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Award-winning Vegas set designer cherishes Queen Elizabeth meetings

Updated September 10, 2022 - 11:59 am

Queen Elizabeth II had a keen appreciation for personal details. Andy Walmsley has a keen eye for set design. Those qualities were displayed when the two met in the 1990s.

Walmsley, an Emmy Award-winner for his work on “American Idol,” conceived sets for the “Royal Variety Performance,” in 1995, ‘96 and ‘97. The annual variety show benefits now-King Charles III Royal Variety Charity for entertainers in need.

The British-born Walmsley has lived off-and-on in Las Vegas for 18 years. His first “Royal Variety” concept was for the 1995 show, at London’s Dominion Theater. Walmsley’s set for the show had to “nest” atop the set of the resident production “Grease.”

As a member of the production’s creative team, Walmsley was in the greeting line to meet the queen following the show. So were Olivia Newton-John (his childhood crush), Celine Dion, Michael Bolton and the Spice Girls.

Walmsley was in his late-20s, a bundle of nerves, standing third in line in this collection of stars.

The queen asked, “How did you manage to hide the scenery behind your scenery?”

To this moment, Walmsley can’t recall how he answered. But he remembered how he felt.

“I was astonished she was so well-briefed,” Walmsley said. “The part that everyone who meets the queen experiences, as she walks to the next person in line, you have endorphins pumping through you and an exhilarating feeling of, “Thank goodness I didn’t disgrace myself.’ ”

That’s when the queen’s husband, usually stepped in.

“The Duke of Edinburgh is next, shaking your hand and gleefully ready to chat, he was so funny and really put you at ease, ” Walmsley recalled. “He knew that all over the world, whomever he was meeting, they where experiencing this same high of relief and adrenaline. He was there to break the ice, and make you laugh.”

A year later, the queen moved over to Walmsley. He was more relaxed in this encounter, but the queen still impressed.

“She floored me by remembering me, and pointing out that this time I had an empty stage to play with as the theater was totally vacant when we loaded in,” Walmsley said. “Her personal skills were honed after an entire life of practice, remembering a little tidbit of info about each person she was about to greet. This was an incredible technique for making me feel special, even though she of course was the most special of all people at the event.”

Walmsley has gone on to create sets for such wide-ranging projects as “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire;” the Las Vegas production “Idaho! The Comedy Musical;” “The Muppets Take The Bowl” musical at the Hollywood Bowl; and “Ru Paul’s Drag Race Live!” at the Flamingo.

But the memory of meeting Her Majesty stands alone as one of Walmsley’s career highlights: “I cherish deeply the fact that I held the queen’s hand, and spoke with her several times.”

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Wave hello …

To The Docksiders, the city’s first yacht-rock residency, at The Duomo at the Rio. Front man and veteran producer/songwriter Kevin Sucher and his band delivers a vocally and musically proficient performance. It’s fun. The band is costumed in sequined jackets and sailing caps, as heading for a disco party or the nearest desert island. “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Africa,” “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” are in the set list. The appeal is self-evident — this is a staged escape from reality.

The heavy lift is the show’s schedule, five nights a week (dark Fridays and Sundays) in a new club in an off-Strip resort that is finding its footing in an ownership changeover. Tickets are $39.99 (not including fees), far closer to reasonable than irrational. The Duomo hang is very cool, with Cupola Cafe (from Mimmo Ferraro of the famous Ferraro culinary family), and the venue’s arcade filled with vintage games flanking the music club.

The Docksiders are very much on a test run, what the cruise industry calls a “shakedown,” to see if this combination concept will work. The quality is there. But the tourist market and Vegas locals need to find this show for it to sail, long-term. Consider this the firing of the first flare.

Cool Hang Alert

The thundering classic-rock band Original Chaos plays Rhythm & Riffs at Mandalay Bay from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday. This is a twice-over, throwback experience. The music is classic and expertly performed. The venue is no-cover, open, just off the casino floor. Get there, rock it up and support the cause.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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