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‘Legends,’ Frank Marino going after mature audiences

Updated February 12, 2020 - 10:41 am

“Legends In Concert” has always felt like a show that should be held in public trust. Register it as a historic landmark, present it as a tour of how Las Vegas entrancement used to be.

Frank Marino is our guide. He lives on in “Legends,” emceeing the 36-year-old show full-time in his Joan Rivers character. Marino has impressively re-set his career after being was unable to deliver a “Divas Las Vegas” show back to the Strip after shutting down at Linq Hotel in June 2018.

But Marino has landed in a Vegas show — probably the only Vegas show — suited for his throwback stage skills. He joins a veritable Vegas institution with “Legends,” which opened at the then-Imperial Palace in 1983 and is the longest active production show on the Strip. Marino, of course, was a Strip headliner 33 years in “Evening at La Cage” at Riviera and later “Divas Las Vegas” at Linq Hotel.

Marino seemed to have dropped Rivers altogether when he ended a nine-week stint with the show in November. But the wig is out of the box again, after the show took January off and has rebooted with him as permanent host.

During his time off, Marino has updated much of his shtick from the “Divas” days. He’s lost the calcified joke about Lorena Bobbitt, and ditched the reference to flying on now-defunct Hooters Air.

Now, Marino says of his short, black skirt, “I found this in the closet, next to Ryan Seacrest.”

Intentionally, or not, Marino’s blinged-out prop microphone is smeared with red lipstick, also funny to anyone paying close attention. He still uses the “no ballroom” joke about his dresses. But if Elvis can still sing “If I Can Dream” from the 1968 comeback special, you have to allow it.

So the current “Legends” lineup is The King, starring Elvis tribute vet Matt Lewis; Tina Turner, played by Vivian Scott; and Freddie Mercury, inhabited by Fernando Castro. All three match their stars’ the vocal performances and have obviously studied the subjects moves (Lewis with the Elvis shoulder shake that escapes many Elvis tribute artists, Castro with Mercury’s across-stage strut and Scott with Turner’s full-body quiver).

“Legends,” for the first time, is presenting Vegas showgirls, collectively, as one of its superstar characters. The leggy dancers are not just backing dancers, afforded equal billing as Elvis and the rest of the legends. Producers are clearly attempting use “Legends” as the vehicle to fill the void left by the closing of “Jubilee” at Bally’s in 2016, and “Folies Bergere” in that very Tropicana Theater in 2009.

The show takes its dance design seriously. Toni Lee (the show’s director of production) and Gina Capecci (its vice president) are expert choreographers. Former “Dancing With the Stars” pro Lacey Schwimmer, has designed the dance numbers in the tribute artists’ sets.

“Vegas! The Show,” too, keeps the showgirl tradition alive on a Vegas stage. “Legends” delves deeper into that rich history with pink-feathered costumes reclaimed from producer Mistinguett “Showgirls” production, known as the show that preceded Penn & Teller at the Rio in 2002. Designer Pieter Grove’s royal blue costumes from Bill Acosta’s “Lasting Impressions” show at the Flamingo, produced by Jeanne Bavaro, also make a triumphant return.

Those costumes allow the dancers to perform in pasties, also a first for “Legends,” which is going with more adult vibe than ever. The show is still fairly tame, especially compared with the heavy helping of raunch of such hit shows as “Absinthe.” But “Legends” is showing more edge, more skin and more bite in its construction.

In that theme, Marino is going “blue” and using more salty language than ever. He’s a man, and a woman, with something to prove after his 33-year run in “La Cage” and “Divas” ended so abruptly two years ago. Marino is continuing with the “Divas” concept and brand, heading up a showcase at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Italian American Club. But that will probably be the last time he takes the stage as a “Diva,” taking on a full “Legends” schedule.

Marino, for all of his stage experience, said he was anxious prior to Monday’s show. “My heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest,” he said. “But I am so grateful, and you can take this down: I will never complain again about problems in a show, after what I’ve been through.”

Those who know Marino will hold him to that claim. He’s known as a “diva” for good reason. But he was sharp in his return to the stage. At the end of the performance, the Queen of Las Vegas fired a shot at a splashy new show playing at the Flamingo, where “Legends” has headlined.

“If you liked the show and you’re someone who posts reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor, my name is Frank Marino,” he said, then took a three-beat pause. “If you didn’t like it, I’m RuPaul.

Cool Hang Alert

Lisa Gay and the Uli Geissendoerfer Trio head up a Valentine’s Day jazz hang at Dispensary Lounge at 2451 E. Tropicana Ave. Show time is 10 p.m.-2 a.m. This is a classic Vegas duck-in, no cover charge. Find these artists next to the waterwheel.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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