“A big theatrical production is what Frankie Moreno deserves.”
Nearly every period in modern music reaches a peak…then suffers from a backlash. Disco, boy bands, hair metal, Bieber Fever…they all eventually become punchlines–until reunion shows bring things full circle. With any luck, even today’s zoned-out lip-syncers and “press-play” celebrity DJs will drop away from Vegas marquees (for some of us, that won’t be soon enough). And if we’re REALLY fortunate, classic Vegas entertainment will return to the forefront.
Perhaps we’re already seeing signs of a pendulum swing. Wayne Newton and Lionel Ritchie are back on stage. Fresh-faced performers like Human Nature are bringing audiences to their feet with authentic song-and-dance. Then there’s Frankie Moreno, that dashingly-handsome singer/songwriter who just launched his newest residency at Planet Hollywood.
If Frankie his way, “Under The Influence” will finally make him a household name. The Star Search alumnus, for whatever reason, tends to suffer from what I call “Danny Gans Syndrome.” That is…famous in Vegas and hardly anywhere else. Lots of smaller-scale headliners are in the same boat. If it wasn’t for TV programs like America’s Got Talent and Pawn Stars, some Sin City entertainers might never be seen by the outside world.
That doesn’t mean that Moreno and his ilk are any less talented than the top draws. On the contrary…they work harder to entertain their audiences (wake up, Mariah…are you listening?). Frankie himself has been paying his Vegas dues for many years, working his way up from a Golden Nugget lounge act to the Stratosphere Showroom and eventually Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center. A big theatrical production is what this guy deserves, so the modern and sizeable Planet Hollywood Showroom should please Moreno…and his fans.
There are those who might joke that “Under The Influence” is a nod to Frankie’s affection for alcohol (he regularly solicits cocktails from the front rows and markets his own brand of vodka). But the title is an acknowledgment of the artists who inspired Moreno to write and perform his own material.
Original selections that Frankie weaves through standards of various eras have their own sense of familiarity, much like longtime friends. It’s pretty daring for a relatively young headliner to open his biggest production yet with one of his own songs (“I Gotta Have It”), yet the obvious nod to James Brown packs quite a wallop.
Another way that Moreno harkens back to “happy days” is by recreating a drive-in theater onstage for the romantic “Moonlight Matinee“. If you caught my recent review of Human Nature: Jukebox, you know that the Aussies do something similar in their own production at Venetian. Frankie’s version not only provides a mock-up of an outdoor movie set but an actual automobile with a keyboard in the trunk. (On a side note, Las Vegas has the thriving six-screen West Wind drive-in theater, open year-round, just a few minutes northwest of Fremont Street).
High-kicking former Dancing With The Stars pro Lacey Schwimmer shares her curves with a blazing Cobra for another Moreno original entitled “Diva” during the retro-themed segment. She also choreographed all the moves for Moreno and his superlative band, which gets a workout among moving risers, rising-and-lowering video panels, and frequently-changing sets.
It’s easy to imagine Moreno and Schwimmer coming up with this well-suited collaboration when Moreno guest-performed on the ballroom competition series a few years back. Check out the YouTube clip above.
Under The Influence shifts gears several times throughout the fast-moving evening. One memorable acoustic sequence assembles the cast on stools in front of a wall of guitars. The Beatles get a gorgeous tribute via “Eleanor Rigby”, and Sinatra, Michael Jackson and Elvis all receive the “Frankie Moreno treatment”.
In addition to lead vocals, Moreno displays amazing skills with a harmonica, guitar and mandolin. He brings the show to a close…and the audience to their feet…with his signature backward/upside-down keyboard artistry on a piano that rotates and pivots. It really has to be seen…and heard…to be believed.
Under The Influence promises a regular inclusion of surprise performers and guest stars. Actor/singer James Maslow of Big Time Rush will be joining the show May 20-22 to debut his own solo material. But Frankie is the real star here, as his two-time “Headliner Of The Year” title will testify to.
It’s terrific to see the resurgence of traditional Vegas headliner shows. Much like vinyl records and those outdoor movie houses, they’re a welcome return…and a terrific night out in Vegas.
Everything old is indeed new again. Thanks, Frankie.
Frankie Moreno: Under The Influence performs Tuesday through Sunday at 9 pm at the Planet Hollywood Showroom, located on the mezzanine level above the casino. Tickets start at $42 (plus taxes and fees) and can be ordered by following this link. We also found this offer to save up to 35% on select categories courtesy of Travelzoo.com.