Upstairs at O’Sheas, a place for beginnings

They hide in plain site, or maybe they just hide. That’s why we don’t miss them so much when they’re gone.

They are the ghost venues of the Strip, the shadowy performance spaces in unexplored corners of casinos, which beckon the show-business hopefuls of Las Vegas.

When O’Sheas closed Monday, a downstairs throng actually got a little misty-eyed at the loss of the tiny casino, which thrived in recent years as a college-bar oasis of cheap beer on a stretch of the Strip known more for $11 cocktails.

But did anyone mourn the small theater upstairs? The one most recently occupied by durable magician Dirk Arthur, who managed to cram in all his cabinet illusions and even a tiger or two?

Michele LaFong, a ventriloquist and local radio host, was almost nostalgic. But she says the O’Sheas theater in its final years wasn’t as nice as it was in 1999, when her “Funniest Females” played inside the Magic and Movie Hall of Fame, which then occupied the second floor.

“It was a great, great experience,” she says. The theater itself was “beautiful,” even though “you had to get through Beirut to get there.”

But LaFong got “caught in the crossfire” of a dispute between the museum and the casino owner (now Caesars Entertainment Corp.), and bailed after a New Year’s eve debacle. “I was serving my own drinks that night. I started taking orders and walking upstairs with trays of drinks. It was really humiliating.”

The theater was subsequently stripped of its Victorian trappings. Once the museum was gone, “it was really barren up there,” LaFong says of the second floor.

Barren it stayed, though the theater itself lingered on. It turned out to be the finest hour to date for the country revue “Deuces Wild,” or the swords-swinging “Viper Vixens.” An even stranger entry, “Freaks,” was actually pretty good.

Take heart; the hopefuls still have refuge. There’s the nice-enough Harmon Theater, now obscured by a new Walgreens. Some acts play in the front room, which used to be a restaurant. So was the King’s Room at the Rio. Then there’s the low-ceilinged meeting room at the Royal Resort. And another relic of a bygone museum – the screening room Debbie Reynolds built – now called the Wolf Theater at the Clarion.

“It’s a place to build your act and get your feet wet in this town,” says current inhabitant Tommy Wind. Debbie built a solid venue, the magician says. “If I could take this theater and put it on the Strip, I would.”

But he can’t, so he is closing there on May 19 and moving elsewhere. Hopefully, a place people can find.

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

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