Kristin Shafel Omiccioli | KCMetropolis.org
Helmed by guest director Anthony Edwards, Heartland Men’s Chorus presented an historical retrospective on the Vegas of yesteryear for its Vegas, Baby program’s first half. Following a bluesy “Route 66,” the group performed hits that naturally conjure the Sunset Strip’s glory days, from gambling (“Luck Be a Lady Tonight”) to the Rat Pack (“Mack the Knife,” “That Old Black Magic”) to Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton (“Danke Schoen”). “This Could Be the Start of Something,” made famous by Steve Allen and sung by HMC soloists Ben Helmers and Rob Hill, brought to mind Vegas as popular quickie wedding destination.
During the first half, Liberace impersonator extraordinaire Martin Preston graced the stage for two numbers, bringing the first taste of glitz and glam of the evening in a lavish, sparkling silver-and-white fur-trimmed coat and suit to match. Preston’s uncanny resemblance to the late entertainer and his finely tuned mannerisms were striking. His playing style was even accurate to Liberace’s, with hand flourishes, flowery musical gestures, and winks to the audience. Complete with candelabra atop the piano lid, Preston performed a George Gershwin medley, “The 12th Street Rag,” and in a nod to Liberace’s home state of Wisconsin, “The Beer Barrel Polka.”
Vegas of today dominated the concert’s second half, highlighting contemporary acts like Celine Dion (“My Heart Will Go On”), Cher (“Do You Believe in Life After Love”), and Elton John (“Sir Elton” medley). Standing in for Cirque du Soleil were two aerial artists from Quixotic. Chelsea Layne astounded in her graceful work with a simple suspended ring for a couple of songs, and B.J. Erdmann displayed breathtaking athleticism using two straps accompanied by Josh Groban’s Cirque du Soleil song “Let Me Fall” sung by HMC solo favorites Todd Kendall Gregory-Downs and Kelly Marzett.
What’s a visit to Vegas without a little magic? HMC invited magicians David Sandy and Lance Rich to cast their spell on the crowd, with such illusory feats as sawing a woman in half, sleight of hand, and Houdini’s infamous Metamorphosis trick. Particularly thrilling and entertaining—thanks in large part to Sandy’s charm and charisma—was their bit in which an audience member laid on a table and was pierced through with spikes, of course without leaving a scratch.
As usual with HMC shows, a number of talented soloists are given the spotlight. Notable solos for Vegas, Baby included an impressive imitation of Elvis Presley by Todd Jordan Green, Tom Lancaster’s swaggering introduction to the Elton John medley, Randy Hite’s deft handling of challenging intervals on “The Boy from Ipanema,” and Mark A. Lechner’s dapper gambler on “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.” Patrick Orlich relished his German-language solo on “Mack the Knife,” and Jeff Williams’s tone was a dead ringer for Wayne Newton’s on “Danke Schoen.”
Production values exceeded all expectations for Vegas, Baby, with creative lighting design, colorful, intricate costuming, and fun choreography. Less successful, however, was HMC subset the HeartAches’ piece, “Miss Otis Regrets,” from Bette Midler’s recent Diva Las Vegas show. While certainly cute and campy with well-blended voices, the overall energy of the evening dipped during this one, and took a bit to recover, suffering through a couple of bungled entrances on the following songs before picking back up for the finale. One of the chorus’s greatest musical moments came during the first half, though, on Edwards’s lovely arrangement of “Love Me Tender” in the Elvis Presley medley, which brought out the clearest harmonies and intonation of the evening.
A talented band of familiar faces in jazz and musical theatre laid the foundation—Sam Wisman on drums, Jeff Harshbarger on bass, Erik Blume on woodwinds, and Daniel Doss on keyboard accompanied HMC regular pianist Lamar Sims. Sims, normally subdued at the piano bench, came forth with surprising humor during his vocal solo on the first half’s final piece, “Pansies Everywhere You Go,” and “Viva Las Vegas” ended the program by pulling out all the stops in a grand spectacle worthy of the Strip—both Quixotic aerialists, drag queen showgirls, HMC’s signature dance troupe, and a vivacious solo by John Edmonds. Board chair Keith Wiedenkeller, with his smooth baritone, gave a tender rendition of “My Way” reminiscent of Ol’ Blue Eyes, in a tribute to HMC’s Ad Astra members (those who have passed away).