Thursday, April 25, 2013 | 8 p.m.
For the first time, Frankie Scinta has talked candidly and emotionally about his sister Chrissi’s battle with throat problems that have KO’d her from their new residency Downtown at the D hotel.
“It is a long while off before she can sing with us again. She is just very, very scared right now after what happened at the rehearsals. She is just devastated. There is a lot of prayer going on,” he told me.
I recently met Chrissi and in a very scratched hoarse whisper, she told me that she’d been through a more than yearlong fight with her throat hemorrhaging. She explained that when she started rehearsing for the new show, her vocal chords simply gave out -- and she could hardly talk, let alone sing.
“She rehearsed a couple of times, and her voice is just not cooperating,” Frankie continued. “I think eventually she will be able to sing again. I’m like 80 percent certain. She has got to want that as much as I want her to. All in good time, but she is going to have to push herself to want to be back on that stage.”
For now Frankie, brother Joe and adopted Scinta drummer Peter O’Donnell are dazzling audiences with redheaded Janien Valentine -- from their same hometown in upstate New York -- as Chrissi’s substitute.
“We are doing well, and, Janien who used to work with our friend Clint Holmes, is working with us right now. She has a brought a dimension to the stage that is just fun to work with. She is amazing. She knows that Chrissi may well step back into her shoes at some point. She is praying for her. She would love Chrissi to return and replace her, but as long as she’s not, she said that she is here to work and to give everything she’s got to the show.
“How much do we miss Chrissi? My God, how much do you miss your family when you know you can’t be with them or see them? I miss her immensely. Chrissi is my little soul mate. I brought her onstage when she was 5 years old and never looked back. I thought if anybody was going to be out of the show, I thought it would be Joe or me -- never Chrissi. Who knew that my sister would be the one not performing with us? I never even gave it a thought.
“Janien has really stepped up to the measure of the standards Chrissi set. She is the consummate performer. She is a seasoned comedienne, actress and singer. I have got somebody onstage that I can break oranges with, and she is really, really good at it. She puts Joe and me in our place pretty well onstage.
“Chrissi hasn’t yet been able to come to the show to see Janien working. But she knows her and thinks the world of her. There are no issues at all. She has her blessing. Chrissi is ecstatic that we have somebody.”
The Scintas, who have been Las Vegas residents the past decade with residency runs at The Rio and Las Vegas Hilton (now LVH), went on the road touring two years ago. It was then the real drama started with the throat problems.
Frankie explained: “She started as we were winding down at the Hilton. They thought it was just a hoarse voice, a sore throat. We had no idea her vocal chords were hemorrhaging. Nobody did. She went to the throat doctor, they looked at her, they said take this it’s swollen, it looks like this and this, but never had a clue that she was hemorrhaging. That was something that none of us anticipated.
“Now it’s been over a year. We had another singer from our hometown of Buffalo filling in. She did a great job on tour for us. She was very talented and beautiful, but when we knew we were going to sign on for this run at The D, we knew that we had to add a seasoned Las Vegas resident performer.”
Janien, like Chrissi, has been singing and dancing since 5 and landed her first recording contract at 16. She attended the performing arts college at Niagara University, right where the Scintas grew up. Janien has called Las Vegas home for the past 18 years and in addition to performing with their pal Clint has appeared in three musicals, most recently in the title role of Carmen at La Jolla Playhouse for Cirque du Soleil co-founder Franco Dragone. She also starred in “Peepshow” at Planet Hollywood and tours with her own trio Poperazzi with North American symphony orchestras.
“She has been all over the world with it, and it is very operatic type. She can do opera beautifully, but she’s very much a pop singer. Her technical prowess is beyond words,” said Frankie. “We’ve already made her an honorary Scinta.”
In addition to Janien’s arrival, The Scintas have added a horn section to their band, giving the sounds of a full orchestra, plus, a lot of new, different material. Said Frankie: “The show has changed. You are still going to see Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. You are still going to see some of our favorite character impersonations. When we don’t do those, we literally get hate mail. The show is packed into 75 minutes of nonstop music comedy.”
I asked how they felt working off-Strip and Downtown. Frankie told me: “Working for a casino owner that comes to your show almost every night, that you can talk to, is great. Even better it is not a four-wall or a two-wall deal. We were brought there to perform just like the old days when entertainers were paid to perform for the casino.
“There was a marriage between the owner and the entertainer, and that’s the way it is with The D. Our room is 250 to 270 seats, but guess what? That is the size room The Rat Pack played in. When those kinds of guys came to this town, they didn't play 3,000-seat rooms; they played in 250- to 300-seat rooms. That was Vintage Vegas, and it’s that intimacy I love.
“Everything is packed right there, so we are genuinely up close with the audiences and able to ad lib with them like we never have before. There’s a lot of close-up comedy. Once again, it’s like the days before we came to Las Vegas and got us here. We are back to the off-the-wall comedy, the edgy comedy, making the audience a part of the show.
“You are not going to see us in sequined white suits, but this is The Scintas raw. This is us, this is what got us here, and we are back to doing what we really love to do: an unscripted show where we can do 10 minutes with the audience, and every night is different.”
You have to check The D listings as The Scintas have a few breaks in their debut year residency fulfilling contracts. In May, they play every Wednesday through Sunday except when traveling and celebrate their red carpet opening May 22.
Frankie jokingly summed up: “My brother Joe is as ornery and as miserable as ever. Peter is always Peter and as polite as always. Janien is the breath of fresh air. She is just something else and loves to perform.
“We are loving downtown. We have been waiting a long time to have a place to call home and are excited moving to downtown and The D. I think The D is where America is going to go to party. Middle America wants to be entertained. You don’t need a cab to go from one casino to the next. You get out, you walk, and you are entertained all the way to your next casino.
“I think Downtown will keep growing for the next 10 years. I think Downtown is the place where America is going to go to party, whether you are young or old, or young or young at heart, that is where America is going to go to party. I love it.”
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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