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October 20, 2014

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Andy Walmsley’s ‘Showbiz Roast’ of Frank Marino is far more than a dress rehearsal

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Leila Navidi

Production designer Andy Walmsley at the set he designed for Human Nature at the Venetian on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013.

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Frank Marino

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Producer Andy Walmsley arrives for "The Showbiz Roast" of former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman at the Stratosphere Theater Tuesday, July 23, 2013.

There were not more than 40 people onstage, total, for the most recent “Showbiz Roast” of former Mayor Oscar Goodman.

In Friday night’s “Showbiz Roast” of Frank Marino, star of “Divas Las Vegas” at the Quad, there will indeed be more than 40 people onstage.

And that’s just for the opening number.

“There will be all sorts of wacky characters and performers, and it’s just going to be an absolute show-stopper,” producer Andy Walmsley says. “That is, if it isn’t a total cluster.”

Friday’s show is set for 11 p.m. following the requisite pre-show “mingling” and red-carpet walk at 9 p.m. The room is to be filled to its 510-seat capacity, and the room is already at capacity for what is one of the toughest tickets in town. Additional seats are being pulled in to account for high demand.

“We are literally full,” Walsmley said. “We were completely at capacity three days ago.”

Marino’s popularity and the lineup of stars have created quite the buzz in the city. Scheduled to be roasters: Plaza headliner Louie Anderson, “Rock of Ages” at the Venetian star Mark Shunock, Frankie Scinta of “The Scintas” at the D Las Vegas; comic Shayma Tash; Broadway performer and Piero’s restaurant resident singer Pia Zadora; Thunder From Down Under at Excalibur host Marcus Deegan; and the Ubiquitous Robin Leach.

Taking the stage for performances throughout the night are Jeff Leibow, Deven May, Travis Cloer, Rob Marnell and Graham Fenton of “Jersey Boys” at Paris Las Vegas; Derrick Barry of “Divas Las Vegas” (he is the Britney Spears tribute artist); Melody Sweets of “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace; Tropicana Lounge flamethrower Skye Dee Miles; and an assortment of dancers in assorted costumes. Special appearances are being made by the city’s favorite “vertically limited” spokesman and actor, Brian Thomas; Mateo Amieva, who plays Maestro in “Believe” at Luxor; and myself with a Top 10 list in tow.

The roastmaster is V Theater hypnotist Marc Savard (who, over the next two weeks, will begin production on his famed Christmas display at his Las Vegas home), and the soaring Lon Bronson All-Star Band will furnish the music.

As Walmsley says during each of these roasts, “It’s just insanity.”

This is true particularly of the Marino roast, where the night is to be a drag but not in any sort of mundane way. Consider the shopping spree on which Walmsley embarked this week: A dozen dresses at Dress for Less for Bronson and the band, four rainbow-colored flags and a 9-inch rubber sex aid from Deja Vu Showgirls gift shop.

“The people at Deja Vu were actually quite helpful, quite lovely,” the British-bred Walmsley says. “There is one costume we’re having made that has involved three people over three months, multiple costume fittings. It’s not a drag costume; it’s very specialized, and it’s the one moment that people will talk about the day after.”

Unless, of course, it turns into a cluster.

“There are so many unusual and ambitious things going on in this roast that the possibility of something going wrong is quite great,” Walmsley says. “But it will be wild.”

Lest we lose sight of the night’s philanthropic spirit: The show is to benefit Marino’s chosen charity, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and boxes for donations are to be placed on every table.

“Hopefully, with this being a free show, people will be generous in donating,” Walmsley says. “We love being able to give a charity a high profile, and Frank is very serious about this, too.”

Even so, in a joke that might actually be a very real outcome, Walmsley has talked of this roast being so over the top that the crew will not be asked back to the Stratosphere. He emphasizes that he hopes that will not be the case, but then adds, “What Mateo is doing is potentially illegal.”

He also expects 100 people to show up in drag — or in the attire of the opposite sex.

The craziness is not reduced to the show at hand, either. Walmsley has been asked by friends — Marino included — if he is not insane for taking on such a responsibility. The highly regarded, Emmy Award-winning set designer spends thousand of dollars out of his own pocket to put on this show. He surpassed $18,000 this week, and that sum might eclipse $20,000.

But Walmsley is one of those crazy-like-a-fox guys. He says that he gets more professional value and notoriety out of hosting the roast than spending that money on billboard advertising.

“I do it because it is enormous fun, obviously, but it is also a way to get my name out there as someone who wants to produce shows on the Strip,” he says. “It’s a great networking thing. I know everybody in show business in Las Vegas now. It’s a showcase of Old Vegas, which I love and many of my friends love.”

Everyone involved in the show benefits from the shared publicity, especially the performers and the Stratosphere itself, which keeps the bar revenue but still likely does not break even. The free media and exposure to representatives of an array of Las Vegas resorts and shows is effective marketing, too.

But really, it’s just a killer night on the town.

“I really do love doing it,” Walmsley says. “I love the city so much, and I hope to live here long enough that one day I want to produce shows on the Strip. That is my dream.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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