A new show in town is raising the bar on entertainment — literally. The Cocktail Cabaret, which opened at Cleopatra’s Barge inside Caesars Palace on Nov. 30 for an indefinite run, is straight up with a twist on the usual entertainment concoctions seen on the Las Vegas Strip.
Designed to be reminiscent of vintage Vegas, this upbeat, intimate 70-minute musical cabaret-style revue brings together four exciting and talented performers from Las Vegas who herald the cocktail-hour experience as a prelude to dinner, attending the theater, or a fun night on the town filled with live, original music and well-known stylized, reimagined modern standards.
Created and produced by PK Entertainment, a Las Vegas-based entertainment company founded by powerhouse musical team Keith Thompson and Philip Fortenberry, The Cocktail Cabaret is the company’s first production on the Strip.
Renowned composer Thompson has worked on the Las Vegas productions of Jersey Boys, The Producers, Hairspray, and Idaho! The Comedy-Musical and “The Composers Showcase” at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Fortenberry, a critically acclaimed pianist with multiple Broadway credits, is a national headliner who also was the Liberace hand-body double in HBO’s biopic Behind the Candelabra.
“The Cocktail Cabaret is not like The Rat Pack,” explained Thompson, the show’s director and producer. “It is in the style and class of a time when people got dressed up and had some cocktails before they went out for the evening.
“Even young people long for that class and style. We’re carving out a niche for ourselves. This is the only show of its kind on the Strip, and we want it to be more than just a show.”
He added, “The idea for it percolated for about six months before we decided to put it together. There are all these really talented people in Las Vegas who get passed over a lot because there is not a lot of opportunity for them here. Each one of them should be headlining a room, but that is not the climate of Las Vegas at the moment.
“We wanted a small room that offered an intimate experience to celebrate having a cocktail. Cleopatra’s Barge seats 140 (guests), and it is an iconic venue in Las Vegas, which makes it the perfect place for this show.”
The stellar talent performing in The Cocktail Cabaret includes Broadway veterans Niki Scalera (Hairspray, Tarzan, Footloose); Eric Jordan Young (Rock of Ages, Vegas! The Show, Ragtime, Chicago, Seussical the Musical, Look of Love, Dreamgirls); Maren Wade (“America’s Got Talent,” “Confessions of a Showgirl,” Pin Up, 50 Shades! The Parody); and rising multilingual classical-pop crossover vocalist Daniel Emmet, who has commanded stages from the Staples Center in Los Angeles to the Palais Todesco in Vienna.
The four sing a variety of songs, including hits such as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” “That’s Life” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The group also performs a cocktail medley, a tribute to the blues, three original songs written by Thompson and much more. They are joined onstage by a four-piece band led by Fortenberry, whose career has taken him to the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center and even the White House, and he’s also entertained audiences around the country with his own solo shows, The Man at the Piano and The Hands of Liberace, to rave reviews.
“We want to bring each performer’s uniqueness to the forefront,” Thompson said, expressing why these particular performers were chosen. “Eric Jordan Young is the master of ceremonies. He has that Sammy Davis Jr. thing going on, and he’s perfect for this style of show.
“Niki is a very dynamic vocalist, and I have been working with her on her one-woman tribute to the music of Shirley Bassey for the past couple of years; she has performed it at The Smith Center a couple of times.
“Daniel has a special, remarkable voice. Maren is a little more pop and less Broadway. So, there are four distinct vocal styles to listen to, but they complement each other very well. There is no way the audience will be bored. Each voice is special.”
Scalera, who first met Thompson and Fortenberry in 2004 when she was appearing in “We Will Rock You” at Paris Las Vegas, described The Cocktail Cabaret as “almost like a rebirth of the cocktail hour of a classy time, at a reasonable hour.” She noted that all the performers collaborated with Thompson on the songs. Each performer sings three to four solo songs, as well as a couple of duets and group numbers during the revue.
“I love the history of Las Vegas,”Scalera said. “The famed Cleopatra’s Barge lends itself perfectly to that atmosphere. The lighting, the band and the sound are just electric.
“The show possesses the magic of live theater. We ad-lib a lot and play (around) with each other onstage. Audiences can react differently every night, and the show can also be different every night.
“We are singing songs to each other that people know, but communicating with the audience at the same time. That changes the emotion in our performances, as well as the reaction to them.”
Scalera revealed that each performer is in awe of the other performers’ talent, and she feels that, with this show leading the way, there could be a resurgence of cocktail shows and great entertainment in Las Vegas.
“There is a crowd out there that is not being catered to that should be catered to,” she summed up. “Not everyone is 20. I would like to see The Cocktail Cabaret expand and be all that it can be.
“I feel that because of national TV shows like ‘Glee,’ and ‘Smash’ and the TV special productions of Hairspray (“Hairspray Live!”), The Sound of Music (“The Sound of Music Live!”) and Grease (“Grease: Live”), the younger crowd will be interested in this show, too.”