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Las Vegas entertainment vet Costa all-in at Commercial Center

Updated November 26, 2023 - 9:44 am

In November 2020 I attended the pandemic reopening of “Extravaganza — The Las Vegas Spectacular” at Bally’s Jubilee Theater. The show was spectacular if only because it was one of the first production shows on the Strip to climb back onstage during COVID-19.

The audience was limited to 50, about the same number as performers on stage. I was seated in the middle of the theater, feeling completely isolated and oddly out of place.

Just as the show started, an usher walked over with a glass of sparkling water — FizzyWater as we call it.

“What’s this about?” I asked.

“It’s from him,” she said, gesturing to a waving Damian Costa, seated a few rows up. The veteran entertainment exec was readily recognizable even behind his Caesars Entertainment mask, for his well-groomed grayish hair and smiling eyes.

“I am impressed!” I shouted with a laugh. Even over distance, We bonded during this surreal, unique performance, the first step in the entertainment community’s pandemic recovery.

That moment was characteristic of Costa. There are executives with differing visions, but no one has more passion for entertainment than this native Las Vegan. He would leave Caesars Entertainment in September 2021, launching Pompey Entertainment with partner and Vegas entrepreneur Nick Cordaro the following May.

The company’s latest venue venture is a genuine passion project, The Composers Room in the Historic Commercial Center on East Sahara Avenue.

Its opening pushed back for construction requirements, the showroom opened last weekend, with an open-mic party Sunday and “Broadway Goes Hollywood” revival on Tuesday, both hosted by Vegas composer and musician Keith Thompson.

Composers Room is a stylish venue, sparsely lit with black and silver seats and marble-like cocktail tables at the front of its Showlounge. The room drips with Vegas references. A “Rat Pack” row of booths — named for Frank, Dean and Sammy — divides the Showlounge, with high-top tables in the back. The stage is three steps high and can pretty easily handle an eight-piece band, a trio or a single poet.

A cabaret-fashioned bar is at the opposite side of the venue, where stand-up piano is always on stage (a grand piano has been set up the showroom) and a dining area for guest to enjoy intimate performances.

The Composer Room’s slogan is, “Our Vegas. Our Way.” The message couldn’t be more clear if a person impersonating legendary Vegas Las Vegas maitre d’ Emilio Muscelli were to greet guests at the podium.

“What I want to do here is focus on the business side of things while putting a real face to it,” Costa says while leading an impromptu tour of the space. “The artists, promoters and producers need to know we have to get things right. You would not launch a residency at Harrah’s unless you figured it out first. That’s how it is going to be here.”

Through the holidays, the venue is open 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, adjusting for later hours during show nights. The attention to detail is evident in the menu’s categories. Appetizers are The Tempo (potato skins, wings, brussels sprouts and the like). The burgers-sandwich lineup is Commercial Deli, named for the original business on that site. The Crescendo is for entrees (truffle ravioli, baked mac-and-cheese, spaghetti), The Green Room for soups and salad, Main Stage for fish and steak.

The entertainment schedule is dotted with small shows, but big talent. Sax vet Jimmy Mulidore has been booked on Saturday, following Vegas mainstay Jimmy Hopper last Friday. The throwback Swing It Girls are Sunday night, followed by “Phantom Thursdays — The Music of Andrew Lloyd Weber” on Thursdays, impressionist Jammin’ Jay Lamont, also on Thursday; and the return of Thompson’s “Piano Party” on Dec. 5.

Vita Drew’s holiday brunch is Dec. 10, Khoree the Poet, a survivor from The Duomo; the rock-cover band Limoncello, led by rocking attorney Tony Sgro, plays every Wednesday. All intel is found at TheComposersRoom.com.

Expect more activity as entertainers seek out Costa, well-known for decades on the Vegas entertainment scene. The exec has a lengthy Vegas resume as entertainment director at South Point from 2009-2013, leading to his eight years with Caesars. South Point owner Michael Gaughan afforded Costa the latitude to run the hotel’s entertainment division in Costa’s vision.

At Caesars, Costa says he was given a single directive by company entertainment president Jason Gastwirth, “Do your best.” Costa developed The Magic Attic at Bally’s and The Back Room at Bally’s and led the resurrection of Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace.

Costa’s first Pompey foray was The Duomo and Cupola Cafe at the Rio, which closed about a month ago after a 16-month run. Ownership group Dreamscape Companies ownership group reportedly plans to move the Comedy Cellar into the space. Pompey also operates Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club at Linq Promenade, and produces “Late Night Magic” at The Venue at Orleans.

In the Composers Room, Costa takes over the former Nevada Room, which put many performers onstage during the COVID revival before closing in August 2022; and Coop’s Cabaret & Hot Spot, which ran for a few star-crossed weeks before cratering this past spring.

Costa has steadfastly sprinkled his personality and family history all around the new venue. The ceiling design are actual charts of songs written by his maternal grandfather Bob Hartmann, including the never-released “Touched By An Angel.”

Tony Costa, Damian’s paternal grandfather, was an accomplished pianist and songwriter, vocal director for Vic Damone, and conductor for ‘“Jubilee!” in Vegas and and “Gypsy” on Broadway.

Family photos share space with legends. Hartmann played French horn in Elvis’ band. There is a display under glass of his career, photos from Elvis movies and such documents as the itinerary from The King’s 1973 U.S. tour.

Even the clarinet Costa played as a kid is in play, as the Showlounge’s “ghost light.” And Costa’s son Dayton is a wizard in venue operations in this family business.

But even with all of its qualities, The Composers Room faces a headwind in operating at Historic Commercial Center. The parking lot is massive, but also a security concern, particularly at night. Parking is free and plentiful, but entertainers dressed for a formal performance need to feel safe walking to their cars after a show.

County Commissioners Tick Segerblom and Ross Miller, both of whom were at the venue’s opening party, are backing the creation of an art colony covering about 60 acres. This was the central message of the Commercial Center block party hosted by Deadmau5 in May (10,000 expected, about 4,500 turned up, but the message got across).

UNLV is expected to partner in the venture. Derek Stonebarger’s Epic Taverns, owners of Rebar in the Arts District, is planning Arty’s Gallery Steakhouse for spot next door to the Cue Club.

Such gentrification would do more to change the trajectory and focus of Commercial Center than any single entertainment venue, no matter how groovy.

Costa, who used to hang at Cue Club as a kid, knows this.

“I think the changes have already started,” he says. “I think I offer a brand that recognizes how Vegas became the Entertainment Capital of the World, while leaning into what’s to come. I get to be me, and I think I’m good at that.” A FizzyWater toast to that sentiment.

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 X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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