It’s been 10 years since we last sat down with Frank Marino and a lot has changed in the city of Las Vegas. But, one thing that has stayed consistent throughout the decade is visitor demand for seeing a true Las Vegas Diva. Frank’s show “Diva’s Las Vegas” runs nightly at The Linq Hotel & Casino featuring a cast of talented female impersonators, and it’s a must-see show for anyone visiting the city.
In his 30 years of performing on the Las Vegas Strip, Marino has earned some incredible accolades and isn’t shy to let people know. With two stars on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars, Frank is in a class of his own. His expertise about the destination, knowledge of the entertainment industry and respect from his colleagues, make his viewpoint one that every aspiring producer should listen to—carefully.
We spoke with Frank at his home in West Las Vegas to gain some insight into the changes that have occurred in the entertainment landscape over the past 30 years in Las Vegas. From audience demographics to showroom and hotel politics, Frank’s comments are unfiltered and sometimes confrontational—the reason why he considers himself “The Donald Trump Of Drag.” We also get an update on the 2005 interview with Vegas Report to see if his predictions were correct or if his answers might be different today.
Q&A with Frank
Vegas Report: Congratulations on 30 years in Las Vegas. A lot has changed since you first started in this town. We asked you this same question when you hit 20 years—how has the industry changed in the last decade?
Frank Marino: Las Vegas is a lot more corporate nowadays. I prefer old Vegas when I first got here because it was more the end of the mafia era—maybe I should say—where everybody was treated really well. You could drop a million dollars in a casino, and your pit boss would know your name. Nowadays that doesn’t even happen any more. As far as for the show, how has it changed? I would look out at the audience 30 years ago, and people would be in evening gowns, and they’d be in jewelry. Now I look out and sadly enough the tourists are in fanny packs and flip flops. A lot more casual.
Vegas Report: In terms of your show then, are you marketing the same way? Twenty years ago you would market to people that were going out, spending a lot of money, dressing up, having a nice dinner. Do you have to market it differently because of that?
Frank Marino: Absolutely. The whole marketing system has changed. I miss when they would have to come into the hotel, go to the ticket counter and buy a ticket for the show that they wanted to see that night. Nowadays there’s ticket brokers, there’s half price booths. There’s timeshares. And you have to find your niche in each one because there’s a major thing called Cirque [du Soleil] in Las Vegas that has taken over with billion dollar budgets to advertise nationally. What I call my show, a mom and pop show, has a lot more difficulty to survive. Just since I’ve been doing my own show the last six years at The Linq, I’ve noticed half of my friends fall off marquees that otherwise would’ve been able to keep going. That’s a new trend that shows barely make six months these days.
Vegas Report: So, you’re actually having to sell the ticket brokers. That’s a key part? You’re selling them on your show, so that they can sell the consumer.
Frank Marino: Exactly. Even on a bigger level, I remember when Madonna would put out a record, and it would sell, and she’d do maybe The Tonight Show or David Letterman. Now she’s doing signing. She’s doing things she would’ve never done before because people are not buying product like they used to or getting their knowledge the way they used to about the product. It’s all changed. I’m doing guerrilla marketing now.
Vegas Report: Guerrilla marketing, social media? Is that a key component of how you’re selling?
Frank Marino: I’m not doing too much social media because I don’t fully understand it, but we are doing some. I have somebody doing it. I’m going to start cutting back on magazines because I notice the people come in [when we do surveys] from billboards and cabs than an actual magazines.
Vegas Report: How about digital advertising? Do you advertise on tourism websites like the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s LasVegas.com or Vegas.com? or Online Travel Agency sites? Review sites? Do you advertise online more?
Frank Marino: On the big ones like that we do advertise because all that entails is paying them money, and they’ll put you on their site. Otherwise, it’s literally having people go outside with tickets and get different ticket vendors to push your show. One thing I know is if they come to my show, I will keep them as a repeat customer. But not every show has that luxury and maybe that’s why they close.
Vegas Report: Do you keep track of repeat customers?
Frank Marino: I keep track of everything. I keep track of where everybody comes from, where they got their ticket, how they got the ticket. Did they have a good experience with the ticket? I not only read every single Trip Advisor or Yelp review, I follow everything and track it to see if it’s the same year after year after year. If I don’t move up that week from the year before, then I start really pushing buttons, asking what’s going wrong? What went wrong? Is there a different convention in town? All those factors affect whether your show is going to sell or not. I believe that before you come to Las Vegas you’ve bought your Blue Man, your Jersey Boys, your Celine Dion, internationally known. You get to Vegas and depending on what TV show I did that month or travel channel special, they’ll be walking on the street, see a cab, and the wife probably says to the husband, I saw him on Oprah. Can we go see his show tonight? If they come, even if the man comes under duress because he might not think it’s a show he’d want to see, he ends up loving it because it’s so much different from what people really think it’s going to be.
Vegas Report: That brings up another point. You’re worried about the husband that may not want to go see this type of show. Is it important you market the show as a drag or female impersonator show? Can you bill it as a celebrity impersonator show like Legends in Concert? Does it matter if the audience knows it’s a man or woman behind the costume?
Frank Marino: I would say Legends is probably an easier show to sell, but I know at our show they’ll have a lot of fun. I do keep female impersonator on the ads because I don’t want anybody coming into the show that doesn’t want to be there for that reason. I’m also then getting another community that would maybe want to come see the show by doing it that way. The 10% I lose on a macho man saying I don’t want to go that show, I will get in a woman or a gay guy or whatever. Sadly enough the straight men enjoy it probably more than anybody. Once I get them, they will come back.
Vegas Report: How about group sales to your show? Do you have a lot of buses come in that bring groups in? Is that a major part of selling?
Frank Marino: Groups are not what they used to be. In the early days groups were our bread and butter. We’d do 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 people a week because of these groups. We did 7, 9 and 11 p.m.—three shows a night. You could thank the Rat Pack for that because they would do their three shows. Every show that wanted to make money tried to follow that formula, which was very tiring. Thank God I was 20 at the time. I do my one show now and I’m ready for bed.
Vegas Report: You’re at The Linq now. What’s the difference? Last time we talked to you 10 years ago, you were at the Riviera Hotel, spending your whole career there. Tell us the differences between performing at the intimate showroom there to the newly remodeled showroom at The Linq.
Frank Marino: I personally am old-fashioned. I prefer the old showroom. When we got to The Linq, it was really The Imperial Palace at the time. Then it changed to The Quad, and then it changed to The Linq and $250,000 later on [marketing] changes for me, I am now in the brand new Linq theater showroom, and it’s a little bit too modern for my taste, but people seem to be liking it. I have my issues with it, being a comedian. And the room is so sterile, that it’s hard for them to focus on me, but the rest of the kids in the show for a concert, it’s amazing.
Vegas Report: Everything is updated in the showroom, new sound, new lights, new stage?
Frank Marino: New everything.
Vegas Report: How about the seating? How does the seating work for you? Is it table seating? How does it work for your show?
Frank Marino: The seating—the people are happy because they’re more comfortable, but the seats are so big that if one person’s missing, I can see the big, gaping hole where I couldn’t before. The audience is very happy. For me, it’s more difficult but like every other thing I’ve done, I will learn to make it work for me.
Vegas Report: Let’s talk about casting. How often do you cast for new performers in your show and where do you look for them when you’re actually casting?
Frank Marino: I never really cast. It’s more like a modeling agency where I will have people submit resumes and photos through social media, you know what I’m saying? Facebook, they’ll show me this or YouTube, a video. The kids in my show now are so good because they’ve been doing it for so long. It’s very hard when I look for a Miley Cyrus or a Taylor Swift because you’ve got to be very young to do those characters yet be as good as the people I have in the show already. You have to be as good as my performers doing Cher, Celine Dion or Madonna because they’ve been perfecting it for many, many years. These young kids didn’t have that much time, but every once in a while I do get a rough diamond that we could polish and make it beautiful.
Vegas Report: That’s good to hear then. So when a new young performer comes along with the right impersonation, that’s something you would jump on to try to keep the show fresh and changing.
Frank Marino: Absolutely. Since the new show I know we’ve added Katy Perry. We’ve added Rihanna, we’ve added Adele. I would like, like I said, Miley and Taylor. I haven’t found perfect ones yet, but I’m sure they’re out there.
Vegas Report: Have you ever considered as a break at some point including a comedy impersonator?
Frank Marino: Yes. I had one of the kids do Kathy Griffin. I like to groom them in case I’m ever ill, I have a fill-in. Somebody now is actually doing a spot as Kathy Griffin and when he gets really good at it, I will put him the show as the MC, and he could be like my understudy. I also have other Joan Rivers. We have a satellite show in Reno where I have a Joan Rivers host and then a mini version of our show.
Vegas Report: Frank Marino is producing this show. What does that mean, exactly? Is it financial producing? Obviously we know it’s operations as well.
Frank Marino: It’s everything. My partner, Alex, works for SPI Entertainment and when I left La Cage after 25 years, I wanted to work with him alone and do like Joan and Edgar—her husband used to [co-produce] when he was alive. He was the business, she was the show. Alex’s boss didn’t want to lose him, so he said, “See if Frank will come with us.” After working at the other show, I didn’t want to give any control up. I wanted to make the mistakes myself, and he’s really easygoing. He lets me do my thing, and I work through Alex if I’m working with the company, otherwise I do it myself. It’s a lot harder to produce a show when you have to produce a show. I used to produce the other show, at least my part, 100%, and I would push for the other people to get certain things done, 50% of that area as well. I did have somebody saying, yes and no. Now I want to be able to do the whole thing. If I make a mistake, I’ll take the blame. If I make something good happen, I’ll take the credit. I miss producing when I want to produce. Now you have to produce, to answer your own questions, and it makes it a lot different, and it’s a lot of work. I never realized how much it really would be.
Vegas Report: Does producing give you enough time to work creatively on the performing part, the show part of it?
Frank Marino: I hadn’t had time in a while to work on the creative part because what I was doing was working on everybody else’s creative part, going through the remodels of the hotel, like I spoke about. It was always something major in my way, putting a tour together. Just recently the hotel is done. We’re all set, we got the numbers going. We got into the new showroom. I have my anniversary party coming up, 30 years in the business. I can now rest, and I got some really great jokes that I’ve been putting in the show.
It’s amazing how jokes just get handed to you. I’m watching TV, and I saw Jared from Subway sandwiches on there. I’m like, “it’s amazing how he started and ended his career trying to get into smaller pants.” Then I go, “it’s going to be really bad when he goes to the jail, and he asks for a foot long. Boy, is he going to be surprised.” Then I go into Donald Trump, “he wants to control our country, he can’t even control his hair.”
Vegas Report: Since you brought Donald Trump up… the Vegas Report article 10 years ago was subtitled “The Donald Trump of Drag.” In today’s political climate with everything going on, what do you think about that?
Frank Marino: I still idolize Donald Trump. I idolize him, and I would actually, God, people are going to hate me. I would love to see him as President, and if not then I want the complete other side, I want Hillary, because I want to see a woman in the President’s seat before I die. I think he will fight to get things done.
Vegas Report: We’d like to get your opinion or update on questions we asked you 10 years ago in Vegas Report. From 2005: Current show prices, most of them are at $100 or more. Are the prices justified still?
Frank Marino: My show is over $100 as well, so yes we are justified. Let me tell you why we have to be that price to be totally honest. The half price ticket booths are so abundant now where the old days we wouldn’t allow them to advertise. We wouldn’t allow them to do this, that. 9/11 happened, the economy got bad. Everybody started needing help so now the big shots are also there. They’re tickets are one price, and you have to raise your show to their price to get half price down to their price when they’re at the half price ticket booth. If you could figure out what I just said, tell me.
Vegas Report: I’m assuming most people are not purchasing the stated ticket price. They’re buying it from some kind of a broker that has a discounted price.
Frank Marino: Yes. My pre-sales are all very high because they got them in the Internet and bought the select seats that they wanted but when they get to Vegas, and they see all these half price booths and other brokers, they’re going to get some sort of a discount and for that reason if your price is too low, you’re not going to make any money. Right now since 10 years ago, rents are ridiculous, stage hands are ridiculous. Advertising is beyond ridiculous, even advertising at the airport. There’s so many blank holes because instead of lowering their price they’d rather have it have nothing then have somebody be able to afford it. They’ve out-priced themselves.
Vegas Report: Yet it still makes sense for you to stay in Las Vegas?
Frank Marino: For now it makes sense for me to stay in Las Vegas. I’ll never leave Las Vegas but for now it makes sense for me to do a show. I don’t know if that will always be. If in 10 years I speak to you again, that might be the one reason that I couldn’t because I couldn’t generate enough money, pay such a large cast and still be able to make a profit. It has gotten harder and harder and harder, and the game changes every day. If you’re not here, you don’t know what you’re doing, you miss one week, things could go awry.
Vegas Report: Do you think the days of when hotels used to pay producers to have shows in their hotels will ever come back?
Frank Marino: No. I don’t think that’ll ever come back because not only did the hotels figure out how to charge us rent and charge us if we walk on the carpet, but we want to charge us to get people to clean the glasses afterwards and clean the restroom and yada, yada, yada. It’s at the point of ridiculous. I can make this sound crude but if I weren’t rich already I probably couldn’t afford to do my show. There’s no other way to put that.
Vegas Report: That’s good advice for a young producer looking to bring in a new show.
Frank Marino: If I was a new producer I would advise them like a mother would advise a child not to go into entertainment. I’d say, don’t go into producing a show. That’s how you get beat up nowadays, is producing.
Vegas Report: You once said you wanted to be known like RuPaul is to music—Frank Marino is to comedy. Are you there yet?
Frank Marino: We were there, and then they [RuPaul] got their hit show, “Drag Race.” He’s made some really great accomplishments. He’s probably my favorite female impersonator for the fact that I love his music, I love his style, I love his look, so I’m a fan. I don’t watch the show because I just don’t have time but all the cast members every season have always come into our show when they’re in Vegas. It’s nice to meet these new people as well. Yes. I do idolize RuPaul. Since that article he had a slow period, and it’s the last few years that he took off again and good for him. That shows that anybody can do it.
Vegas Report: What’s next for Frank Marino? Do you keep the show going as long as you can or do you have other projects that you’re interested in?
Frank Marino: I think this would be it. When I’m done with this I’d retire, I think. Will I miss it? I could always do it now and then if I get asked to, but I don’t think I would miss the hard work. It is a 24-hour day process, getting up in the morning, doing the emails, answering the questions, having the people do it and change it. Monday, I call it, “change all your appointments day” because every appointment you made for that week is going to be changed on Monday. Oops, I forgot. Oops, I didn’t do. You don’t have time for yourself if you’re going to star and produce your own show.
Vegas Report: Does that mean you could or would think about producing somebody else’s show?
Frank Marino: I don’t know. I’ll be totally honest where nobody else would. I don’t know if I could produce somebody else’s show because my show is me, and my ego makes me push it. I don’t know if I’d be interesting in pushing another person’s show. People ask me all the time, can you do my makeup? I’m like, I do great makeup every night on me, but that’s 30 years of trial and error. I wouldn’t know how to do another woman or even another man’s makeup. I wouldn’t know where to start.
Vegas Report: Do you have anything else you want to add?
Frank Marino: If you want to hear more about Frank Marino, you can go to FrankMarino.com.