A couple months ago, friend Pat told our breakfast group, “The M Resort has a singer who’s really good, and his shows are free!” The singer’s name: Mark OToole.
I’d heard of OToole. Almost two years ago, I had read an article about him in a flyer from Laughlin, Nevada where he was appearing. The reason I remembered the article was that apparently O’Toole had just been through two years of successful treatment for stage 4 lymphoma after initially being told he had only weeks to live. He was now very much alive and singing. Well, good for him.
Now Pat is talking about what an entertaining singer OToole is and how much fun she has at the M. I was able to see OToole at the Bootlegger’s Open Mic night singing a couple songs, and he was quite good. But for a longer look, my husband and I decided to accompany friends to the private Stirling Club where OToole also holds forth once a week with an evening of song.
Before the evening was out, we were in Pat’s corner. OToole is an easy-listening crooner (hence the name of his new CD, “The Crooner”). He’s great-looking, has a wonderful sense of humor and is just edgy enough to make his patter interesting, but not offensive. And if music heals the soul, an evening of O’Toole music is a pleasure. He sings standards made popular by folks such as Michael Buble, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Elton John and even a country singer or two. At the Stirling Club, he sang with pre-recorded tracks using his own sound system, and frankly, even without a live orchestra, the results were first-rate. Further, the lineup of familiar songs was like coming home.
Who is Mark OToole? He’s been a professional singer since his teenage years in Boston. He won several weeks of Star Search competition in 1994 after moving to California, then headed for Las Vegas. He and the Mark OToole Band played various lounges on the Strip and in Laughlin for some 20 years. “I’ve been lucky,” he says, “I’ve always had steady work singing.”
Then in 2007 came the illness. Insurance covered his treatments for three months and when coverage ended, O’Toole was without critical treatment for 8 weeks until University Medical Center took over the care. OToole credits his recovery to his doctors and everyone from actress Sally Struthers, a longtime friend from California whose care and support were critical; to his mother, now 87, who came to Las Vegas to care for her son; to friend Keith Phelps who “kept me singing even when I was bald and wearing a baseball cap” and to God who received OToole’s promise that if he recovered he would “pay it forward” in terms of helping others. “I’m two years in remission,” he says, “and I’m happy to say, I’m very excited about the future”.
The folks at the M? They liked OToole, but initially weren’t sure a one-man show using recorded orchestrations could be a success. Yet, they took a chance. One man, one night has now turned into one man, three shows a week (Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday) at the Ravello Lounge. (OToole’s quip is wondering if that “M” should now stand for “Mark”.) Crowds of 200-300 are common, and more and more, dancing is part of the action.
The crowd is older, OToole concedes, “but most other entertainment venues in Las Vegas have forgotten about the audience over 40. That audience typically doesn’t want to hear hip hop, hard rock and heavy metal. I love our older audiences. We all enjoy the same kind of great music with lyrics that relate to our lives.”
Today, the “big deal” in OToole’s life is a brand new CD recorded in the Palms Studio and produced by Grammy Award winning producer Keith Olsen. At a launch party for the CD last Tuesday at the M, Las Vegas entertainers including Rita Rudner, Terry Fator, Frankie Scinta, Kelly Clinton and Carrot Top participated in a video wishing OToole much success. Live at the launch party were Clint Holmes and Kelly Clinton, who introduced OToole, as well as local celebrities Vera Goulet, Dennis Bono, Lorraine Hunt, Mary Wilson and Ronnie Rose. Sitting next to us were OToole regulars who obviously thought of the singer as family and could recite each appearance date at the M. Before the launch festivities began, OToole walked through the audience individually thanking everyone for coming….and liberally kissing a number of “sweethearts” in the audience. Yes, OToole also comes across as a very nice guy.
As a result of the CD launch, OToole will be touring the country, promoting “The Crooner” and talking about his life. Yes, he will mention the illness because others may find inspiration in his story. The illness also changed OToole’s life, he says, in particular, giving him a much greater sense of compassion for others having health or other issues. He also remembers his treatments and the people he saw in waiting rooms. “I always had a positive attitude,” says OToole, “I didn’t even mention the word ‘cancer’ until after my treatments were over. But sitting in waiting rooms, I could tell by attitude alone who would make it through treatments and who would not. You must be determined to live.”
In the video above, OToole is seen at the launch party, then at the Stirling Club and finally again at his launch party. At the launch event, he sang with a live band. A packed house of fans and friends who knew his story gave him several standing ovations. One of the largest came when he sang a song from his CD, Kander and Ebb’s “Maybe This Time.”