SHOOTING STARS: Las Vegas returns to PBS pledge-drive spotlight

Somewhere, Frank Sinatra and Dino Crocetti (better known as Dean Martin) are smiling.

And millions of PBS viewers will be smiling too, come pledge-drive time in December, when a new concert salute to Italian-American music — taping tonight in The Venetian’s showroom — hits the airwaves.

Featuring the singing group Bell’ Aria, the concert will feature everything from folk songs to opera excerpts to vintage pop favorites popularized by such Italian-American stars as Sinatra, Martin, Mario Lanza and Connie Francis.

Initially, producers were torn between staging the concert in Italy or the U.S., according to executive producer Gustavo Sagastume of International Media.

“We really debated long and hard,” he admits.

That is, until officials remembered that The Venetian sits on the same hallowed ground where the Rat Pack’s favorite Vegas playground, the Sands, once stood.

With that legacy in mind — ring-a-ding-ding! — The Venetian “seemed like the perfect spot,” Sagastume says.

Besides, “Las Vegas is associated, not just with entertainment,” but in the last decade, as the home of “the highest quality west of New York City,” he says. “Las Vegas is the place to see live shows.”

Tonight’s live concert will feature about 80 minutes of music, he notes — about 20 minutes more than will appear in the PBS special. (A separate DVD will include the entire concert program.)

Following its December debut, the Bell’ Aria special will return for March and August fundraisers.

“We’re very much doing it for the television viewer,” Sagastume says of the concert, to be staged by Broadway veteran Bill Castellano. “It should be a visual experience,” with “a lot of sound, a lot of musicians” and “a lot of visual energy” accompanying the music of Bell’ Aria.

One thing there won’t be at tonight’s show: extra tickets.

Although seats were free, once local public radio and television audiences heard about the show, “we were flooded with requests,” Sagastume says. “We had a huge response to the show” — so huge that “there are no more seats.”

The show’s popularity reflects the fact that “there aren’t many places on TV where you can see concerts like this” anymore, he says.

And he should know; International Media has previously produced such made-in-Vegas PBS pledge hits as “The Osmond Family Reunion” and Barry Manilow’s 100th performance at the Las Vegas Hilton.

“As long as Las Vegas continues to be a hub” for entertainers, he says, “it’s a natural place” for concert specials.

Playing politics: The People’s E-mail Network started as a way to help citizens contact their Congressional representatives — and each other — on important issues.

Next, the group branched out, producing a radio play featuring Ed Asner, “It’s Up to Us Alone,” which premiered in October. (You can check it out online at usalone.com.)

Now, PEN is developing a full-length feature — and plans to do some preliminary filming in Las Vegas this week.

The political thriller’s script is “still in development,” according to The Pen (yes, that’s his name), who will produce and direct the feature.

Even without a completed script, however, the background footage of Las Vegas will lend a definite visual flair, he says.
After all, “it’s such an exciting visual city,” he notes. “The word spectacular is an understatement.”

Ring time: Las Vegas is the longtime home of the UFC, but there’s a new league in town — at least on Saturday night, when “Masked Warriors” rolls into the Thomas & Mack Center.

The first English-language Lucha Libre series, now airing on MTV2 and MTV Tr3*s, follows the elaborately masked Mexican wrestlers on their current U.S. tour. Their Las Vegas appearance will be taped for upcoming “Masked Warriors” telecasts.

Marco Corleone, Lizmark Jr., Tinieblas Jr. and Mascarita Dorada lead the lineup for Saturday’s event, which begins at 8 p.m.; it’s preceded by a 6 p.m. meet-and-greet for VIP ticket-holders. Ticket information is available at 739-3267 or UNLVtickets.com.
 

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