A death, the end of an era … and Aubrey O’Day
The events of last week represent a serious cultural step back for Las Vegas
Wed, Sep 30, 2009 (2:41 p.m.)
Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images
I’ve never been much of a Las Vegas nostalgic. I yawn as I listen to all the old-timers grouse about how great things were back then when murderers and thieves “ran” the town and when gambling was the extent of the city’s raison d’être.
So it was somehow fitting that I was away, in New York visiting editors and playing uncle to my niece, for this past week. Fitting, that is, because in the seven days that I was gone, throwback concepts attempted to reign, and “progress” as I define it for the city took a few serious blows.
I missed, for instance, what must have been a pretty disastrous opening night at the Monte Carlo for Zowie Bowie and its Vintage Vegas act. The preternaturally tanned singing duo are expert self-promoters, terrific singers and as media-savvy as anyone around, and yet even our most obsequious of entertainment scribes trashed them by saying they belong in a cabaret and not a major showroom. But it doesn’t really matter to me how they’re received; the idea here is that a major theater on the Strip is now given over to the alleged romance of Old Vegas. When it fails, I wonder, will anyone (else) suggest that maybe it wasn’t the execution that flopped, but the fact that people are bored with the effort to relive a bygone era?
There were three other news items that, to me, also represented steps backward in the cultural evolution of Las Vegas. On Friday, CineVegas officials announced they would not hold a 2010 festival. (Disclosure: CineVegas is produced by the Greenspun family, owners of Greenspun Media Group, which owns this publication.) This came as a surprise, because the festival operators made a big to-do about how they had managed to pull off a festival in 2009—the best yet, in my view—despite the miserable economy. That was a remarkable commitment that promised some stability to the arts in Vegas even as Las Vegas became the largest American city without an art museum after the Las Vegas Art Museum closed. Now we’re without a museum or a serious film festival of note.
I also count the firing of Erich Bergen, who played Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys since its Vegas arrival in 2008, as a loss for my chosen side of the perpetual tug-of-war between eras. Yes, Erich is a close friend and the co-producer of the Michael Jackson benefit at the Palms in August (which yours truly was also involved in), but I became intrigued by him long before that because he was part of a gaggle of Broadway-aspiring performers with bright futures who wanted to add a bit of Manhattan show-culture flavor to the city. Erich discovered and indefatigably promoted the monthly Composer’s Showcase events, in which Strip talents try out new music they wrote, but then he also kicked off a trend of young New York imports headlining their own shows to benefit the Liberace Museum. There were many reasons Erich lost his job, but one of them certainly was that he had made too big a name for himself outside Jersey Boys. If others of his caliber shy away from such appearances for fear of similar troubles, we’re back to a time when ensemble performers did their jobs and not a whole lot else.
The third cultural disappointment was everything related to one Aubrey O’Day. The promise of Peepshow at Planet Hollywood was that it would offer top-tier singing, writing and dancing blended with the sexiness and nudity of a Vegas girlie show. It had a pedigree—Tony winner Jerry Mitchell as its visionary—and enjoyed the stellar stint of Broadway veteran Shoshana Bean. And then they bring in for top billing some two-bit reality-show star and Playboy model with nearly as much public baggage as Criss Angel? (No, I don’t mean Holly Madison.) And the lady does one show, gets peeved that someone illicitly snapped a topless photo of her in the show and posted it online—like nobody could see that coming—and calls in sick the next day to nurse her hurt feelings? This is the best young voice Mitchell and company could find to fill this role? Or has he started to give up on providing quality to Vegas audiences?
- Related Stories
- CineVegas put on hiatus (9/25/09)
- It’s a really big showroom, and Zowie Bowie needs to grow (9/22/09)
- Erich Bergen negotiating his ouster from Jersey Boys (9/21/09)
By the end of the week, the city’s attention had turned to the legacy of Bob Stupak, who died of leukemia at 67. And so, again, the Old Vegas nostalgics were out in full force, recalling what a “visionary” and character he was. And that’s kind of odd, because he struck me as a bit of a gross fellow, often incoherent and having to his credit exactly one important building, the Stratosphere. You know, that building that duplicated Seattle’s most cherished landmark.
You know which major headline did not make me sad for my city this week? Oddly, it was Wayne Newton’s comeback/career curtain call, “Once Before I Go,” at the Tropicana. Yes, the Wayner’s heyday has come and gone, he is the embodiment of a throwback, and my bosses at the New York Times groaned during my visit at the idea that he deserves a profile now. “You’re the one who’s always harping against viewing Vegas in clichéd terms,” one editor told me.
True. But just because I wish to move beyond our history doesn’t mean I have no respect for it. Newton isn’t some phony attempt to reach backward; he’s the genuine article. If he believes he’s got one more go-round in him, it behooves us to enjoy and respect that. He may be schmaltzy, and he may represent an epoch past, but he’s also a real holdover from that period, not folks trying their best to approximate that.
There ya go, Old Vegas admirers. Get your fill from the Wayner while he’s still dishing it out. But when it’s gone, do us a favor: Let’s all move on.