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October 22, 2014

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Long after ‘Bat Night,’ Frankie Moreno is still having a ball

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Frankie Moreno at Shade Tree’s 12th Annual “Girls Night Out” fundraiser Wednesday, May 21, 2014, at Hyde Bellagio.

Frankie Moreno Performs at Stratosphere

Frankie Moreno performs in the showroom at the Stratosphere Tuesday, Feb 11, 2014 Launch slideshow »

‘Million Dollar Quartet’ With Frankie Moreno

The cast of Million Dollar Quartet and guest Frankie Moreno thank the audience after their show at Harrah's Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Who was there for “Bat Night”? Raise of hands? Anyone?

This was one of those nutty nights in the spring of 2012, fairly early in Frankie Moreno’s run at the Stratosphere. In the first few minutes of the performance, an unidentified flapping object fluttered high above the audience. There was a murmur, then laughter, but Moreno just kept playing — for two or three songs.

Soon, everyone in the audience was gazing up, laughing, gasping … but Moreno, unaware of what was happening, continued the performance.

Then, as he was about to summon the ballad “Beautiful,” the bat buzzed the stage.

“Was that a bat?!” Moreno finally called out, his eyes wide with fright. The crowd laughed. Yes, it was a bat. Someone joked that it was making a rehearsal run for “Bite,” the adult, vampire-themed production that played the late show in the showroom at the time.

The bat situation has since been remedied, long ago. But it is one of those wacky moments in Moreno’s run at the Strat, which opened in November 2011 and hits the 500-show milestone Thursday night. The show arrives amid a year of great percolation for Moreno, a subject of great interest as fans wonder when he will leap from a showroom headliner to a wider scope of fame.

That could happen soon. Moreno has a shot over the coming months to expand his fan base. This opportunity was sparked by Moreno’s taped performance at the Stratosphere back in February, which aired as a concert special on Sacramento PBS station KVIE on May 31.

This was a test of how Moreno’s show would perform during one of PBS’ recurring pledge drives, and execs with PBS were thrilled with the quality of the performance and the high volume of calls to the station during the show.

The next step is to pitch the performance to PBS at the national level, ideally to air in August. Michael Buble and Andrea Bocelli received their first national exposure through these performances.

The person who bridged the connection between Moreno and PBS was producer and documentarian Peter Berkow, who operates out of Chico, Calif. (and as a disclosure, Peter and I have been friends for about forever). Berkow also has worked with Cake and produced a video project centered on the Ray Conniff Singers.

This coincidentally involved Conniff’s daughter Tamara, who is now Moreno’s manager. In the spring, Conniff joined Jay Z’s Roc Nation operation as executive vice president of music publishing/business affairs. She also is the onetime editor of Billboard and music editor of the Hollywood Reporter.

These individuals have become vital to Moreno’s career. So, too, has studio master and guitar great Pat Thrall, who has engineered the PBS special and also worked on Moreno’s latest, self-titled CD in 2012. Moreno’s charge and challenge are to remain a Las Vegas headliner, but hit the road more frequently in the coming months, through the end of his contract with the Strat in October 2015.

“How do you gain exposure outside Las Vegas? By performing outside Las Vegas,” Moreno says. “We have played in Miami, Mexico, Washington, D.C., just this year, and we need to be on tour more this year. I think the PBS special could change things, no question.”

Moreno, too, has changed his stage show by shaking up his band this year and creating a performance with a high complement of dance movement. The choreography was delivered by Lacey Schwimmer, famous for her run on “Dancing With the Stars.” She has been a personal and professional partner of Moreno’s for the past couple of years and has frequently danced in the show.

Most recently, she performed during the horn-driven rocker “Diva,” a song mindful of Motown-era dance hits that incorporates clips of artists such as James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Michael Jackson and Ann-Margret and Elvis dancing in time to the music onstage.

Always a prolific songwriter, Moreno and his brothers Tony and Ricky are forever developing new music. “Diva” falls in line with new songs, the titles of which are “Biggest Fan,” “45,” “Baby Don’t” and “Somebody,” and they are all winners. Moreno has no shortage of topnotch originals, though he still plays the familiar covers of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

“We have always played originals. We’ve pushed that from the beginning,” Moreno says. “Even when it meant that I got fired from gigs. In those days, we were the only lounge acts performing originals.”

Moreno is unbending in his belief that if he continues to follow his professional instincts and rely on the expertise of those around him, he’ll get to where he wants to be. Long removed from “Bat Night,” the Stratosphere’s headliner is still swinging for the fences.

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

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