Sometimes it’s better not to live up to the hype.
Teaming with new producers for a full-circle return to the Las Vegas Hilton, The Scintas talked of radically changing their approach after 30 years.
Fortunately, they overstated the situation. The family band from Buffalo doesn’t have a lot of competition for the old-Vegas dollar, so it’s not so much a matter of getting with the times. They did all they really needed to do: open the sibling act to outside scrutiny and tighten it up a bit.
The new "Laugh Out Loud" in Shimmer Cabaret has a few change-ups for loyal fans, but isn’t likely to change the larger world’s perception of The Scintas (pronounced "Shin-tahs"). You either think of the group as the last bastion of old-school variety, or you’re too busy clubbing and Cirque du Soleil-ing to think of them much at all.
For seven years now, Frankie Scinta has been the go-to guy if you want to see someone play the spoons and imitate Dean Martin. (Danny Gans? Doesn’t play the spoons.) But don’t count on Chrissi Scinta’s covers of Beyonce and Gwen Stefani to empty the club line.
The Scintas were more of what they used to call a "show band" when they first played the Hilton in 2000. The Italian jokes and Ray Charles impressions rekindled an era when lounge acts put on minishows mirroring those in the main showroom, but with more emphasis on the zany. "For Once in My Life" may be a fine tune, but it’s so much better when you do it with the Stevie Wonder cornrows and shades, right?
After bigger stages at the Rio and Sahara, the 325-seat Shimmer seems less of a comedown for the group than a homecoming. Drummer Peter O’Donnell — the only nonsibling member of the quartet — is again down close enough for the audience to see his face and hear his quips. The three added utility musicians also chime in on the wisecracks.
A colorful stage conceals the standing set for "Menopause The Musical" and gives the show a game show luster; no surprise if you know co-producer Andy Walmsley is a set designer for "American Idol" and other high-profile TV series.
Content changes are more subtle. When Joe Scinta waddles out as Joe Cocker, looking as though he had just woke up from a bender that lasted the entire 1970s, it’s now for just enough time to get the joke without a belabored bit.
Likewise, Frank’s "Piano Man" salute to the family’s late father used to leave the others cooling their heels backstage. Now it’s a group effort that builds into a rousing Billy Joel medley, one that most of The Scintas’ demographic will find as easy to sing along with as the shopworn "Lean on Me" finale.
Not every change works so well, even though it’s nice to see the effort. Chrissi, who usually spells the comedy with straight-faced singing, is now of an age where she’s better off with the timeless choices ("You Raise Me Up") than chasing the pop tarts with Stefani’s "The Sweet Escape." (Show Business Rule No. 23: Young pop star covering a standard? Cool. Older singer covering young pop star? Not so much.)
Walmsley and co-producer Steve Parker also may have pruned so much down to the comic impressions that they didn’t leave enough time for the Scintas to be themselves. I’ve seen the act so many times that I can’t really tell if a first-timer can still get the full Frank-and-Joe dynamic. The brisk pace is mostly welcome, but some less-rehearsed banter could further the lounge vibe the room encourages.
But for the most part, this is the lift the family needed to test its continued Vegas viability. The biggest drawback for The Scintas’ older fans might be the 9:30 p.m. start time, and even that is somewhat mitigated by a 2 p.m. matinee on Mondays.
To paraphrase a Sinatra song everyone in this audience will know: If they can’t make it here, forget about them making it anywhere else in town.MIKE WEATHERFORDMORE COLUMNS
REVIEW what: "Laugh Out Loud with The Scintas" when: 9:30 p.m. Fridays-Wednesdays; 2 p.m. Mondays where: Las Vegas Hilton, 3000 Paradise Road tickets: $59.95-$76.49 (732-5755) rating: B SLIDESHOW