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Admirable attempts at showbiz reinvention take different turns

Two upcoming Las Vegas shows share a story of do-it-yourself ingenuity and reinvention.

But the stories of Bob Anderson and John Payne so far lead in different directions. A dream come true for one, a bittersweet stalemate for the other.

As discussed in this column in May, singing impressionist Bob Anderson put his own resources on the line in a showcase for his full-scale Frank Sinatra tribute. The gamble paid off. “Frank The Man, The Music” will replace “Panda!” at the Palazzo Theatre starting Jan. 27, with dates booked at least through April 30.

“This is the best thing that has happened to me in this business,” Anderson says of the show that will boast a full orchestra and creative oversight by veterans of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. The host casino seems to be throwing support behind Anderson and his investors, Hoboken Productions.

Anderson is a locals’ favorite for his singing impressions, but came to realize his Tom Jones and Rat Pack voices were seen as shopworn on the Strip, no matter how welcome at suburban casinos.

So he homed in on Sinatra and what he calls “the quintessential re-enactment,” complete with elaborate latex makeup.

“This is the first time all of the things have lined up properly,” he says.

“Raiding the Rock Vault” reopens at the Tropicana Las Vegas on Nov. 1. The classic rock tribute came to an abrupt end at Westgate Las Vegas once plans to move were revealed. But even before that, “Rock Vault” had seen internal disputes and a lawsuit from its co-creator.

John Payne’s story has parallels to Anderson’s. As often happens with long-running bands, Payne was recruited as the singer and bassist for the rock band Asia when original singer John Wetton left in the early 1990s.

That went well until the band’s original four members got back together in 2006. (Three of them are still at it, playing Red Rock Resort on Oct. 17.) That left a redundant band called Asia featuring John Payne, which Payne still works to sustain. But let’s just say the demand for two versions of Asia is, well, limited.

So Payne, according to the lawsuit he filed, created and copyrighted “Rock Vault” with two collaborators. The scripted history of rock became a new vehicle for him at the Westgate. With a 50 percent ownership in the show plus a nightly $1,000 for performing it, Payne bought a house in Henderson.

But, according to the lawsuit, producer Harry Cowell suspended Payne in May and later fired him, even after Payne claims he signed “under duress” an agreement assigning his ownership and royalties (which he claims he has not been paid).

I’m told a settlement is likely before Cowell and the Trop have to decide how much of Payne’s material would have to be removed by November. Either way, this one’s a show business success story with a twist ending.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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