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September 1, 2014

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He’s a little bit cabaret: Jim Caruso returns to Cabaret Jazz at Smith Center with ‘Cast Party’

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Billy Stritch, on piano, and Jim Caruso host a performance of the Broadway-based open mic and variety show “Cast Party” on Wednesday, June 19, 2013, at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center.

Cast Party at Cabaret Jazz

Tara Palsha accompanied by Bill Fayne, sings during a performance of the Broadway-based open mic and variety show Cast Party Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center. Launch slideshow »

Jim Caruso wants to be an Osmond.

“I’ve always wanted to be adopted into that family,” says the founder of the freewheeling “Cast Party,” which takes Manhattan and (on great occasion) Las Vegas by storm. “I mean, who wouldn’t want to be an Osmond?”

Caruso also wants to be a talk-show host. Not just any talk-show host, but a talk-show host in the spirit of Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas.

“Wouldn’t that be fun?” he says. “I would have people on just because they were great guests. Not like today, where someone is on for two minutes to plug something. I loved the old Merv Griffin shows especially. Who wouldn’t want to do that?”

Caruso, you see, wants a lot out of life. He’s a busy bee, seesawing between New York and Las Vegas with his flight-of-fancy showcase. “Cast Party” is celebrating its 10th year overall and fifth presentation in Las Vegas dating to 2012.

At 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, the show is back at Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz (tickets are $20 and $30 and available at the Smith Center website). This is the third presentation at Smith Center (counting a VIP party onstage at Reynolds Hall) after two performances at Alexis Park.

“We’d like to do this maybe once a quarter,” Caruso says. “I mean, we’re in such a beautiful room. I tell people in New York about this Cabaret Jazz room, and they can’t believe it. They’re like, ‘That’s in Las Vegas? Seriously?’ It’s a wonderful room.”

The “Cast Party” format is easy to follow: Caruso and his pianist sidekick, the gifted and versatile Billy Stritch, assemble a loosely constructed list of performers and bring them to the stage. They sing, dance (at times concurrently), play the piano and otherwise entertain.

The lineup for Wednesday’s show is not yet set, but during the shows in Las Vegas, those who have been summoned to the stage have included “Vegas! The Show” siren Tara Palsha and fellow cast member Eric Jordan Young, Mark Shunock of “Rock of Ages,” former “Jersey Boys” cast member (and a member of the cast of the upcoming “Jersey Boys” film) Erich Bergen, the vocal group Dangerous Curves, “Jazzin’ ” Jeannie Brie, Clint Holmes, The Phat Pack, “Jersey Boys” ensemble player Douglas Crawford, Frankie Moreno, Anne Martinez of “Dancing Queen,” opera songstress Isabella Ivy, Maren Wade (now of “Vegas! The Show”), Tina Walsh of “Mamma Mia!” and “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular,” Keith Thompson (co-founder of Composers Showcase and the music director of “Jersey Boys”) and, yes, one Donny Osmond.

“But Donny & Marie are dark when we are in town,” Caruso says. “How selfish of them!”

Caruso is hoping to expand the breadth of “Cast Party” to include those who are not just singers, dancers and/or musicians.

“I like anything that makes the night different,” says Caruso, a popular nightclub and cabaret performer who appeared on Broadway with Liza Minnelli in “Liza! At the Palace.” “We’ll take a great tap dancer, a jazz sax player, someone who comes in and swallows huge sculpting balloons, which we’ve had in New York, and it’s truly disgusting. But a gymnast, contortionist, anything bizarre to make it wacky, we’ll take.”

Caruso pauses.

“Oh, and we need an Elvis impressionist,” he says. “We must have one of those.”

Caruso started his performance career with his mother in a show titled “Son of a Bitch,” which the duo showcased in clubs in his hometown of Dallas.

“I was in my 20s and had been doing a lot of theater but not getting roles other than part of the ensemble and Chorus Boy No. 3,” he says. I thought, ‘How am I ever going to be Donny Osmond doing this? Well, my mom played great piano and we started ‘Son of a Bitch,’ and we played fish restaurants all over Dallas.”

The results were …

“Fairly awful,” Caruso says, “but it got me started. I was doing very inappropriate but self-important material looking at a stuffed shark on the wall. But that’s where you learn your stuff, playing anywhere you can and working three hours a night.”

And, someday, you rise to the level of playing not far from Donny & Marie’s showroom — and a step closer to realizing your entertainment dream.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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