Las Vegas has lots of shows where you can see people impersonating other people. Whether it's country music stars, a British band of yesteryear, or the "dealertainers" at The Quad, fake celebrities are everywhere in Vegas ready to approximate something you already know. They provide "the familiar" as a path to something new. You may have never seen a concert by any of those famous people they're impersonating, but you've seen them on TV and know mostly what to expect.
It's rare, however, to encounter a show with a real live, old school "entertainer" where the headliner's name isn't famous and the selection of entertainment is almost entirely original. Sure, we have magic acts that come and go which are billed under the magician's name, but they most often seem like "Personality A" doing "Trick #132" from Acme Magic Company. It's why I was so impressed with Mike Hammer. He nailed the personality part of his magic show while reinterpreting fairly routine tricks. It was a show of true skill, of his true talent as an entertainer, that kept me mesmerized, and I saw that same rare talent last night at Frankie Moreno's concert at the Stratosphere.
Frankie Moreno knows how to connect with the audience, but he also possesses impressive musical skills as well. He sings his own original songs and plays the piano with fortitude, bravado, and a speed of fingers that brought thoughts of Liberace to mind. He doesn't rely on associating with famous names for his success either. Almost all of his musical selections were written by his two brothers and him, and through the course of the show, video monitors often show the start of the songwriting process in some far off locale before transitioning to him singing the live version on stage. An eight member band consisting of his brother Tony Moreno on bass, two girls on violins, and one young lady on an electric cello, along with a trumpet, trombone, electric guitar, and a drummer gave the whole production a much larger feel than its Stratosphere showroom would seemingly convey. While the band itself is superb, Frankie alone commands the attention of the audience and leaves them in awe of his skill while simultaneously seeming accessible and human. That's quite a feat.
In one bit, his stage manager appeared next to him with a bottle of Crown Royal whisky. The two of them poured shots, then Frankie asked who in the audience wanted to join in a toast. Yet instead of just having folks raise their glasses at their tables, he told the audience members to come down to the stage to get a shot from his bottle. Several did and for three folks who didn't have glasses, he poured it straight into their mouths.
It certainly wasn't anything big, but it was incredible how real it made Frankie seem. He wasn't just the "I'm here on the stage and you're the audience who's down there tonight." It was like he actually appreciated having the folks come see him and took the time in the middle of the show to virtually say so.
Later in the night after a few more songs, he explained how he and his brothers have been teaching a song writing class at the Las Vegas Academy, a magnet school here for artistically gifted high school students. It could have simply been a typical "celebrity" look-at-the-good-work-I-do, but he wasn't telling the audience about himself to engender goodwill ; he was telling us as an introduction to a guest act.
As part of that teaching of the youth, he wanted to give them the opportunity to perform on a real stage, in front of a real audience. Out came five high school guys, and the sense of pride, in both the kids and Frankie, was incredible. The young group of musicians, who went by the name of Swayed, performed an original song with the singer at the front of the audience while his classmates enthusiastically played their instruments behind him. Of course, by this point, the audience was in incredibly appreciative spirits — encouraging youth always brings people together — so when Frankie appeared on the side of the stage and motioned for the crowd to cheer, they erupted in applause. After Suede sang another song, Frankie appeared back out front to encourage an encore. As I watched in awe at the sheer glee in the kid's faces and felt the positive energy coming from the audience around me, my eyes got a little misty. Ever the analytic that I am, I thought to myself, "either Frankie's one of the nicest guys ever to grace a stage or he does a damn amazing job of making it seem like that." Either way, I don't think I could have been more impressed with him.
For the big showstopping number, Frankie played the piano with jaw dropping mastery and swagger. He showed off his command of the keys by wrapping his arms around his neck while playing (with each hand doing the opposite of what it would normally play), and he even sat on top of the piano while playing it behind his back. The crowd was on its feet, dancing and clapping along while snapping pictures for the whole thing.
That big finale was a fitting end to a very impressive night. Frankie obviously has the ego that one must have to be the single headliner in a show, but at the same time, he's got an accessibility to go along with his incredible skills as a showman that will leave you evangelizing about him to your friends back home. I'm doing that myself right now.
Listen to Frankie Moreno's Self-Titled Album At Spotify: Frankie Moreno Spotify playlist
On The Las Vegas Strip
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, And Saturdays At 8PM