Rare is the moment Frank Marino is rendered speechless, but that moment unfolded in front of a showroom full of fans and friends late Tuesday night on the Strip.
The iconic “Divas Las Vegas” headliner was about to close his show at The Quad Showroom when the music stopped and the suspense started. Draped in the dripping-with-rhinestones gown and blond wig he typically favors to close the famous drag review, Marino stood stunned as his production was interrupted by a guy in a tuxedo gripping a microphone and a small box.
That person was Marino’s future husband and partner for 20 years, Alex Schechter. Schechter is the vice president of SPI Entertainment, which produces “Divas Las Vegas,” and as such can hop onstage pretty much whenever he likes.
Schechter introduced himself and called out to the many friends and family seated at the back of the room. He then introduced a videomontage of photographs of Marino and him through the years as Shania Twain’s “From This Moment On” played on the showroom’s sound system.
As the video faded out, Schechter bent to a knee and produced a 5-carat, white-and-black diamond ring with a white-gold band custom designed by Mordechai of The Jewelers of Las Vegas.
Marino, who smiled quietly and confusedly during the presentation, then looked down at Schechter as he knelt. Schechter, his eyebrows arched, said nothing, then stood, and the two kissed as the crowd rose and cheered.
“Is that a yes?” Schechter asked.
Marino managed a joke. “You’re asking me to marry you? Do you get 50 percent, though, if I say yes?”
Schechter's swift answer: "Seventy!"
It was a “yes” in what has to be the first same-sex marriage proposal ever onstage during a Strip show. Marino says he’s never heard of one, and he’s been a Las Vegas headliner for nearly 30 years, starting with his 24-year run as the star of “Evening at La Cage” at Riviera before moving to Imperial Palace — now The Quad — in 2010.
Marino had no idea anything was amiss in the show until the closing moments. The house music distorted slightly to indicate there was an additional microphone in the sound mix.
“I heard this distortion and looked around, and it wasn’t until I saw Alex in a tuxedo that I realized anything was really different,” Marino said in a phone conversation this morning. “He had invited all of these people, friends and family, and they were all in the back of the room. I had no idea they were there until the house lights went up.
“To be honest, it’s still hard to talk. I’m still surprised. Shocked would be a better word.”
Schechter started planning the proposal after the Supreme Court last week struck down a key provision in the Defense of Marriage Act, the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states.
“We felt, if we made it to 20 years and we could be legally married, we would do it,” Schechter said this morning. “The conversation had come up, over the years, but we hadn’t made many strides legally until recently. The timing was just right for us.”
Remarkably, Schechter managed to keep the plans secret from Marino, producing the video and arranging for friends and family from across the country to be in the showroom without Marino detecting anything was unusual. An hour before the show, Schechter, who said he was “more nervous than I have ever been in my life,” informed the cast that this would be no ordinary night.
“Even his assistant didn’t know,” Schechter said. “Keeping it a secret from him, that was the hardest part.”
The two plan to marry in about 18 months. They are building an 11,000-square-foot home on the west side that is to be finished and furnished in about a year.
“We want to do it on the lawn,” Marino said. “Make a big deal out of it, of course.”
The two celebrate their actual anniversary of when they met on July 4. They were introduced 20 years ago at an Independence Day party at Gypsy nightclub. The next morning, they had breakfast. Their first date was at that famous romantic eatery, Sherwood Forest Cafe at Excalibur.
Schechter said he had to plan something intricate and spectacular to catch Marino unaware.
“I knew I couldn’t do the typical ring-in-the-dessert thing,” Schechter said. “That would not fly. I needed to really catch him off-guard, and he never thought I would stop his show and propose to him. I can tell you, he would never have guessed that.”