Onyx may become the late-night entertainment stop

There's a new cabaret program at the Onyx that may change the cabaret scene.

The 96-seat theater has always hosted nights of improv, imported singers and comedy acts. But now Vegas talents - not Strip headliners, not Cirque, but theater vets who have not yet gotten the recognition they deserve - are getting to showcase themselves on a regular basis.

And the inexpensive ticket prices (now between $10-$15) may encourage audiences to make the Onyx their late-night entertainment stop.

What often makes the term "amateur performer" so different in this town, is that many of these folk - perhaps because of the Strip influence - are often people who would be at home in a professional setting.

Tonight at 10 brings Sandra Huntsman. Community musical lovers know her from a score of shows at Signature Productions and Super Summer Theatre. She hopes to appear on a monthly basis, and if her premiere set is any indication, her run should last forever.

Huntsman's act - which will feature different themes and performers with each installment - is enriched by a variety of entertainers. She obviously recognizes talent. Her latest show included hubby Steve Huntsman and Brandon and Kelly Albright, all well-known local names and, even better, dynamo singers. Despite their ability to zoom freely up and down octaves, they choose to put lyrics at the center of a song; their melodies are transformed into playlettes. And when the four belt full throttle, yikes, better to cling to your seat.

Also on hand was area singer and master of ceremonies Lou DeMeis, whose vocal abilities and nuances in phrasing managed to make the title song from "Camelot" sound new.

The anchor of the evening, though, remained Huntsman. Her clear, sensitive soprano is not just well-trained, but expressive. She becomes one with her material. She focused on songs from musicals she's never been cast in, and all I can say is, hey, casting directors, grab a ticket and come take another look.

Neighborhood favorite Enoch Augustus Scott takes the spotlight Saturday with a one-man comedy act which, based on a recent performance, needs some tweaking.

Scott has proven himself a first-rate actor with the right kind of "outrageous" tongue-in-cheek material. He could be happily at home in just about every Charles Busch, Charles Ludlam and Joe Orton script there is. But his monologues here - mostly about the difficulty of living up to society's standards of beautiful - are lame and familiar. And too much of his "legitimate" singing is substandard. Scott can sell a song (in a Charles Aznavour style) that has a theater dynamic. He's just fine in a musical comedy. And he succeeds when doing broad joke-rich ditties. But to listen to him tackle over a dozen numbers, many of which need legitimate voices, is beyond his proficiency (right now, anyway).

He, too, is hoping to go monthly, and the exciting prospect in this is that we'll be able to see him evolve. Scott's success with this kind of entertainment rests in his finding a director who understands the performer's gifts.

I'm hoping these informal, interactive bytes will attract not just those "normal" folk who appreciate seeing talent up-close, but other entertainers as well, in the audience and on stage. This could turn out to be a chummy piano barlike hangout without the budget-busting expense.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.