011 through October 2014.

The new show is backed by Base Entertainment, giving Moreno yet another production where he draws a salary — and a very healthy one, too, according to reports — without having to lease the room himself.

The man who engineered the deal is Phil Reynolds, a former Base exec who now operates his own operation Relevant Entertainment and has led Moreno on a search of Las Vegas venues.

This exploratory mission included Crown Theater at the Rio, Caesars Palace, Venetian’s Sands Showroom and an oft-discussed new room at Mandalay Bay before landing in the vacant PH Showroom.

That venue will be “draped” from its full 1,350 capacity to just under 800. Though the room is being drawn down, that capacity and ticket-selling requirement is sure to raise eyebrows around town, as it is about double what Moreno played to at the Strat.

But, as he says, “All they want me to worry about is the show. They are dialing up a huge marketing campaign around the hotel and in national media, and we’re confident we can do well in that room.”

Moreno’s image will share space with Axis at Planet Hollywood superstars Britney Spears and J.Lo. This collective effort is the latest phase of a remarkably busy period in Moreno’s career.

Since his unceremonious split with the Stratosphere, which hotel officials enacted a year before Moreno’s contract was scheduled to time out, the popular showman has been in regular residency at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center while performing theater dates across the country and touring several countries as a hired gun by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Over the last two years, Moreno has performed in a Frank Sinatra tribute production at such famed venues as Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. In Las Vegas, his home court has been Cab Jazz, where his band and he have learned about 500 new songs to fit an array of themes and artists.

We saw nights dedicated to Elvis, The Beatles, Mozart and other classical composers, a country music night (when beach balls were regretfully batted around the room) and, most recently, a blues jam featuring such acclaimed Las Vegas artists as Jerry Lopez, Ronnie Foster, Jamie Hosmer and John Wedemeyer.

The new production will be backed by Moreno’s onstage ensemble of musicians and singers, with his brother Tony on bass, Alec Zeiloin on guitar, Fabricio Bezerra on sax, Chris Massa on trumpet, Belote on drums and Markevius Faulkner and Chrystal and Ashley Robinson on backing vocals.

The presentation represents an advancement of what Moreno has performed at Cab Jazz — where he is planning to continue at least monthly shows — and the Strat, robust with new lights, video components and choreography by Lacey Schwimmer, Moreno’s girlfriend and confidant who thought up “Under the Influence” as a title.

Schwimmer, for a time a pro dancer on “Dancing With the Stars” on ABC, is dancing in the production during the song “Diva,” as she did at the Strat, and also singing with Moreno on the new original “Dirty Deed.”

“We’re treating each song like a Billboard Music Awards performance,” Moreno says. “It’ll be played like a concert, but this will be a true residency with a lot of production and choreography.”

The show is an almost equal mix of Moreno originals and covers, with him dovetailing from a new original into, say, “That’s Life,” the Sinatra classic. Quick medleys from Green Day and The Police will share a setlist with a new Motown-styled song like “Cinderella.”

Moreno’s “Diva” will hook into Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” Expect samples from the usual suspects, Elvis and The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, The Rat Pack and Jerry Lee Lewis.

“We’re going with music that truly has influenced me,” says Moreno, who has toured and recorded with a range of artists including Air Supply, Sugarland and Billy Currington. “It won’t be just the icons, either. There will be some surprises, some really personal stuff we’ll be playing.”

Moreno is eager to sit down for a residency after a long and winding road since his days at the Strat. While at Cab Jazz, Smith Center President Myron Martin told a Moreno crowd that he was about to sign for some “ridiculous” money on the Strip.

Moreno has done well to secure this sort of backing in a fickle ticket-buying market. It’s a challenging room, but an envious task, no question. And the days of chasing down the tip jar are long, long gone.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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