When Rick Faugno took his final bow in Jersey Boys at the Palazzo in October, he left on a veritable high note, having earned rave reviews for his portrayal of the Four Seasons’ falsetto frontman, Frankie Valli. The performer, who jokes that he “became famous in Vegas for singing like a girl,” gave it up to focus on his own classic Vegas lounge-style show, Body & Soul, at the Las Vegas Hilton’s Shimmer Cabaret. And he seemed to be on the top of the world, or at least at the precipice of a new creative life, when Vegas Seven interviewed him in the Nov. 10 issue.
Now, just a few months later, the 33-year-old has taken a hiatus from his show Body & Soul, and it’s unclear whether he will return to the Hilton (now known as LVH). In the meantime, he’s secured a new solo stint in The Lounge at the Palms, and he’s even replacing three of his four band members for the occasion. Faugno took over the Tuesday-night slot that singer Frankie Moreno vacated when he advanced to headlining the Stratosphere.
While ideal for the Sinatra-style show of Faugno’s dreams, the intimate lounge is a big adjustment for a Broadway veteran, literally putting him on the same level as his fans. When interacting with the audience, the song and dance man must maneuver himself amid a sea of tight tables, drunken audience members and slinky cocktail waitresses.
“Anyone who leaves a successful show and says they have no fear is lying to you,” Faugno said after his Jan. 17 opening night. “But it was time to move on, and I wanted to challenge myself with something totally different.”
Different is an understatement. Whether engaged in a Sammy Davis Jr.-style tap-off with drummer/musical director Brian Czach, singing his own bluesy originals or sitting down to massage the piano keys, the hourlong show relies almost solely on Faugno’s performance. It’s impossible to take your eyes off of him as he shows off his King of Pop-inspired moves during a Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson mashup—not just because he’s an amazing dancer, but also because he’s the dancer.
Ultimately, Faugno’s success rests on fans’ willingness to accept a classically trained triple threat reinvented as a lounge performer. He also faces the challenge of attracting a young crowd to a style of show that traditionally attracts an older demographic. The Palms will be a good test for that.
Performing duo Chris Phillips and Marley Taylor of Zowie Bowie know firsthand how tough it can be to go solo. In 2009, the engaged couple split, both personally and professionally, only to later reunite onstage.
“It’s difficult to try something new,” Taylor says. “People get so used to seeing a certain brand being a certain way. It’s like if Coca-Cola were just Coca.”
Phillips greatly respects performers who keep the maverick spirit of the city alive. “I appreciate big-time musicals putting people to work,” Phillips says. “But Vegas is based on guys walking out there with a spotlight and cocktail.”