Las Vegas performer seizes moment to pursue solo career

Eric Jordan Young has done a show on the Strip more than 2,000 times for four years now, but no one is calling him a Las Vegas headliner.

That’s the next thing he’d like to be.

When Young leaves “Vegas! The Show” on Wednesday, the Saxe Theater revue will go on as it always has. There are no billed stars, only almost-famous Broadway veterans such as Young and Reva Rice, who first worked together in “Starlight Express” at the Las Vegas Hilton in the 1990s.

Some movies have stars, but “we’re more a word-of-mouth kind of movie,” producer David Saxe explains. The show is “constantly changing and evolving,” and as part of a new sequence of changes, Young’s contract wasn’t renewed.

The change presents the chance for Young to see if he can make the jump from playing an anonymous entertainer inspired by Sammy Davis Jr. to an actual headliner in that mold.

“I just really want to take that leap of faith and take the opportunity to showcase myself and to share my talents in a different way,” Young says. “The projects I’ve created would give me the opportunity to go out there and take a shot at being on my own.”

It’s a long shot, and hardly a new story. For every guy like Frankie Moreno and Matt Goss who lands a self-billed showcase, there are plenty of talents, such as former “Jersey Boys” lead Rick Faugno, who made a credible stab at solo-billed stardom but don’t build up enough solo name recognition.

“It’s very difficult, but the thing is you’ll never know until you try, and that’s what I’m doing now,” says Young, 41. “I really do want to take that jump.”

Fair enough. But the other side of the story is the big shoes Young leaves to fill. Saxe conceived the part of the neon graveyard caretaker who magically transforms from coveralls to tuxedos, taking the audience on a journey through Las Vegas history.

But the show was created on the fly in three months. And once director Tiger Martina recruited Young to move from New York, he found his input more than welcome in a collaborative environment.

Young had previously staged a vehicle called “Sammy &Me,” attempting to explain his fascination with Sammy Davis Jr. “You can call people a triple threat, but beyond singing, dancing and acting, I kind of think an entertainer surpasses that with the ability to connect,” he says.

“Once the character of Ernie was established, I think it was clear there was definitely going to be a connection between character and audience from the moment that the curtain rises,” he says of his evolving role in the show.

“Vegas! The Show” is the rare homegrown creation that did bother to record a cast album. Young was lucky enough to be in the original cast of Broadway’s “Seussical,” too.

“You do feel a sense of creating history when you have that tangible recording,” he says.

But then, he was in the ensemble. In “Vegas,” you hear him front and center. It’s now up to him to make people know who they are hearing.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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