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What’s new on the Strip? A UNLV event honoring entertainers

Updated March 28, 2024 - 8:58 am

UNLV’s College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame has honored many Strip entertainers in its 20-year history. But the annual event itself has never played the Strip.

That changes Tuesday when the Hall of Fame gala is staged at Fontainebleau’s BleauLive Theater. Those being honored are: MGM Grand star illusionist David Copperfield, comic great Shecky Greene and renowned artist and educator Rita Deanin Abbey (both posthumously); acclaimed musician and composer Keith Thompson (the Koep Dean’s Medal honoree); Carnell “Golden Pipes” Johnson (with the College of Fine Arts Limelight Award); and celebrated soprano Cecilia Violetta López (Alumna of the Year).

The wide range of inductees is a product of UNLV College of Fine Arts Dean Nancy Uscher’s ongoing efforts to broaden the Hall’s appeal.

“I think we touched on many important aspects of arts and entertainment in our wonderful region,” Uscher said in a recent phone hat. “I’m so excited because this lineup of individuals who will be honored, and the people and all of the esteemed people who will be introducing them, is a rich field of luminaries and thought leaders throughout our arts and entertainment culture.”

Greene was a different sort of thought leader, bombastic onstage and often volatile away from it. The master stand-up comedian had a rich history with Fontainebleau. Early in his career, Greene became close friends with company founder Don Soffer and opened for Frank Sinatra at the original Fontainebleau in Miami Beach.

Uscher said personal connection was a reason — but not the only reason — the show is hauling into the Fontainebleau.

“Shecky’s legacy was certainly a factor in our decision to choose the Fontainebleau. However, the idea of honoring him had been circulating for some time due to numerous recommendations. The prospect of hosting the event at a new venue, especially one as prestigious as the recently opened Fontainebleau, was a thrilling one. We continued the discussions until it finally materialized into a reality,” Uscher shared.

The room seats 400 for such a gala and has sold out. The Hall of Fame has earned its position in a prominent Strip showroom with a lengthy list of honorees, including Ann-Margret, Tony Curtis, Brad Garrett, Wayne Newton, Siegfried & Roy, Penn & Teller, Mac King, Phyllis McGuire, Carrot Top and The Killers, among many others.

Copperfield will be the first honored Tuesday so he can perform his early show that night in a 15-show-per-week schedule. Copperfield still moving forward with plans to make the moon disappear; the original timeline has been pushed back from February for undisclosed reasons.

Thompson is a busy showman, with “The Piano Party” at The Composers Room and The Composers Showcase once a month at Myron’s.

Deanin Abbey was a former UNLV professor whose mind-blowing, multi-media work is displayed in an indoor-outdoor exhibit space in Las Vegas.

Johnson is the famed anthem singer at Golden Knights games at T-Mobile Arena and a UNLV alumni (and a former singing gondolier at The Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes).

Lopez is an outstanding singing actress who has been named one of opera’s “25 Rising Stars” by Opera News.

Don and Dee Snyder, who have been active in the Las Vegas community for 36 years, are the gala’s honorary co-chairs. Don has prospered in banking, gaming/hospitality, and higher education. This includes service as chairman and CEO of First Interstate Bank of Nevada (now Wells Fargo), president of Boyd Gaming Corporation, and president of UNLV. He currently sits on the board of directors for Western Alliance Bancorporation, a NYSE-listed company.

The entertainment roster is the strongest in the event’s history. The show is produced by UNLV Division of Jazz Studies and Commercial Music Dave Loeb, with a performance from the multiple-Downbeat award-winning band UNLV Jazz Ensemble 1. Clint Holmes, Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns(also past honorees) and Lopez are set to perform.

The BleauLive event might be a one-off for the Hall of Fame. But bringing the show and the UNLV College of Fine Arts to the Strip widens the university’s options.

“Now that we are doing it there, I think our conversation will be driven by the fact that we have opened up possibilities,” Uscher said. “I like it on campus as well, but I think we’ll now have an open mind about the possibilities.”

Cool Hang Alert

Ocean Prime at the 63 Las Vegas has expanded its live-music program in its lounge to 6 p.m. Thursdays, 7 p.m.-11 p.m. Thursdays, in its lounge. Very swanky, music to focus on, or enjoy in an ambient sense.

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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