Phanning the flames of showmanship at the Plaza

unknown-1.jpgFabulous beyond words—though those that follow will have to do.

Thrice-weekly (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays) in the modest Plaza Showroom now dwells The Phat Pack, the standard-setter for Vegas variety entertainment, throwback division. Featuring a tag team of talents, they couldn’t put more ya-ain’t-seen-nuttin-yet verve into pleasing audiences if they were all Al Jolson reborn.

Even with a cast substitution at last week’s soft-opening night, this old-time/good-time feast of standards, show tunes, clever originals, impish humor and enough showman’s electricity to power all the neon on Fremont Street hums with joy.

Comprised of Bruce Ewing, Randal Keith and Ted Keegan, the trio having met as cast members of now-closed Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular, the pack is beautifully assisted by Debbie Reynolds’ longtime musical director, Joey Singer. Missing this night’s show because of his dad’s death, Keegan was replaced by super-stand-in Benjamin Hale, who will co-star as Johnny Cash in Harrah’s upcoming Million Dollar Quartet—and hopefully can make return appearances. Crackling musical-theater firepower here: Ewing was a veteran star of Forever Plaid, while Keith essayed Jean Valjean in Broadway’s Les Misérables and Keegan’s invested a dozen years portraying the Phantom in New York and on tour.

Having honed it in community venues—its name a split salute to Phantom “phans” and the Rat Pack—they’ve delivered an intimate dazzler to the Plaza that will knock out older patrons and, if there’s justice, rope in, and clue in, the young’uns.

Tuxedo-clad, but with undone ties fostering a casual vibe befitting the cozy room, they’re more charming musical raconteurs than mere singers. Together, they create skin-tingling harmonies. Separately, they lead us on journeys through their offstage lives and onstage loves, punctuated by music and photos. As much as you can initiate friendships with performers over 75 minutes, you can here.

Highlights: Keith’s rich, power baritone on 1776’s “Is Anybody There,” the passion freedom cry of the John Adams character, and Les Miserables’ achingly gorgeous, “Bring Him Home”; Ewing’s sentimental “I’ll Be Seeing You,” sung to a photo of his late dad, and his galloping “It’s All Right With Me” set to Singer’s furious bass-plucking; Hale, previewing his Cash on a growling “Folsom Prison Blues”; and refreshingly offbeat selections including “Pretty Lady” from Pacific Overtures, The Beatles’ “I Will,” the self-deprecating “Men of a Certain Age” and the puckish, “I’d Rather Be Nine People’s Favorite Thing Than a Hundred People’s Ninth Favorite Thing.” Plus more, sprinting by at a brisk clip in a damn-happy-to-be-here atmosphere.

While the word “retro” is often soaked in camp and irony, The Phat Pack embraces it with winning sincerity, a reminder of why, when executed this skillfully, yesterday’s let’s-give-’em-a-show! ethos should survive for endless tomorrows.

STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Chatting up cast members and director Kristin Hanggi of the about-to-open, ’80s-crazed Rock of Ages at the Venetian revealed they were unaware of their modest, but musically similar competition, Planet Hollywood’s LegWarmers: An 80s Musical. Several vowed to take in the show. Not to ignite a feud, but hey, LegWarmers cast, they’re probably out there in the crowd, so hit ’em with your best shot. Starting Dec. 18, they hit back.

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