A storage room here at the Las Vegas Review-Journal is full of yellowed clippings from the pre-Internet era. It’s rare to dig into them for anything but obituaries, and even more unlikely to find Suzanne Somers back as a Las Vegas regular for the first time since, well, the Internet.
But here she is, singing “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “I’ve Got the World on a String” at the Westgate. And we could go to some place like Ron Decar’s Events Center almost any night and probably find someone who sings them better.
But one of those yellowed clips offers a key to her longevity.
When Somers was at her “Three’s Company” peak but fighting with the producers over money, she and manager-husband Alan Hamel took their fight public on Phil Donahue’s talk show. The host suggested that as a “stereotypical” blonde she was “very replaceable.”
Hamel jumped in and asked Donahue, “You think any good-looking guy in a gray suit with gray hair could replace you on this show?”
And so it remains. “Suzanne Sizzles” is not about Suzanne the Singer, but Suzanne the Personality, who has that certain something it took to stay in the public eye for 42 years, from “American Graffiti” to “Dancing With the Stars.”
The new show in the old Shimmer Cabaret — optimistically renamed Suzanne’s — is a throwback to the vintage-Vegas days when TV and movie stars had an “act.” And in this case the act is a fine example of cabaret as a genre, with the songs connected by a narrative thread.
It’s the 68-year-old’s story, and the sincere way she delivers it, that sustains interest and elevates her ordinary singing. Somers’ recollection of growing up in San Bruno, Calif., and joining a garage band lasts longer than the song it sets up, “Angel Baby,” and that’s not a problem at all.
We’ll find out whether enough people still care about Somers the Entertainer — whose second career has rebranded her as a health and fitness guru — to show up for a 25-week run.
But those lured in for whatever reason will be reminded of how big a pop-culture moment she enjoyed. “When your show goes to No. 1 …” she says, shaking her head, of being welcomed into the same circle as Frank Sinatra and John Wayne.
Talk about name-dropping. Her take on Leon Russell’s modern standard “A Song for You” is fairly rote and unexceptional. But how many people introduce the tune by saying they phoned up Russell and tried to coax him down to the show to hear it?
We see Somers’ first Johnny Carson appearance and laugh with her at a “Three’s Company” montage of Chrissy bouncing and jiggling: “Jump, Chrissy, jump!” she narrates. But she brings us up to this year with a “Dancing” montage set to “He’s a Tramp.”
The more familiar the standard, the more Somers’ voice seemed brash and her phrasing misplaced on classics such as “But Beautiful.” She fared better when the songs became more obscure and the five-piece band scaled down to sparse accompaniment.
It’s a good thing she had friends such as Eydie Gorme to make her think of “lyrics as having the power to tell a story” on Gorme’s “Guess Who I Saw Today.”
Another friend, Palm Springs neighbor Barry Manilow (“the Irving Berlin of our generation”), deeded her one of his nonsingles, “I Was a Fool (To Let You Go),” for a chanteuse moment on top of the piano.
For some people, the takeaway moment might be the subdued version of “A Cockeyed Optimist.” For me? The next happy hour is more likely to bring back her wisdom about vodka versus tequila: “Do you want to look like a cactus or a potato?” she says of the comparative sugar levels in booze.
Whatever gets you there, it’s whatever keeps you there that counts. Suzanne the Sage may even have show reviewers in mind when she tells us, “The thing I like about growing up (is that) it doesn’t have to be so darn perfect anymore.”