Channeling Liberace

Sun, Aug 19, 2007 (1:16 a.m.)

F rankie Richko waits in the wings of The Liberace Museum with classically trained pianists such as Bryant Olerner, center, and Maria Pisarenko, to compete in the showmanship division of the Liberace Piano Competition last Sunday.

"Never in a million years would I think of dressing like this, never," Richko said. "Usually I wear a nice suit and I look pretty good. This is different, but if this is what it takes to work in Vegas , then I'm ready for it."

Richko, 61, returned to playing piano about five years ago. He'd studied piano as a child but switched to bass and played in bands in Cleveland for almost 40 years. He recently moved to Las Vegas to be closer to family, and his sister and nephews encouraged him to dress up like Liberace and put on a show. He went to buy a fancy tuxedo jacket early this month and the salesman told him about the competition.

So, he checked out a tape of a 1980 Liberace performance and tried to get his piano style down.

"For seven days I was watching it and getting the rest of my costume together. I came up with a couple of tunes to play at the competition tonight. I hope they went over well , but this is only a seven-day trial and I don't know where it stands right now.

"I was very nervous . This was the first competition I've ever really entered, really ever, on piano."

Richko didn't make the finals. He lost out in the professional showmanship category to Jon England of Wilmington, N.C.; Hector Montes de Oca Ruiz of Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico; Olerner , of Vancouver, British Columbia; and Barry Tognolini, an Australian from Decatur, Ga.

But Richko wasn't deterred.

"I didn't practice," he said. "I was really concerned with the looks and watching the Liberace style and I did make some boo-boos there ... but I cover things up pretty good but I can just imagine what I would do if I really took it seriously. I think the next competition I'm gonna come well prepared.

"There are some places out here I really would like to play and am just looking to see what I can do on piano. What better city to try something crazy like this than Vegas ? Its probably been done a thousand times before and I'm going to give it a shot."

A free competitors showcase will be presented at noon Sept. 9 at the Liberace Museum, 1775 E. Tropicana Ave. The Liberace Piano Competition finals will be held at 1 p.m. Sept. 16 at Community Lutheran Church, 3720 E. Tropicana Ave. Admission is $10, $5 for children 12 and younger. It benefits the Liberace Foundation Scholarship Fund, the Liberace Adopt the Collection Fund and Family Promise. Tickets are available at the museum store and at 798-5595.


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