It's a somewhat familiar story - ambitious, talented man leaves his small town and heads to the Big City to fulfill a dream. Only this particular dream involves some seriously heavy lifting...reimagining a familiar entertainment concept. Fortunately for crooner Jonny Bird, patience, a burning desire, and the will to overcome major setbacks happened to coincide while Las Vegas was in the midst of a major reboot. And just like that, the timing was right for Jonny Bird: Rise of the Phoenix to take flight.
Who The Hell Is Jonny Bird
You might be asking "Who the Hell is Jonny Bird?" and you wouldn't be alone. World-famous caricature artist Neal Portnoy jokingly pondered the same question in a tongue-in-cheek video (above). The segment was created to announce his characterization of Jonny for a collection of fundraiser mugs (more on that below). And even though he's only been in town for a few years, Jonny has performed in just about every corner of the Las Vegas valley.
Last year, Bird teamed up with swarthy Golden Tiki regular Tony Felicetta, elegant Miss Mala, "Don Ho" tribute artist Dean Perry, and man-about-town JC Lopez to form the Sin City chapter of Crooners, Inc. Premiering early in 2020, the group was "Reader's Choice" for "Best Lounge Act" in Las Vegas Weekly's annual Best of Las Vegas awards.
Now that live Vegas entertainment is back in full swing, Bird is ready to take on the city with his brand new show. Rise Of The Phoenix is a multi-media extravaganza with the goal of reintroducing audiences to the concept of dinner theater. Entertainment and dining in one space has become increasingly appealing as resorts grow larger and our free time becomes limited. This year, we've witnessed the rebirth of the "supper club" thanks to venues like The Nevada Room, Mayfair Supper Club, and brand new Superfrico at Cosmopolitan.
So what makes Jonny Bird: Rise of the Phoenix different from the rest? I sat down with the creator two nights before the scheduled premiere performance at GOLD COAST CASINO's Arizona Ballroom to find out:
"It will have the feel of an old-school dinner show with refreshed looks at older songs ...and original songs that are built into the storyline."A Chip and a Chair" could have been the title of the show. It's a song about Vegas and having that one shot at life. If you have one chip and a chair at the table, you've got at least one shot. It's almost autobiographical. I cashed out everything, but I've got one chip left, and that's why I'm here."
Jonny's love affair with Sin City began in spectacular fashion. After marrying his lovely wife Anna ten years ago, the newlyweds joined family at a restaurant to celebrate their union. Anna fell asleep in the car afterward, waking at the Minneapolis airport. Jonny had surprised his bride with a honeymoon in Vegas. Their perfect trip became a frequent event, with Jonny booking Vegas gigs as part of his concert tours around the country.
When not performing here, the singer took in as many shows as he could, networking and looking for inspiration. He found it in The Bronx Wanderers. Near the close of that show, patriarch Vinny Adinolfi describes how he never gave up, fulfilled his goal to have a Las Vegas production, and encourages everyone in the audience to live their dreams. That's when Bird decided to pack up the family and take the same chance. He was holding his chip and ready to take a chair at the gambling table.
The Bronx Wanderers encourage everyone to live their dream.
"Rise of the Phoenix" is a nod to the tumultuous experience that Bird and his family endured when transplanting to Sin City in the fall of 2018:
"Anna embarked on a journey across the country with our three kids and our dog Dudley, pulling a fully-loaded trailer with our show van. I remained in Minnesota to finish renovations on our house, prior to selling it. They arrived in Las Vegas two days later and checked into a hotel shortly before midnight. With little more than an overnight bag and the clothes on their backs, they went to the van early the next morning only to find it wasn’t there. Neither was the trailer. We were robbed of everything we owned in barely a heartbeat. "
"All of our belongings, clothing, valuables, unreplaceable pictures and documents, family jewelry, office and show equipment, our kids’ lifetime piggy banks, laptops, tablets, hard drives, hand-sewn heirloom quilts, Anna’s professional and practice saxophones, antiques, a $3,000 set of restaurant cookware, and our entire office were all in there. In short, we lost everything we owned, including $5,000 in cash to temporarily set up our lives. To make it even more difficult, the robbers used the information from our office and hacked into our bank accounts, temporarily freezing our assets, while our kids were in educational limbo for nearly a month with no papers, birth certificates, or records."
A tongue-in-cheek recreation of the Bird family's first day in Las Vegas
It didn't take long for Bird to forge ahead, partially replace what was lost, and most importantly, to ingratiate himself into the local entertainment scene. “I now produce a radio podcast with former Ray Charles singer Renee Davis on Friday nights and am producer and co-host of the very popular Twin Brothers From Different Mothers podcast on Saturdays, both on GOLIVE.VEGAS”.
When the pandemic shutdown crushed the hopes of just about every entertainer across the nation, Jonny came up with a way to lift their spirits. He penned "Alone, Together", an anthem for unity in a time of crisis. At the time, he told his hometown newspaper “So many people feel isolated and lonely, and the song is intended to remind us all that we are all in this together and never really alone. The title came to me as a ‘duh’ moment. Let’s all be alone together.”
The subsequent music video featured Las Vegas favorites like The Righteous Brothers' Bucky Heard, fellow crooner Mark O'Toole, Elisa Furr, Kelly Vohn, Amanda King, comedian John Di Domenico, and the two Vinny's from The Bronx Wanderers. Watch it below.
Alone Together: From Vegas With Love
Along with gathering his musician friends to offer hope, Jonny lent his face to an extensive collection of Neal Portnoy-designed mugs and Christmas ornaments. The popular line features dozens of talented performers who donate proceeds from their merchandise to the charity of their choice. During the pandemic, funds were channeled towards out-of-work entertainers. You can read more about the charitable effort here, then check out the raucous promotional video that Bird and a few of his pals shot.
Bird's kindness, humorous outlook, and ever-giving nature have made him a treasured part of the community. Now his pals are returning that generosity by supporting RISE OF THE PHOENIX. They've been all over the city, shooting video elements to incorporate into the musical storyline. In the meantime, Bird has assembled a veritable dream team for the production: Musical Director/Guitarist Aaron Fuller (Boyz II Men, MJ Live), vocalist Ashley Fuller, Choreographer Tonya Tovias (BurlesQ, Showgirls), and Producer Sofia Monroe (Daymaker Productions).
"Another original song in the show is 'The Music Never Let Me Down'. My entire life, at every point where something happened, there was always a song that I could escape into. I've always had music that transitioned me through. In different eras, there were songs that were points on a map. Elvis. Madonna, Stevie Nicks."
"This is my chip. This is my one shot. And whether it goes great or goes awful, I will have achieved something that I've wanted my entire life...being in Vegas on a stage with a band, my music, and people in front of me. Whatever they judge, that's honest. Whether it's good enough or not good enough, I'll accept."
RISE OF THE PHOENIX was scheduled to premiere on September 30th. Unfortunately, a series of tragic events behind the scenes made that impossible. Ever resilient and positive, Jonny Bird is moving forward. He posted this one day before the planned debut:
*TONIGHT’S SHOW POSTPONED**
Due to unexpected events and loss in our community, we needed to make the difficult decision to postpone the opening night of our show -from tonight until Wednesday, October 20th. We feel this was best for everyone involved and we have complete faith, positivity, and an incredible support system helping us through our journey. Despite this shift, we still cannot be more full of gratitude and are making the best of unexpected circumstances.
All of our ticket purchasers will be contacted and invited to attend the October 20th debut -your drink is on us!
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