Robert Deaton is producing the Tim McGraw-Faith Hill show “Soul 2 Soul” at the Venetian Theater, a pretty famous Vegas locale as the original home of “Phantom – The Las Vegas Spectacular.”
But about 15 years ago, Deaton had a chance to participate in a different sort of event at different sort of famous Vegas landmark: Casa de Shenandoah.
Deaton was in Marina Del Ray, Calif., at the time, recording a series of promotional clips for NBC. He had already made something of a name for himself for his dazzling country-music videos, and also as the man who developed the enduring “Are You Ready For Some Football” opening segment on “Monday Night Football.”
During that NBC promo assignment, Deaton was interrupted by a call from by a man identifying himself as “Bear,” who invited Deaton to “The Ranch,” otherwise known as Casa de Shenadoah, to meet with Wayne Newton.
“He says, ‘Wayne wanted me to reach out to you to see if you could come to Vegas and be a guest, because he wants talk to you,’ ” Deaton recalled during a phone interview last week.
The call came from longtime Newton bodyguard, assistant and confidant Michael "Bear" Forch, who died in 2009 at age 61 of pancreatic cancer.
“He said, ‘Wayne has cut a country album, and had went on CMT and was watching some music videos,’ ” Deaton continued. “Three he liked, and they were all yours.’ ”
Deaton was initially in disbelief at the overture, then quickly realized he would not be able to make that trip.
“I couldn’t go!” he said, laughing. “I was like, ‘Are you KIDDING me?’ I’m shooting for NBC. Dang, would I have loved to do that.”
It’s not as if Deaton, a native of Fayetville, N.C., who lives in Nashville these days, hasn’t found plenty of work outside that missed opportunity. He’s long been the “Country Music Association Awards” telecast and has known Tim and Faith for years. He produced the video for 1993 cover of, “Take Piece of My Heart,” and met McGraw five years ago at the CMAs.
In working inside the $40 million Venetian Theater, Deaton says he is operating in a pretty wide berth: Go bigger than Garth, but not as big as Shania.
“I know that Garth’s show was him with a guitar playing music, and from what I know about Shania it is a huge extravaganza,” Deaton said. “Every show is different, and we’re in a 1,600-seat theater that is beautiful and we have two stars that are stunning when they are onstage together.”
It’s a healthy start. By comparison, Brooks’ show was so minimalist that even the potted plants placed onstage at his opening at Encore Theater had been removed by the time he closed last month. And at the Colosseum, Shania Twain rides around on a motorcycle shaped like a horse suspended over the stage by a series of cables – and that’s just for her opening.
Somewhere in between, is the showcase starring two of country music’s greatest stars in a multi-million dollar theater designed as a antique music hall. Designing a production that fits that room is important. This will not be a rock concert-style setup with massive scaffolds built into the stage. The venue won’t allow for it. But the beauty of the venue, particularly the famous chandelier (which will stay in a fixed position over the seats in the middle of the theater), will remain.
Deaton says Hill and McGraw have both challenged him to come up with ideas for the show that are better than his own. Just last week, Deaton suggested a four-song section and McGraw countered with his own quartet of numbers. He told Deaton, “Beat my idea.” They ran through the numbers onstage and Deaton said, “He beat me.”
Hill has told him, “Conflict brings greatness,” and usually the best idea wins, no matter where it comes from.
Deaton promises there will be moments when the audience is transfixed by the stardom of Faith and Tim. “These are two people who, when they walk into a room, the room changes,” he said. “They are true superstars.”
There will be one “signature part, unlike anything they’ve ever done,” Deaton said. “Faith says, ‘I’ve never done this before, but it’s going to be great! It’s beautiful.’ In that portion of the show, you’ll see something special.”
It’s about an hour in. Otherwise, Deaton is secretive about the details. He’s not one to give away the farm. Or in this case, the ranch.