Former ‘La Cage’ star Marino takes the reins with his own show

A wardrobe malfunction has developed during rehearsals for "Divas Las Vegas." Frank Marino, director/co-producer of the upcoming Imperial Palace showcase, is asked to intervene.

"These will show way too much for the people in the front row," says Paul Pratt, one of six male dancers just handed the sparkly black booty shorts they are to wear while backing up Britney Spears impersonator Derrick Barry.

All aspects of this production are being paid for by Marino and his co-producer, SPI Entertainment (for which his partner, Alex Schechter, serves as director of operations).

Marino ponders whether yet another costume alteration is worth the time and expense.

By his own admission, Marino is a diva.

"Not a diva," he says later, "the diva."

Las Vegas’ longest-running headliner and, as he describes it, "yet the youngest," Marino impersonated Joan Rivers as the host of the Riviera’s "Evening at La Cage" drag show from opening day in 1985 until it closed in February.

Yet instead of launching him on a power trip, finally getting to call the shots seems to have softened his edges.

"I had to fight city hall every day," says the Brooklyn-born 46-year-old, alluding to his legendary rows with "La Cage" producer Norbert Aleman, whom Marino now refers to as "whatever his name was."

"I always wanted my own show," Marino says. "Now that I have one, I know how important it is to keep everyone happy."

Five one-time "La Cage" impersonators are returning along with Marino: Barry, Jimmy Emerson as Wynonna Judd, Kenneth Blake as Madonna and Dolly Parton, Steven Wayne as Cher and Celine Dion, and Tina Turner impersonator Larry Edwards.

But Marino promises modernization — a slant toward MTV and away from the cabaret style that marked "La Cage." To that end, Barry also will perform as Lady Gaga, and Edwards is switching to a spoof on Beyoncé.

"I don’t want anybody looking at the show and saying, ‘Oh, it’s like ‘La Cage,’ " Marino says. "I want to make sure they’re watching it with a fresh eye."

Following this weekend’s showcase, "Divas Las Vegas" — choreographed by Gary Thomas and Brad Barnes — has no commitment from Imperial Palace owner Harrah’s Entertainment. But Marino says he expects to draw at least the 200 people per night that "La Cage" did in its final days.

"And in this economy," he says, he’s "hoping that should be enough" to elicit offers from Harrah’s or competing hotels.

Marino finally has an answer for his dancers.

"Whatever you guys want," he says, explaining that he feels like the old lady who lived in a shoe.

"She had all the children and wanted to make sure every one was happy," he says.

In this case, that shoe just happens to be a stiletto heel, size 13.

Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0456.

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