By John Katsilometes
ORIGINALLY POSTED: Thursday, June 5, 2014 | 11:27 a.m.
As is often the case in Las Vegas, shifts in one show, venue or individual can cause a ripple all across the scene. This has been the case again recently, and we’ll begin this journey with events centering on our friend Skye Dee Miles.
One of the city’s most electrifying performers, Miles learned that she has lost one gig and is on hiatus from another just in the past week. Oddly enough, Miles’ travails at least peripherally involve venues and shows at three hotel-casinos: Tropicana, Mandalay Bay and Bally’s.
Most notably, Miles’ Skye 5 band is leaving Tropicana Lounge after a spirited 4 1/2 year run. Miles and her band performed admirably as productions came and went in Tropicana Theater, which over the past few years saw the closing of the 49-year-old “Folies Bergere,” headlining runs by Wayne Newton and Gladys Knight, a stint by “Dancing With the Stars Live!” and a weekend stint by Chicago, among other one-off events in the venue.
The room was largely quiet for more than a year while undergoing an initial renovation for “DWTS” and another extensive overhaul (beautifully executed, by the way) to accommodate the boffo return to Las Vegas of “Mamma Mia!”
The arrival of the ABBA-driven musical this spring has animated business in the lounge at the entrance of the theater, naturally. Too bad Miles and her band won’t be around to welcome that tide of spectators funneling out of the theater to the lounge. Miles’ last night at the Trop is Friday. Moving in is a veteran act familiar to most Las Vegas scenesters who have lived in town for a decade.
Playing that space last week, and what appears to be the lounge’s new house band, is longtime Las Vegas lounge stalwart JAMM (formerly known as Jonathan and Music Magic). As is characteristic of this long-standing outfit, JAMM has most recently hopscotched the Las Vegas Valley at Le Cabaret at Paris Las Vegas, Ravello at M Resort and Chrome at Santa Fe Station.
The night I saw the act at Tropicana Lounge, a week ago Thursday, it was clear that Jonathan and the lineup have not lost an ounce of energy. They are hell of a lot of fun, you can say that. Meantime, the other noteworthy update at Tropicana is the arrival of a new entertainment director, Eric Puhl, whose career working in entertainment on the Strip dates more than 10 years in hotels now owned by Caesars Entertainment. No doubt he was instrumental in bringing JAMM into the Trop lounge.
How Mandalay Bay figures into this ripple is that Miles also is on hiatus from her singing role in 1923 Bourbon & Burlesque by Holly Madison at Mandalay Bay. The live band has been lopped from the vignettes sung by Miles, who signed on with the project primarily so that she could sing with those great players. Now the late-night shows featuring the collection of torrid dancers recruited by Madison are tracked.
Typically, when a venue, show or project is watching its finances, a live band is the first component to be shed (we saw this happen with “Peepshow” at Planet Hollywood, among many other productions). That seems the case with Bourbon & Burlesque, a cool little hang made that much cooler with live music — and that wonderful singer.
Madison has frequently performed in the venue, too, to great response. But she says that she is not sure when she will next be onstage. Her preference has always been to work primarily behind-the-scenes on the show and lend her ever-recognizable name to the venue.
Madison was to sing and dance for the first few months and also on special occasions but leave the bulk of the live performances to her cast. She has no set schedule. As is the case with all of the components at 1923, you hear of her covertly through word-of-mouth (or word-of-Twitter and Instagram).
Curiously, the events at 1923 Bourbon & Burlesque brush against the latest administrative move at “Jubilee” at Bally’s. The original artistic director of the performances at 1923 has, in fact, wound up at the classic showgirls production.
I’ve written about Gene Lubas’ crisscrossing of the city over the past several months, his brief affiliation with Madison’s show, his departure just as the 1923 venue opened (and that was a hard landing, folks), and the reports of him joining the classic production at Bally’s. All true.
Lubas, artistic director of Cirque du Soleil’s “Viva Elvis” at Aria that is now closed and was replaced by “Zarkana,” was hired in May as “Jubilee’s” show manager. His role is not quite fully defined. As it has been explained to me, the show manager at “Jubilee” tends to day-to-day activity in the show.
His is an administrative and operational position, primarily. Secondarily, it does encompass creative adjustments to the show. But Lubas is not formally part of “Jubilee’s” creative team.
It is an important distinction. Caesars Entertainment officials have said the ouster of former artistic director Frank Gatson Jr. in April, just after his reimagining of “Jubilee,” was to allow his team and him to move on to an unspecified project — the hotel has never publicly said that Gatson was dismissed for any other reason. The sudden exodus of Gatson and his crew led to the return of the show’s original day-to-day creative team.
All of these moves across our entertainment landscape are being framed as business as usual. Fair enough. But, as has always been the case in Las Vegas, it helps to be a little creative.