It’s hard to tell what shines brightest – the lights, the blue silk suit, or Frank McDonough’s ebullience
by Stephen Mosher Dec. 17, 2021
Although Frank McDonough’s new show LEGENDS OF LAS VEGAS is about the music of the famed entertainers who made Las Vegas the Entertainment Capital of the World, the legend of Las Vegas itself greatly permeates the air during the extremely enjoyable production. McDonough doesn’t spend a lot of time during his musical exploration talking – at least not talking facts, for this is no history lesson. Frank isn’t interested in factoids, trivia and tidbits – his only purpose is the celebration of the music. Still, in his ice blue silk suit and slicked-up hair (to say nothing of the man’s confident demeanor and swagger) Mr. McDonough himself is greatly reminiscent of a Las Vegas crooner, a lounge lizard having fun at his favorite pastime. The fun is the platform upon which the show is built: Frank McDonough’s outgoing and effervescent personality is the driving force of the show. It isn’t that Frank’s singing isn’t center stage, for the man’s instrument is incredibly palatable – interesting and enjoyable – but the stage presence arising from both his personality and his enthusiasm is enough to power a nightclub act on a bigger stage, lasting a longer time. Frank McDonough cannot help it: he is irresistible.
With robust Musical Director Ricky Ritzel at the Piano (audience members close to the Maestro should treat themselves to watching his lightning-quick hands), Luc Decker on Bass, and Don Kelly on Drums, Mr. McDonough spends a quick (and quick-paced) hour running through the music of Misters Martin (“Ain’t That A Kick in the Head”), Darin (“Mack the Knife”), Davis (a stupendous “Birth of the Blues”), Bennet (a performance of “The Best is Yet To Come” is an evening highlight), Sinatra, Prima (a smile-a-minute mashup at the start of the show) and more, curating the program around the clubs of The Strip and the men who played them (with an assist from Megan Czerwinski, a kind of human spinning wheel who would declare for McDonough and co. what casino their next segment would represent). Although there were women and singing groups who played The Strip, Frank confines his focus to the men; in this day and age of inclusivity, it would be easy to ask oneself why McDonough chose to showcase no ladies in his show, but it would be wasted energy. This isn’t sexism or misogyny. It is completely authentic for this likeable lug to only be singing the music of the males – the catalogue should be presented in no other way than it is. It is appropriate, and kind of perfect.
The aesthetic brought to the stage by Mr. McDonough is a fascinating one, made up of a one-two punch of a voice so interesting as to be baffling, and a presence so contrary as to be unbelievable. When first McDonough begins to sing, a person new to his artistry will be taken aback by the uniqueness of the sound, one reminiscent of some wonderful old bluegrass crooner that your Granddaddy used to listen to. With an odd placement that makes one wonder if he will hit the high notes that are coming (remember, we all know every song he is singing and where they are going, musically), a hypnotizing vibrato, and a nasal quality that throws pure, raw emotion into the air like a confetti cannon, this voice could be a contemporary of Willie Nelson or Flatt and Scruggs. But he ain’t singin’ “Uncle Pen” up there, he’s doing “Fly Me To The Moon” … and it works. It works so good. And it would work well in any genre of music, in person or on a recording – it is an audible representation of what a beating human heart would sound like, given the ability to put together words and sentences in the act of communication.
As for his stage presence, Frank lives in an enthralling place somewhere between awkward and slick, like a cartoon bulldog in a tuxedo, all smiles and giggles and boundless energy, while striking Tom Jones poses and accentuating drum licks with hand geometry. It is, as stated above, irresistible. The entire McDonough mystique is, in fact, so irresistible that Frank could carry an entire show all on his own (which he has done in the past), without help from anyone else, which is not what he is doing here.
The show details for Legends of Las Vegas include a guest artist for each of four performances. There are any number of reasons why an artist includes a guest performer in their club act. Maybe they want a little company up on the stage. Perhaps they want to shine a little of their spotlight onto a friend or family member. A little time off of the stage to rest, have a glass of water, or use the facility can come in handy. It could be they are repaying a debt to someone who is contributing to the production, like Megan Czerwinski, who is a part of this concert but from the sidelines, and who was given two segments of her own, totaling four numbers. There are even those who add a guest artist to sell more tickets. Whatever the reason for Mr. McDonough’s decision to generously share his spotlight with another artist, he should remember that he is enough. His audience neither needs nor desires another presence up on the stage with him: an hour of Frank McDonough crooning standards is satisfying enough. Although Ms. Czerwinski is a lovely performer and a benevolent presence in the show, McDonough could have flown solo from start to finish and his audience would have been satisfied (though possibly not a group of women – three young, and one white-haired matriarch wearing a jingle bell necklace – at the back of the club who need to be told that a cabaret club and a tailgate party are two different things: their rude and rowdy behavior almost ruined the show for anyone seated within a mile of their incessant talking and texting). Since Mr. McDonough has already announced his future performances of Legends of Las Vegas as shows that will feature guest artists, he will need to do the gentlemanly thing and make good on those commitments. When it comes time, though, for him to create new works of performing artistry, he would be well advised that the only help he needs on the stage comes from Mr. Ritzel and director Tanya Moberly, who has guided him very well in this effort. Other than the members of his creative team, McDonough needs no one to create a successful club act. Frank McDonough is interesting, he is gifted, he is irresistible, and he is enough.
Frank McDonough LEGENDS OF LAS VEGAS will play Don’t Tell Mama April 19, June 22, September 29, and December 10. For information and reservations visit the Don’t Tell Mama website HERE.
THIS is Frank McDonough’s website
Photos by Stephen Mosher