Las Vegas Sun

November 14, 2018

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Columnist Joe Delaney: Sardelli’s stint reminds that things have changed

Nelson Sardelli, a Las Vegan since 1965, backed by a big band, opened with a full house Monday in the Orleans Hotel lounge. ... Tuesday was an off-day; the remaining shows are at 8 and 10 p.m., Friday through Sunday. ... Dick Wright conducts the orchestra for Sardelli, a multitalented performer who sings in five languages, does comedy, dances, and is a master gunslinger. ... This is his first Las Vegas date in much too long.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the pre-Hilton Flamingo was Nelson's stomping grounds, both as an opening act in the showroom and as a headliner in the lounge. ... In the ensuing years, he has been featured in Strip hotels, from the Sahara, up to and including the Tropicana.

In addition, he has performed on every continent and is a big favorite on cruise ships. ... Sardelli has played Carnegie Hall, the Sydney (Australia) Opera House and in Atlantic City's top hotels, but not in Las Vegas.

Active offstage

Wherever he has worked, Sardelli has taken time out to do some community good in the area. ... In both Las Vegas and Atlantic City, he has organized "Star Shine" fund-raisers, with stars shining shoes in return for donations to some charity. ... It was one side or the other of 30 years ago that the LV "Star Shine" beneficiary was Opportunity Village.

At that time, our Sun column was on a campaign to limit performances of "My Way" to its author, Paul Anka, and Frank Sinatra. ... Everyone, whatever their age, would perform "My Way" ad infinitum, in lounges, showrooms and, especially, at charity affairs.

The "Star Shine" locale was the Sahara Space Center. I was the emcee, and most of the LV good-guy regulars -- Peter Anthony, Pete Barbutti, Carme, Babe Pier and Nelson Sardelli -- were onstage with me when a voice called out, "I'll give a thousand dollars if Delaney sings 'My Way.' "

The voice

Paul Anka was headlining in the Sahara Congo Room and it was Paul who called out the challenge. ... I settled for reciting the lines. ... Anka stood behind me and whispered special lyrics that I repeated. We were and are good friends. ... His special lyrics were a good-humored response to my Sun column campaign against "My Way."

When we finished, Paul, true to his word, deposited 10 $100 bills into the big bowl onstage, then had someone bring in a box of new albums that he donated for resale that afternoon, which resulted in another $500 or more for Opportunity Village.

Go see Nelson Sardelli, not because he does good things in the community wherever he works. ... Go see him because he is a world-class entertainer who has been shut out of Las Vegas, as are many other excellent performers who live here. ... We'll tell you why.

The sad story

Las Vegas lounge entertainment was once as important, or nearly so, as the entertainment in the hotel's main showroom. ... Louis Prima, Keely Smith, and Sam Butera & the Witnesses playing the Sahara Casbar, circa 1955-1960, generated as much casino action as the stars in the Congo Room. ... Don Rickles did likewise when he followed Prima, Smith, Butera & Co. into the Casbar in 1960.

Shecky Greene "saved" the Tropicana with his lounge antics and later did a similar job at the Riviera. ... Lounge groups such as the Vagabonds, Happy Jesters and the Mary Kaye Trio, who really started the lounge era, pre-Prima, et al, were total entertainment units that drew big crowds.

Entertainment directors, back then, developed entertainers. ... They discovered potential stars elsewhere, brought them here, let them develop, grow, and become identified with that particular hotel. ... The group became still another reason to stay at that hotel.

In conclusion

Keely Smith and Sam Butera were proving our point recently at the Desert Inn, before that hotel relocated and virtually hid the Starlight Theatre. ... Equally important, Keely and Sam no longer want to work together. ... Now, we understand the Orleans Lounge will no longer play Sam Butera, Freddie Bell, the Treniers and The Irish Show Band, among others.

Knowing this, what chance does Nelson Sardelli have with his big band? ... A consummate professional, Nelson and the band will give their all, but the losing dice have been tossed. ... 'tis a pity -- and wrong as well. ... See you next Thursday.

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