Carnival Cabaret show moves to MontBleu for special performance
James “Gypsy” Haake uses his million-dollar legs to walk three miles every day and accentuate beautiful dresses at night.
“At 77 I can still get in a size-8 dress and try to fake those Jimmy Choo heels,” says the host of Carnival Cabaret, the nightly show in the Horizon Casino Resort.
The show features male celebrity impersonators of stars such as Dolly Parton, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and Cher.
Between the songs, Gypsy shows off his outfits and banters with the audience. He’s been in 37 films, made 127 television appearances, and his stint with Carnival Cabaret from 2000-04 was longest-running nightly show ever at Lake Tahoe. Yet, his resume highlight might be those legs.
“Only two men in history of theater or show business ever had their legs insured for a million dollars by Lloyd’s of London,” Gypsy said. “Fred Astaire and me.”
Taking out that insurance policy was the owner of “Evening at La Cage,” which recently ended its 24-year run at the Riviera in Las Vegas. Gypsy was the original host of “La Cage aux Folles,” which, now that it has closed, leaves Tahoe with the only show of its kind.
Gypsy, of course, is an original unto himself.
“Gypsy: There’s only one, and they pulverized the mold,” said Patrick Ross, who portrays Streisand, Bette Midler and Joan Rivers.
“I’m the one with the nose,” he joked.
“Gypsy is one of the funniest seasoned professionals I’ve ever worked with. It’s like working with Milton Berle, with a lot more levels. There’s nothing that throws him.”
Carnival Cabaret returned to the Horizon in September 2008 and is contracted until at least Labor Day.
On Saturday, March 21, it is moving from the 200-seat Golden Cabaret across the street to the 1,500 capacity MontBleu Theater for one special engagement. Gypsy will enter the stage in a 1963 convertible with former South Lake Tahoe Mayor Tom Davis, who will be dressed as Elton John, at the wheel.
“It’s a cross between ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and Miss Daisy driving,” Gypsy said. “The song will be ‘Sexy,’ which I think is a misnomer in both of our cases.”
The show will be longer than the one Wednesdays through Mondays at the Horizon. It will include props remaining from the 2008 MontBleu production of “Folies Bergere,” more songs and a standup routine from Ross as Joan Rivers. There will be a “T” runway, which will allow the audience to get a close-up of the entertainers and to interact with the wisecracking host.
“We’re making a smaller show bigger and a huge stage more compact,” Gypsy said. “I’ll be wearing a $45,000 Bob Mackie coat. I can’t wear at the Horizon because it’s too big. It’ll cover most of Davis’ pink Cadillac. I’ll try to keep his head above water.”
The entire cast usually opens with the En Vogue song “Free Your Mind.”
“That’s what were trying to get people to do,” said producer and director Dan Gore. “Just free your minds and put away all their judgments and premonitions of what the show is all about. The show is a chance to have a good time and laugh and be entertained and take yourself away from your everyday worries.”
South Lake Tahoe resident Rick Taylor echoed the sentiment.
“I recommend people see it and be their own judge of it, but you have to be very open-minded about it,” he said.
Taylor said has been to the show at least a dozen times, usually bringing visiting guests along. His said his wife, Laray, has been about 15 times.
“I always watch the people I’m with and see how much they giggle or laugh with it,” he said. “That entertains me.”
Andrew Raymer, who portrays Cher, enjoys seeing the reaction from the audience.
“That’s the most rewarding part about the whole thing,” he said. “I start off with my back turned toward the audience so they don’t see my face. They just see the back of me, and then I turn around. It’s great when you get big gasps from the audience. They can’t believe it. They go, ‘Oh my God; that’s a man.’ ”
Ross, who also was a member of the first Tahoe cast of Carnival Cabaret, has a saying for his onstage persona: “A little powder and a little paint makes a man what he ain’t,” he said.
Makeup, of course, is what makes the characters. Gypsy said it’s a much bigger concern than his performance.
“My biggest hurdle is the makeup,” he said. “My makeup is my Home Depot. It’s all a bunch of cement and paint. Once I get the cracks filled in, it’s fine.”
A consummate pro, Gypsy has two fashion rules he never breaks: no wigs and no mammary augmentation.
Ross has the distinction for being the only person to stand in at emcee for Gypsy, who performed 1,080 straight shows during the first Tahoe run. A bout with intestinal flu a couple of months ago ended his streak of the current show. It was the only time he’s missed a show in a 58-year career.
Gypsy was a Broadway dancer from ages 18 to 35.
“I had my own nightclub during my halcyon years in New York,” he said. “In the late ’70s, when disco was at its height and cabarets were out in Manhattan, I retired.”
He moved to Hollywood, where his highlight was starring in the Mel Brooks film “To Be or Not to Be.”He might be best-known as Uncle Otto on “Married With Children” and “All in the Family.”
Not only is Kevin Wiley a dead ringer for Reba McEntire, he plays an intricate role with the cast’s He appreciates the chance to work with Gypsy.
“It’s been a blessing to work with Gypsy,” he said. “He is sharp as a tack. I come to work and thank God every night that I get to work with such a talented and diverse group of people.”