Lounge show goes retro in ‘Sin City: The Golden Years’

Memories on the rocks, barkeep — and don’t stop pouring till we’re drunk on yesterday.

“I didn’t want to do a Rat Pack-y thing, I wanted to do it slightly sideways,” says Sean Clark, founder of the graduate screenwriting program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and author of “Sin City: The Golden Years,” which kicks off the UNLV Playwrights’ Festival before relocating to Australia for the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

If you think you’re heading straight into a play, you are … but not before taking a sharp left turn into a retro lounge show, rewound 45 years to tuxedo-clad, 1963 Vegas. “It’s a revue, but in a play structure,” says Clark, whose latest work bumps up the timeline from last season’s “Sin City: The Vaudeville Years.”

“From the time you come in, you’ve paid your cover and there’s the self-deprecating female comic, the insult comic — although with a modern, neurotic twist — and instead of Steve and Eydie, there’s a married-and-divorced, man-and-wife act. They can’t stay together, but they have to sing together.”

Imagine the affectionately cheesy charm, from the self-congratulatory nightclub marquee (The Fabulous Moonlight Lounge) to the saucy dancing divas (the Vegas Vixens) to the rimshot-happy backup band (the Moonlighters) delighting revelers on New Year’s Eve, before those intimate, martini-tinged celebrations burgeoned into mega-Strip fireworks extravaganzas.

“You still see remnants of these acts today, maybe a little modernized,” says director Sarah Norris. “When you first read the script, it looks like a bunch of jokes until you dig and see it’s about how these performers’ routines showcase their lives. What’s fun is discovering the beats, discovering in a comic’s routine where the climax is, how the jokes are building, and how that affects the performer.”

The play is Clark’s valentine to the Vegas of yesteryear he holds so dear.

“I kept hearing stories from people from the ’60s recalling performers — one person told me of this place on Fremont Street featuring an unknown guy named Willie Nelson, with people dancing on tables,” says Clark, a veteran screenwriter/producer whose credits include “Coach,” “Evening Shade” and “Northern Exposure.”

“I picked ’63 because that winter, ‘Viva Las Vegas’ had been filmed, though it wouldn’t open till the next spring, so in the show we’re teaching people the song. And what I love about our city are people like the real working dancers. We have a war between a tap dancer and the drummer, which was an actual routine Buddy Rich did. And I wanted an Ann-Margret type of number, something that would feel like it was cut from ‘Viva Las Vegas.’ It’s to the tune of ‘Tequila,’ and you think, ‘The only thing missing is Ann-Margret’ — it’s that good.”

Good, yes, but minus any Rat Pack razzmatazz. “Our comic tells a groaner joke,” Clark notes, “and he says, ‘Hey, you want better than that? You can go across the street and hear a bunch of Italian smoothies.’ “

Can we get a rimshot?

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0256.

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