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Taking a big swing with a Broadway revival, off the Strip

Updated February 20, 2024 - 7:13 am

A trio of Las Vegas musical-theater types are reviving a musical made famous 53 years ago, at a venue some 2,500 miles from Broadway — and 22 miles from the Strip.

Their blueprint for success? Volume, volume, volume.

Producers Tom Michel, David Robinson and Sean Stephenson of the Vegas production of “Follies” are stacking the deck with talent, while brazenly booking a hotel-casino showroom where no Broadway show has ever performed.

The Steven Sondheim-conceived production plays Aliante’s Access Showroom for six performances, April 11-14. (For intel and to purchase tickets, go to ShowgirlsComeHome.com, AlianteGaming.com or Ticketmaster.com.)

Look for Broadway great Andrea McArdle, nominated for a Tony for originating the title role in “Annie,” in the Vegas cast. McArdle was 12 at the time she played the red-headed orphan, using the role to springboard into a wonderful stage career. She’s been cast in “Beauty and the Beast,” “Les Misèrables,” “State Fair” and the skating spectacular “Starlight Express,” among many other Broadway titles.

McArdle tops a 70-member production troupe filled with Las Vegas singers, dancers, musicians and actors. The four leads are esteemed Vegas entertainers Michelle Johnson (Las Vegas’ “First Lady of Jazz”), Christine Shebeck (“Metamorphosis”), Randal Keith (“Les Misèrables,” “Phantom” and “Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers”) and Sam Holder (“Oklahoma”).

The “Follies” plot centers on a renowned producer holding a final reunion of the casts of his annual “Follies” show at his self-named theater. The old venue is being torn down to make room for a parking garage (but not a new baseball stadium). The performers gather for a sentimental glance at their heyday, the music, spectacle and costumes of yesteryear.

The theater is haunted, as it turns out, with ghosts reappearing to watch as the “Follies” performers resurrect the venue for a final performance. Sadly, Zak Bagans has not (yet) been approached about a cameo.

Luminaries in the mix include comic legend Pete Barbutti, Bubba Knight of Gladys Knight and the Pips, Grammy Award-winning opera singer Frederica von Stade, a dozen Las Vegas showgirl legends — including Anna Bailey at age 97, the first African American showgirl ever to appear in a Vegas production. Bailey also performed at the Moulin Rouge, backing Pearl Bailey, in 1955.

The 30-piece Jazz Outreach Initiative (JOI) Orchestra is playing every show. Clint Holmes and his wife, Kelly Clinton-Holmes; Nicolas King from “Beauty and the Beast” and Seth Sikes (known for his Judy Garland tribute); and opera-musical theater performer Kate Kinhan are also confirmed for the production.

Vegas stalwarts in prominent roles include Antonio Fargas, Skye Dee Miles, Denise Rose, Linda Woodson, Tim Molyneux, Katy Monroe, Gabriella Versace, Steph Payne, Michelle Marshall and Jenny Malcomb.

And that’s a partial list.

The show’s producers are operating as the nonprofit Metropolis Theatricals Las Vegas production company, with proceeds going to Las Vegas theatrical productions. The co-founders got to know dozens of entertainers while running The Vegas Room and The Nevada Room at Commercial Center.

Those venues provided dozens of Vegas entertainers the chance to perform as the city crawled out of COVID. But both rooms shut down, support sagging as the city’s entertainment scene opened up. (Veteran Vegas entertainment exec Damian Costa has since opened The Composers Room in The Nevada Room space.)

Michel says that ticket sales, sponsorship revenue and program advertising will fund “Follies.”

The team behind “Follies” is relying upon an appetite for a limited-run, Broadway legacy show in Vegas. Forget that the city has not been uniformly friendly to Broadway musicals, even on the Strip. Tickets are up there, for a locals’ casino, starting at $135 a pop, more than $100 higher per ticket than a typical show at the 580-seat Access Showroom.

And Aliante was chosen only after the producers scouted 13 other venues, none of which offered the right partnership with the production.

But the creative team carries a sunny optimism about “Follies” potential off the Strip.

“There’s one thing I know about ‘Follies,’ wherever we do it, people will go. It’s an event. It’s a cult favorite,” Michel says. “There’s a Facebook group that we belong to, Fans of the Musical Follies, and there are 2,500 members of that.”

There is a scarcity of Sondheim in the neighborhood as well.

“We have rabid Stephen Sondheim fans, and the fact that ‘Folllies’ hs never been done here before is crazy,” Michel says. “This is the home of the showgirl, the home of imploding famous hotels … I’m not worried about packing this place, not at all.”

And about those Vegas cast members? They all have friends, and they buy tickets.

Cool Hang Alert

Dueling pianos are double-double-double the fun at the Piano Bar at Harrah’s. The Twins show runs 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. This is Kimberly and Tamara Pinegar’s rotation of sing-alongs, which fills the bill and packs the lounge. Make a request, coupled with a tip. No cover.

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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