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‘Nunsense’ gets performers back in habit

Some theatrical musicals, such as “Phantom,” brought a big influx of Broadway performers to town.

The Las Vegas Hilton’s new production of “Nunsense” is more about bringing a diverse group of Las Vegas entertainers back to theatrical roots.

“I saw something in them I knew they could do,” director Nancy Gregory says of the five-woman show (rotating from a company of six or seven) that was set to debut Wednesday. “But a lot of them hadn’t done musical theater in a long time, and we had to put that back into their systems.”

Diane Ellis once strolled the Excalibur as a singer, and she still dresses up like Lucille Ball if someone calls with a corporate gig. Now she’s the Mother Superior in Dan Goggin’s off-Broadway hit, which has become a community theater staple over the years.

Kelly Clinton does comic impressions and helms the celebrity karaoke at the Bootlegger Bistro on Mondays. She will become one of the singing, dancing nuns as soon as she mends a foot she broke rehearsing dance steps at home.

Michelle Johnson toured as a backup singer with Las Vegas headliners such as Gladys Knight and Sheena Easton. Two others have credits in the limited history of Las Vegas experiments with cabaret theater: Janien Valentine was in “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” Kathryn Arianoff was in both the stripper-themed “Tease” and the Red Hat Society musical “Hats!”

Gregory is cross-trained herself. A year ago, she was the new vice president of entertainment at the Tropicana. She still is trying to find shows for the hotel as a consultant, but the daily logistics of management turned out to be “the wrong side of the desk for me.”

Gregory’s previous resume leans more toward special event and theme park productions. The “Nunsense” producers invited her to see the 25th anniversary revival this summer in New York.

“All I had seen was the DVD at that point. I wasn’t sold,” she says. But seeing it with an audience, “I guffawed.” And as a rule, “I do not guffaw.”

The Hilton version that was set to bow Wednesday has been “tightened up, cleaned up and refreshed,” with a shorter running time for the cabaret musical about nuns forced to put on a benefit show to cover burial expenses for some fellow sisters who ate some bad mushrooms.

The Shimmer Cabaret successfully hosted “Menopause The Musical” for three years and 1,500 shows, so “Nunsense” stands to lure back the Red Hat ladies and anyone else seeking cabaret theater in the afternoon. …

The Riviera Comedy Club is on track to close on Halloween night, at least as a hotel-run operation. There’s an irony here. The stand-up showcase had become the extremely rare title to be bankrolled directly by a casino (Bally’s “Jubilee!” and Garth Brooks at Wynn Las Vegas are the only two others that come to mind). But in the 1980s, comedy clubs opened the door to the concept of the Strip leasing space to an outside producer.

Steve Schirripa is better known for “The Sopranos” but still involved as a club consultant after all these years. He says the room could continue as a comedy club if an outside producer takes over. Or it might become home to a resident headliner to work year-round. Either way, he will probably step aside. …

Talk about timing. “The Rat Pack is Back!” sent a news release touting a three-year contract extension at the Plaza on the same day (Monday) the Plaza announced the closing of 1,037 hotel rooms for remodeling.

But producer Dick Feeney says it’s not a problem. He has been — how does one put this politely? — “waiting for two years” for the rooms to be remodeled himself. Long ago, Feeney says he learned to focus his marketing outside the hotel walls. Before the closure, the show was pulling “next to zero” attendance from in-house, he says. …

Another contract extension — Mac King sticking at Harrah’s Las Vegas for five more years — is not surprising, but perhaps noteworthy in one aspect. It would seem to shoot down wishful thinking in the magic fraternity that King and Kentucky pal Lance Burton would team up in some manner now that Burton has closed at the Monte Carlo.

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

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