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September 20, 2014

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Man About Gown

WEEKEND EDITION

Sept. 17-18, 2005

What: "An Evening at La Cage."

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays. Dark Tuesdays.

Where: Riviera's La Cage Theatre.

Tickets: $60.50.

Information: 794-9433.

Playing the same character for 20 years could be a drag for an actor.

But not for Frank Marino.

The New York native loves to perform, on- and off-stage.

Today marks the 20th year that the 41-year-old drag queen has headlined Norbert Aleman's "An Evening At La Cage" at the Riviera.

It is the fifth longest runnning show on the Strip -- behind "Jubilee!" (at Bally's), "Folies Bergere" (Tropicana), "Legends in Concert" (Imperial Palace) and "Splash" (Riviera).

Marino is the longest-running headliner in Las Vegas.

The production features a cast of lip-syncing female impersonators. Marino hosts the show and tells jokes as he parades before fans in a series of expensive gowns designed by the legendary Bob Mackie.

The gig has brought him fame -- in January his star became the second to be placed on the Walk of Stars on the Strip, and earlier this week the street in front of Marino's home was named after him.

It has brought him fortune -- he is in the fifth year of his latest 10-year contract, reportedly earning $1 million a year.

And it has brought him happiness.

"Anybody who says money can't buy happiness doesn't know where to shop," Marino said in a recent interview with the Sun, talking about a life that is anything but a drag.

Las Vegas Sun: You've been performing the same role for 20 years. Aren't you getting a little bored?

Frank Marino: You know what, after Sept. 11 I will never say I am bored. Sept. 11 woke me up -- I saw how many people were out of work or in jobs they didn't want to be in.

For me, to be in a job I enjoy -- strictly entertaining, for me as well as the audience -- well, I really just never get bored. I am grateful for the fact that I have what I have.

Sun: What's the secret to the success of "An Evening at La Cage?"

FM: We have survived two wars, two catastrophes, four presidents and the turn of the century.

Characters change, monologues change, gowns change -- but those change every day.

When we first started the show the impersonators did Ann-Margret, the Pointer sisters, the Andrew Sisters -- celebrities like that. Now, it's Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Madonna, Celine Dion -- people who hadn't been heard of back then.

That's why the show has lasted so long. It's a show that can change to keep up with the times.

And it's a show that is affordable so locals can come.

It's not a show that you can see everywhere. So people come back time and again. I'd say 25 percent of the audience is repeat business.

Sun: Have any other performers been with the show as long as you?

FM: No. Chris Woods, who does Diana Ross and Whitney Houston, opened the show with me, but he left for five years in the middle.

Sun: What was the first night like?

FM: I was actually in the audience opening night. I sat with Liberace.

We had a guest emcee for the first two weeks -- a drag queen named Gipsy from the original "La Cage" in Beverly Hills. They wanted to give him the opportunity to open the show.

Sun: That must have been odd.

FM: It was a strange feeling. I was in all the advertising, but there I was in the audience watching the show for the first two weeks.

Sun: You are a Joan Rivers look-alike, but your material isn't as raunchy as her's. She has some very blue humor in her act. Why don't you emulate her?

FM: I push the envelope as far as I can push it. But Joan, she goes for the shock value. I have a problem doing that, even today. I have certain standards in my own act. If there's a child in the audience, I'm careful about what I say.

Sun: Do you have any involvement in "La Cage," other than being the star?

FM: Norbert owns the show. He's the producer. He makes all the calls as far as what goes in the show and what doesn't go in the show. I do my act the way I want to do it. If there's something he doesn't like about my act he will comment and we will change that. I also give opinions -- the whole cast does. The whole show is a collaboration, with different ideas that make the show the way it is.

I want to make it very clear, it's Norbert's show and it's not just me in the show. It's a collaboration of about 15 people who have made the show the success that it is today.

Sun: Are the numbers still good?

FM: Our numbers are always good. We really do well. It's a show people enjoy. The Riviera is a mom and pop resort. We don't have a big advertising budget. It's mostly by word-of-mouth. It's a fun show, one that people enjoy. It's a colorful show.

Sun: How do you explain fans' fascination with female impersonators?

FM: It's been a phenomenon for years -- Shakespeare did it. In early TV, Milton Berle did it. The movies "Tootsie" and "Mrs. Doubtfire" featured it.

Female impersonation keeps coming back. Suddenly it has become hip, cool and modern all over again.

I like to go to other drag shows when I'm on vacation, one because I'm in the business, but also because I enjoy it.

Sun: Do you enjoy impersonating Joan Rivers, or would you like to expand your repertoire?

FM: I'm in a look-alike show and I do Joan Rivers to open, but I don't enjoy impersonating anybody. Frank Marino likes to be onstage, in drag.

My goal is to be something over the top for fans in the audience who come in from the Midwest.

You can go next door to see the girl next door. I want to give fans something glamorous, I want to give them what they think a celebrity should look like, what I should wear and act like onstage. I want to give them that fantasy.

Sun: Are there things you would like to do but can't because the show is too time consuming?

FM: Anything I would like to do, I can do now.

I have tried my hand at acting -- earlier this year I was lucky enough to do "Miss Congeniality 2" with Sandra Bullock.

I did a CD album six or seven years ago.

I was a newscaster for awhile on Channel 8 -- I was the Queen of the Eyewitness News Scene. I did all the fashion reports.

And I wrote a book, "His Majesty the Queen," which was an enormous, big seller.

Anything else I want to do I do in conjunction with the show, I find the time to do it and I do it. I say in my book, the best thing and the worst thing is I that I have done everything I've wanted to do so there's nothing left I really want to do.

Sun: You have a star on the Walk of Stars. You have a street named after you. Is there any other honor you'd like?

FM: I want a wax figure in Madame Tussaud's (Wax) Museum. I feel I should get it -- if anyone is reading this -- because New York has Ru Paul, London has Dame Edna. I think Vegas should have Frank Marino.

Sun: What do you see yourself doing when you no longer are with "La Cage?"

FM: I have five years left on my contract. I know female impersonators much older than me still working in the business.

But a natural progression would be to become a producer, and to take my collaborated ideas I've collected over the years and see if they would work as well as the ideas in "La Cage."

I would love to produce a drag show. I have ideas. I don't know if I would want to do celebrity look-alikes. I might do something where everybody is in drag, but they perform scenes from different things, like "Sunset Boulevard."

Sun: When you aren't performing, what do you like to do?

FM: My favorite thing to do is go to Disney World every Christmas. The people there are so accommodating and polite and gracious. You just feel good being there around the holidays.

Sun: Besides the annual excursion to Florida what do you enjoy?

FM: I have a black belt in shopping.

If I can't get out of the house, I can shop by telephone. Just give me a cell phone and a catalog.

I bought 30 new dresses for my dog, a beautiful Maltese.

Sun: Where does your dog go in a dress?

FM: I dress her up, just for around the house. If you come around to my house, it's like a house in the '50s. We're all dressed up -- cleaning, wearing pearls. Even my dog is walking around in a dress.

It's so over the top. It's like a model home. I'm anal on top of everything else. Every cup has a place.

Sun: What's being done to celebrate the show's 20th anniversary?

FM: The producer's going to throw a cast party after the show. I think he's going to bring back some of the old cast members who have been in the show over the years -- there must be about 100. At least, I think that's the plan.

Sun: Are there any other exciting things going on in your life?

FM: I have a Frank Marino doll coming out for the 20th anniversary.

It's not anatomically correct.

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