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July 29, 2014

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Party is in Elko, but the walk-on stars are at Harrah’s in ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

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Steve Marcus

Cast members rehearse for “Million Dollar Quartet” in a warehouse near The Orleans on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013. From left are Benjamin D. Hale as Johnny Cash, Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis, Robert Britton Lyons as Carl Perkins, Felice Garcia as Dyanne and Tyler Hunter as Elvis Presley.

Rehearsal for 'Million Dollar Quartet'

Tyler Hunter, center, performs as Elvis Presley during a rehearsal for Launch slideshow »

'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 »
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Martin Kaye of "Million Dollar Quartet" at Harrah's arrives at the grand opening of "Smokey Robinson Presents Human Nature: The Motown Show" at The Venetian on Friday, Feb. 22, 2013.

The Kats Report Bureau at this writing is Southwest Airlines Flight 2314, Las Vegas to Salt Lake City. Later, we will be scooping up a fuel-efficient rental car and darting across Interstate 80 to Elko, site of this year's annual Nevada Press Association Better Newspaper Contest awards. If there is a cool hang to be had in Elko, by God I will find it.

On my right on this flight, occupying the window seat, is talented-yet-fatigued journalist and colleague Andrea Domanick. She is asleep, yet certainly dreaming of her next great story. Somewhere in the cabin is bearded bard Eli Segall. We’re all winning awards tonight, maybe for Best a Capella Vocal Performance.

Or will that happen later?

Whatever, as small talk with the slumbering Domanick is not a viable option, we’ll rake some scene-age:

• Taylor Hicks lit it up at “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s on Wednesday night. Hicks, who is in residence at Napoleon’s at Paris Las Vegas, took the stage after the show’s finale and performed Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” The cast from “MDQ” is to be joined Tuesday night by Frankie Moreno, the third in what the show hopes will be a healthy lineup of guest stars who started this month with Veronic DiCaire of Bally’s. “MDQ” is reporting some healthy houses recently, and it’s a show to support. That searing band and a well-woven story make it a show to send Las Vegas visitors to, and if you look closely in that studio at Sun Records, you see a photo of someone fondly remembered in Vegas. But you have to look closely.

• Keeping with the quartet, “MDQ” cast member Martin Kaye (who portrays Jerry Lee Lewis with great affectation, though Kaye is British and Lewis is not hardly) performed a joyous show at Art Square Theater in the Arts District on Friday night. Kaye dubbed the show “The Piano Man,” but it was more than a ring of keys. Kaye was backed by a proficient three-piece backing band that blew through some of the requisite songs any piano man would play to show off his contemporary-music acumen. Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” was in there, “Tiny Dancer” and “Rocket Man” by Elton John, an expertly crafted two-song medley of “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and “Imagine” by John Lennon, “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay and a couple of nifty Kaye originals. The 100-seat room was jammed with talented performers from “MDQ” and other Strip shows. Rob Lyons, who plays Carl Perkins in "MDQ,” was seated near Graham Fenton and Rob Marnell of “Jersey Boys,” who were seated next to Troy Burgess and Mark Shunock of “Rock of Ages,” who were around the bend from “Jersey Boys” music director Keith Thompson and onetime Christine from “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular” Kristen Hertzenberg.

It was Hertzenberg who nudged Kaye to perform this showcase, as she performed at Art Square a few weeks ago (and is fired up about her Oct. 23 show at Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay; tickets for the 10:30 p.m. performance are $30 and available at House of Blues box office or by calling 702–632–7600). Kaye’s showcase was a full 90 minutes of music with an intermission. Replete with wooden chairs and a couple of new monitors hanging from the ceiling, Art Square is working in tandem (coincidentally) with Composers Showcase at Cabaret Jazz in the Smith Center in connecting Strip stars new to Las Vegas who might know nothing about downtown into the heart of the community. Kaye had been looking for a suitable room for his pet project that was not too big, where the sound would meet his high standards, and also was something of a neutral site. Arts Square is that type of setting, and the word is spreading among Strip (and non-Strip) performers that this is a very cool hang.

Kaye hopes to grow this show to the point where some entertainment-minded investor will scoop it up and book it into a mid-level venue, but the list of Strip performers who have held similar dreams is far longer than those who have actually realized those dreams.

Thompson related a story during intermission on Friday that makes me think this show might be steered divinely. In the last conversation Thompson had with his longtime friend and original “MDQ” drummer Jim Belk months before Belk died of cancer, Belk told Thompson of a terrific musician, singer and songwriter he’d just met in Las Vegas. “Jim told me, ‘You need to get this guy into the Showcase,’” Thompson said. “I didn’t realize that Jim was in the condition he was in, but I did take his advice, and that’s one reason I have such an interest in this show.” The person of whom Belk spoke was Martin Kaye.

• Erich Bergen landed the plum role of Bob Gaudio in director Clint Eastwood’s upcoming film adaptation of “Jersey Boys,” but the performer who plays Gaudio in the current cast at Paris Las Vegas also is in the film. It’s a far less prestigious role, but Marnell (you might remember him from earlier in the column) has a brief appearance as latter-day Four Season member Joe Long. And Renee Marino, a former member of the “J.B.” Las Vegas cast who has appeared in the show across the country, reprises her portrayal of Mary Delgado. The Las Vegas production has shown some resurgence after a so-so summer, and the film (due for release next year) will help reignite some interest in The Four Seasons and “Jersey Boys." The musical opened nine years ago on Broadway and more than five years ago on the Strip, originally at Palazzo, and it’s about time for a refresher course about why that group is such a great story.

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Kristen Hertzenberg, of Phantom, and Philip Fortenberry, Associate Conductor for Jersey Boys, prepare to perform their version of a Christmas carol for the Ramos family, Saturday Dec. 24, 2011. In12Days, a charity organization, surprised the Ramos family with an unforgettable rendition of the 12th day of Christmas.

• Belated congratulations (kind of) to Philip Fortenberry, who won an Emmy Award (in a manner of speaking) for his work as Michael Douglas’ body double in the HBO Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra.” Fortenberry actually receives peripheral credit, if not an actual trophy, for performing all of the complex piano pieces and wearing those Brussels sprout-sized rings and heavy costumes while doubling as Douglas. I texted Fortenberry last Sunday to congratulate him on the (kind of) honor, and his response was, “Did Mr. Douglas win?” Fortenberry was working at “Jersey Boys” at the time, so that text was something of a spoiler alert. Sorry.

More important, in a current-events context, is Fortenberry is back at Cabaret Jazz at 7 p.m. Oct. 7 for his “Man at the Piano” spectacular. It’s maybe not such a spectacular in the sense that there are no pyrotechnics planned, but if you want to experience some gen-u-ine piano brilliance, this is where to be. Tickets are $25 and $35.

Ah. The otherwise jovial Southwest flight attendants are giving me the stink eye. Better close up. In the words of The Cult, ciao, baby.

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

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