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Las Vegas Strip headliner Big Elvis halts at Harrah’s

Updated November 28, 2020 - 7:45 am

In his 1968 comeback special, Elvis Presley covered the bluesman Jimmy Reed’s, “Baby What You Want Me to Do,” calling out, “”I’m goin’ up! I’m goin’ down! I’m goin’ up, down, down, up! Anyway ya wanna, let it roll!”

Big Elvis, Pete Vallee, knows the song and knows the feeling.

The Las Vegas Strip’s long-running Elvis tribute artist has gone dark once more, leaving the Piano Bar at Harrah’s as Gov. Steve Sisolak has ordered a cutback of public gatherings to 25 percent of a venue’s fire-code capacity, or no more than 50 people.

Thus, Big Elvis shut down Saturday, a day before Sisolak issued that ruling.

“My gosh, I feel like a ping-pong ball,” Vallee said Friday morning. “But to try to play right now wouldn’t be good for the show. It makes no sense right now. I hate to do it, but it is the right call, for me and for the hotel.”

Under the new directives, Vallee’s show at Piano Bar would play to about 20 people. That is too small for Big Elvis. This is certainly not the first hiccup in his schedule at Piano Bar, where the one-man show, backed by tracks, has performed in the afternoons for eight years.

Vallee was halted in March during the original statewide shutdown, and returned when Nevada’s casinos reopened in June. He closed out in July, when bars that didn’t serve food were closed down again. He reopened in October, only to pull the plug last weekend.

Fortunately, Big Elvis is always a force on his YouTube channel. He’s live-streaming a Christmas performance at 1 p.m. Dec. 5, and is developing a New Year’s Eve show Dec. 31 (time to be determined).

“The fans online are phenomenal,” Vallee said. “We get a lot of response, especially from fans in the U.K. They love Elvis over there.”

Vallee says he hopes to be back onstage before the end of the year. Most shows that have been shut down are tentatively planning for a Dec. 17 return, after the three-week “pause” is due to end. But Vallee adds, “I don’t think it will come back, because the numbers aren’t looking too good.”

Throwing more challenges in Vallee’s 2020, he was acutely ill in mid-to-late February, with respiratory problems and a host of flu-like symptoms. He was not tested for COVID at the time, as the pandemic was in its very earliest stages in the U.S., but he feels he might have suffered from it then.

“It was awful. I was seriously scared for my life,” the 54-year-old Vallee says. “People say it’s a hoax. I don’t think so. Whatever I had was no hoax.”

Vallee is asked how he keeps sane.

“Man, I don’t know,” Big Elvis says with a hearty laugh. “I just do a lotta praying. The fans give me moral support. What can you do? I just think of people who have it 40,000 times worse then me, who are going without work, and it breaks my heart. I donate to charities, I support wherever I can, and I pray all the time.”

‘Sexxy’ show still a go

The “Sexxy After Dark: Where Dinner Meets Play” cabaret show is still on at Larry Flint’s Hustler Club, reset for Thursday through Dec. 5. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., with dinner at 8:30 and the topless show at 9:30 (tickets and info at VegasHustlerClub.com). The show has been reset from its original dates Nov. 19-21, as Sisolak called for Nevadans to self-quarantine for two weeks.

The show will play to an audience of 50, keeping most of its original acts from the Westgate Cabaret.

“We’re going to work out the kinks and use it as a kind of soft opening,” show creator Jen Romas says. “It won’t be as big as a bang, but we’ll roll with it.” The show will return for limited weekend engagements, if conditions allow. There is no timeline for the production to be back at Westgate Las Vegas.

For the Hustler show, Anne Martinez is the featured vocalist, and Romas plans to return her signature bathtub act, with the tub surrounded by plexiglass panels. And if any act typified entertainers’ efforts to return to the stage during COVID, it would be that one.

Great Moments in Social Media

John Di Domenico’s Donald Trump “non-concessions speech” has drawn nearly 630,000 views since posting on YouTube Nov. 12. “OAN, you’re very pretty, very pretty,” Di Domenico opens. “Listen, I don’t even know what a concession speech is. I don’t know. Kayleigh? What is a concession speech? I have no idea.”

Di Domenico and Mikalah Gordon, playing Melania Trump, have been tearing it up on social media in the run-up to the election and the weeks since. Overall, Di Domenico has amassed 3.5 million followers on TikTok. “This is all very strange,” Di Domenico says. “TV shows don’t get these kind of TikTok numbers.”

The Beatle Eugene

I well remember (or do I?) my first experience with The Fab, at the Palace Station lounge in 1996. I was at the sports book, having just watched “Monday Night Football” while quaffing too many 99-cent margaritas. A friend called me over to the sound of music, saying there was a great Beatles tribute band onstage. They played “Free As A Bird” as I walked in, following with “Taxman,” opening with the famous cough at the start of the song.

I met band leader Pat Woodward that night, the first of many Fab shows at Palace Station, Mad Dogs & Irishmen, Mizuya Lounge at Mandalay Bay and Ova, among other haunts.

The band is still alive, but Woodward has moved out, to Eugene, Ore. He’s been residing in the hometown of the Oregon Ducks for about three months now. Woodward moved for economic reasons, but is traveling to Vegas monthly to his guitar-repair shop, which he’s operated for about 30 years.

As for the band, the vocalist and guitarist says he’s committed to returning when the shows are back “hopefully sooner than later. I miss our Fab shows and performing beyond words.”

Naked no more

Column fave Spencer Novich, whom we met in 2014 when he was the manservant Ripley in “Vegas Nocturne,” is featured on the FX series “American Horror Story” next season. Season 10 debuts in 2021. Novich convinced co-creator Ryan Murphy to hire him with a video audition in which he performs a creepy contortionist act and says, “I’m going to kill you.” (The performance is on the @mrmurphy IG page.)

Novich was a highlight in “Blanc de Blanc” at Sahara, a show we liked that ran not long enough in 2019. He inspired something else that didn’t run long enough, the #NakedNovich hashtag. Novich was the rare artist in a Las Vegas Strip show who waded into the audience, totally nekkid.

Going ape

“Absinthe” has added a number featuring a gorilla in its reopening at Caesars Palace. Not a real gorilla, though. The show’s IG page asks, “Wait, do you see a supermodel in this photo or am I still tripping?” Hey. Could be both.

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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