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September 19, 2014

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MDA makes big plans by shrinking show — but where’s Jerry Lewis?

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Tom Donoghue/www.donoghuephotography.com

The 2010 Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon at South Point. Pictured here with Lewis is Jon Voight.

Jerry Lewis’ name has been synonymous with the “MDA Labor Day Telethon” for 45 years. Can we agree on this?

We can, until we scan a news release issued last week by the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Unexpectedly, the MDA has lopped a good measure of the telethon – 21½ hours, total. As a result, the 2011 telethon will run just six hours, which is a lot like shaving a marathon down to a 7K run and still calling it “a marathon.”

Even more startling was the wording of the MDA news release sent to media members last Wednesday. The words “Jerry Lewis,” were not to be found until the third of four pages in the release, and only after we read several lively quotes from MDA President Gerald C. Weinberg. We happen upon Jerry Lewis just once, under the headline: “Rich MDA Telethon History.”

We quote: “Over the years, countless megastars have appeared on the Telethon to help families affected by muscular dystrophy. And the surprise Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis reunion organized by Frank Sinatra still is one of the 10 best television moments of all time.”

That’s it. Lewis is not even the second MDA official name-checked. Veteran telethon producer Lee Miller appears higher, even.

Maybe here would be a fitting point to remind that the 84-year-old Lewis has been involved in the MDA for 60 years and the national telecast since 1966. So he’s kind of ingrained in the project at this point. The most recent information sent by the MDA prior to last week’s release was the wrap of this year’s show, which raised just under $59 million, referred to the show as the “Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon.” Now it’s just, “MDA Labor Day Telethon.”

How very odd.

The MDA says the shrunken format is “central to a strategy to increase audience for and income from its 2011 Labor Day telecast.” The show will incorporate live and tape-delayed segments and air from 6 p.m. to midnight in every time zone. Less is more, apparently. Quantity over quality. More sizzle, less snivel.

“The talent we’ll be attracting will be even bigger, since every moment of our prime-time show will have a tremendous audience,” Weinberg promises.

How does Lewis fit in? Nowhere is he quoted or referred to as the telethon host, but I expect that he will be. So do South Point officials. As hotel spokesman Tom Mikovits said Monday afternoon, Lewis and South Point owner Michael Gaughan have made an agreement that the telethon would be staged at South Point for as long as Lewis is in the driver’s seat.

To sort what’s happening with the telethon, calls are out to the MDA and to Lewis himself, who over the weekend returned from a trip to New York to work on the stage version of “Nutty Professor” and be feted by the Friar’s Club with one of it’s Lifetime Achievement Awards (that event was Sept. 29).

At the moment, the way this was announced seems, at the very least, a little nutty.

Of puppets, videos ... and Lee

Liberace lives! In a manner of speaking! As the Liberace Museum moves dramatically to its Oct. 17 closing, a new production titled, “Liberace – Music & Memories,” is set to open Nov. 9 at Saxe Theater at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.

This musical treatment of Liberace’s life and career is hosted by multifaceted singer/musician/impressionist Wayland Pickard and is the only “officially licensed” Liberace tribute show in the world, says producer Randy Nolen. Happily, a portion of the ticket sales will go to the Liberace Foundation scholarship fund. (We’ve been promised by the Liberace Board of Directors that the scholarship money will be used for scholarships and not for operating costs at the museum, since it is, in fact, closing.)

More from the Liberace Museum, and trust me this won’t be the final word on this topic: Master sleight-of-hand artist and puppeteer Joseph Gabriel and his wife, Katalin, have started a video campaign titled, “Friends of Liberace.” Gabriel is a performer in David Saxe’s “Vegas! The Show,” and his was the big macaw parrot that soared into the crowd and landed in the hair of talent agent Colleen Custer during the production’s gala premiere.

A former performer in Wes Winters’ “A Musical Tribute to Liberace" show at the Liberace Museum, Gabriel was a focal point during the protest at the museum last month. Well, maybe it was his Liberace puppet that was the focal point. Or, maybe it was Katalin, dressed as a showgirl for the occasion. Whatever, Gabriel is inviting all ilk of Vegas performers to talk on-camera about the museum and, as he says, “raise awareness of the mismanagement of the museum.”

The little puppet even has his own Facebook page. Go to FB (how the kids refer to Facebook), search “Liberace puppet,” and you’ll find all you want to know, and even what you might not want to know, about Little Lee.

And yet one more note: The amazing pianist Philip Fortenberry performs his final “Liberace & Me” showcase at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, and this is an invitation-only performance to mark the closing of performances at the museum’s cabaret. A reception is planned for the museum staff, which is being let go after the museum drops the curtain Oct. 17.

Click to enlarge photo

MokshaFest '10

I’m always willing to borrow a description, and even some spare scratch, from KUNV 91.5-FM personality George Lyons, who hosts “The Lyons Den” each Sunday night from 7 p.m.-11 p.m. He referred to the Las Vegas band Moksha as “well-rehearsed,” and it is that.

A Moksha show is a very polished (and detectably fragrant) musical experience. The band played the pool deck at Binion’s on Friday night, which happens to be on the roof of the renowned hotel-casino, which is not exactly a hotel right now until its rooms are renovated. The audience count was 180, the band got paid, the music was crisp and the view was uniquely Vegas. The band is back at the Hard Rock Café on the Strip on Oct. 23, and it is worth a look-see.

**

From a wholly entertainment perspective, I love Frank Caliendo. A line of his from two Sundays ago, as he mimicked John Madden on “Fox NFL Sunday,” he said of Brett Favre, “If I wanted to see an old quarterback struggle, I’d watch Terry Bradshaw try to read.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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