Updated December 28, 2019 - 11:27 pm
A couple of years ago, Frank Marino was cast in a British TV reality series called “Last Laugh In Vegas.”
Marino clearly feels he’s getting that as he embarks on his next full-time gig on the Strip.
Marino is the new, permanent emcee of “Legends In Concert” at Tropicana Theater. Marino, along with “Legends” vice president Gina Capecci Adams and production marketing director Mark Mercer, announced the new agreement from the stage after Friday’s show.
Marino is under a two-year contract, which Adams said “is the most lucrative in contract ‘Legends’ has offered and we are thrilled to death.”
“Does lucrative mean I make a more than everybody?” Marino, decked out in a fur-trimmed, white gown, excitedly asked.
Marino finishes his current series of performances Saturday, Sunday and Monday night. He returns full-time to the production on Feb. 10, after the show takes a scheduled January break.
— John Katsilometes (@johnnykats) December 28, 2019
The legendary show represents Marino’s first permanent stage role since his “Divas Las Vegas” show was unceremoniously shut down at Linq Hotel on June 18, 2018.
The pairing of Marino and “Legends,” is a merging of two Strip institutions. “Legends” opened at Imperial Palace in 1983 and is the longest active production show on the Strip. The new offer arrived not a moment too soon for Marino, who never anticipated being away from the Strip for what amounted to 17 months.
As Marino asserts, he doesn’t do well not performing.
“I would get sad sometimes when I wasn’t working in Vegas, because I don’t know anything else except that,” Marino said in a phone chat Friday night. “I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager. People used to say to me, ‘Does it seem weird to see your name on a billboard or a cab?’ And would say, ‘I don’t really think about it.’ But when I didn’t have it, it was weird not to see it.”
A Strip star for 33 years in “Evening at La Cage” at Riviera and later “Divas Las Vegas” at Linq Hotel, Marino had initially signed as a “Legends” guest star for performances from Sept. 11 to Nov. 19. With characteristic flair, he “retired” his Joan Rivers role in what, at the time, was his final performance with the production (a night before his 56th birthday).
Expect classic Marino in “Legends,” which has added traditional Vegas showgirls to its rotation of legendary stars, past and present.
“I’ll do just like I did in ‘Divas,’ I’ll take Joan to another place, where she’s really more like Frank,” Marino said. “In the intro, they’re saying, ‘Las Vegas’ very own legendary Diva, Mr. Frank Marino as Joan Rivers.’”
But Marino returned for his current six-show run, and now is a full-fledged member of the “Legends” family. He has tabled plans to develop a “Divas” show in a planned 100-seat venue at Neiman Marcus at Fashion Show Mall, which was targeted to open by next spring.
“I couldn’t do it with a hundred seats,” Marino said. “I would have to have charged about $100 to make it work, and it would have taken a lot of work.”
Marino still is performing shows that remain on the books. He’s hosting a private event in Dubai, produced by Caroline Stanbury of “Ladies of London” on Bravo, Jan. 5-13. Stanbury is pitching a “Divas Las Vegas” showcase in the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Marino’s “Divas” show tours Florida after the Dubai trip.
Then he will continue with his “Divas ” performance Feb. 2 at DW Bistro, and another Feb. 16 at Italian American Club Showroom. Marino says he hopes to continue with his “Divas” brand, possibly in a partnership with “Legends” in a “Legendary Divas”-style touring show.
Marino had a few false starts to return “Divas” to the stage since it hauled out of Mat Franco Theater at the Linq Hotel in the summer of 2018. The long-running drag queen has weathered an unrealized concept at The Strat in November 2018 (when Marino was mere minutes away from announcing a residency deal at that hotel’s showroom), and also at Night Owl Showroom at Hooters, now OYO Hotel.
Marino also pitched an idea to the execs at then-SLS Las Vegas, now Sahara, for a “Divas”-fashioned show as that hotel was prepping for “Blanc de Blanc.” Marino pointed to the increased sales in his run at “Legends,” reported to be about 200 additional tickets per performance, as a reason why other hotels should have partnered with his brand.
“I would invite anyone from (Sahara) over weekly to show them how many people I could have brought them, many more than ‘Bomb de Bomb’ did,” Marino said, an obvious shot at “Blanc,” which closed after about 3½ months at The Sayers Club. “I told them, but what do I know? It’s only been 35 years.”
Marino laughed at his jab. But he turned conciliatory when considering his position in the Vegas entertainment strata. In his familiar blond wig and Rivers gowns, Marino still encounters fans at the Trop from his “Divas” days. Also, it seems, Marino’s role as tutor in “Last Laugh,” which assembled retired British stage stars of yesteryear for a single performance, has helped boost ticket sales.
“The British people still are coming from that show two years ago,” Marino said of the five-part series that aired in the spring of 2018. “They introduced me in the third episode and people got to know me. When I cried at the end, when I had to leave — and I really did cry — they loved it. British people. How about that?”
How about it, for real. It’s been an odyssey, but today this diva has reason to smile. Take it to the bank.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram