Monday, July 30, 2012 | 4:05 p.m.
While Robin Leach takes his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip and Las Vegas personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. Our thanks to them all. We continue today with Travis Cloer and Graham Fenton, who split the role of Frankie Valli in the hit musical “Jersey Boys” at the Paris. Since his first baby daughter was born in April, Travis has discovered a whole new meaning to life -- and his character, and Graham reflects on how “Jersey Boys” is “too good to be true.”
By Travis Cloer
When I talk with people who have seen me as Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys,” they always say something along the lines of, “Wow! You must love living in Vegas!” “Going out every night, partying, lounging by the pool all day ... you have it made!” Ahhh, if they only knew what my life was really like. They’re right about one thing: I do have it made, but for a very different reason.
Four years ago, after fulfilling a lifelong dream of starring on Broadway, my wife Jen and I moved here from New York to pursue this unique opportunity. Almost immediately, we found ourselves settling in nicely. I was in a hit show on the Strip that audiences loved, our dogs were enjoying the new open spaces, and Jen also was doing what she was passionate about -- first dancing in “Sirens of T.I.,” then working with Broadway producer/director Jerry Mitchell in “Peepshow.” I had no complaints.
We have truly begun to feel like we’re part of the community. I’ve been involved with local charities like the NSPCA and Golden Rainbow, and we’ve even adopted a third (yes, third) dog. Being stationary in this business is a rarity and something that has been a blessing personally and professionally.
In “Jersey Boys,” I’ve been able to explore so many emotional and dramatic levels, which in turn has given me the opportunity to improve myself in numerous ways. For that and more, Las Vegas will always have my gratitude. However, it wasn’t until recently, April 6 to be exact, that I learned that there was a lot more growing in store.
On a night with the biggest full moon I have ever seen, our daughter Andi was born. With all the highlights of a cliched movie (water breaking, dropping what you’re doing, running red lights), we welcomed her into this world with loving arms. Like any parent knows, it’s a moment that I will never forget. Our whole world was changed, rearranged, turned upside down, and for the first time, my beautiful wife and I realized that life was no longer just about us.
Andi is now a part of everything I do. Because of her, I get out of bed, laugh more, walk differently and love in a way I never knew one could. She’s even made me a better entertainer. She’s given me inspiration to write with more emotion, sing with more joy and find ways to be better each time I set foot onstage.
Because of Andi, I’m able to relate so much more to the character I play. Frankie’s relationships with the women in his life, especially his daughter, were complicated, to say the least. Thanks to my little girl, I can bring a reality to the show that before I could only imagine. She makes the music I sing each night so much sweeter.
It turns out that the key to growing as a performer, appreciating my good fortune and maximizing my Las Vegas experience existed within my own four walls. And in the words of Frankie Valli, “Family is everything.”
By Graham Fenton
Las Vegas is a city that is constantly changing and evolving. Casinos are built, renovated or demolished and rebuilt with incredible speed. This brings to mind a joke I heard when I first moved to Las Vegas. I stood on a rooftop with a longtime resident and noticed all the construction cranes. I must have counted 20. He said, “Don’t you know? The crane is the state bird.”
My first trip here was in the summer of 1993. I was riding in the back seat of a station wagon with my two brothers on a six-week family camping trip around the country. Think the Griswolds from “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” I remember the lights, the sounds and the biggest buffet I had even seen at Circus Circus. It was my first taste of Vegas. The Luxor, MGM Grand and Treasure Island were all months from opening. The Strip looked vastly different from today.
My next trip to Las Vegas would be years later as a cast member of the hit Broadway musical “Jersey Boys.” I grew up a mere 40 miles from Atlantic City, a Jersey boy born and raised, but was never old enough to gamble until I moved here. Since then, I have made a few donations to the establishments on the Strip.
The excitement I felt for Las Vegas was still there, and add to that the thrill of being a cast member in a show I already loved. I lived and worked in Las Vegas in 2008 for eight months as an understudy before I was promoted to play Frankie Valli on the national tour of “Jersey Boys.” It wouldn’t be until September 2011 that I would return to “Jersey Boys” in Las Vegas.
Like Las Vegas, “Jersey Boys” has evolved over the years. Since my start with “Jersey Boys,” I have traveled all over the country and the world with this fantastic show playing to the most enthusiastic audiences I have ever experienced. I have performed with four “Jersey Boys” companies and have seen cast members come and go.
Through all this change, there are many constants. Las Vegas is still the Entertainment Capital of the World. “Jersey Boys” is still a box office smash. Through all the companies I’ve performed with and all the cast members with which I’ve shared the stage, “Jersey Boys is still bringing audiences a show that is, forgive me, “too good to be true.”
First-time visitors here are still awestruck by this neon playground. No matter how many films and photos they’ve seen of Las Vegas, they really can’t appreciate this town until they experience it first hand. Repeat visitors come back to experience that high.
The same is true of “Jersey Boys” fans, of which I consider myself one. First-timers to “Jersey Boys” have no idea the journey they are about to take. They know that they will hear classic rock and roll, but I hear from audience members all the time that they had no idea how invested they would become in the story of these guys from Jersey as they navigate their way through the streets of Newark, run-ins with the Mob, failed relationships and stardom.
Every night, our audiences laugh, cry and applaud louder than they probably ever thought they could. And I get to hear every belly laugh, sniffle and cheer from the best spot in the house. Sometimes I still pinch myself.
“Jersey Boys” and Las Vegas are a worldwide phenomenon -- ever-changing, ever-constant. Move over, Dean, Sammy and Frank. Frankie, Bob, Tommy and Nick are the new guys in town, and we don’t plan on leaving any time soon.
When Fenton isn’t starring as Valli in “Jersey Boys,” he also is the lead singer of A Million Pieces.
Our thanks to Travis and Graham, and congratulations on being a wonderful dad to Andi and their continue success. Be sure to check out our other guest columns today from Ron Randazzo, who has been the manager of the Steakhouse at Circus Circus for more than 30 years, and Susan Joseph, the high-powered president of Justice Entertainment. Be sure to join us Tuesday when our guest columnists are hometown singing hero Michael Grimm, comedian Geechy Guy and the high-speed sports enthusiast who has brought motorcycle racing to town.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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