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November 27, 2014

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The Phat Pack phinishes run at the Plaza; Philip Fortenberry gets hooked by ‘Rocky’

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

The Phat Pack, Bruce Ewing, Ted Keegan and Randal Keith, sings during a performance of the Broadway-based open mic and variety show Cast Party Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center.

We start this raking with some unfortunate news: The Phat Pack is moving out of the Plaza. The final night for the Broadway-caliber triumvirate of Bruce Ewing, Randal Keith and Ted Keegan announced this week — their final performance of their 5 p.m. shows in Plaza Showroom — is Nov. 16.

We’ve seen a lot of shows close recently in VegasVille, most of them simply because they were not worth the time or ticket price. But The Phat Pack is not such a show. Ewing played Jinx in “Forever Plaid” on tour and in Las Vegas at the Flamingo and Gold Coast. Keegan played the Phantom in “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway and on tour. Keith played Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables,” also on Broadway and on tour.

And this lineup could not fill seats on Fremont Street.

Probably the issue here was that you had to see a Phat Pack performance to appreciate what this show was all about. It was funny — “Men of a Certain Age,” written by Keith Thompson, is a classic, original satire number — and vocally excellent. But to describe those qualities falls short of what it feels like to sit in a showroom and hear the soaring voices of three men who have performed at the highest level of musical theater.

I remember the most recent show I caught at the Plaza, as Keith performed a chilling turn of “Bring Him Home” from “Les Mis,” a showstopper if there ever was one. The audience rose and applauded with great energy.

There were about 30 people in the room — total.

The guys say they are not disbanding the act. Good. They will continue to find a suitable fit, maybe cleaving their residencies to shorter runs where ticket scarcity will help fill the room. But they deserve to be seen, an opinion that is as unshakable as the spirit of Jinx himself.

Onward:

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Philip Fortenberry, associate conductor for Jersey Boys, at The Composers Showcase at the Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center, Wednesday Aug. 8, 2012.

• Remaining in the Broadway tenor, Philip Fortenberry is heading back to New York for a tantalizing project: The musical adaptation of “Rocky,” produced by Sylvester Stallone and due for a March opening at Winter Garden Theater.

Fortenberry has performed in 10 Broadway musicals over the course of his career. Some were great, such as “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Some were great at the box office, such as “Cats.” And some were notoriously unsuccessful by any measure, such as “Cleavage.” During his “The Man at the Piano” show at Cabaret Jazz on Monday night, Fortenberry again joked that “ 'Cleavage’ went bust” after just one performance.

Fortenberry is now known, in large part, as the body double for new Emmy winner Michael Douglas in “Behind the Candelabra,” playing all those complex Liberace piano pieces repeatedly during the filming while ideally filling out those heavy-with-rhinestones stage costumes. In Las Vegas, Fortenberry has been a member of the creative lineup in “Hairspray” at Luxor, “We Will Rock You” at Paris Las Vegas, “Mamma Mia” at Mandalay Bay and, currently, “Jersey Boys,” also at Paris.

Fortenberry is being granted a leave of absence as he takes on the role of associate conductor in “Rocky,” a musical that he agrees will either be a knockout … or go bust.

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Singer Clint Holmes and his wife Kelly Clinton Holmes arrive for "The Showbiz Roast" of former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman at the Stratosphere Theater Tuesday, July 23, 2013.

≺ As a fan of the Washington Redskins, Clint Holmes knows the value of road victories. He picked up another win away from home during his cabaret performance of the autobiographical "Stop This Train" showcase at Cafe Carlyle in New York, which runs through Oct. 12 (his wife, Kelly Clinton Holmes, also performs her own “Freckled for Life” show on that closing night). In a review from The Wall Street Journal, writer Will Freidwald opines: “Las Vegas-based singer Clint Holmes is one of those overwhelming talents, like Jack Jones, who hardly needs the conceit of a cabaret show: like Tony Bennett, you want to see him standing on a stage just singing song after great song, without any pretense of narrative framework.”

Holmes is especially (and rightfully) proud of this praise because he considers Bennett among his artistic heroes. It’s also an apt comparison to another of Holmes’ favorites, Jones, who is legendarily adept at interpreting songs. For those of us who know Jones chiefly as the man who crooned the theme to “The Love Boat,” it’s fascinating to know how well-regarded he is among his contemporaries. And another laudatory review was published Tuesday by Stephen Holden of The New York Times, who has previously applauded Holmes' appearances at Cafe Carlyle.

Holden said of Holmes' latest effort, "Mr. Holmes might be described as the thinking man’s lounge singer. Born in England to an African-American jazz musician and a white English opera singer, he makes no bones about feeling like an outsider while growing up in Farnham, N.Y., near Buffalo. But there was no trace of bitterness in performances in which he conveyed the gregarious exuberance of an Entertainer with a capital E. As extroverted as he is, he pays close enough attention to lyrics to give every song a usually upbeat personal spin."

The only quibble is terming Holmes a lounge singer at this point in his career. However he is described, he is back at Cabaret Jazz in Smith Center from Nov. 1-3, and Clinton-Holmes returns to her continuing Bootlegger Bistro open-mic nights from 9 p.m. until the last warbler warbles. And that is a cool hang, too.

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Sami Saula, center performs " with, from left: Chris Davis, Phil Kismartoni, Shana Tucker, Eric Schribner, Ashley Korak and, Adrianna Thurber.

• A musical ensemble organized by “Ka” acrobat and backup guitarist Sami Saula has recorded a song and accompanying video to raise money for the family of the late “Ka” artist Sarah Guillot-Guyard. Saula began writing a waltz titled “Valsa Sasoun” the day after Guillot-Guyard was killed after falling 90 feet from “Ka’s” vertical stage on June 29. She left behind two young children.

“I wanted to do something special and started working on the song right away,” Saula says. “Our plan is to create video links and click to a website where people can make donations.”

Saula’s wife, Leslie, was especially close to Guillot-Guyard and expressed her gratitude to the performers during a video session Sunday at Show Creators studios on West Sunset Road. During the recording, Saula played lead guitar and was joined by fellow Vegas musicians Lionel Hamel (rhythm guitar); Shana Rucker and Phil Kismartoni (cello); Adrianna Thurbur and Ashley Korak (violins); Chris Davis (bass); and Eric Scribner (drums). The director of the video is Michael Su, and everyone donated their time and talent to the project. We’ll post when she’s ready for public consumption, which should be by the end of the month.

• Lon Bronson, whose makeup should be about cleaned from his face by now after Friday’s “Showbiz Roast” of Frank Marino, has locked in another date at Cabaret Jazz for his second showcase of the Lon Bronson All-Star Band. That date is Nov. 19; the time 9 p.m. Tickets are $20, with “golden circle” seats offered at $30. The band never sounded better than its first show a couple of weeks ago. The singers, especially Tony Davich, thrived in the acoustically engineered cabaret space. This is the start of something very cool, not just for Bronson’s outfit, but potentially for any show band in the city worthy of playing Smith Center. And there are a few out there who maybe should check out that opportunity.

• Rare is the time we employ exclamation marks, but: The second installment of the Mix 94.1-FM “DJing With the Las Vegas Stars” contest has started!

This morning, I joined radio DJs Mark and Mercedes and fellow contestants Angel Porrino of “Absinthe,” Plaza headliner Louie Anderson, Paris Las Vegas comic hypnotist Anthony Cools, Fox 5 morning anchor Stefanie Jay, Thunder From Down Under emcee Marcus Deegan and Men of the Strip star and 98 Degrees founder and singer Jeff Timmons. The champion of the first “DJing With the Las Vegas Stars” competition was V Theater hypnotist Marc Savard.

The first contest for this round was “Hit the Post,” where we were directed to announce a song pulled from the Calderon of Doom in an appointed time ranging from 19 to 27 seconds. Mine was “My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit. Despite his pleas of something from The Beatles, CCR or The Supremes, Anderson pulled “Good Life” from One Republic. He had 26 seconds for this announcement and came in at 28.

“That went long,” Mark said.

“That’s the first long one I’ve had in a long time,” Anderson answered.

Scoring is based on the performance from the first round and votes online here on the Mix 94.1-FM website. Voting ends at 7:59 a.m. Thursday, then the first disposed-of contestant will be announced the following hour (sniff!).

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

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