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Theater scene feels ripple as ‘Rat Pack,’ ‘MJ Live’ move to Riviera

Rat Pack Is Back

Updated Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014 | 11:52 a.m.

They may have been given a later checkout time, but the shows “MJ Live” and “The Rat Pack Is Back” are leaving the Rio and headed to the Riviera.

Both tribute shows will close at Crown Theater on Feb. 22, reopening March 2 at the storied, historic, iconic and (thankfully) renovated Versailles Theater.

Originally, “The Rat Pack Is Back” was expected to close at the Rio on Dec. 30 and “MJ Live” on Jan. 18 to allow time for the oft-discussed but yet-finalized “Duck Commander Family Musical” to haul into Crown Theater. But the dates were moved back as it is expected that “Duck Commander” will be set up weeks or maybe months later than the anticipated February opening.

“The Rat Pack Is Back,” a tightly executed show with a crack band led by Lon Bronson and spot-on impressionists, needs no such extensive setup time. Produced by longtime Las Vegas entertainment overlord Dick Feeney, “Rat Pack” is one of the most durable productions in the city. The show opened in 1999 at the since-imploded Desert Inn, moved to the since-overhauled and renamed Sahara, then to the Plaza, Greek Isles (the since-renamed and now-closed Clarion) and finally to the Rio.

“MJ Live,” the Michael Jackson tribute show, also is co-produced by Feeney in a partnership with Red Mercury Entertainment and that company’s proprietors, former AEG Live and Caesars Entertainment exec Carlos Reynoso and nightclub and restaurant entrepreneur Darin Feinstein (whose investments include a stake in Beauty Bar on Fremont Street and El Dorado Cantina on Industrial Road next to Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club). Ticket information for both shows is still to be announced.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to be working with the iconic Riviera since last year contributing our expertise to broaden the property’s entertainment options and to help create new experiences for locals and tourists in the Entertainment Capital of the World,” Feinstein said in a news release issued today about the shows.

Said Feeney: “We’re thrilled for ‘MJ Live’ and ‘The Rat Pack Is Back’ to become a part of the Riviera’s entertainment lineup on the famed Las Vegas Strip. We’ve had a great 2 1/2-year run at the Rio with much critical acclaim, so both of these popular and top-notch theatrical production tribute shows will continue to entertain thousands of visitors from around the world.”

Feeney has worked in the entertainment business for 40 years and also owns the Flying Elvi skydiving team featured in “Honeymoon in Vegas.”

The shows are moving into an inarguably classic Las Vegas show space. The Versailles Theater is one of the oldest on the Strip, having opened when the Riv itself started business in 1955. The showroom was known as the Clover Room for its first five years of existence, and it is where Liberace earned his famous $50,000-per-week salary.

The Versailles also is where “Splash” was staged from 1985-2006, but the venue has been closed for five years ever since the skating show “Ice” halted its blades of glory in November 2009. The room has been completely taken apart and refreshed for a classic-Vegas vibe.

Naturally, the two shows’ move out of the Rio is an indication of the developments at Crown Theater.

Set loose for public consumption in a New York Times story in mid-November, “Duck Commander” is still without a signed contract for a residency at the theater that has featured such stars as Danny Gans, The Scintas and Prince. The production centered on the Robertson family of A&E’s hit reality-TV series “Duck Dynasty” would require the theater to be vacated so that it could begin setting up its own production, and that process was expected to begin in January.

“Duck Commander” is to be a grand affair, a celebration of the duck call that started the Robertsons’ empire without actually starring any member of the family (who have nonetheless recorded a clip promoting the show).

The musical’s investors include Tommy Mottola, the former Sony music executive and ex-husband of Mariah Carey. Michael David, who has produced “Jersey Boys” among other Broadway-fashioned musicals, is the show’s producer. The stage presentation is said to feature imagery of ducks around the theater, video screens and big, Broadway-styled sets.

Even lacking that final documentation and formal announcement of the show, a source familiar with “Duck Commander” said that there is ample activity around the production that is consistent with it moving forward. Budgets are being tabulated, and there is a casting call in the offing for those who will represent the family onstage.

The show is certain to generate buzz as a grandiose project and risk in the city’s fickle entertainment market. “Duck Commander” is sure to test the Robertsons’ appeal, and the familiarity of their story, to a ticket-buying public. Maybe, one day, we will refer to this crew as The Duck Pack, and they’ll even have their own tribute show.

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

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