Travis Cloer is twisting the night away at Grandview Lounge at South Point when he spins into momentary confusion. “Wait, we’re out of order,” he says, turning to keyboardist and music director Chris Lash. “We forgot the song that inspired all of this.”
Lash and the band flip their music charts to the proper page for Sam Cooke’s “Nothing Can Change This Love.” Cloer, now chuckling as he’s tossed off-script, can’t remember the words to the song. “I just need the first line,” he says, staring out at the audience and then toward the sky for divine intervention. “Can someone look up the lyrics on their phone?” A man sends his smartphone toward the stage as Lash remarks, “You won’t see this in a Celine show.” Cloer peers at the phone, then vaults into the song, “if I go a million miles away …”
The episode falls neatly into his spirited show, With a Twist, an artistic refurbishing of some of Cloer’s favorite songs. His cool, casual take on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” is in the mix. “Nothing Can Change This Love” glides seamlessly into Journey’s “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.” The Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now,” the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” and Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” are rolled out on this musical playground.
The snag was hardly a distraction and worked fine in the show’s loose, warm format. But the unscripted moment was a reminder that this was a different type of Las Vegas entertainment experience than, say, Jersey Boys, in which Cloer has performed as Frankie Valli (alternating the role with Graham Fenton) for more than eight years at two Strip theaters. That show ends September 18, with Cloer as Valli sending the show to its finale.
Jersey Boys producer Dodgers Theatricals announced to that show’s cast on June 7 that the production would shut down at Paris Las Vegas. That fell in line with a series of closings of major productions this year in Las Vegas. After the earlier closing of Jubilee at Bally’s in February, the abrupt closing of Frankie Moreno’s Under the Influence at the beginning of July and Matt Goss’ announced September closing of his six-year run at Caesars Palace have become mere warm-up acts for a flurry of more-recent activity. In swift order:
• Raiding the Rock Vault will end its performances at Tropicana Theater on July 31. The show opened at Las Vegas Hilton in March 2013 and survived a series of ownership changes and one move of property—to Tropicana—in December 2014.
• Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers, Wynn’s salute to some of the grand musical numbers of the 20th century, will close September 30 after a 21-month run. The news stunned the cast and crew of a show that employed more than 60 singers, dancers and musicians—and put the full orchestra onstage. Showstoppers was not pulling a profit at Encore Theater, but Wynn’s emotional attachment and financial investment in the show had suggested it was immune to Strip financial concerns. Not so, apparently.
• Spiegelworld, a producer of Absinthe at Caesars Palace, notified its cast before performances on July 10 that it planned to move off Roman Plaza for a new, as-yet-unnamed home. Remarkably, this is a rare instance of a hit show—Absinthe consistently sells out the 550-seat venue—uprooting for reasons beyond its box-office performance. Spiegelworld and co-producer Base Entertainment have been battling in court in a dispute over the split of ticket revenues, and Spiegelworld has balked at signing a lease with Caesars Palace that would carry the show for two more years. There has been no formal announcement or response to questions about the future of Absinthe after its announced October 21 closing at Caesars.
Left to feel like chess pieces in all these moves are the performers, specifically artists like Cloer. He has been nobly producing and performing shows outside Jersey Boys for the past few years, filling Cabaret Jazz at Smith Center for four shows over the past two holiday seasons with his Christmas-themed show. So Cloer can speak with unique perspective, as a veteran Strip performer who has observed market trends and is now attempting to break free of his stage identity. He ponders the question, “Is the closing of major production shows the new normal in Las Vegas?”
“I hope it isn’t,” Cloer says. “But there’s no question that we have had a rough few weeks as far as closing announcements go. When you look at the high quality of entertainment, it’s a little scary and it’s a tough question to face right now. If you’d asked me any other month, I’d be a lot more optimistic.”
Cloer is among the performers who have grown to understand that scaling down expectations for their drawing power is important when building a stage show. Cloer’s act is lean, with a tight, cracking band led by Lash, a Vegas veteran currently performing as music director in Baz. The Grandview Lounge seats about 300 and was about three-quarters full for Cloer’s show, with a ticket price of $20 apiece. He plans to table a return of With a Twist until after Jersey Boys closes in September.
It was certainly a highly entertaining night of first-class singing and arrangements from a bona-fide Broadway talent (Cloer performed in Jersey Boys in New York before joining the Vegas cast in 2008). Cloer seized the opportunity to remind those who turned out about his life outside of Frankie Valli, calling out to his wife, Jennifer, seated at stage left and mentioning, “I have two kids and three dogs to feed.”
Left unaccounted for as Las Vegas constricts and morphs as an entertainment destination are the performers in those shows. There are many musicians, singers, dancers, costume designers and stagehands who are now looking for work in this city. “The pool is so vast,” Cloer says. “I honesty I have no idea what the future holds. All I can do is what I do, and hope people can come out for it.”