Jeff Tracta says manager’s direction prepared him to shine

Indeed it does pay to advertise.

Jeff Tracta needed a manager/producer for his one-man show. And John McEntee needed a new client, having parted ways with ventriloquist Terry Fator after steering him to a lucrative deal at The Mirage.

McEntee was in Palm Springs to check out another prospect. But relaxing in his hotel room, he caught a TV spot for Tracta’s show at the Spa Resort Casino. He was intrigued enough to wait patiently for the commercial to air again, having failed to grab a pen the first time.

McEntee made it to Tracta’s show (then, and until recently, he spelled his name “Trachta”) and found “the most diverse person I’ve run into.”

A year and a half later, the two now sit together at the Palms and recall the promise McEntee laid out: “If you really, really work your tail off – and I mean work harder than you’ve ever worked in your entire life – I think you have a shot at creating something wonderful in Las Vegas.”

Having been in the business since his breakthrough as a 1990s soap star, “I’ve never worked harder in my life,” Tracta attests. “And I’ve never had more fun.”

And McEntee delivered on the Vegas part, at least a four-night trial run at the Palms. This weekend’s shows in The Pearl test the potential of a more traditional casino act for the property driven by nightclubs in its boom years.

McEntee praises Tracta’s “incredible work ethic” in creating an act with wide demographic appeal.

“I’d say, ‘Can you do this artist?’ He’d say, ‘I’ve never heard the song.’ So I played the song on iTunes and he sang it back in perfect pitch.

“He’s not scared to give anything a try,” McEntee adds, attesting to Tracta rising to every challenge, whether it’s imitating both Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman in a duet, or becoming all four members of the Black Eyed Peas for a comic video.

“When I told him I wanted him to look like Fergie he thought I was out of my mind. And he made a nice-looking Fergie,” McEntee says with a laugh.

“He’s pushing the boundaries of my talent,” Tracta agrees of a show that bears little resemblance to one Tracta offered at the Rio in 2006. “I produced that myself and I’m not a producer, I’m a performer.”

The 51-year-old New Yorker was best known for his eight-year run as Thorne Forrester on “The Bold and the Beautiful.” That led to weekend excursions for live shows that packaged singing soap stars, with one such booking visiting the Sands in the fabled casino’s final days.

“When you perform on the soap opera, the only people you’re really entertaining are the crew, who are eating jelly doughnuts and falling asleep when you’re trying to emote up there,” Tracta says. “When I got that reaction from a live audience (on the weekend live shows), I really realized, this is what I want to do with my life.”

Even a turn as Danny Zuko in “Grease” wasn’t as fulfilling as gradually developing the one-man show, which first concentrated more on singing in his own voice and original characters in the Lily Tomlin vein.

“When you create your own thing it’s very difficult to go back and step into one small part of a whole,” he says.

The best segment of his original show was a “TV Land” tribute guided by Marc Cherry, who went on to create “Desperate Housewives.” Cherry waived a fee for his help, saying, “When you get your big break in Vegas, you will hire me to be your director.”

But when the Rio opportunity came around, “Amazingly, he was not available,” Tracta recalls. “Housewives” had become a big hit.

McEntee knew the ropes of the corporate circuit through his TEI Entertainment. When he spotted Fator on “America’s Got Talent” in 2007, he signed the ventriloquist to a $50,000 per-show guarantee from the Las Vegas Hilton even before Fator won the talent show’s second season.

The two parted company two years later, once Fator was ensconced in his long-term deal with The Mirage. Looking for lightning to strike twice, McEntee scouted Tracta and loved the “TV Land” segment, but said the rest of the show also had to be that good.

Together they’ve crafted a salute to “50 years of pop culture in 75 minutes,” as Tracta describes it, but one that avoids stock impressions such as Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis Jr. and Jack Nicholson.

Instead, they hope to pump the genre with new ideas, such as a Bobby McFerrin-like desconstruction of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” with Tracta imitating all the instruments in 52 recorded tracks.

“I am so used to taking direction (from the soap years), and for me getting direction was a gift from the universe,” Tracta says of McEntee. “Yes, I have somebody who knows what they’re talking about giving me their honest feedback.”

Even when it comes to Fergie in drag.

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

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