April 13, 2001
'Viva Las Vegas' show celebrates 10th
By Kristen Peterson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
LAS VEGAS SUN
What: "Viva Las Vegas"
When: 2 and 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Where: Stratosphere's Broadway Showroom.
A decade ago when Dick Feeney decided to produce
"Viva Las Vegas," an afternoon variety show then at the Sands, it
was expected to be a bust.
"They gave it 30 days to last because all of the
afternoon shows closed," Feeney said. "I gave it 60 days."
But to the surprise of many, including the cast
(some of whom were using the show as temporary work to make some
extra money), the show continued for a few months, then a year, then
five years, packing the 460-seat Sands Copa Room daily.
Following the implosion of the Sands in 1996, the
show moved to the 711-seat Stratosphere Broadway Showroom.
And on Sunday the small-scale, low-cost
production featuring song, dance and comedy, celebrates its 10th
"Ten years ago they told me this would never
work," said Feeney, seated in a booth in the Broadway Showroom
before a recent performance.
He began "Viva Las Vegas" as a slot promotion to
draw crowds to the Sands.
"The Sands was an older property," he said. "They
needed traffic. So I came up with a way to get traffic in."
Plus, he said, shows in Las Vegas were changing.
Producers were opting for large-scale productions, rather than
smaller, more affordable, intimate shows.
"A Vegas variety show -- it's always worked here,
and nobody was doing it anymore."
Especially in the afternoon.
"The showrooms sit here (empty) all day long," he
So at 2 p.m., when sleepy-eyed dancers open the
blinds to another sunny day, and groggy tourists wake for their
afternoon breakfast, the dancers of "Viva Las Vegas" are already in
their jewels and G-strings, kicking it up. They return to the stage
at 4 p.m. and face another eager crowd.
For some of the performers, the afternoon
schedule frees up the evenings for other interests, Feeney said.
"I pretty much save my evenings for local
theater," Shannon Bradford, the show's manager and a dancer, said.
"Some people go to other shows. Some people go to school. I like to
do community theater."
Feeney said some of the show's dancers are
working part time to pick up extra cash.
"Some are full time. They don't want to work at
night," he said.
"Big John" from Montana, an outspoken gentleman
cattle rancher character who delivers a lengthy comedic monologue,
offstage is actually Bruce Mickelson from New York. He said that
performing comedy is a little easier at night than during the day.
"It's a whole different feeling during the day,"
Mickelson said. "At night ... most people are through with their
cocktails. (They're) in the party mood."
Still, at a recent performance, audience members
seated behind 16-ounce Stratoplaster drinks were more than amused by
Mickelson's aggressive musings on men and women, modern-day society
and the evolution of Las Vegas.
Another comedian, Dave Swan, temporarily joined
the cast of "Viva Las Vegas" when the show began because he had a
leak in his roof and needed some extra cash, Feeney said. He is
still with the show.
The show also features "Golden" Joe Baker, a
not-so-trim, toothless and bald Elvis impersonator whom Feeney first
spotted in 1972 performing in a club in Cape Cod, Mass. (Feeney is
also the owner of the Flying Elvi, a group of sky-divers, each
dressed as Elvis).
Similar to "Golden" Joe, who Feeney swears can
enliven any audience with his outlandish satire of the King, the
show has a following and draws many repeat audience members.
"People come back all the time," Mickelson added.
"Some people have seen it 40 to 60 times. In Vegas, you get two to
three years in a run, you're doing pretty good."