Broadway Las Vegas
Although Susan Anton has been a Las Vegas resident for years, it’s been a while since she’s had a performing home here. And now, for at least two nights she will when Anton brings her solo engagement Already Home to Cabaret Jazz Jan. 8 and 9. Anton, who parlayed a Miss California pageant victory into a stage and screen career, is bringing her cabaret act to The Smith Center that she debuted at New York’s Rockefeller Center more than two decades ago – around the same time she settled in Vegas after working here since the beginning of her professional career – but that has continued to evolve and reflect her current musical interests.
“It’s such a gift to our community,” said Anton of The Smith Center. “Being a resident of Las Vegas for 25 years now and having worked there my whole life, to have a venue like The Smith Center is a game changer.”
Anton recently performed her act with her longtime band at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill and Jazz club in L.A., but for her Cabaret Jazz date she’s working with Clint Holmes musical director Jeff Neiman and Vegas-based musicians. Anton’s last performance in Vegas was at South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa with a group called Vocal Soup, which included Holmes, but her roots as a Vegas performer reach back to shortly after her 1969 Miss California victory, when classic showroom entertainers roamed the Strip, still in their prime.
It was a time when having your name on a Vegas marquee was a career milestone, letting the world know you had arrived. “You start off with your name the size of the ‘prime rib special,’” said Anton. “And you go from opening act to headlining act, and your name got bigger and bigger. I’ll never forget standing on Las Vegas Boulevard watching them put my name up on the sign at the Sands. … Every time I came into town I would drive by the Strip and I could see my name on a marquee with Paul Anka or George Burns or Bob Newhart. There’s so many of them I got to work with. It was always thrilling, always thrilling.”
Anton became famous to the world at large in the 1970s mainly due to the popularity of her iconic posters before she had the opportunity to star in her own television variety shows, most notably NBC’s Presenting Susan Anton in 1979. A few film roles followed, but it was Anton’s singing talent and respect for showbiz tradition that made an impact on a national audience. She joined the cast of the Mike Nichols-directed drama Hurlyburly on Broadway in the mid-’80s, and would go on to star in productions of The Will Rogers Follies, Hairspray and Elvis-inspired All Shook Up.
She never stopped singing on her own though, and became known for her renditions of James Brown’s“It’s a Man’s World,” “In My Life” by The Beatles and Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” Her name kept appearing on Strip marquees as well, most notably in the ’90s when she had a years-long run alongside The Rockettes in The Great Radio City Music Hall Spectacular at The Flamingo Hilton (renamed Flamingo Las Vegas in 2000). She cites Holmes (“Nobody works harder at his craft and loves his craft more.”) and Tom Jones as two of her favorite Vegas performers, but a career highlight involved the Chairman himself.
“He and his wife Barbara had a golf tournament – I think she still keeps it going – in Palms Springs,” said Anton. “It raised a lot of money for the children’s hospitals out there, and Mr. Sinatra would always do the entertainment but in the last years of his life his health was failing a little bit so he wasn’t up to performing. And so he and his lovely wife Barbara asked five entertainers to do the show that year and each of us could sing Sinatra material. I was so flattered to be asked. I’ll never forget standing on that stage, big orchestra behind me, and then looking down to the audience right at Frank Sinatra and singing, ‘I’m gonna love you like nobody’s loved you come rain or come shine.’”
“That’s why I love The Smith Center and Cabaret Jazz,” said Anton. “These rooms are essential to the survival of that brand of entertainment, where a singer could just get up and sing and entertain, and it was about the music. It wasn’t about the production, it wasn’t about fireworks and costumes and everything else.”
Susan Anton performed in January of 2015 in Myron’s Cabaret Jazz.