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September 19, 2014

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‘Pin Up’ ups its game, but is it enough to move tickets? Jimmie ‘J.J.’ Walker remembers David Brenner

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Tom Donoghue / DonoghuePhotography.com

Stratosphere Pole Day on Friday, March 7, 2014, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Joey Logano won the pole, presented by Stratosphere headliner Claire Sinclair, for the Kobalt 400 NASCAR Spring Cup Series on Sunday at LVMS.

The Kats Report Bureau at this writing is the Garden Bar at Flamingo overlooking the hotel’s Wildlife Habitat. I will always remember Garden Bar as the spot where, long, long ago, I interviewed Gary Coleman (catch the link here).

I found him to be very friendly, sharp and articulate, the touchy topic at the moment being the then-recent death of his onetime friend Dana Plato. It was a fun interview, a highlight of that particular period, although I wish Coleman, who died four years ago, would have found more happiness in his life.

The reason for this filing is another visit to Brooklyn Bowl, just across the way at the Linq. On Friday night, I tailed Brooklyn Bowl co-founder Peter Shapiro for an upcoming column about … tailing Peter Shapiro around Brooklyn Bowl.

A couple of teasers: This column features cameos by Kevyn Wynn, a British bloke in an Uncle Sam suit and a DJ who refuses to play house or electronic dance music. Oh yeah, and some offhanded references to Elvis Costello & The Roots, who just rocked the place. So far, the consensus is that Brooklyn Bowl is a major player in the Strip entertainment scene. The feedback Shapiro has been getting from his colleagues in and outside Vegas has been very strong. It was quite a sprint Friday night.

Until that baby is put to post, we rake:

On Thursday night, “Pin Up” celebrated its first anniversary and a major rejiggering of the show. The production at the Stratosphere will enjoy only short-lived momentum, as it is off this week (as is Frankie Moreno’s show), and the showroom's shows go dark.

The explanation is that ticket sales lag when the NCAA Tournament opens play, and it is opening play this week. Some shows, such as “Jersey Boys” at Paris Las Vegas (coming off three sellouts in the past week) thrive during the tourney, but not the Stratosphere shows. This is some strange demographic compendium, but it does appear in certain entertainment enclaves (such as the Strat), college hoops fans are not the most eager live-entertainment fans.

Ticket sales was an oft-discussed topic as “Pin Up” rolled out its upgraded production. Execs are simply saying now that the top priority is moving tickets, as the show has about hit its maximum artistic potential. Claire Sinclair is strip teasing to all four new numbers (“It Had Better Be Tonight,” “Put Some Sugar in My Bowl” and a quite-funky Hawaiian tiki medley) arranged by David Perrico and delivered expertly by the show’s crackling house band.

Sinclair’s new dancing responsibilities supplant her dialogue from the stage, as she is almost totally silent (aside from voiceovers). As my show companion and dear friend, the eminent Tempest Storm, has said about “Pin Up,” she never talked to the audience during her heyday as one of the top burlesque stars in the world. The idea was to allow the dancer to communicate through dance. Sinclair does that well, and she clearly delights in the art form.

The new scenes play to that quality well, although that Hawaiian number is going to throw many audience members off-guard. Maybe that scene can be the first spinoff of “Pin Up,” where the producers can develop an entire hula-themed adult production in the spirit of long-latent “Bite.” Whatever the case, give credit to lead dancer Ryan Kelsey for doing his best to sell his sarong costume. He’s a true pro, seriously.

That said, “Pin Up” is likely going to succeed or suffer a plug-pull based on the show as it now exists. Its singer, Lisa Marie Smith, is the adorable girl-next-door counterpart to Sinclair as 2011 Playboy Playmate of the Year. The music is never a concern. But “Pin Up” needs to generate some real energy, strong word-of-mouth in this market and positive buzz outside Las Vegas to make it past next January. That’s when Sinclair’s current contract expires. The show needs to be making money by then.

There has been chirping about Sinclair working on a reality TV show. That might be the one magic bullet left that can salvage “Pin Up” because unless there is a radical change in the attitude of ticket-buyers, the current model is a long shot.

Click to enlarge photo

Jimmie "J.J." Walker, emceeing opening night of the Comedy Stop at Sahara.

• I finally connected with Jimmie “J.J.” Walker on Sunday morning to talk of the death of his friend David Brenner, who died Saturday morning in New York, reportedly of cancer. Brenner was 78. Walker and he knew each other for decades.

“Only 45 years. That’s all,” Walker said with a laugh during a phone conversation from Chicago, where he was performing weekend dates before returning to Las Vegas. “I met David while I was performing in 1969 at the African Room in New York. I did a bit about pitching pennies, and he loved it. He said it was one of the most innovative and unique bits he’d ever heard, and we were friends ever since.”

The two were performing at the Improv in New York, where Brenner used to summon cabs for Walker. “He always said, ‘Black people can’t get cabs in this city,’ so he’d hail a cab and then hold the door for me as I walked out of the club,” Walker said. “I lived down Harlem way at the time, and once we caught a cab together, I was dropped off at his house on 69th and 3rd, and he went to my place back in Harlem. The cabbie couldn’t believe it.”

Brenner vowed that one day Walker and he would retell that story on “The Tonight Show.”

“I mean, this is when we were still doing open mics, and he said when he was on (Johnny) Carson, he would tell that story,” Walker said. “Eight years later, he was in Burbank hosting the show, and I am a guest. He comes up to me in the hall and says, ‘I am going to do the taxicab story!’

“That’s Brenner, man. Eight years later, he still had the story, and he nailed it.”

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

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