Singer Frankie Moreno celebrates 500 energetic performances at Stratosphere
Frankie Moreno prefers his career to grow organically, with events unfolding and people entering and exiting in a most natural fashion. His world is like a large garden, where he is forever planting, watering and pruning.
As he enters his 500th show at the Stratosphere, to be marked on June 12, Moreno is tending to a garden that looks unalike the one planted at the hotel when he opened in November 2011. There have been shake-ups, both metaphorically and in fact, as the show exhibits the bounding choreography and influence of Lacey Schwimmer, late of Dancing With the Stars and partner and confidante of Moreno’s for the past two years.
Schwimmer has been spending much of her time in L.A. over the past two months, but has been busy directing the musicians onstage and has danced periodically in the show, including during the great Moreno ballad “Some Kind of Love,” and, later, “Diva.” The latter is a horn-fueled rocker that evokes the spirit of Motown and is spiced by Schwimmer’s dancing across the piano and video clips of artists James Brown, Ann-Margret and Elvis groovin’ it up during the peaks of their careers.
As always, Moreno and his brothers Tony and Ricky are busy writing new material, to record and for the stage show. “Diva” is a highlight among a collection of new songs to be rolled out at the June 12 relaunch. “Biggest Fan,” “45,” “Baby Don’t” and “Somebody” are the others, as Moreno continues his productivity as a proficient songwriter. The only full-length covers in the show are “Eleanor Rigby” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
“We have always played originals. We’ve pushed that from the beginning,” Moreno says. “Even when it meant that I got fired from gigs. In those days, we were the only lounge acts performing originals.” Moreno’s growth has not been without hard decisions, and if there has been a change in his approach to his career over the past four years it is that he has become willing to brandish the clippers. He cut loose three highly popular and enormously capable performers over oft-lethal business and artistic differences.
Asked if the band is any better, musically, than when he was working with his original lineup that opened the Stratosphere, Moreno flatly says, “Musically? No. They were A-players, and you don’t get any higher than an A-player. But the energy we produce, the way we interact with each other, the vibe from the band and the whole product is better than it was.”
In an ironic twist, the band shake-up was largely the result of a dispute over an off-schedule show at the Stratosphere to pitch to PBS for a broadcast during the public-TV channel’s pledge drive this year. That show tested in the Sacramento-area market on May 31. If it resonates with viewers, and PBS officials are thrilled with what Moreno and the band delivered that night and the post-performance engineering of studio whiz Pat Thrall, the performance will air in its entirety across the country. That would happen in August, and it is a significant opportunity for Moreno to advance his career.
Moreno has lived in Las Vegas for 14 years, and has made the city his creative base during that time. He says it is time to reach beyond his performances at the Stratosphere and develop a national following.
“How do you gain exposure outside of Las Vegas? By performing outside of Las Vegas,” he says. “We have played in Miami, Mexico, Washington, D.C., just this year, and we need to be on tour more this year. I think the PBS special could change things, no question.” It’s called planting the seeds, and for Moreno, it is a crucial process. The harvest? That comes later.
Stratosphere, 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat., $39.99-$49.99 VIP plus tax and fee, ages 13-18 require accompanying parent or adult guardian. 702.380.7777