Strat-isfaction: Frankie Moreno Remains a Talented Over-Doer

Photo by John Knopf

Photo by John Knopf

Call it the Frankie Moreno Wallop: supersonic showmanship with enough G-force behind it to hurl you through the back wall of the Stratosphere Theater and down the side of the hotel in an uncontrolled vertical dive.

You feel dazzled and breathless. Also dazed and assaulted. After 500 shows, the vibrant singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist remains the Vegas headliner Most Likely to Leave Your Eyes Spinning Counterclockwise.

Marking the milestone with an amped-up revamp to the show that debuted at the Stratosphere in November 2011, Moreno has jacked it up into even more of a commotion in perpetual motion, some of the freneticism due to choreography by Lacey Schwimmer of Dancing With the Stars.

Working with four new musicians slotted into the nine-member backup band, she’s got them leaping into the dance fray. Guys wail on horns, gals furiously bow on string instruments and they all bust some synchronized moves at the lip of the stage while flanking Moreno—who’s a happy-feet frenzy all by his lonesome and hardly needs the assist—as he treats his microphone stand like a supple dance partner, whipping and snapping it across the stage.

Imagine giant bobblehead dolls gone mad.

Ratcheting up the TA-DA!-ism without enough of the restorative effect of quieter moments, Moreno has tossed in new originals—“Biggest Fan,” “Somebody,” “Baby Don’t”—penned with his brothers, Tony and Ricky. (Two tunes were composed, individually, for Christina Aguilera and Ray Charles, neither of whom recorded them.)

High-octane elements remain: bright-light flashes that streak through songs, punctuating exploding chord bursts; mischievous piano antics, as when he quotes “Rhapsody in Blue” during “Eleanor Rigby” and goes all boogie-woogie on “Jailhouse Rock”; exhorting the audience to trade lusty vocal riffs with him; duck-walking across the stage with band members; joining his drummer for a throbbing two-man solo; and attacking a harmonica as if he’s about to swallow it whole.

Plus, his Jerry Lee Lewis-like calisthenics up on the keyboards would put dollar signs in the eyes of any chiropractor, as he morphs into a back-bending, crazy-legged, swivel-hipped, wriggle-assed, pelvis-grinding demon.

As a way-back throwback, he’s nearly Al Jolson-esque with that ravenous “ya-ain’t-seen-nothin’-yet!” compulsion to be a puddle onstage before they mop him up. Modulation and tonal shifts weren’t said to be Jolson’s trademarks. Neither are they Moreno’s, at least not yet.

Amid all the fire and fury, there is the nagging undertone that Moreno doesn’t just want to entertain us, he wants to convince us he’s an entertainer—needlessly so. Though an electric talent, he can come off as the too-personable stranger at a party who’s so gregarious—mixed with desperation to be liked—that he backs you off.

In his original “Angel Town,” Moreno sings: Everybody wants to be a star. He really wants it. We get it.

Even after this tuneup, Moreno’s production still must make a transition that hopefully will come with the seasoning and mellowing that time confers—a show that’s less about having something to prove and more about having something to share.

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