Thanks to Jacqui for posting this to the mailing list
22nd August 2005

From the LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL 27th May 2005

Sheena Easton's engaging personality is a good fit with the Aladdin's lounge.

Bigger Isn't Always Better

Easton, Dusk more successful after moving to smaller rooms

by Mike Weatherford

Sometimes it pays to think small, even in Las Vegas.

Putting aside the issue of ticket sales, both '80s pop star Sheena Easton and young retro-crooner Matt Dusk are faring better in smaller venues than they did on the big stage of the Las Vegas Hilton. Easton is singing in an enclosed lounge at the Aladdin through June 9. The 330-seat room is quite similar to her 2002 stint in the Hilton's smaller room, now known as the Shimmer Cabaret Theater.

But when she moved into the Hilton's big room the next year as a "weekday headliner," it just didn't translate. Easton certainly has some grandiose pop ballads to fill the big space, including her signature James Bond theme "For Your Eyes Only." But what seems to work best for audiences is the likeable banter between the songs, the personality that's better conveyed in the cozier room.

Nobody knows how Dusk got booked for the big Hilton stage last November. But boy, was it bad. We're talking stare-at-your-shoes, cringe and feel-sorry-for-the-poor-struggling-guy bad. Now Dusk returns to the Golden Nugget, where he was linked via the short-lived reality show "The Casino," for a limited run that continues Monday (after Tony Bennett) through June 20.

Dusk still doesn't sell himself as a star presence, but seems to better stay in key now. He's carried largely by the strength of his five-piece backing band, but it's just as much the relaxed setting of the Nugget's 400-seat showroom that makes for a mildly pleasant experience.

At 46, Easton has shed a few pounds since the Hilton days and still has the charisma that separates enduring performers from one-hit wonders. "Maybe we have lost touch along the way," she teases the crowd. "I used to think I had to stay frozen in time," she adds later. But she discovered, "No amount of Botox will keep up."

Her voice is huskier than you remember, which is turned to her advantage on a cover of "You're No Good" and adapts well to "We've Got Tonight," her hit duet with Kenny Rogers (here done with backing singer Conrad Broock). But the faster songs with the five-piece band ("Strut," "You've Got The Look,") are easily confused with the acts that played Sinbad's Lounge before it was curtained off for ticketed shows.

Easton deals with the venue's challenges, such as the bar in the middle and a black curtain that doesn't go high enough to screen out the surrounding casino. "Somebody just got a jackpot! That machine is hot!" she jokes at one point.

But the off-the-shelf arrangements carry few surprises beyond an occasional touch of flute from Gerald Merra. Easton should check out Tom Jones at the MGM Grand to see what can happen with creative backing (granted, Jones can afford a horn section), song choices that stray from the "Wind Beneath My Wings" path and, most important, the ability to throw oneself into the old stuff with shameless conviction.

Still, Easton is a pro who can easily meet her stated goal: "Hopefully when you leave tonight, you're gonna know me so much better than when you came in."

The same can't be said of Dusk, a blank slate of a singer whose awkward stage banter doesn't even convince us of his repeatedly expressed fondness for the standards. "That was Frank Sinatra from the Rat Pack," he says after "Summer Wind." "Everyone knows the Rat Pack, obviously. Who else was in the Rat Pack?" he quizzes the crowd.

Dusk's slightly nasal timber in the Anthony Newley vein isn't hard on the ears, but his tone doesn't change to fit the song. The ballads sound the same as the up-tempo stuff, and the surprises come more in the arrangements paced by stellar keyboardist Michael Shand.

Dusk is better served by originals or newer songs -- the ballad "Always" and "Two Shots," which U2's Bono and The Edge penned for Frank Sinatra -- than by the standards such as "My Way" that draw comparisons to more authentic singers.

Here's an easy way of summing it up: Easton has a genuine James Bond song in her repertoire; Dusk has a clever imitation called "Theme From Loaded Gun." Opt for the real thing when you can.