Talent Trumps All

Sometimes “old broads” in the entertainment world have a tough time when they face their biggest reality — age is the deal-breaker.
But how these veteran performers work around this overwhelming obstacle speaks to a strong character and a passion that nothing can stand in the way of.
Competing for stage time with the freshest of faces, and the next trendy show as time marches on and weight becomes an issue, is something their male counterparts don’t seem to worry about so much. Yet these hell-bent ladies have to take all of it in stride. They move forward with their conviction that talent is talent no matter what, holding on to their courage and forever believing in their abilities.
That is both a philosophy and way of life for Marianne Phoenix, creator of the “50 Pounds From Stardom” show coming to the Avi Resort & Casino on Saturday, Jan. 11 (1 p.m.).
Instead of crying about things a person can’t change, Phoenix and her co-star and niece, Yvette Karr have fun with it, laugh about it and sing songs about it in a musical show filled with parodies, stories and comedic situations everyone can relate to.
“This show is the story of my life,” Phoenix told the Laughlin entertainer. “I’ve been in show business 50 years. This show began four years ago when I was contemplating how long I’d been in show business and the obstacles that have been part of it as a woman in show business.
“I don’t think I’m unattractive, but I’m not Beyonce,” she laughed. “This show was a way to continue in show business as a woman with the following against me — age, weight and being female. So that’s what the premise and the dream of this show is — being able to make people laugh, being able to entertain them with great vocals while at the same time empowering women of all faiths, ages and sizes. Just doing this show for four years has been an extreme challenge in the show biz arena, but audiences absolutely love it.”
The fact that the show is delivered by two powerhouse vocal performers without special effects and unnecessary elements is both their strong suit and yet keeps them from moving up.
“Las Vegas no longer embraces raw talent,” Phoenix said. “If shows are not over-produced with so many layered and pre-recorded vocals where the singer is singing with himself — and with all the other shows, like Cirque and superstar headliners — the difference in ’50 Pounds From Stardom’ is that our vocals are raw with absolutely no special effects.
“And as crazy as this may sound, that’s also what’s holding us back from stardom, but it’s true,” she added.
But Phoenix has learned to work around every obstacle in her path and when an opportunity arises, she’s there to grasp it with both hands. She delivers the message of triumph over adversity in her show coming to Laughlin.
“Although I’ve never performed in Laughlin — it just wasn’t in the cards, I guess — but I’ve never been more excited than I am about performing at the Avi,” she said.
“My show was booked at the Avi because of one man, Larry Taylor, who heard my niece and I sing. His exact words were, ‘I’ve never heard such fabulous raw talent’ and he booked us on that alone, because of that one song he hears us sing in someone else’s show.
“I think it’s really important to say that no one in show business has believed in us more than Larry Taylor and our comedy advisors Paula Roth and Mark O’Toole. Mark performs a Barry Manilow tribute in shows around Vegas, and Paula is a retired sit-com comedy writer for ‘Happy Days,’ ‘Laverne & Shirley,’ ‘Perfect Strangers,’ and ‘Love Boat.’ Those three people believed in the ’50 Pounds From Stardom’ concept, delivery and talent 100 percent, and then some.
“My musical director is Whitney Phoenix, my husband, and he’s been the featured pianist at the Bellagio and he’s in his 22nd year there. When you pass by the piano in the front, that’s where my husband plays. When you’ve had the same gig for that long, you’ve gotta be good.”
The show is also unique in the material these ladies choose to sing and make fun of.
“The most important aspect of the show is literally our song selections and the hardest part is choosing the material because you want the songs to be relatable to everyone in the audience,” Phoenix said. “My demographic is ages 40 to 100 male and female, and that’s not a dramatization.
“About a third of our song selections are parodies and I wrote them with my past and present co-star, Yvette,” she added. “The songs are strongly parodied and very comical, and they pertain to age, weight and being female. People are laughing and maybe crying, too.”
All the songs have to be audience approved.
“We’re constantly changing the material because there’s only one way to find out if a song will work, and that is to do it,” Phoenix explained. “The songs have to be recognizable, whether parodies or not, and the challenge and the trick is to intertwine songs we choose with the dialogue, keeping the theme of the show in tact from beginning to end.
“Yvette and I each take the opportunity to spotlight one song which is our individual favorite,” she said. “Another aspect of the show is about my show business life and the story of how things came about, my interaction with celebrities and superstars and how our paths cross and the disappointments. But when performing is in your blood, you keep going until you don’t.
“As it turns out, audiences enjoy the ride — because you can’t make this stuff up,” she laughed. “The most constant change in the show’s conception comes by trial and error, and replacing songs. That’s how you learn they didn’t fit. You don’t ever want anybody to feel disconnected. You want to keep them engaged the entire time.
“As easy as it looks, it isn’t,” she added. “When we’re on stage and we can keep a room of a few hundred people engaged in what we’re doing for an hour and 20 minutes, I think I’m allowed to pat myself on the back.”
Phoenix is the first to admit, she doesn’t do any of it alone. Her niece Yvette brings a lot to the musical table.
“She brings enormous talent,” Phoenix said. “She’s funny and definitely my blood, and she can sing like you read about — some people would say she can sing the phonebook.”
Karr has a strong background performing in musicals, jazz bands, contemporary Christian rock, and an 11-year run in the rock band, Pipe Dream.
In addition to musical director and pianist, Whitney Phoenix, performing with the ladies, the Avi show will also include a horn section.
“All I want to impart is I’m very excited to put Laughlin on our resume and we’re really looking forward to it,” she said.
“I’ve never sung better. I’m like wine that gets better with age, except my cork popped out. “I’m also writing a book about my career, and turning all my stories into comedy and having people laugh might let other people in your shoes laugh as well.
“We have family and fans from the East Coast, the West Coast and Canada all coming to this show, so we know at least half the audience loves us.”
For more information, visit 50PoundsFromStardom.com.


Grand Ballroom at the Avi

Saturday, Jan. 11 (1 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info