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October 14, 2019

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Penn & Teller debut on Broadway as Ben Hale makes million-dollar decision, Matt Goss explores not-so-new horizons

Penn & Teller-14th Anniversary-Rio

Caesars Entertainment

Penn & Teller celebrated their 14th anniversary Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, at the Rio.

Updated Wednesday, July 15, 2015 | 10:04 a.m.

The Kats Report Bureau at this writing is Crossroads lounge at the Marriott Marquis hotel. The resort is home to Marquis Theater, where tonight Penn & Teller celebrate the premiere of their first series of shows on Broadway since 1992.

By the formal 8 p.m. launch of this six-week residency, the duo will have performed 11 preview shows. Among those expected to walk the red carpet at the Marquis are Deborah Harry of Blondie (who inspired the Jill-Jet Jacuzzi feature), estimable former talk-show host Dick Cavett, comic Gilbert Gottfried (whose performance in "The Aristocrats" was one of that film's finer moments), and legendary magician Johnny "The Great Tomsoni" Thompson.

As always, eccentricity abounds for Penn & Teller.

The show — the best of the best of the production that has played the Rio for the past 14 years — boasts a new stage set backed by personal photos. Teller’s uncanny Shadows performance, where he clips away at a rose in silhouette form, is in the show. So is the vaunted Vanishing African Spotted Pygmy Elephant Act starring Elsie the Cow. Or, if you will, Elsie the Pygmy Elephant.

The show has been running at near-capacity in the 1,600-seat theater (1,300 turned out for Saturday's matinee, a strong showing for a mid-afternoon start). The reviews from New York and East Coast media are to be delivered after Monday’s performance. I expect that expert stagecraft, smart comedy and even a vanishing cow/elephant, will be well received here. If not, the jazz duo playing the piano and stand-up bass at the start of the show are worth checking out.


• Ben Hale of “Million Dollar Quartet” made a quiet departure to improve his audio-technical chops. Hale is an original member of the Las Vegas cast at Harrah’s, playing the role of Johnny Cash. Hale left the show — possibly temporarily — three weeks ago to study at Blackbird Studio in Nashville. Eager to improve his production skills, Hale is taking courses in sound engineering. The studio is renowned for training producers and engineers and is headed up by John McBride, husband of country star Martina McBride.

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Ben Hale of "Million Dollar Quartet" at Harrah’s performs at Cabaret Jazz on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015, in the Smith Center.

The course spans six months, and the classes are capped at 30 students. “I would imagine I am 5 to 10 years older than the kids here, but I don’t care,” says Hale, who played Raoul in “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular” at the Venetian for six years. He has no firm plan for how he will apply these new skills after completing the course, but says, “I’ve always written and recorded, and I know that there are holes in my knowledge that I need to fill. I wanted to fill those gaps.” He’s not ruling out a return to the stage, either.

In a quirky development, one of the field trips scheduled this summer for the students at Blackbird Studio is to Sun Records, the studio that serves as the set for “Million Dollar Quartet.” As Hale says, “I’m really looking forward to seeing the real thing.”

• Caesars Palace headliner Matt Goss has finally settled on a home in Las Vegas. The Gossarator says he’s recruited “six guys from L.A.,” which sounds like the name of a solid opening act, to move into the new place. His four-night-a-week schedule was formally ushered in with a media performance Saturday night at the Gossy Room.

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Caesars Palace headliner singer-songwriter Matt Goss attends the 19th annual Keep Memory Alive “Power of Love” gala for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health honoring Andrea Bocelli and wife Veronica Bocelli on Saturday, June 13, 2015, at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

In talking with Goss last month, and also looking back on some of the original plans for his residency in the old Cleopatra’s Barge, something of a strategy has come into focus for how Caesars Entertainment plans to expand his audience. Originally, there was talk from Caesars officials and Goss about bumping up the capacity of the 165-seat room. And, more recently, Goss has said he wants to stay at Caesars — specifically the hotel — but in a larger venue.

Why not build out the Gossy Room, maybe doubling its size, as originally planned? I’d bet that’s what’s happening at the barge. Maybe they can salvage the moat, too.

• Worth a spin is the House Seats presentation "The Set List," scheduled intermittently at Vinyl in the Hard Rock Hotel. These are full albums played beginning-to-end with some of the city's top singers backed by the requisite crack band under the music direction of raving drummer Vince Verdame of Blue Man Group. Thursday night, the album exhumed was "Slippery When Wet," Bon Jovi's massively successful release from 1986.

Fronting the band were Paul Johnson and Brandon Nix of "Rock of Ages" and Lily Arce, known for her swing gigs in "O" and "Fantasy" among her various country and rock projects. Guest stars included Mark Shunock of "ROA," who admirably hit the high notes at the end of "Livin' on a Prayer"; Anne Martinez of "Alice" and "Jubilee"; and Lisa Marie Smith of "Pin Up."

It was a fiery night, and a late one, with the show starting at 11 p.m. Next up is a live adaptation of the Michael Jackson classic "Thriller" on Oct. 8. Tickets are $20 in advance, $30 at the door, but not yet offered online at There is a charity link, too, which we'll also announce at a later date. And, in December, the source material will be Frank Sinatra's concert film and recording, "The Main Event," which coincides with Sinatra's 100th birthday.

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