Early this week, Clint Holmes made the off-handed remark, “Everyone’s shows are closing while mine is opening.”
That was a factual statement, mixed maybe with a small measure of concern. The very recent trend in Las Vegas is that productions featuring great live singing and musicianship are closing. Just this weekend “Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers” and “Raiding the Rock Vault” announced their formal closing dates.
Reaching back a bit further: A week ago Tuesday it was Matt Goss announcing his show was departing Gossy Room at Caesars Palace, and before that the Frankie Moreno “Under the Influence” adventure was clipped at Planet Hollywood after a five-week run.
So, the charge for Holmes is simple, yet daunting: Help stem this tide.
With “Between the Lines,” Holmes has a shot. The show at the expertly renovated Palazzo Theater celebrated its premiere Wednesday night, in its third full performance at the hotel. Pinning the hopes of live entertainment in Las Vegas entirely on Holmes is unrealistic, of course. Nonetheless, the 90-minute foray into Holmes’ musical underpinnings reminds that a top performer is worth the time and — yes — $42.65 ticket investment (fees not included) for a rewarding experience on the Strip.
Already, one concern surrounding the show — its start time — has been addressed. The 10 p.m. start time, late for Holmes’ local following and not an ideal slot for tourists, is being pushed up to 9:30 p.m. Expect that move ASAP, within a couple of weeks, as the theater’s co-tenant, “Baz: Star Crossed Love” will move to 7 p.m. as a result.
The move is important for this extensively planned and thoughtfully conceived show produced by Ken Henderson’s Best Agency in a partnership with the hotel, led by Venetian/Palazzo President and Chief Operating Officer George Markantonis.
What works in the production is what is supposed to work, starting with Holmes himself. I’ve long said that whenever he walks into a room or takes the stage, you understand that the integrity has arrived. This is a mature, polished entertainer who has plied his craft for at least 45 years. He’s like some sort of age-defying fictional character, sounding as good as ever at age 40 and continuing to produce creatively vigorous live performances. The quality is further reflected in his adventurous new CD, “Rendezvous,” available expressly in the Palazzo Theater gift shop until its widespread fall release.
Holmes explains that “Between the Lines” is the show’s title because he digs into the meaning to be unearthed in the sentences written by famous songwriters. “Stop this Train,” from John Mayer, recalls that artist’s comment at age 25 that the song was his “quarter-life crisis.” The song was suggested by Holmes own daughter, Brittany. He cuts in to “Just the Way You Are,” twice over, the two songs of that title written by Billy Joel and Bruno Mars. The opener is “Imagine,” the Lennon masterpiece, followed by Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” and then spills in an unlikely way into Holmes’ own 1974 blockbuster, the No. 2 hit “Playground In My Mind.” Thankfully, the original novelty-leaning arrangement is given a more fluid and grown-up treatment by Holmes’ multi-instrumentalist music director, Christian Tamburr.
Here, Holmes delves into the familiar, recalling the period when he would not sing the song in the show for fear of being tagged as a one-hit wonder. Then, he reasoned, “I might have only one hit, but that’s one more than you have.” He again summons his uniquely appealing biography, recalling his opera-singing mother Audrey, and jazz-vocalist dad, Ed, telling the audience, “My mother was a white British opera singer. My dad was a black American jazz singer. Which makes me ... Mexican, I guess.” Over the years, that punch line has changed — from “Puerto Rican” to “confused,” but it is an effective reminder of Holmes’ multi-ethnic heritage.
Layering more personal history, Holmes leads into the original, “At the Feet of Belafonte” with the story of watching the King of Calypso on “The Ed Sullivan Show” — the exact date of March 29, 1964 recited — on a black-and-white TV. This event served as Holmes’ escape from Farnham, N.Y., the 500-population suburb of Buffalo. He advances the story with the night he sang “At the Feet of Belafonte” for the man himself during a performance in New York. When Belafonte called back, “Day-Oh!” Holmes said, “OK, I can go home now.”
Unexpectedly, Holmes’ dips into what he refers to as his “first love” song, or the song of the moment when he first fell in love. This curve ball is The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.” (Having known Holmes for a time now, I was not aware of the importance of this particular song, which should lead to some interesting investigation). The song’s tempo is not quite as insistent as the original, but it is a moment when the backing band burns and Holmes allows himself to cut loose. There could be more of these rollicking moments, frankly, as the show leans on measured tempos and softer atmospheric moments.
Up until the full-scale dance-a-thon at the end, at least, when Holmes sends the crowd out in a veritable conga line with Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”
Musicians and musical highlights abound in this show, but at the lead is Holmes’ inspired choice for his female vocalist in Noybel Gorgoy, the Cuban-born artist who burns through “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and teams with Holmes on another great Tamburr arrangement of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” The number hints to a Latin flair and is an example of Holmes’ desire to deliver an enlarged worldview to this show.
Around the horn, Holmes is backed by a band of highly experience, proficient players: Rocco Barbato on sax, Jamie Hosmer on guitar and keys, David Ostrem on bass, Pablo Gadda on lead guitar and Jakubu Griffin on drums.
As is the case in production shows on the Strip, crucial to the show’s viability is convincing tourists to buy into a show performed by someone they might not have heard of but is well worth the effort. They'll find that Clint Holmes is having the time of his life, and if you give him a chance, you’ll have the time of yours, too.