Serendipity drives musical comedy to Las Vegas

Many people come back from a vacation with a souvenir of some sort. A postcard. A silly hat. A rock picked up from along the shoreline.

When Carole Altman returned to Las Vegas after a trip to upstate New York a few years ago, she came back with a play. And, on Sunday, Southern Nevadans can share in one of her vacation memories when “I Know I Came In Here For Something …” is presented at the Italian American Club, 2333 E. Sahara Ave. Showtime is 3 p.m. Tickets are $20, and can be obtained by calling 702-360-8340 or at the door.

The play is a musical revue that takes a humorous look at middle age. Among its more than two dozen songs are odes to kidney stones, menopause, turning into one’s own mother, forgetfulness, erectile dysfunction pills and, even, the intimate relationship between a man and his gut.

Gateway Arts Foundation, a valley nonprofit organization that supports the arts, is sponsoring the musical. It’s not the first time the show has been presented here — Altman says previous venues have included The Smith Center for the Performing Arts — but that it is being presented here at all is owed to a chance theater outing Altman and her husband took while on vacation in 2008.

“We saw it in New York, in summer stock, and I fell in love with it,” Altman says. She describes the show as “similar to ‘Menopause (The Musical),’ but better, because it’s also (about) men, with songs that are very familiar to each person who watches the show.”

After the performance, Altman approached Carl Ritchie, the play’s lyricist and writer, and told him that he should bring it to Las Vegas.

“He said, ‘You should bring it to Las Vegas,’ ” Altman recalls.

Altman thought that odd, because she has no show business experience. “I’m a psychologist,” she says. “I write books.”

But, long story short, Altman and her husband became producers of the Las Vegas production of the show. She laughs.

“You know what a producer is? A fool with a pen,” she says. “It’s costing us a lot of money. Every time, we say, ‘We have to stop. We can’t do it.’ Then we see it, and it’s, ‘No, we’ve got to keep it going.’ ”

But, Altman adds, “I was lucky enough to meet Camille Duskin, who’s director of Gateway Arts Foundation, because I know nothing about music or anything. She fell in love with the script and loved it, too. She’s the Las Vegas director of the show. And I found some talent and she found some talent for the show.”

Now, during the course of a few years, more than a half-dozen performances around town and many rehearsals, “it’s very fun,” Altman says. “We’ve developed a tremendous friendship, all of us, ever since. It’s a family kind of thing. The show is funny, and people laugh out loud.”

Co-producing a play also is a bit of a departure for Gateway Arts Foundation, which Duskin and her husband, Gerald, founded about eight years ago. Its first project was a public art, graffiti-fighting effort through which artists were enlisted to visually enhance the neighborhood around the Stratosphere. Since then, the foundation’s work has included providing a rehearsal and performance haven for local artists wishing to mount shows and a scholarship program for aspiring performers, musicians and artists.

“All my life I’ve been around very artistic and creative people who are very famous composers and lyricists,” Duskin says, “Our city is loaded with talent, and we decided to give people an opportunity to perform and created a scholarship fund that’s been going on many years.”

Duskin grew up in Los Angeles and says she did a lot of studio work as a kid, but didn’t pursue it as an adult.

“But my uncle was very well-known. He was Harold Adamson, and he was a lyricist who wrote, ‘Around the World’ (from “Around the World in 80 Days”) and ‘An Affair to Remember.’ So I grew up around people at the top of the field, and after dinner everyone would go into the living room, and these men who wrote everything would just sit at the piano and sing and play what they wrote.”

As a Los Angeles restaurateur, Duskin’s career would continue to intersect with the entertainment business. Then, she says, when she and her husband retired and moved to Las Vegas, she decided she’d do something for the arts.

“My husband and I are retired, but we always say we’re not retired from life,” she says. “So we’ve always been involved in the arts, not as professionals, but we have great passion for the arts.”

Gateway Arts Foundation’s scholarships are funded by a portion of proceeds from shows and events in which it partners. And, Duskin says, she and her husband underwrite all of the events, and know where every dollar goes.

Participants in Gateway-sponsored shows have included cast members of shows around town, Duskin adds. “What we do is give them an opportunity to create their own show. So they benefit, and many of them are very generous and give the money back to the scholarship fund because they know the value of having help.”

Also, Gateway Arts Foundation has enacted a partnership with Culley Elementary School in sponsoring youth theater productions, and a property Duskin inherited several years ago has been turned into “a small rehearsal and recital space, which I give free of charge to quality organizations,” Duskin says. “It’s called Hattie’s House. That’s my mom’s name. So it’s a living tribute to my mother.”

Now, Duskin can add to her lengthy resume her current gig as Las Vegas director of “I Know I Came In Here for Something …”

“I’m the director by default, because they couldn’t afford a director and couldn’t afford a rehearsal space and didn’t have a cast,” Duskin says. “We just had a mutual friend, and he called one day and said, ‘I have a friend’ — who was Carole — ‘and she just acquired rights to a show she wants to put on in Las Vegas and doesn’t have a clue how to do that.’

“I said: ‘Well, that’s not really what I do. I’m not a professional in this area. The people who come to us have their own programs they do. But I’ll be happy to read the libretto and listen to the music.’ So I did, and I enjoyed it very much.”

The show has taken on a life of its own, Duskin says.

“We have done a number of performances,” she says, “and just about every time we’ve done it, it’s been sold out.”

This weekend’s performance will mark the show’s “eighth or ninth” here, Altman says, and “we’re hopeful we might someday have an agent who might get us into one of the better hotels and we’ll have a real home. But so far we don’t.”

So what does Altman know about being a producer now that she, maybe, didn’t know back then?

“I’ve learned it’s very much fun,” Altman says. “It’s absolutely a joy to be a part of it.”

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@review journal.com or 702-383-0280.

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