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‘Queens of Rock’ rises as unlikely COVID hit

Updated May 8, 2021 - 8:38 pm

I’d not known Elyzabeth Diaga on the night last October when I was introduced to her musical retrospective, “Queens of Rock.” I’d only been told she was from Montreal, new to the city, and could flat bring it as a singer.

OK, I thought. She’ll like Las Vegas. She’ll fit in, with all the vocalists in town. Then, as I waited for the show to start, I spotted Christian Brady hanging the wings, a guitar over his shoulder. I smiled, because Brady is a a serious rocker and this would be a serious show. The last time I’d seen Brady play was actually with Hellyeah, the late Vinnie Paul’s band, at the Foundry at Sahara.

Alex Papa is on drums, James Oleson on guitar and Zach Throne on bass, a super-solid band built for the long haul. Diaga and Yves Frulla, formerly Celine Dion’s keyboardist, restructured the show to about 65 minutes for Las Vegas.

“Queens” has consequently achieved impressive longevity, playing 100 shows at 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, all in COVID at Mosaic on the Strip. No. 100 is set for Sunday night. The show has performed more shows than any ticketed, pure-music show over the pandemic (the “Aussie Heat” male revue, in the same theater, has danced through 120 shows and is still grooving).

More impressively, and unlike its “Aussie” theater-mates, “Queens” was a largely untested title in Vegas when it premiered for 50 socially distanced audience members on Oct. 8. The production showcased at Station Casinos venues in 2017-2018, but was not heard from again until arriving signing a deal at Mosaic during COVID.

Regardless, “Queens” has built a following in the most challenging of times, with a new singer and new title in a venue not easily found even as it is on the Strip. Mosaic sits behind the strip mall anchored by Fatburger across from the Park MGM marquee. Even tourists parking there to walk the Strip are surprised to know the building is a fine performance venue.

“We’ve been so blessed to have such a positive response from everyone, and I’m hoping this is the beginning of a long-term relationship with Las Vegas,” says Diaga, following a range of such Canadian singers as Celine, Shania Twain and vocal impressionist Véronic DiCaire to the Strip. “I love this town so much. The vibe, the people, the artists the shows, the nature. I’m really happy here.”

Diaga loves horses, too. Her social media posts of her on horseback effectively offset her leather-clad, hard-rock image from Mosaic.

Diaga first visited Vegas in June 2016, to catch Heart at House of Blues at Mandalay Bay. She’d already developed a touring version of “Queens of Rock” two years earlier. The band she watched that night, especially vocal legend Ann Wilson, is at the center of “Queen’s” 40-year trek through rock.”Barracuda,” “Crazy On You,” and “Alone” are performed to anthemic effect.

A finalist on the Canadian version of “The Voice,” Diaga also steers the show with spot-on covers of The Pretenders (“Don’t Get Me Wrong”), Pat Benatar (“Hit Me With Your Best Shot”), Joan Jett and The Blackhearts (“I Hate Myself for Loving You” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”) on through such contemporary stars as Lady Gaga (“Born This Way”).

Diaga doesn’t need to lace up the roller skates for Blondie’s “Rapture,” but does it anyway, singing and spinning to great delight. The woman is on a roll.

“To have made it this far is incredible, a dream,” Diaga says. “I have known I wanted to perform in Las Vegas for a long time. I have had so much faith in this show, and people are responding. I am grateful, every night.”

A side of Ranch

Sandy Valley Ranch is such a windy drive to a remote location, I honestly felt the destination for the “Ignite” circus show was an elaborate practical joke, maybe conjured up by the legendary prankster Penn Jillette, whose wife, Emily, had told me she would be at the event.

Sandy Valley Ranch is said to be “45 minutes and 100 years from Las Vegas,” and I honestly thought I’d left the grid entirely.

But finally, the signs let to an artistic oasis for Friday’s premiere performance. Ably emceed by Brandon Pereyda, aka Axle from “Zumanity” at New York-New York, the production was a series of breathtaking acts from sidelined Cirque and “Le Reve” artists, all performed for 250 folks in the Ranch’s rodeo arena.

The best comparison was the event was a mini-Burning Man festival, filled with a social area and food trucks, pop-up bars, craft tables. Families were welcome, as were fire-toting acrobats. Oh, and a guy in a onesie bathing suit, playing “Rubber Ducky, You’re The One” on a $200 kazoo designed as a trumpet. He was, and is, RJ Owens from “Mystere.”

The show wrapped its two performances Saturday night. There is talk of bringing it back, as Sandy Valley Ranch has found a way to sky-hook the Strip to the Mojave Desert. We’ll be back. We jotted down directions.

Mouth it out

I finally met the quirky/funny ventriloquial artist April Brucker, featured performer in “BurlesQ” at Alexis Park on Thursday night. Her stage companion, May Wilson, was born in a trunk in Pocatello (Google that lyric, film buffs). So, we hit it off pretty well.

Brucker is on the latest episode of the MTV digital series “What’s My Secret?” where co-hosts Karlous Miller (“Wild ‘n Out”), social-media phenom Brittany Broski (“Kombucha Girl”) and musical artist YouTube vlogger Kellie Sweet try to figure out Brucker’s “secret” profession.

Her clue: “Everyone is always looking at my mouth.” Not inaccurate. She’s fun, this one.

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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