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October 25, 2014

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Behind-the-scenes of Meat Loaf’s ‘Rocktellz & Cocktails’ at Planet Hollywood

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

Opening night of Meat Loaf in “Rocktellz & Cocktails” on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, at Planet Hollywood.

Opening Night of Meat Loaf in ‘Rocktellz & Cocktails’

Opening night of Meat Loaf in Launch slideshow »

Rock singer and actor Meat Loaf is on a whirlwind bicoastal schedule preparing for his new second run of “Rocktellz & Cocktails” shows at Planet Hollywood starting next Thursday. He’ll perform a mini-residency of 24 shows through April 8.

The incredible intensity of his singing and unique voice permits only three shows a week. The rest of the time he has to rest his voice — not speaking and within the full blast of large humidifiers because of the dry desert air.

At his side throughout is a pretty, and unique, woman. It’s not his wife, Deborah. It’s her good friend Frances Bowdely. She was Meat’s right-hand woman for five years when he went on tour. He’s now retired from the grind of the road and is very content continuing his Las Vegas shows along with his acting roles.

Wherever Meat goes, so does Frances. On a typical day before rehearsals with new elements he’s adding, they are in a limousine returning to Planet Hollywood from a local TV interview. Meat points out a crane on a construction site.

“Please get that crane to the theater. See if we can load it into the back of the stage every night. See if it can fly me in from the ceiling for my opening number.”

To Frances as she makes notes, it is nothing out of the ordinary. “There have been much bigger and more unusual requests,” she told me. “After five years of being his right arm, nothing shakes me. The stranger it is, the more usual it becomes. There’s nothing that can knock me over.”

Ask her to find a man to set himself on fire for the show, and she will without blinking. Ask her to find a replacement singer or dancer; that’s child’s play. Ask her to find a contortionist to spin 50 feet in the air on a silk scarf, and she will within minutes.

Ask her to get six five-gallon water-tank humidifiers, and she’ll have them filled and fired up before you can say, “I Will Do Anything For Love, But I Won’t Do That.” Ask her to do all that and even more in the same morning, and she is still unfettered.

I tracked Frances down on the phone going through security at a New York airport to try and understand her crazy career. She does just about everything Meat Loaf does professionally, everything except go onstage and sing or talk. However, in an emergency, she’s even had to do that.

Frances is the unsung hero behind Meat Loaf. The power behind any successful man is normally a woman.

“We’re flying to Las Vegas right now, and we’ve got a couple of days of editing and production and press interviews,” Frances told me. “Then we go to Los Angeles for a couple of days, then we fly back to Las Vegas for final rehearsals.

“On the first round of shows, we had a lot of problems onstage with his iPad. The cell phones in the audience, the Wi-Fi signals in the hotel would block his iPad commands to the stage-screen projectors when he answered audience questions. We’ve now solved that with a technical adviser, and we’re throwing every possible blockage up against it to ensure that this time there’s no onstage drama.”

My friend Meat, who was a neighbor of mine in Connecticut, interjected: “There’s no point in asking me anything. She’s got all the answers. I just do the singing and the performing. She puts it all together to make it happen. She even does the talking for me when I can’t.”

I had to ask her what exactly was her role: “What do you actually do? How do I describe what you do?”

“That’s a very good question,” she chuckled. “I’m officially his assistant, but I end up juggling all kinds of stuff, the day-to-day stuff. We have a tour manager and a production manager from our camp on the shows, so I end up more involved with the production and them the travel and moving him around, the whole press tour.

“I’ve kind of booked everything with him and organized the whole thing. All the schedules go through me. It’s a very good question when you asked me exactly what I do. I’m kind of his right arm. I am a juggler. I basically do whatever he needs done to make it work.

“I’ve been doing this for him the past five years. Before I joined him, I was with a company that managed a bunch of rock bands. I still provide advice to them. Before that, I worked in England for 10 years with Sony.”

I wanted to know if her one-of-a-kind job meant she was on call 24/7. She said: “Kind of. I know we only do three shows a week and he’s confined to his room in between on voice rest with humidifiers and everything. But it’s a full-time job for me being him.

Meat Loaf at The Joint

Meat Loaf at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel on Aug. 20, 2010. Launch slideshow »

“We have days off, but I see him every day. I’m very fortunate that he’s not a difficult person, and of course with our schedule performing nights, he sleeps late, so that’s great for me.

“It’s pretty much 24/7. It’s not like on my day off in Las Vegas, I can go back to L.A. or disappear for a couple of days. Where he goes, I go.”

I had to point out — without being awkward or uncomfortable — that she spends more time with him than his wife, Deborah.

“I don’t quite know how to phrase that!” she replied. “I mean, I do and I don’t. I’m kind of in the same location as him, but when he goes home, they’re together 24/7. I think if you did the math, it probably balances out.

“Time-wise, she’s actually physically with him more. I’m in the same location, I’m on the same floor and living in very close proximity, but on days off, even though I’m working all day, I’ll come in and see him for an hour.

“Deborah is my best friend. We have to talk all the time. But I’m the one who has the unfortunate task of telling people he can’t talk today because he’s singing tonight. Sometimes when we’re traveling, it’s really awkward because people will approach him and try to say hello, and he can’t talk because he’s on voice rest.

“Being the right hand of a rock star and protecting that voice, you take care of everything. Whatever comes up, wherever you have to go, whatever has to be done, you just have to deal with it.

“It’s fun. It’s tough. It’s exhausting sometimes, and days can be long and demanding, but I’m incredibly lucky that our personalities work really well together. There’s been times where he’s wanted to kill me and I wanted to kill him, but we can ‘t kill each other.

“If I don’t agree with something, I feel like I can tell him, and he’s quite easy to deal with. His temperament, his personality, he’s a sweet guy; he’s got a sweet heart.

“We are loving the Las Vegas run. We love being part-time Las Vegas residents.

“Neither of us had been here for a long stay before. Just a bunch of single nights. We were terrible at it at first, but now it is fun, and we’ve all figured out where the locals go. …. We all just hang out like normal people.”

As normal as people can be renting a crane to lift their boss into the ceiling three nights a week to have him drop onstage controlling the setlist with a hiccup-free iPad. But if the slightest thing goes wrong, Frances is at the side of the stage at the ready.

“I guess I’m a show doctor, too,” she laughed. “Without her, there’s no crane,” Meat summed up.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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