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September 19, 2018

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Seth MacFarlane hits Las Vegas and is ready to swing

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Autumn de Wilde

Seth MacFarlane, shown in the recording studio, has a passion for orchestral music dating as far back as the 1930s.

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Carrie Underwood, Zac Brown and Seth MacFarlane perform during the “Sinatra 100” tribute and Grammy concert at Encore Theater on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, at Wynn Las Vegas.

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Seth MacFarlane surprises during the “Sinatra 100” tribute and Grammy concert at Encore Theater on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, at Wynn Las Vegas.

Sinatra Tribute at Wynn

Alicia Keys, a pregnant Chrissy Teigen and John Legend attend the “Sinatra 100” tribute and Grammy concert at Encore Theater on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, at Wynn Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

‘Sinatra 100’ at Sinatra in Encore

A.J. Lambert, Charles Pignone and Amanda Erlinger attend the “Sinatra 100” book-release dinner at Sinatra on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Encore. Pignone wrote the new book, and Lambert and Erlinger are granddaughters of Frank Sinatra.


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You try to cross this bridge with Seth MacFarlane, linking his affection for the crude/brilliant humor in “Family Guy” — where the highbrow canine Brian will talk of his in-progress novel and suddenly scratch at his fleas with his hind leg — and love of big-band standards.

“I have this image of you as a kid reading a Mad magazine while listening to ‘Sinatra at the Sands,’ ” I say to MacFarlane during a recent phone conversation. “Is that at all accurate?”

“Close,” he says. “I was always drawing characters. But both of my parents were singers, and this music was just around me from Day 1 as a kid. It was planted in my brain.”

The man with the resonant baritone voice who was once dubbed “the creepy imitator” in a story by the New Yorker is hitting the Strip this weekend not as an imitator, but in a genuine orchestral tribute to some of his favorite music dating back more than a half-century.

Set for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas, MacFarlane is fronting the orchestra from “Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers,” 55 members strong (tickets start at $75, absent fees, and can be purchased at WynnLasVegas.com and (702) 770-9966).

The night is designed to take the audience on a musical trek back to post-World War II show bands through the jazz and big bands and superstars who descended on Las Vegas soon after.

“I have always been interested in the music of the ’40s, starting there, and it seems a lost art form in many ways,” MacFarlane says. “Music really grew out of the ’40s to the jazz of the 1950s and early ’60s, and it really opened up, to me, mid-’50s with Sinatra and Davis and what they brought to Las Vegas, and also singers like Rosemary Clooney and Peggy Lee.

“It really all combined to make something very unique, and it still remains unique.”

In a surprise to many of the fans who know MacFarlane from his TV series, including “Family Guy” and “American Dad” and his “Ted” films, his aptitude in this format is astonishing. MacFarlane helped helm “Sinatra 100: An All-Star Grammy Concert” celebrating Sinatra’s 100th birthday last December.

His performance of “One For My Baby, And One More For the Road” was a highlight as the singer carried the tune in aching baritone while leaning on a bar holding a glass of (we expect) Jack Daniel’s.

This from the man who voices Peter Griffin and Stewie on “Family Guy.”

“I have had a lot of vocal training, and when ‘Family Guy’ started, we were using an orchestra every week, each week,” MacFarlane said. “That gave us the ability to do big musical numbers, which of course I loved doing.”

One collision of these sensibilities has resulted in full renditions of such musical numbers as “Shipoopi” from “The Music Man” performed in animated form by the character Peter Griffin after he has scored a touchdown. MacFarlane says the charts for that piece were difficult to track down.

“We had to hunt for it, but we had to have it,” said MacFarlane, who is set to star in the animated musical film “Sing” in which he voices the singing mouse Mike, who has a Sinatra-styled voice and a cocky disposition.

In his live shows, MacFarlane does comfortably evoke the attitude of many of the superstar singers who made the city famous. There is a Sinatra, Bobby Darin and Dean Martin air to his posture onstage. He has certainly put in ample stage time to hone his role as the central figure in such a lavish stage show.

“We’ve done a version of this about 15 or 20 times over the years and in the past couple of years with big symphonies,” he says. “So it made sense to bring it to Las Vegas.”

Pianist and music director Dave Loeb, who conducts the “Showstoppers” orchestra and for several years has trekked to L.A. to play on the “Family Guy” background music, reinforces the MacFarlane-Las Vegas connection.

Loeb is the head of the jazz studies program at UNLV, which under his stewardship has collected an assortment of national awards and recognition as one of the top programs of its type in the country.

Most recently, the UNLV Jazz Ensemble I, directed by Loeb and trombone ace Nathan Tanouye (who also is in Celine Dion’s orchestra), placed third among programs across the country at the 59th annual Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival from March 28-30.

The musicians the program has produced populate bands and orchestras across Las Vegas, including the “Showstoppers” lineup performing with MacFarlane.

Loeb is contracting the musicians for the weekend shows at Encore Theater and will not be playing or conducting. But even as Loeb is not onstage, his impact is felt.

“Dave is so great, he really is,” MacFarlane says. “He’s an amazing pianist. He has the same appreciation for this type of music as I do.”

MacFarlane declined to give away any of this weekend’s run order but says of the 75-minute production: “It really is supposed to be covering all colors. There will be some comedic numbers, some really hard-swinging, uptempo numbers, epic numbers and numbers that really feature the full orchestra.”

The show also is to be full Las Vegas. Viewing the city’s history outside in, MacFarlane says. “This will be the kind of Vegas show that no one has seen in 50 years. That’s what really is at the core of this, and it really took Steve Wynn, who knows the music, to bring it to the stage in Vegas.”

MacFarlane recalls being in “culture shock” when first visiting here. “It was around the time I’d moved to L.A. from Connecticut not really having been on the freeway before. It was intimidating, but I do remember classic Vegas. All that great music and all those great shows, and I want to go back to the Vegas of the Golden Era.”

Is this variety of presentation, with MacFarlane dressed in black while fronting a top-notch orchestra, something we’ll see more of on the Strip?

“Well, they have gone great in other cities, and we wind up having four encores,” MacFarlane says as he preps for this gig at Encore. “I would love to do more of this, absolutely.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow Kats on Instagram at Instagram.com/JohnnyKats1.

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