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Bette Midler’s showgirls will go on

Before their show closes, two of Bette Midler’s backups are stepping into the spotlight for a night off the Strip

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Vocalist Shayna Steele has a new album, a stocked resume and a thing for Chaka Khan.

After Bette Midler and Co. take their bows at The Colosseum at Caesars on Wednesday night, the showgirls will definitely be going on. Well, a pair of them, at least.

Two showgirls from Miss M’s crew, Staggering Harlette Kamilah Marshall and background vocalist Shayna Steele, will be heading off to South Maryland Parkway, where they’re co-headlining a 10 p.m. performance at the Freakin’ Frog. I imagine they’ll arrive by car, however, not tornado.

It’s a lesson in contrasts, going from a highly choreographed Strip performance in sequins and feathers to an intimate songwriters’ showcase in a mature dive, but backed by a band with players from Strip shows The Showgirl Must Go On and Ka and local band Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns, Marshall and Steele aren’t just up to the challenge, they’re chomping at the bit.

“We just had rehearsal, so we’re doubly triply psyched right now. We’re on a little high,” said Marshall over the phone on Tuesday from the Freakin’ Frog.

Kamilah Marshall has been a Staggering Harlette for seven years. She says any stage performer who can sing and dance at the same time dreams of holding the job.

Kamilah Marshall has been a Staggering Harlette for seven years. She says any stage performer who can sing and dance at the same time dreams of holding the job.

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Shayna Steele
Kamilah Marshall

“The Showgirls Must Go On,” as the Freakin’ Frog has playfully dubbed the Wednesday night show, will feature both Marshall and Steele stepping up to perform original tunes off their upcoming and recently released solo albums, respectively.

Steele, whose resume includes providing vocals for Moby (for a Jason Bourne movie, no less) and stints on Broadway in Hairspray and Rent (during which she met Marshall 12 years ago), describes the sound on her album, I’ll Be Anything, as “funky R&B.”

“It’s Chaka [Khan] meets Ella [Fitzgerald],” she says.

There might be a touch of Streisand in there, too. When Steele was 15 she appeared on American Idol predecessor Star Search, ending up on the losing side after singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” “I was in good company,” Steele laughs, noting that Britney Spears and Rosie O’Donnell both suffered surely heartbreaking Star Search rejections. “I was really into Barbra Streisand back then.”

Marshall’s musical evolution started with a twang. “I started out writing a lot of country music, and realized that I was black and had a lot more soul than just straight country and Western.” Today, she dubs her style “funkabilly,” a hybrid creature made up of country, funk and blues. And a bit of Bette, of course.

“I’ve been a Harlette for seven years. She’s inspiring as an entertainer, and as a performer you really learn a lot from her,” Marshall says.

Steele agrees. “It’s like a master class for entertainment,” she says of performing with the People’s Diva, whose Colosseum run ends January 31.

While The Showgirl Must Go On closing out its two-year residency in Las Vegas is bittersweet for the tight-knit cast and Midler’s lapdog fan base, it does have one upshot for locals: Marshall and Steele’s free showcase, something they’d put off doing until now.

For both performers it also means more time to devote to their solo careers and gigging and touring with their original catalogs. They’ll be saying goodbye to giant feathered headdresses, parasols and a kick line in wheel chairs soon enough, but the show – and the showgirls – will go on.

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Sarah Feldberg is the editor of Las Vegas Weekly magazine. A veteran journalist, Feldberg previously worked as the Weekly's web ...

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