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August 1, 2014

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Jimmy Hopper jumps over to the Lounge at Palms

Former VooDoo Lounge, Fontana Bar singer begins new residency Sunday

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Courtesy Photo

Jimmy Hopper.

Jimmy Hopper is singing. That's what the spiky haired blond does. He sings. Only right now he doesn't have much audience, just me over the telephone, listening as Hopper sounds out the chorus of a recent Green Day hit.

"One, twenty-one guuuuuns…"

"It's really good, but it's just so repetitive," Jimmy says. "It's not taking me anywhere. I'll grunge it up a little bit, rock it a little bit more and speed it up a little bit."

Now Jimmy's singing again, this time snapping along to the song and driving the melody a little faster. It's Green Day a la Jimmy Hopper, a mash-up the eyeliner-ed rockers-turned-musical-theater-creators probably wouldn't mind, and just one of the songs that Hopper may perform this Sunday during the opening of his residency at the Lounge at the Palms. Also on the list — Andrea Bocelli, Muse, Bon Jovi and Black Eyed Peas.

Well, maybe.

"Opening night at the Palms, I will not even know what I'm doing. I'll have the first three or four songs that we're going to do, and that will be it. From there on I'll just start winging it, cause that's what we do best — reading the crowd and just winging it."

For some performers, the idea of winging their opening night in a new venue would be the stuff of nightmares — naked on the first day of school-type fiascos. For Hopper, it's no sweat.

Hopper first arrived in Las Vegas in 1999 at the invitation of then-Rio owner and operator Tony Marnell II.

"He called me and said 'I have built you a room. It's called the VooDoo Lounge and I want you to open it,'" Hopper remembers.

About six months into his residency at VooDoo, Hopper had an idea: Italian opera. Never mind that this was Vegas and VooDoo Lounge, across the street from the Venetian where opera might have had a fighting chance at relevancy in keeping with the property's Italian theme. Hopper wanted to sing opera at the Rio.

"It turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. My fans in the audience just loved it. They looked at me and they just went, 'Oh my gosh, this guy's a freak. He's got spiked hair and he wears makeup and he's singing songs by Freddy Mercury or whatever and just sang an Italian opera piece,'" Hopper laughs. "Believe me, people were waiting in line just to hear me do that."

Of course, Vegas has changed tremendously in the last 10 years. Cirque du Soleil has staged its Strip coup, conquering audiences with big-budget shows crammed with elaborate staging and highly skilled performers, and, as Hopper sees it, entertainers have become increasingly responsible for earning their keep. "I think most of Vegas entertainers are walking on pins and needles right now," he says. "In the early days — of course, way before me, but even back in '99, 2000 when we were just booming through that time — it was kind of like entertainment, this is our gift to you. This is our treat to you. ... Now, I think a lot of entertainers, it's being put upon them. You better put up, draw people. If you don't..." Hopper trails off.

From the Rio, Hopper moved to the Bellagio where he spent five years playing the Fontana Bar before departing for California and other projects. Now, 10 years after first stepping onto a Vegas stage, Hopper is on his way back to town, where he'll once again be singing his odd blend of opera, Freddy Mercury, medleys from famous musicals and Beatles, Journey and Zeppelin tributes. This time around he's adding Muse to a mix of music that's constantly changing.

It works for Hopper, and, in his own flamboyant way, he works it.

His residency at the Palms actually was born in California at the Island Hotel in Orange County where George Maloof and his family stopped by to see Hopper perform this summer. Maloof's mother was particularly smitten with his cover of Badfinger classic "Without You."

"I can't liiiiiive, if living is without you," Hopper's falsetto carries over the phone.

"Well, she just loved that. I'm thinking to myself, 'Hmm, the key to any man's heart is his mommy.'"

About six months after the show in Orange County, Hopper was adding Sundays at the Palms to his performing schedule.

Hopper's act will be scaled down from the Lounge's most recent tenant, singer Matt Goss and his show, complete with full backing band and cheekily dubbed dance troupe the Dirty Virgins. For the intimate space, Hopper will be bringing just a trio — a violinist, guitarist and Hopper himself on vocals and keys.

"Quite frankly it just comes down to budget constraints on some of the casinos these days," Hopper explains. "If it all goes well, maybe a month or so down the road I might bring in a percussionist. Maybe I'll bring in my piano player and I won't play the piano anymore."

If the bottom line is keeping the stage sparse, the sound, Hopper promises, won't suffer.

"Believe me," he adds, the confidence evident in his voice, "we will be mighty and powerful. We'll sound like a 20-piece orchestra easily."

— Originally posted on LasVegasWeekly.com

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