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Richard Marx has stayed busy with songwriting, producing and touring

Don’t go looking for Richard Marx to be chasing the past, because he’s too busy enjoying the present.

Marx scored a string of megahits in the late ’80s and ’90s, among them “Don’t Mean Nothing,” “Now and Forever,” “Hold On to the Nights,” “Satisfied” and “Right Here Waiting.”

Then, as it must for everybody, the string ended and double-platinum turned, Marx jokes, into “double plywood.”

So, Marx simply turned to another way of getting his music out, as a songwriter and producer.

“I’m just grateful that when my reign on the charts came to a stall, if you will, after 10 years … I didn’t panic. I just thought, ‘Well, that was really fun, and it was a great run, and now I’ve still got tons of music to make.’ “

It has worked out well. Marx has written and produced hits for a roster of artists that includes Daughtry, Josh Groban, Keith Urban, *NSYNC and Luther Vandross (he and Vandross won a Song of the Year Grammy for “Dance With My Father”).

But Marx continues to tour, too. This weekend, he returns to Las Vegas for two shows in the Showroom at The Orleans that he describes as “all acoustic” and that will feature a string quartet, a few well-told personal stories and a conversational vibe fans will love.

“It’s all very low-key, just me and my guitar and a piano and a quartet,” Marx says. “Every night is different, and I have stories to tell, but I try to tell them differently every night.”

It will be a departure from the shows Marx performed here during his chart-topping days. Marx played Las Vegas several times and, he says, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad experience there.

“I think back in the heyday was the first time we played there. It was at the Rio, that outdoor venue they had there. That was sort of my baptism by fire and I had a little trepidation back then.”

Back then, Marx explains with a laugh, “there was still a little bit of that, ‘I can’t play Las Vegas. I’m a rock artist.’ “

Actually, Marx was an atypical sort of rock star anyway. When he was starting out, “most people’s backgrounds were in live performance,” he says. “They played clubs. They paid their dues live with bands in coffeehouses or whatever.

“I had zero performance experience. I was a studio rat. I was an arranger and a session musician and a background singer. My dues-paying was in the studio. So it was a daunting path for me to sort of mount a tour and go out and play.”

Now, “20 years later, I think I’ve finally learned that the key for me as a performer is making an audience feel like they’ve hung out with me,” Marx says.

“It’s not about musical precision — they can stay home and listen to a record. For me, my goal is, I want to make them laugh — and when I say ‘laugh,’ I mean not at me but with me — and I want them to go home feeling like that was worth the drive and worth the money and worth the parking.”

“That’s what’s been so gratifying to me the last couple of years,” Marx says. “I feel there is a camaraderie between me and my audience.”

And this despite the fact that Marx has been, as he puts it, “far away from the public radar the last 10 years.

“Most of my work, and therefore my success, has been behind the scenes. If you don’t read the liner notes — and most people don’t — you don’t know I wrote songs for Daughtry and Josh Groban and *NSYNC and all these people.”

Marx, by the way, now enjoys including those songs-written-for-others into his own shows, which introduce longtime fans to reimagined versions of the hits they already know.

It’s a challenge, Marx says, in part because, with stripped-down acoustic arrangements, “you can’t hide anything behind a great guitar solo or a great drum solo. A song works or it doesn’t work.”

But, he says, “I like that feeling of flying without a net, and it’s always been my mission to never write songs that need to camouflage anything. So this is really pretty fun for me, sort of deconstructing these songs pretty much into the form I wrote them.”

In a similar vein, the shows — Marx’s next album, “Stories to Tell,” scheduled for a May release, is, he says, “basically a recorded version of the show” — enable Marx to reconnect with his fans in a slightly different way.

“I’ve been blessed with great audiences my whole career, but nothing like this, because it really gives us a chance to hang out for two hours,” he says. “I’ll tell stories and take them through my songwriting career.”

By the way: If Marx isn’t the most well-adjusted rock ‘n’ roller around, he’s certainly in the top three. Marx knows rockers who ache to recapture their glory days. And, he says, it ain’t pretty.

When his own string of megahits ended, “I knew that day would come,” he says. “I was happy with the last nine or 10 years, and I never had a problem dealing with what is.”

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal. com or 702-383-0280.

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