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Retro-cool rooms nod to vintage Vegas

On Thursday, Showtime restores to its rightful glory the world-famous Plaza showroom, once the proud home of “Nudes on Ice,” “Natalie Needs a Nightie” and “Mind with the Dirty Man.”

OK, so it was never really world famous. And one Showtime stand-up comedy special won’t reverse the showroom’s years of benign neglect.

But I always loved the retro vibe of the place, and so does “Mike & Molly” star Billy Gardell, who is taping his “Road Dogs” there Thursday.

“We flew out and we took a look at that showroom, and it absolutely caught the feel of the (stand-up) show,” Gardell explains. “It has the feel of one of those ’60s Vegas showrooms that guys who worked the road for years would hope to get into. So it actually fit the (concept) perfectly.”

By coincidence, this also turns out to be a good week for another of my favorite, often-overlooked venues. Ever since the early ’90s, the Shimmer Cabaret inside the LVH has been a unique 330-seat room that does right by the “cabaret” part of its name.

Long before The Smith Center for the Performing Arts made its Cabaret Jazz a fashionable hang for locals, the Shimmer was punching at genre boundaries for tourist entertainment.

Noble efforts such as “Nunsense,” “Dragapella” and Rich Little’s current salute to Jimmy Stewart didn’t put Cirque du Soleil out of business, but at least offered alternatives to the usual magic, topless and acrobatic shows.

But the Shimmer did host one certified hit called “Menopause the Musical.” And it turns out that show’s creator, Jeanie Linders, wrote her new cabaret musical, “The D*Word,” with the Shimmer specifically in mind.

The art deco trappings, the cabaret vibe and the bar in the back of the room all inspired the tone of the new show that opens there July 10, says producer Neal Gardner. Usually, “playwrights and producers want to make something as universal and as common as possible to work anywhere,” he notes.

Funny that neither the 1971 Plaza nor the Shimmer — which started its current life as The NightClub in the early ’90s — are true remnants of golden-age Vegas.

We’ve torn all that stuff down, so we’ll never have an experience like walking into the Pantages, the 1930 Hollywood movie palace where I recently previewed the Venetian-bound “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.”

Maybe someday the Riviera’s showroom will be restored. For now, we’ll settle for the 1976 glory of the Flamingo, or the 1973 Tropicana showroom that’s undergone a beautiful remodeling, but is still in negotiations with a permanent tenant (management says those talks are getting close).

Matching the right show to the right room is surely a secondary priority to casino operators, and probably a happy accident at best. Sometimes we need guys like Gardell to remind us how cool it can be.

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

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