Becoming a Vegas legend with Frankie Scinta of The Scintas
By Tim Wassberg
Frankie Scinta knows Vegas. Since arriving with his fellow performers in The Scintas in 2000, they have become a mainstay within the fabric of the town. From humble beginnings in Buffalo, New York through headlining gigs in Atlantic City as well as the Las Vegas Hilton, they understand the value of performance and knowing an audience. Frankie sat down with Casino Player to discuss balance, history and their new home at The Plaza.
Casino Player: So you’re playing your new room at The Plaza…
Frankie Scinta: Well, when I first saw the room and I walked in there, it reminded me of the rooms that the icons played in, the icons that we all grew up knowing. They weren’t in the three, four thousand seat rooms. They wanted to be in an intimate room, and this certainly is intimate. And the way it’s set up… nobody’s doing that anymore. We’re not playing to the back wall. We play to the people in the audience. We hear them. We see them. When we open our show, if somebody’s sitting there with their arms [crossed] then I’m going to stop the entire opener, pick them out, and go, “AII right, wait a minute. This is what you came out to do tonight. I mean, this is how you greet?!” And I say, “This is what I wait for. I can’t wait to walk up on this stage. This is what I live to Could I show the audience what you did?” So I show the entire audience whether he’s holding a beer and looking dumbfounded or he’s just sitting there with his arms folded – whatever he’s doing – I mimic that to the entire audience. So I go, “You folks don’t have to do anything. Pete, would you introduce me again?” And [that’s] instinct. It’s an instant into the audience’s heart. Right there and then, they go, “Wow. These guys are here to have a good time.” Then we go!
It sounds like, at this point, you guys can just rip in, and mix up the set no matter what, just based on the night, right? Can you talk about the importance of that spontaneity along with gelling with the vibe of old-school Vegas and downtown?
There’s Celine Dion and those big production shows with 300 people on the stage. Our show is raw. What you see is what you get. There’s no tights. No people hanging from ropes. No elephants flying out of the water. We entertain the people. Downtown has a lot of space for entertainers like The Scintas because it is the place to go to be entertained. In the days when the casinos had a contract with the entertainers, there was a direct marriage between the entertainer and the casino. Our fans come to Vegas. They gamble at The Plaza. They eat at The Plaza… Oscar’s Steakhouse. Brand new pooI. Jonathan Jossel, the CEO, is constantly updating the casino, which you don’t see anymore. He’s committed to making Downtown the place to go.
You’ve seen Vegas come and go but what keeps Vegas true?
In the old days, when the greats were around, like the real Rat Pack, the casinos didn’t care what they paid performers to get them on that property because they knew their fans would come and stay, spend, and eat at the casino. That was the beauty of old Vegas. There’s an emotional connection to the music style you do and sort of the myth of what Vegas is.
That includes connecting on a more grounded level…
Absolutely. There’s been many times. We go to meet our audience after the show and somebody will say, “Come on, get on the piano.” So I’ll get on the piano and I’ll sing a song with the guy that’s playing there. They’re singing the same songs. It could be a Beatles song. It could be a Michael Jackson song. Anything that is greatly recognizable. You’ll get young kids and parents and Grandparents jumping on the lyrics right away and each one loves it differently.
To make The Scintas work, you have to be individually different as far as talent but also understand how the members fit into the bigger family.
Everybody on our stage has a personality. Everybody has their own niche. Our drummer found his niche between the comedy of my brother and myself. He found that space in there. We didn’t mean for it to be that way. It was because we were tough little kids, tough little Sicilians from the west side of Buffalo. We weren’t going to take crap when we got on the littlest stage. I mean, [when we started] we were just kids in Buffalo and people were talking and saying, “Hey, shut up over there. Don’t you see my sister singing over here?” I mean, we really would razz the crowd but we always brought them to our side.
And it didn’t change when you came to Vegas?
No, people are people. No matter where we travelled in the US, people responded the same. I mean, we only had one incident in our lifetime where we thought we were going to be in trouble and it wasn’t a legal matter. It was one of those guys you don’t want to insult, but we did. But we ended up becoming very, very close friends. But it’s amazing that no matter where we go. One time we were playing Trump Tower in Atlantic City many, many years ago, and there was a woman talking. And I think I’m doing a Sinatra ballad or something. She’s talking, talking, talking. Finally, my brother stopped and said, “Hey lady, we’re not interrupting your show, are we?” And she started laughing. I was told “That lady would like to speak with you. And, by the way, that’s Donald Trump’s wife!” (laughing). That was his first wife. I mean, we thought we were in trouble, but we sat with her that night. She laughed and stayed for the rest of the evening.
So it’s about reading the crowd but also getting their mood, their humor.
Absolutely, after the first attempt at a laugh, you know instantly. If you know the business, you know where you can go with your audience. You know how laid back you can be. Sometimes we used to do more music if the crowd was one of those crowds that wasn’t interested in comedy. I mean, I got to say, we’ve been pretty much on the money. If you do it properly — we go after everybody. Usually they end up being your friends, and very rarely have we offended anybody of any race, nationality, or religion… because they know it’s coming from the heart. I speak from the street and – comedically with tongue-in-cheek of course.
None of this though would work if there wasn’t trust among family…
Well, when you’re a family man, you don’t have to always like each other, but you always love each other, and that’s the way we were brought up. There have been times where it has been difficult to be family — so we’ve done our hour and a half, [and then] “Let’s get out of here!” And I’m the one that wants to keep going, and, of course, that has created some huge arguments over the years, but not anymore. We know our bounds. But our main objective is always leave them wanting more but always give them enough.