Shining a light on big names backstage

The names attached to Steve Wynn’s upcoming “Funhouse” production show make perfect sense. They are big stars on the Strip.

But if you don’t recognize Kenny Ortega any more than you do Jamie King, Robert Deaton or Raj Kapoor, pride yourself on having a life.

In the film industry, no director or technician’s name is too obscure for the prevailing geek culture.

But the Las Vegas go-to list still draws more from the concert industry, where the stars in the spotlight tend to pull focus from the people who light them, choreograph them and generally make them look good.

It’s a short list of people with the experience to pull together these big shows on time and on budget.

That’s perhaps why Cirque du Soleil changed its mind and did not replace King for the sit-down version of next year’s Michael Jackson tribute at Mandalay Bay. King’s concert experience with Madonna and the like landed him “The Immortal” arena tour, but now he is trusted with the cozier theatrical version.

The short list also explains why Ortega’s name was floated for Shania Twain’s show, but he is doing “Funhouse” instead. Your tweeners may know Ortega as the director of the “High School Musical” movies, but he’s also the guy who came up with the sexy-pirate chick version of Treasure Island’s outdoor spectacle.

But there’s always room for new blood, and new names are involved with the two slick country-pop exclusives in town this weekend: Twain at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill at The Venetian.

Twain’s Vegas extravaganza – complete with live horses and the smell of campfire smoke – was entrusted to Kapoor, whose background was in video production (check out the calibrated images on those curvy band risers).

Same with Deaton. McGraw and Hill drafted him for “Soul2Soul” because they knew him from music videos and the Country Music Association awards.

“I think the skill sets overlap,” Deaton says. Still, when he walked into the former “Phantom” theater at The Venetian, his first reaction was, “Wow, this is really small. How do I wrap my head around this?”

His answer? “The music will tell us what (the show) is.”

Deaton hopes the music told him enough to keep working here.

“I think Las Vegas is the kind of place where you can stretch a little bit creatively, to do things a little different from what you normally do,” he says.

“There’s freedom to breathe a little bit and freedom to move, to do things a little differently than you have in the past.”

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

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