Thursday, January 1, 2009

What Happened in Vegas...

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I am headed to New York City in about a week-and-a-half with my former college girlfriend, Miss Carla (whom I haven't seen in decades!) and a group of faculty and theatre students from Baker University in Kansas City. It will be my first trip to the Big Apple, and I am very excited about getting to renew an old friendship and to get to see all of the sights - especially Broadway!

We are scheduled to see three musicals and have opportunities to schedule other nights at the theatre as well. One of the three that we will be seeing is Jersey Boys, a history of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. That upcoming treat has gotten me to remembering my own personal history with the Four Seasons. It happened in Vegas...

In the early and mid-1990's I was selling real estate, doing Child Protection for the state of Missouri, and dating Miss Susan, a young and vivacious kindergarten teacher. Because of her work schedule and my poor-paying jobs, we were limited in our travels to cheap vacations in the summers. We did New Orleans once (which was a blast!) and Las Vegas twice.

Las Vegas in August is comparable only to Phoenix in August or perhaps the waiting room of Hell on an especially busy day! It's no place for the feint-of-heart. Vegas is somewhat more tolerable than the other two in that it is possible to walk through many air-conditioned casinos on the strip without ever venturing outside. On those occasions when we were forced to go outside for any reason, the heat was unbelievably brutal.

(Anywhere there were trees the shady ground was covered with homeless people who were, in turn, covered in newspapers to protect them from the blistering sun when it broke through the patchy shade. I also remember little birds diving into the swimming pools treating them as if they were elegant birdbaths.)

During our first visit to this desert oasis we stayed at the Palace Station Hotel which was off of the strip and therefore cheaper than the bigger name hotels. The Palace Station recently became somewhat famous for being the scene of an armed robbery committed by O.J. Simpson and some of his buddies. We saw a few of the bargain shows that were advertised on our flight out and with coupons scattered around town. One was an excellent Polynesian review that came with a really good meal. We also took in a drag queen show and saw the famous dancers at the Tropicana. It was during our second visit that we decided to splurge and see a big name production.

The show that we selected was at the Desert Inn (whose famous penthouse had been the home of Howard Hughes during several of his recluse years). We were able to score tickets to the opening night of a combo production that featured Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons followed by a performance of Gladys Knight (sans the Pips). If memory serves, we paid an astounding $35.00 for the pair of tickets!

There is (or was at that time) an added surcharge to the price of the tickets, depending on whether you wanted to be able to see the stage or not. Someone explained to me while we were in line to be seated, that quality of seating depended on the size of the tip that you gave to usher when you presented him with your tickets. We were able to land in decent seats with a good view for a ten dollar gratuity, though there were many better seats right down in front of the stage that undoubtedly went to the high rollers and really big tippers.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (the original Jersey Boys) were just beginning a reunion tour after a hiatus of several years, so there was a lot of excitement surrounding their opening night at the Desert Inn. They went through most of their song catalogue in a couple of hours on stage. The audience had grown up with their music, and most were unabashedly singing along with every number. At one point I remember Valli pointing his microphone toward that audience and saying, "Ah, hell. You know the words, you sing it." And we did!

A highlight of their show came when Frankie announced that there were some celebrities in the audience. First he introduced Levi Stubbs and one other member of the Four Tops (I can't remember which one) who were sitting down front at the expensive tables. And then he introduced Frankie Avalon. The lights panned the area by the stage, but he wasn't there. Then they swung back in our area and revealed Annette Funicello's former beach bunny honey sitting two tables behind us. He stood and waved to the screaming crowd, and then sat back down and resumed his conversation with his pretty, and very young, date. My pretty, and very young, date watched them for the remainder of the show. When the Four Seasons ended their portion of the evening, Mr. Avalon and his date exited the club.

That was my last trip to Vegas, but I am close enough that I may drive up there one day and see how much things have changed. I wonder if I can still get a pair of tickets to a really good show for thirty-five dollars?

And Miss Carla, don't be too shocked when I start singing along with the Jersey Boys!

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