58°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Keys open a new life for Cuban-born Noybel Gorgoy

Asked what it was like to grow up in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio, Noybel Gorgoy talks of subsisting on rice and an invisible piano.

“We were what you would consider middle class. Both my parents worked and they also had other interests. But a lot of the time there was just no food to buy,” Gorgoy, 33, recalls during a conversation a couple of hours before taking the stage in Clint Holmes’ “Between the Lines” at the Palazzo Theater.

“So you could have money, but nothing to spend it on,” she continues. “Sometimes we had dinner of soup with rice, and rice for dessert.”

This was during a time known as the Special Period, when the breakup of the Soviet Union left Cuba in a prolonged economic crisis.

Despite the hardships, Gorgoy grew up in a family enriched by the arts. Her father, Noel, was a composer and guitarist for a prominent theater group in the family’s hometown. Her mother, Juanita, was a singer when not working for the government as an accountant.

Gorgoy also grew into a gifted artist, attending the School of Arts Pinar del Rio for vocal and music training. There she faced a different kind of challenge: too many students and too few pianos.

“So we would rotate. They told us, ‘In an hour, you will go, then another, then another,’ ” Gorgoy recalls.

Practicing at home also required a creative approach.

“At home, I didn’t have a piano to play, so I set up an area on our little kitchen table to study, with my music books open, imagining where the keys would be. I just had to study movements with my hands, so I could learn them for when I was playing a real piano.”

Her talent on the keys was evident when Gorgoy auditioned as the featured vocalist in Holmes’ show. Without being asked, she played a piano piece, sliding onto the bench next to the show’s music director, Christian Tamburr.

“She turns to Christian at the piano and asks if he knows a title in Spanish,” Holmes recalled. “Christian couldn’t come up with anything, so she says, ‘I’ll do it,’ and moves him off the piano and plays it herself.” The song was one Gorgoy had written herself, “Te Encontre (I Found You).”

That performance was more than enough to earn Gorgoy a spot in “Between the Lines,” Holmes’ autobiographical production at the Palazzo.

Moving gracefully, salsa-style, Gorgoy is featured on Holmes’ takes on John Mayer’s “Daughters,” Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” and the Bill Withers’ classic “Lean On Me.” It’s a healthy complement of numbers for an artist whom Holmes first spotted just two weeks before her audition, when she was singing with bandleader Kenny Davidsen’s act at Tuscany Suites.

But Gorgoy has a long history in Las Vegas, dating to the production show “Havana Night Club,” which ran from 2004 to 2006 at the Stardust. Produced by Siegfried & Roy, the show introduced to Vegas artistic director Nicole “N.D.” Durr, who had connections to her native Cuba through the touring version of “Havana Night Club” and another touring production, “Lady Salsa.”

Gorgoy was touring in “Lady Salsa” in Germany when she was invited to join Durr’s new show in Vegas. Gorgoy said, “Yes,” which happened to be one of the few English words she knew at the time, and was part of the show’s ensemble for two years.

When the Stardust show closed, Gorgoy spent three months on another Durr production, a meandering project called “Raw Talent Live” at the Sahara. It was a key moment in Gorgoy’s development in Las Vegas.

“Then life really started. I realized I did not speak English well enough to be in a major, English-speaking gig,” says Gorgoy, who sought out vocal teacher Greg Enriquez to intensively develop on her language skills. “I had to work really hard on pronunciation so I could sing properly, mingle with people, all of that.”

Gorgoy left the Sahara show to join Latin percussion great Michito Sanchez in his raging salsa-dance production “Salsero” at the South Point. Through that show, she learned of a gypsy-jazz band of great artistic merit, the Hot Club of Las Vegas. Seeing that band perform one night at the Bootlegger Bistro led to a first-time gig four days later, and then a permanent position as that band’s singer.

Aside from her performances with Hot Club, too infrequent to be considered full-time employment, Gorgoy picked up gigs with any reputable act that needed a singer. She also danced some, working at the Bank nightclub at Bellagio, saying, “I needed to use my dancing skills to feed myself,” when life happened once more: Her father died after slipping down a flight of stairs at home in Cuba.

“This was a month before he was supposed to move to the U.S.,” Gorgoy recalls, chuckling as if to push back the pain of that memory.

Her father’s funeral in 2013 was Gorgoy’s most recent visit to Cuba.

“After that, I took a moment to travel, to find myself again,” says Gorgoy, who today is engaged to onetime “Le Reve” artist Chris Tollette. “I was with Hot Club, recording a CD, and was in a Cuban production called ‘Ballet Revolucion’ in London for around three weeks. I was doing all kinds of stuff when Clint called.”

Performing at the lavish Palazzo Theater is something of an embarrassment of riches for Gorgoy, who describes her home country as “A lost-in-time place, where everything looks like the late ’50s with old American and Russian cars that are still running, somehow,” she says. “To be here, with all the opportunities, is still shocking to me.”

And when the inspiration to create strikes her now, Gorgoy is free to make music at home. As she says, “I own a piano now.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the A section and Friday in Neon. He also hosts “Kats! On The Radio” at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on KUNV-FM, 91.5, and appears at 11 a.m. Wednesday with Dayna Roselli on KTNV-TV, Channel 13. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter and @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Taste of the Town: Henderson Booze District
Those who like to support local businesses and sample local products will find the best concentration in an unlikely spot: a Henderson industrial park.
Founder of Las Vegas theater talks about a favorite play
Ann Marie Pereth, founder of A Public Fit Theatre Company, speaks to the Review-Journal about which play she would see every day if only given one option. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Celine Dion’s lounge gig a boon to Las Vegas act

Celine Dion performed “Because You Loved Me,” “Ashes,” Beauty and the Beast” and “My Heart Will Go On.” Her arrival drew a roar from the 300 VIPs in attendance, who were not informed of the night’s entertainment.