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September 20, 2014

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New Liberace musical preps for Broadway investors and auditions

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AP Photo

British singer Tom Jones, center, blows out candles at a surprise birthday party at Caesars Palace on June 6, 1974. Guests include Joan Rivers, Sonny Bono, Jones, Dionne Warwick, Debbie Reynolds and Liberace.

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Robin Leach interviews Liberace

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Liberace opens at the Sahara with Karen Wessler on June 21, 1966.

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The golden Liberace.

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Liberace, a man and his rings.

Pre-production is underway for a new, original Broadway musical about the Las Vegas life of entertainment legend Liberace. Producer Barbara Sickmen, who optioned the rights from the Liberace Foundation, told me: “ ‘I’ll Be Seeing You: the Liberace Musical’ is a first-class original about the great showman with a completely original score. If it weren’t for Liberace, there would be no Madonna or Lady Gaga, Elton John, Bette Midler or Elvis because it was Liberace who helped the King glitz up his act.

“Liberace’s flair was the act that started it all. His costumes became more and more extravagant once it became a contractual obligation with the Vegas hotels that demanded that he outdo even himself. The cars onstage, the gorgeous dancing waters and even flying onto the Riviera hotel stage telling his audience, ‘Mary Poppins, eat your heart out!’ The list goes on and on. No other entertainer in the world ever took the risks that Liberace took. He’d even say, ‘My clothes may be funny, but they’re making me the money!’ ”

Listening to the songs, seeing the storyline of the book and knowing Liberace from interviews I had with him over the years, I know that he would be genuinely happy with this new Broadway project. Here’s my 1984 interview with the entertainer at his Las Vegas home.

Barbara told me that Mafia gangster Bugsy Siegel played a role in Liberace’s Las Vegas career. “Our musical is a celebration of the showman, but it’s also about how Las Vegas became the Gaming Capital of the World. Bugsy and the Mob, who are very much a strong subplot, had a vision for Vegas, and Liberace had a vision to become more than a piano player.

“An unexpected meeting of these two occurred while Bugsy was building his Flamingo casino and Liberace was building his career. So our story in a very entertaining way tells how two life forces greatly contributed to the invention of Las Vegas. There’s no question Liberace made it the Entertainment Capital of the World, and Bugsy created the Gaming Capital of the World.”

Barbara played some of the already recorded lyrics for me. His “Rules of Showmanship” about being bedazzled, bedecked and bejeweled; “Too Much Is Enough”; and “Beautiful Man,” which sensitively tackles Liberace’s secret affair with actor Rock Hudson, are certain to be major hits.

The story starts in New York at the once-upon-a-time world-famous Stork Club where Liberace was approached by Bugsy and his pals George Raft and Virginia Hill and invited to Las Vegas.

“Our musical portrays the beloved showman in a truthful yet positive light,” Barbara added. “We celebrate him and focus on all that was so charming and appealing about Mr. Showmanship. But we also deal with his trials and tribulations in a way that doesn’t compromise his reputation.

“He is not here to defend himself in a day and age where what he was forced to hide is now accepted as mainstream. It is up to those who loved him to help keep his legacy alive. His foundation that awards scholarships to young people in the performing and creative arts will benefit from the musical’s success.”

The key production people, songwriters and lyricists are all in place, and Barbara expects that within two weeks, the first angel investor showcases will start for Broadway theater owners, with casting to follow shortly afterward.

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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