September’s closure of hit Strip production Peepshow meant a new beginning for its male lead, actor/singer/all-around performer Josh Strickland. And with an impressive resume under his belt—including opening as the title character of Disney’s Tarzan on Broadway and winning over television audiences with BFF Holly Madison on Holly’s World—it was a pleasant surprise when Strickland announced he’d be staying in Las Vegas.
These days, he’s headlining Vegas! The Show, and we caught up with Strickland to talk about his new job, Madison’s baby and his thoughts on Las Vegas as an entertainment mecca.
Where are you calling from? I am calling from my car. I’m flying out tonight to New York after the show.
What will you be doing in New York? I’m going to be doing a little Disney gig. It’s like an honorarium for somebody that they’re asking me to come sing for, so I’m excited. I’ve been doing a lot with Disney lately, and it’s really fun to be working back again with family, I guess you could say.
You’ve remained in Las Vegas after Peepshowclosed, and recently began starring in Vegas! The Show. Did you stay for the gig or is Vegas home? My partner and I, we live here, and our home is here, and I really like our life here. It’s a lot different than New York, and we wanted to move to Los Angeles after Peepshow closed, but then David Saxe called and the opportunity just lent itself to us sticking around here. I love the community, and I love that there are so many artists and so much music and opportunity to perform here.
What are you doing with Vegas! The Show? It’s been here for three years, and I’ve always loved the show. I love what it’s about. It really embodies a lot of the old school Vegas and the artists that were part of that time. It takes you through the ages with each and every person, like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Elton John at the end. It’s really cool because I’m getting to sing something completely different than what I was singing in Peepshow. … We’re not trying to be impersonators, and that’s what I like about the show because there are other shows such as Legends, if you want to go see an impersonator or an impersonation of these people. But this is more of our kind of homage to these artists and what they’ve done for the city and their talent. I don’t look like Elvis, but I can do my best rendition of his songs and still embody a respect for him and my take on him.
You mentioned you play Elvis. I know the show features many crooners from Vegas’ past like Frank Sinatra and Wayne Newton. Who do you play throughout the show? All of those people. I open the show and do Wayne Newton and then move into the era of Frank and Sammy Davis. And then we go into Elvis and the ’60s and ’70s, and it’s fun. I think it’s always a challenge and always exciting to play all kinds of different people.
Were you more excited to play a certain character in the show? I was really excited to sing Frank Sinatra’s stuff. I studied music in college, and Peepshow is all pop and that type of thing. So this is taking me back to more of a legit kind of sound, which I’m excited to be doing. But I also absolutely love singing “Rocket Man” at the end of the show, which is so much fun and just such a beautiful song. It’s a pretty beautiful moment.
You were the male lead in Peepshow, though Holly Madison was billed as the star. How does it feel to be headlining your own Vegas show now? It’s really an ensemble effort, truthfully. It’s a lot of fun. It’s just a chance to do something different. It’s more back to the way a Broadway show would be. It’s really cool to see the big numbers and the dancers and that type of stuff. It definitely is not just me on that stage making it work out. That was very appealing to me, that it was with so many talented people that I have a lot of respect for. So I’m really happy to be sharing the stage with them.
Many people know you from your time on Holly’s World. Are you and Holly Madison still BFFs? Oh my goodness, yes! We hang out probably several times a week, and I get to hang out and play with that beautiful little daughter of hers, Rainbow. It’s just so wonderful to call them family.
I was going to ask how the arrival of Rainbow has changed things. Are you guys taking stroller strolls? Going on play dates? Oh, absolutely. We’re going on lunch dates, and they come over for movie night and that type of stuff. It’s definitely more low-key. I definitely have to say Holly is such a natural at being a mother. I am so happy for her and Pasquale, and it’s just a beautiful thing to see.
You’ve put out a few singles in the past two years, “Report to the Floor” and “Last Dance.” When can we expect your debut album? I’d love to get into the studio and do some more music. I actually have a few songs already recorded, and hopefully an EP within 2014. I’ve been working on it for quite some time. We just keep pushing the date, because you want to make sure that it’s right and you want to make sure that it’s something that you’re proud of. And I’m really excited to have worked with Damon Elliott, who did the other singles, as well. I’m really happy with the outcome. I think that people will like it.
You’ve called Las Vegas home for some time now. What are a few of your favorite hangouts? What do you like to do during downtime in the city? I absolutely love going to Town Square. I think that it’s such an amazing place to walk around and meet friends and go to lunches and that type of stuff. That’s where Holly and I like to go to lunch. I love going to Mount Charleston, too. I think that a lot of people would mainly name a thousand things on the Strip, but I think Las Vegas has so much more to offer than just the couple miles of casinos. I mean, those are always fun, but I think it’s really cool to get out and see parts of Vegas that not many people get to enjoy or know about.
So, you’re working with Disney again—can you divulge any details about what you’re doing? I’m doing a lot of different things. I’ve been doing some concert work with Ashley Brown, who was the original Mary Poppins [in the West End production of Mary Poppins] and then also Heidi Blickenstaff … she was Ursula in The Little Mermaid. We’ve been doing little things on the Disney cruise ships. It’s usually just for vacation club members; it’s not a regular cruise, it’s a specialty cruise. But it’s been really fun to sing the Disney songbook and to get to sing a lot of things that people may not have heard of. I’ve been singing a lot from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, that was in Germany for quite some time. And getting to sing some of that new music and work and actually get Alan Menken to hear it and Richard Sherman, who wrote a lot of songs for Mary Poppins and multiple, multiple other things, it’s just really cool to be a part of that family and to get to call it home. We’re really making great music, and I’m really excited to see what’s next. We just keep doing this concert work, which I’m so proud of. ... It’s not really a show. It’s just us up on stage in tuxes and dresses, sharing our gift.
With the number of production shows on the Strip, where does Las Vegas fit in with the musical theater community? Do people see this town as a stepping-stone of sorts? Oh, absolutely. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to be on Broadway. But truthfully, I never even realized this about Vegas until I got here, but it is definitely an entertainment mecca. If you think about the history of this town, it’s definitely not even a stepping stone—sometimes it is the boulder that people have in their careers, because so many people come in and out of here. It’s not just Americans; it’s such a universal, worldwide type of place that people come to. And I think that it really offers a lot of excellent, excellent shows and excellent people who are so talented, and it’s really great to be a part of the entertainment community here.
You got your big break as the title character in Disney’s Tarzan on Broadway. Will we see your name on the Great White Way again soon? Listen, if somebody comes calling, absolutely. You can’t just go there and jump into a show. It has to be right for you and the producers, and the stars have to align. But if the right thing came along and I felt passionate about it and it was right for my career and me, then absolutely. I mean, the sky is the limit.
What’s the number one reason to go see Vegas! The Show? Because it’s got some of the best talent that you will see on the Las Vegas Strip—truthfully. And it is truly, truly such an entertaining and fun night out.
Vegas! The Show Daily, 7 & 9 p.m., $80-$100. Saxe Theater at Miracle Mile Shops, 260-7200.