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July 22, 2014

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Entertaining one another, not the tourists

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Leila Navidi

Contortionist Stephanie Castellone performs as “Lady Labella” during “OK, OK the Amos Glick Variety Show!” at the Square Apple in Las Vegas Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Castellone has her own performance business called “TwistIT Up!” The Variety Show, hosted by “Le Reve” clown Amos Glick, is an open house for performers of all disciplines.

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A local in his late 50s — dressed in slacks, sport shirt and jacket, hair neatly trimmed — steps into the Square Apple and squeezes his way through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of people in their 20s and early 30s, many from faraway places such as Scotland, France and Russia.

He has entered an alternative world that exists only occasionally, like the mythical hamlet Brigadoon.

“You know, I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 28 years,” he says after inching up to the bar and ordering a beer. “This place has gone through a lot of changes.”

Ten years ago the club was Keys, which catered to gays; then it became the Dakota, which catered to straights; then Zingers, which attracted cross dressers and straights; and then Just Jazz, which tried unsuccessfully to cater to just jazz fans.

Last summer it became the Square Apple, which aims at a greater variety in a friendly atmosphere. So far, it has been successful in a time when many businesses are closing.

Most nights the club at 1000 E. Sahara Ave. features jazz performers such as Tommy Thompson, Tommy Alvarado, Cash Farrar or Skip Martin or a dance band such as Touch of Silk.

Tonight is different.

The “Amos Glick Variety Show” has taken over the room, which seats about 125. The free revue is produced by Amos Glick, a clown with “Le Reve” at Wynn Las Vegas.

Ideally, the show is held monthly, on the second or third Wednesday. But the rules are neither hard nor fast. Some months there is no show. The next show is Wednesday.

And so the local resident who stepped into the middle of a “Variety Show” night was surprised and pleased as he sipped his beer and looked around and then disappeared into the crowd to people watch.

He is in the right place. The crowd is full of young men and women who are full of energy and beautiful. Most of them are from the cast of “Le Reve” or one of the Cirque du Soleil shows. Later in the night some of them will be performing, but most have come just to relax after their own shows have ended.

Glick says he started the “Variety Show” because when he arrived in Vegas two years ago to join “Le Reve” there were lots of such spontaneous productions in town — held at various locations for various reasons, an underground entertainment movement void of marquees and cover charges.

“I loved going to them,” says Glick, who spent 17 years performing with the San Francisco Mime Troupe. “But they started to happen less frequently. A lot of the people who put them on are not around anymore.”

So he took it upon himself to keep the entertainment spirit alive and began inviting friends and acquaintances to get together and show off talents they may have but not use in their particular productions.

It was fate that he ended up at the Square Apple.

“It was Just Jazz when I came here one night with friends,” he says. “One of them was a woman who played the cello. She brought the cello in because she didn’t want to leave it in the car. This was 2 in the morning. She she saw the band tearing down; she asked the sound guy if she could plug in. Nobody was there but us and the people who worked there so she played some serious stuff and some comedic stuff — and I felt transported. I felt as if I were in a Bohemian fantasy land, where you sit and watch your friends perform.”

He began talking to management about his idea and then the club changed hands and the new management liked the proposal.

For now the Square Apple occasionally turns into a cabaret with a distinctive European flavor, an offbeat room where some entertainers accustomed to making big bucks performing for big crowds perform for free for small audiences.

The local man has squeezed into a chair near the tiny stage area. He sips his beer and watches the entertainment unfold.

The ceiling is low, so there won’t be an aerial act tonight, but there will be contortionists and lots of clowns and musicians who will perform two sets lasting until 2 a.m.

Avant-garde gypsy jazz group Hot Club of Las Vegas begins the show with a 40-minute set. A member of “Le Reve ’s” wardrobe department performs a couple of magic tricks. A local resident, unattached to a show, plays an accordion. Another performs a bassoon solo. A member of the Coasters drops by and sings a couple of Barry White tunes.

Glick likes to keep performances spontaneous, not overly rehearsed.

“I want to keep it as casual as possible,” he says. “I want the best quality performers to come down and perform with the least amount of work. There’s a little bit of quality control, but not a lot.”

There is nothing polished about the show. It’s about fun, not perfection.

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