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October 19, 2017

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Marc Donovan of ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ at Harrah’s: Live music is alive and well in Las Vegas


Late music legend Sam Phillips is portrayed by Marc D. Donovan in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s Las Vegas.

'Million Dollar Quartet' Grand Opening at Harrah's

Robert Lyons, Carla Pellegrino, Martin Kaye, Marc Donovan, Felice Garcia, Tyler Hunter and Ben Hale at the grand opening of Launch slideshow »

Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns

Jerry Lopez, Tony Davich, Tyriq Johnson and Lenny Lopez of Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns perform at Lounge at the Palms on Monday, July 16, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Composers Showcase at Cabaret Jazz

Keith Thompson, musical director for Launch slideshow »

Bally's Headliner Taylor Hicks

Bally's headliner Taylor Hicks is flanked by Clint Holmes and Kelly Clinton Holmes on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Frankie Moreno at the Stratosphere

Frankie Moreno performs at the Stratosphere on Thursday, April 5, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Editor’s Note: While Robin Leach takes his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. We continue today with Marc Donovan, who portrays Sam Phillips in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s; it’s the extraordinary story of the night Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins jammed at Sun Records in Memphis.

At age 16, Sam Phillips got a taste of one of the most vibrant music scenes around, Beale Street in Memphis, and found his calling. Although Sam couldn’t sing a lick or play worth a damn, he knew good music when he heard it.

Phillips went on to become the legendary producer of Sun Records in Memphis, launching the careers of, among others, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.

I play Mr. Phillips in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s, a Broadway musical that re-creates a legendary night when the aforementioned group assembled in Mr. Phillips’ tiny corner-lot studio and jammed for the first and only time.

Though separated by time and space, I like to think I’m a lot like Sam, despite my somewhat limited musical ability. I’ve got a good ear and a deep appreciation for music, especially live music.

When I arrived in Las Vegas six months ago from New York City, I despaired in finding countless billboards touting DJs I’ve never heard of, nor cared to; I’m sure what they do is an art form in its own right, but it’s not my cup of tea.

With a bit more digging, I thankfully found a thriving live music scene in this town. Some of the best musicians in the world are here, and there is amazing music to experience every night of the week.

So, I’ve compiled a week’s worth of some of the best live entertainment in Las Vegas, everything from a headliner at a major casino to a midnight jam at the best little hole-in-the-wall in the city.


Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns at the Lounge at the Palms. This 15-piece band is composed of incredible artists whose day jobs include playing for Donnie & Marie, “Jersey Boys” and Celine Dion. But once a week, they assemble to play excellent arrangements of funk, soul and rock classics, as well as some great original compositions.


Unique Massive at Double Down Saloon. Some of the best local musicians get together every Tuesday night around midnight — no cover tunes, no singing, just mind-blowing free-form jams at this gloriously twisted hole-in-the-wall.


The Composer’s Showcase in Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. This is not an open mic; host Keith Thompson (conductor of “Jersey Boys”) carefully screens submissions and provides an opportunity for local performers and artists to share their own compositions in a nurturing environment and a beautiful venue.


Taylor Hicks at Napoleon’s in the Paris. Don’t be fooled by his “American Idol”-winning status. Hicks is the real deal, and Napoleon’s Lounge is the perfect, intimate venue to showcase his soulful voice, great guitar and stunning harmonica skills. A small but extremely talented band backs him.


The Lon Bronson All-Star Band in Railhead at Boulder Station. This 20-piece band really packs a punch with a stellar brass section, great singers, even an electric violin that’ll knock your socks off.


Frankie Moreno at the Stratosphere. Moreno is a born showman who plays piano, guitar and harmonica and can sing his face off. His incredible 10-piece band and he perform extremely creative arrangements of classic songs, as well as some great original tunes penned by his two brothers and him.


“Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s. This is not your typical Broadway show, as the actors are the band. We, the cast members, play and sing live with no help from offstage musicians, singers or tracking, and we have some pretty big shoes to fill as we re-create what was, essentially, the birth of rock and roll.

I’ve got a front-row seat every night, and let me tell you, Mr. Sam Phillips would be proud.

Check out our other guest columns today from Marc’s co-star in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s, Robert Britton Lyons, and David Myers, owner and chef of Comme Ca at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, and Friday from Life is Beautiful festival founder Rehan Choudhry.

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.

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