For years on the Las Vegas Strip, audiences have delighted in the recreations of the singing talents of some of the world’s greatest stars by tribute artists in Legends in Concert. But now the show is singing the praises of a new and very different vocal addition to its lineup – Can we talk?
Yes, Frank Marino, who is known as the longest running headliner on the Strip, having starred for 25 consecutive years in “La Cage” and then in ‘Divas Las Vegas,” is joining the longest running show on the Strip as Special Guest Star M.C. for 10 weeks with his renowned Joan Rivers persona. And here’s the 411 – even though he will be back at a not-as-yet released location doing his own show in February 2020, if you want to see his Joan Rivers character, complete with new costumes (two by Bob Macke) and wisecracks, the only place you will be able to see it will be in Legends in Concert, which is appearing at the Tropicana. His new show will boast his new totally over-the-top Femme Fatale character.
“I toured all year --Europe, Asia, and other places -- sometimes by myself and sometimes with my cast,” Marino says. “So, in my opening monologue, I’ve taken out some of my personal Joan Rivers jokes and I talk about my experiences on the road. The opportunity to be in this show came about because I recently had some down time and Mark Mercer, Corporate Director, Marketing, of Legends in Concert, and I have been friends for 15 years. For a long time, the show had wanted a Drag Queen host. When I walked out on stage for the first time, on September 11th, I got a standing ovation. I did the show and the reaction was all positive. It made me feel like I was back at home.”
“Ironically, it was 27 years ago that I was on The Joan Rivers Show when Joan said to me, ‘You impersonate me as a living artist; what would you do if I passed away?’ he continues.” I answered, ‘God forbid, but if that happened, I’d have to join Legends in Concert.’”
Marino and Rivers grew to be good friends but, initially, that wasn’t the case. He was performing in “La Cage” as Rivers and did a TV special with Milton Berle, who wrote all original jokes for it, including for Marino’s Joan Rivers character. But Rivers didn’t want Marino to use any of her material in “La Cage” even though he was impersonating her.
“Her big joke topics at that time were Liz Taylor and the Queen of England,” Marino recalls. “And I used a couple of her jokes in my show. One was, ‘Prince Charles is gay. He can’t wait for his mother to die so he can become queen.’ Another was ‘Elizabeth Taylor has gotten so fat that when I asked her what she wanted on her hamburger; she said a hot dog.’ Joan sued me for $5 million because I got too close to home.”
“Thank goodness, we settled because I was $80 short,” he quips.
Marino notes that Rivers came in once to see “La Cage,” which was at the Rivera, but her lawyers came in many times after that. At that time, Meshulam Riklis owned the Riviera and his wife, Pia Zadora, was opening for Joan at Caesars. Riklis would take Marino backstage and walk him over to Rivers and chide, “Do you remember Joan?” The upshot was that, as mentioned , Marino and Rivers became friends and he appeared on all her TV shows. And right before she passed, Marino appeared on her show “Fashion Police.”
After having his own show, “Divas Las Vegas,” and being his own boss for 10 years, Marino admits that performing in Legends in Concert feels like his first day at school, becoming acquainted with new classmates and finding out the teacher’s rules.
“I am a very good employee,” he reveals. “In any show, whoever is paying for the party should have things go their way. Creative artists should express their opinion but, ultimately, the man spending the Dinero– and I don’t mean Robert --should have the final say.”
Marino, who has six costume changes in the show says it takes him an hour to get ready as Rivers and an hour and a half to take all the makeup, putty, and wax off. But as opposed to having only three minutes in between changes in his “Divas” show, he now has about 12 minutes to get into his next costume.
“I can change, vacuum, fix my makeup, write a novel, and still have 30 seconds to spare,” he jests. “It’s a very relaxing experience. And the staff is amazing – everyone is on top of things. They know their jobs and do them well. And it’s wonderful to be at the Tropicana, one of the original Las Vegas casino hotels, This show has the legends, the dancers, the showgirls, a live band – everything Las Vegas was known for. The whole world isn’t millennials. We can’t forget about the other people.”
“I am very happy to be back in Vegas,” he sums up. “In a way, I feel like Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I realized that all I needed to do was click my heels because the magic to be back here was inside me all the time. I thank Mark Mercer and the cast of “Legends in Concert” – the tribute artists portraying Pat Benatar, Freddie Mercury, Lady Gaga, and Elvis Presley -- for letting me come and play in their sandbox.”
Marino’s new show will open in February 2020 in tandem with the release of his book “From Drags to Riches.”