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After Las Vegas Massacre, Performers Try to Put Entertainment in Perspective

Veteran Las Vegas entertainer Frank Marino, the self-dubbed “Queen of Las Vegas,” took a rare moment before his show last week to acknowledge the loss of 59 lives and injuries to nearly 500 others just on the other end of the Strip.

In his more than three decades as Las Vegas’ longest-running headliner, Marino said tragedy has never intruded in the way the concert massacre just three nights before did. The 9/11 attacks, after all, took place thousands of miles away. Before emceeing his “Divas” show at the Linq Hotel, the drag-queen impersonator and Las Vegas icon tried to quell the unease some felt at taking in a Las Vegas show while the city mourned a national tragedy.

“First responders save lives, nurses aid and entertainers entertain,” Marino said before launching into a shortened monologue that would have otherwise riffed on current events. “If I can put a smile on your face for the next hour and 15 minutes, I will.”

Amid the questions over the gunman’s motive in the attack on the Route 91 Harvest music festival, Marino and other Las Vegas entertainers found themselves confronting an increasingly common but still difficult quandary: How does the show go on?

Attacks on concerts and entertainment venues, including the Manchester, England, bombing of an Ariana Grande show in the summer, have brought into relief the matter of what an appropriate response looks like.

Las Vegas performers were mixed.

Céline Dion  pondered the question aloud before the start of her next show, which was Oct. 3. “After Sunday night’s incredibly tragic event, all of us here find ourselves asking a similar question,” Dion said somberly, struggling to keep her composure. “For you, it’s ‘Do we still go to Céline’s show on Tuesday night only two days after the nightmare?’ For me, it’s ‘Can I still do my show? Should I still do my show?’”

Jennifer Lopez and Jason Aldean, who was in the middle of his performance Oct. 1 when the shooting began, canceled dates and tour stops last week. Other Las Vegas performers, determined to provide levity, resumed their shows just two nights after the shooting.

“I understand both sides of it,” said veteran Las Vegas showman Wayne Newton, who visited shooting victims for hours on Oct. 5 at University Medical Center. “[Performers’] talent is best used when people are at their lowest, when they need to escape, when they can’t watch the news in the 24-hour cycle. It’s then time for us to step in and go back and do what we do and try and bring some happiness and civility to people’s lives.”

Newton’s show at Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, like others, went dark the night after the shooting but resumed the next night, albeit with some changes. The singer replaced his usual opening number, Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” because he thought its lyrics might evoke images or thoughts of the recent violence: “Bright light city gonna set my soul / Gonna set my soul on fire / Got a whole lot of money that’s ready to burn / So get those stakes up higher.”

“I took anything out that I thought could have [offended people],” he said.

Jerry Nadal, Cirque du Soleil’s senior vice president, said he gave the company’s performers and stage crew the option to take time off, but he nonetheless encouraged them to return to their shows. “It’s difficult for us to ask you to put your personal feelings aside, but this is what we do for a living,” he recalled telling them.

“People yearn to escape for 90 minutes,” Nadal said of the Cirque audience. “It’s also a way for our own employees to escape. Entertainment is healing; it always has been healing. … That’s our role and that’s our function.” In addition to providing entertainment, Las Vegas performers, including Newton, Marino and those in Nadal’s Cirque, quickly pledged to donate to victim-support funds. Dion donated the earnings from her Oct. 3 show.

Marino, who is known for his spot-on impersonation of the late comedian Joan Rivers, staunchly believes that the concert massacre was an isolated event and that tourists shouldn’t give in to fear, particularly those who had just arrived in town. “They’re here, thinking, Wow, the whole town is somber,” Marino lamented. “Nightclubs are closed. Shows are closed. What am I going to do here? Just walk around the street and mope?”

Marino wouldn’t allow it.

“If I could give them a moment of joy in this really somber time,” he said, “that’s all I’m hoping to do at this point.”

Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that Céline Dion cancelled an Oct. 2 show; Dion did not have a show scheduled on that date. 

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