Even in oversized form, it’s good to be the King.
Take it from Pete Vallee, the self-proclaimed “Big Elvis,” who will be celebrating a few landmarks this week during his afternoon tribute show at Harrah’s Piano Bar. Monday, his name will be added to the Las Vegas Walk of Stars – joining Liberace, Sammy Davis Jr., Wayne Newton and the real Elvis Presley – honoring his 20 years performing in VegasVille.
Vallee explains his longevity simply: “The music is awesome. Nobody is ever going to forget that music.”
He arrived in 1997 to perform at the now-shuttered Roadhouse saloon on Boulder Highway and was quickly plucked by Station Casinos for gigs at Boulder Station, Sunset Station and Fiesta Rancho. He drew the fascination of then-Coast Casinos owner Michael Gaughan, who signed the popular afternoon entertainer in 2002 to appear at the lounge at Barbary Coast, which became Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon under Boyd Gaming, and is today the Caesars Entertainment-owned Cromwell.
Caesars then shifted Big Elvis to Harrah’s as Cromwell was being developed.
In that swirl of activity, Vallee, who turns 52 Tuesday, has logged at least 10,000 shows in his Vegas career. His voice is in top shape; his body, notoriously, is not.
“My weight has always been my Achilles’ heel,” says Vallee, who has shed about half of his 900 pounds through careful dieting over the last six years. “Some people embrace it, some make fun of it, but they do remember me because of my size. It has separated me from everyone else.”
Inarguably, Vallee is one of the Strip’s survivors, even as the Elvis brand has ebbed in Las Vegas. The Elvis memorabilia attraction at Westgate Las Vegas and its accompanying stage show never took hold. Cirque du Soleil’s “Viva Elvis’ faltered at Aria in 2012 and became the first Cirque show ever to close on the Strip. Aside from Vallee’s afternoon show, the only Elvis-centered production on the Strip (discounting the Elvis portrayal in “Legends in Concert” at Flamingo) is “All Shook Up” at V Theater at Planet Hollywood.
Vallee’s lounge at Harrah’s is undergoing renovations, with speakers set up outside the entrance facing the casino and additional seating being added to boost attendance to about 260. Vallee’s no-cover show is 2 p.m., 3:30 and 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The King’s fans are still out there, as Big Elvis finds when he leaves the building.
“Sometimes people just follow me out of the lounge all the way to my truck, in valet,” he says. “This happened the other day, four people walking with me, talking about how their grandparents saw Elvis four or five times at the (Las Vegas) Hilton. It’s really touching, but it’s also 6:30 and I’m trying to get home …”
But Vallee is swift to add, “These people love what I do, and love Elvis. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have a career.”
STUNNER ON 60TH
Plaza Showroom headliner Frankie Scinta’s family told him to show up at Italian American Club on Friday night to meet Joe Pesci. Instead, Scinta met about 150 family and friends in a surprise 60th birthday party in the club’s showroom following Michael Monge’s full-house performance.
“I cannot believe this. I can’t handle it! I am totally blown away!” Scinta said, repeatedly, as he was led into the room. Hosted by IAC co-proprietors Ben Spano and Jimmy Girard and emceed by Scinta’s friend Sal Cucco, the night featured onstage appearances by Rich Little; Dennis Bono; Lorraine Hunt-Bono; Scinta’s brother Joey and IAC President Angelo Cassaro, among others.
Summoning Johnny Carson in what became a mini-roast, Little said, “I once asked Johnny if he had ever heard of Frankie. He said, ‘I have not heard of Frankie Scinta, but I have heard of Joey. He is the one with all the talent.”
Scinta was joined by his mother, Mary (“Momma Scinta”); daughter, Danielle; son, Frankie Jr.; his wife, Jackie; and sister, Chrissi, the popular original member of “The Scintas” who stepped down from the act four years ago for vocal problems. Near the end of the night Scinta was joined by Clint Holmes for a take of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,’” and Holmes told him, “We were born to be entertainers. It’s all we know. We are brothers.”
Oh, and Pesci was never in the room. The whole thing was an Old Vegas ruse.
Jeff Neiman, the ace pianist/arranger/music director for Holmes and Susan Anton (among many others) in an impressive career in VegasVille, has been named the music director for Jarrett & Raja’s upcoming show at Hooters. Neiman steps in as the show’s original music director, Will Champlin, left the production. The dinner/magic/music show opens March 23.
NEW SINGERS IN ‘VEGAS!’
David Saxe, producer of “Vegas! The Show” at Saxe Theater at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, is using a trio of singers to take over Josh Strickland’s role when Strickland leaves the production March 6. Jason Martinez (an original member of the Vegas “Jersey Boys” cast), Joshua Smith and Philip Drennan will alternate performances. Strickland is heading to Germany to appear in “Tarzan” through August.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section, and Fridays in Neon. He also hosts “Kats! On The Radio” Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on KUNV 91.5-FM and appears Wednesdays at 11 a.m. with Dayna Roselli on KTNV Channel 13. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.