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Shuffle of legends boosts Tropicana’s entertainment roster

Updated December 7, 2021 - 8:33 am

As long as Frank Marino is onstage, Joan Rivers will live forever.

Same for Michael Jackson, and the tribute show “MJ Live.” And several of the stars in the “Legends in Concert” rotation.

We have multiple news breaks involving these productions and those departed icons, with Tropicana Theater at the center.

First off, “MJ Live” is moving to the Trop on either Jan. 30, or the first week in February, co-producer Dick Feeney reports. The Jackson production, a mix of a music video performance and live concert, has been at The Strat (formerly Stratosphere) since April 2015. But the show was headed for the exits the moment SPI Entertainment took control of The Strat Theater in July.

Ticket sales have not been the issue with “MJ Live,” which is how it found a home on the corner of Tropicana Avenue and the Strip.

“We’re thrilled at how well the show has done over the years,” says Feeney, reaching back a decade when talking of the show’s early days. “We drew great at the Rio, we did incredible business at the Stratosphere, and now we’re going to be surrounded by thousands of hotel rooms.”

Jalles Franca and Santana Jackson will continue to alternate in the Jackson role. The show will continue to instill live music and backing dancers, along with “a few tweaks,” including a closing medley of “Can You Feel It?” and “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground).” The production set for 5:30 p.m. daily (dark Tuesdays) to lead off the Tropicana Theater’s nightly schedule. “Legends” follows at 7:30, then Jason Tenner’s Purple Reign act at 9:30.

This week, the “Legends” show is bracing for NFR business with tributes to Shania Twain, Luke Bryan, Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton.

Frank bows out

Marino is departing the Trop, in this shuffle of shows. But he has no plans to step away from the stage anytime soon. The drag legend, who has played a single legend his entire career, celebrated his sendoff and 58th birthday on Nov. 20.

“Thirty years ago, I was on ‘The Joan Rivers Show,’ and Joan said to me, ‘You make a living impersonating me. God forbid I ever pass,’” Marino said to the audience, peppered with friends and fellow drag performers. “And I thought, ‘If you were to ever pass, I’d have to join ‘Legends In Concert.’”

It came to pass, with Marino continuing in the role long after Rivers’ death in 2014. Reclaiming his Rivers wig from its retirement box, Marino has been the show’s first and only dedicated host.

Marino’s departure ends the pairing of two of the Strip’s longest-running institutions. “Legends” opened at Imperial Palace in 1983. Marino opened as Rivers in “Evening at La Cage” at the Riv in 1986, and has since fronted “Divas Las Vegas” at Linq Hotel and finally “Legends.”

Now Marino plans to dust off the “Divas” brand. Up next is a performance at Italian American Club on Friday night, and his “Holiday Diva-Licious Drag Brunch” is at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday at DW Bistro. Marino then plans to tour “Divas” in January.

Also in 2022, Marino is working on a reality concept with “Menopause the Musical” and Bronx Wanderers producers Alan and Kathi Glist, and a new “Divas”-centered show with the “Legends” team. Longer-term, Marino is teaming with longtime Vegas headliner and corporate-circuit star Jeff Civillico on a public-speaking series.

Marino plans to perform until he’s 62 and then call it, in favor of his non-costumed speaking project.

“That is my dream job,” Marino says. “I just want to sit on a couch, as a boy, and help gay and lesbian youth. Everything I have done, 100-percent, has led to that.”

Tatum to the rescue

“Magic Mike Live” at the Sahara should get a needed box-office boost from Channing Tatum’s final installment of the stage show’s film franchise.

“Magic Mike’s Last Dance” is in development, starring Tatum as iconic groover Mike Lane. Reid Carolin is back as “MML’s” screenwriter, Gregory Jacobs producing, with Stephen Soderbergh directing. The show will premiere on HBO Max, with no release date announced.

Tatum said in a statement, “There are no words for how excited I am to blow the doors off of the world of ‘Magic Mike’ with Steven, Greg, Reid, and the amazing people at HBO Max. The stripperverse will never be the same.”

Also on the tarmac, “Finding Magic Mike” premieres on HBO Max on Dec. 16. That’s the competition/documentary filmed for much of this year at the Sahara.

Cool Hang Alert

Jim Caruso’s Cast Party” is returning to VegasVille at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Myron’s at the Smith Center. Caruso, a stage great and dexterous conversationalist, is back as emcee. Billy Stritch, Liza Minnelli’s music director, joins on piano. This is a turbo-powered, open-mic experience, where over the years such performers as Donny Osmond, Susan Anton, Frankie Moreno, Keith Thompson, Brent Barrett and Ruby Lewis have performed. Tickets are $35-$55, minus fees. Ventriloquist puppets will be admitted free of charge.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.