By John Katsilometes
About the time Joey Fatone of 'N Sync fame clambered onstage to sing a two-song medley of “Recipe for Makin’ Love” and “Mustang Sally,” you realized, “This is sort of an abnormal experience.”
Unexpected flair was as abundant as shots of Crown Royal at the Stratosphere on Wednesday night as Frankie Moreno celebrated his 100th show and the announcement that his contract with the hotel had been extended two years, running through October 2015.
Fatone appeared near the end of the show, barely breaking stride as he made it to the performance from his appearance in “Dancing With the Stars: Live in Las Vegas” at the Tropicana to join Moreno onstage. The atypical performance was spiced by appearances by booze-toting showgirls, members of Blue Man Group playing on the thunderous “Black Mascara,” Lorena Peril of “Fantasy” at Luxor (who soared through “Proud Mary” in the showroom where she once portrayed Christina Aguilera in “American Superstars”), a spin through “Tangerine Honey” by “Sin City Comedy” dancer Dori Bonilla, a beautiful take on Etta James' "At Last" by ex-Quiet Riot and Rough Cutt vocalist Paul Shortino, and even a “first pitch” tossed by ex-MLB superstar and Moreno family friend Orel Hershiser to Moreno’s father, Frank. Another treat was an appearance by violin virtuoso Lisa Viscuglia, who years ago introduced Moreno to Joshua Bell, for a truncated version of “Walk Away From Me,” a song not usually played in the show.
The show is usually an adults-only experience, but not for this occasion. Moreno’s 8-year-old son Giovanni, who by the end of the month might need his own agent, played drums for one song, “I’m Sorry,” and received a standing ovation. He knew enough to bow deeply at the end of the performance. Don’t be surprised if Giovanni asks Santa for a gong this Christmas to fill out his kit at home.
It was a fun-filled experience, as the stage was littered with feathers in a freewheeling show that ran far longer than Moreno’s usual 90-minute performance. Apart from the frivolity, the core news emanating from the show was that the Strat had reinvested in Moreno, who signed his original two-year contract in October after a lively eight-week run at the Lounge at the Palms.
The hotel has already spent a considerable sum on Moreno. It has financed an overhaul of the showroom (where carpeting and seats have been yanked out and replaced) and a new sound and lighting setup and pays Moreno and his 10-piece band to play four shows a week. It’s not an expensive ticket (locals can get in for $20 a shot), and the hotel is not exactly wading in revenue simply through ticket sales in the 500-seat showroom.
But Moreno has value beyond hard ticket sales, and those who have the power of the purse know it.
“The show is a catalyst for a lot of things on our property, and it is an important part of branding our message about how we have repositioned the property,” Stratosphere General Manager Paul Hobson said this afternoon in a phone interview. “We introduce people who come into the hotel to other features around the property. But we’re in a good position with ticket sales to cover the cost of the show.
“We view Frankie’s show through the lens of what it’s doing for the property, and he’s done a lot.”
There is a feeling that Moreno can take on more nights, as the show grows, something he can handle. He sometimes performed six nights a week at various Las Vegas venues, including the Palms, in the run-up to opening at the Stratosphere. Before that, there were nights he played far past 2 a.m. at Rush Lounge at Golden Nugget.
“Adding another night is something we’re amenable to, absolutely, as this builds,” Hobson said. “We’re not angling for a specific date, but we are ready when we reach that demand.”
Wednesday’s post-show party was elevated to a Stratosphere suite, where a hodgepodge of Las Vegas entertainers and scenesters stuffed the room to congratulate Moreno and his band (at one point, my father, visiting from Pocatello, Idaho, was caught in conversation with Peril, Fatone, Carrot Top and trumpet ace David Perrico).
Moreno is about finished with his upcoming self-titled CD release, which should be out by mid-July and was mixed by guitar great and studio master Pat Thrall at Studio at the Palms. Moreno originally intended to release the new CD on Sony Records, but that partnership is, at the moment, latent as Sony decides if and when it will work with Moreno again (he has recorded “Eleanor Rigby” with Bell on “Joshua Bell and Friends,” a Sony Masterworks release). Moreno is plowing ahead, releasing the new album independently.
From an early sample of one of the new songs, “Missin’ You” (which Frankie and Tony Moreno played during the latest episode of “Kats With the Dish” airing at 8 a.m. Friday on KUNV 91.5-FM), the new release is a powerhouse.
These are heady times for Moreno, the band and the Strat. As we say in toasts of goodwill, “Cinghiale.” It’s an inside reference, but it is appropriate, trust me.