Thursday, February 28, 2008

This week's Weekly column...

February 28, 2008

The Strip Sense: The Return of Tina Walsh
A long, perilous road back to stardom for the Strip veteran

By Steve Friess

My first significant exposure to the Vegas entertainment scene came at opening night of Mamma Mia! at the Mandalay Bay back in the winter of 2003. I knew I had a lot to learn when a spontaneous standing ovation greeted the initial stage appearance of this one particular blond actress, to my utter bafflement. The audience, made up entirely of local media and Vegas insiders, cheered for this woman as though she were the Strip’s equivalent to Sarah Brightman.

I also was not terribly well-schooled in the fine art of ABBA at that point, but I had seen the show in New York a month earlier in advance of a Newsweek item I wrote on whether this Broadway-to-Vegas thing would work. It seemed like a fun, hardly memorable show.

In the hands of this woman who had been regaled, however, it was elevated to an astonishing experience. When she belted out “The Winner Takes It All,” I was smitten. Who, I asked after the show, was that woman?

That, I learned, was the legendary, the delightful Tina Walsh, and my analogy to Sarah Brightman was hardly a stretch. Walsh had one of those uniquely Vegas stories, having come to Nevada as a teenager from Dallas as a showgirl in Jubilee! more than 20 years ago and then having gone on to co-star with Michael Crawford, Tommy Tune and Rick Springfield in the MGM Grand spectacular EFX.

And now, the woman who came to Vegas to get to Broadway had found Broadway had come to her in Vegas. She was the go-to home-grown triple threat, a woman who could sing, dance and act.

What happened next, though, reflects an important unnoticed side of the Broadway tidal wave that crashed ashore here and is now receding. After Mamma Mia! proved itself a hit and other productions announced their Strip plans, the New York-based casting directors largely stopped taking Vegas performers seriously.

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