Joey Fatone nearly won Dancing With the Stars in 2007, when he and partner Kym Johnson were edged by Olympic skating champion Apolo Anton Ohno and Julianne Hough. Fatone is still showing off some fancy footwork. Today his favorite dance is the Reinvention Foxtrot as he takes over one of the key roles in Rock of Ages at the Venetian.
“I am always, always trying to reinvent myself,” Fatone says in the early stages of his run as Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree, whom he’ll portray through April 29. “It’s an interesting role, to be playing this guy who is kind of a hippie but also a father figure to all these kids who come through this club.”
Beyond his run in the stage show, Fatone is also reprising one of his more ambitious portrayals—that of the Greek character Angelo Portokalos, cousin of Toula (played by Nia Vardalos), in My Big Fat Greek Wedding II.Fatone, of course, is famously Italian.
“We’re filming right after I’m done with Rock of Ages, and the script has been written and pretty much the original cast is back together,” Fatone says. “It’s funny how people, after the first movie, would say, ‘You’re Greek? Really?’ No, I am Italian, but it’s the same thing (laughs).”
Fatone is now nearly a generation removed from his time as a pop superstar as a member of ’N Sync, and says he remains comfortable being identified with the group. The original members reunited in August 2013 for the MTV Video Music Awards telecast, when Justin Timberlake accepted a Vanguard Award for lifetime achievement in video-music production.
But that appearance was just a traipse back in time, and Fatone has long sought to put his ’N Sync career in context with everything else he’s had going on, especially in Las Vegas. He has performed a range of roles on the Strip, as guest host of the since-closed The Price Is Right Live at Bally’s and as a regular performer in Dancing With the Stars: Live in Las Vegas at Tropicana. He remains the host of the cable show My Family Recipe Rocks on Live Well Network, which has focused on such Las Vegas performers as Carrot Top and Frankie Moreno.
“I have always been comfortable with ’N Sync and where it fits in my life, but there is a huge chunk of people who know me in other ways,” Fatone says. “For me, over the years, it’s been so random that when people come up to me, I’ll get people who remember me from Dancing With the Stars, or ‘I loved you in ’N Sync, and I remember you from Hannah Montana’ (in which Fatone appeared as restaurant owner Joey Vitolo). The different generations know me from different things.”
Fatone is the first celebrity guest star to be cast in Rock of Ages, which opened in March 2013. He draws a lot of attention, creates a lot of buzz and helps fill seats. Last Sunday’s performance was peppered with fans shouting “Joeeeey!” at the stage whenever Dupree appeared.
The Dupree character is not a particularly daunting challenge for Fatone, who performed for millions of fans during his days in ’N Sync and is clearly at home onstage. He also appeared as Mark Cohen in Rent, and as Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, both on Broadway, though more than a decade ago, just as ’N Sync was disbanding.
Dupree, like every other character in Rock of Ages, follows the nimble navigation of the club’s sound man, Lonnie, portrayed with ample energy by Mark Shunock. Fatone and Shunock are friends now, and are hitting the town with great zeal after performances of Rock of Ages. Fatone has grown to love Las Vegas.
“Vegas always brings me back, with open arms, and it’s great,” Fatone says. “I have a lot of friends here and a lot of opportunities.” As long as there is a stage role needing a boost from a genuine member of ’N Sync—or a guy who can perform the mambo or whip up a mean marinara—there’s a home in Vegas for Joey Fatone.
Rock of Ages Nightly, 8 p.m., $74-$167. Venetian, 702-414- 9000.