Rick McCrabb: Butler County native calls working on the Las Vegas strip 'a dream come true'

Jan. 27—Johnny Miles, wearing a pink tuxedo, matching bowtie, knee-high socks, patent heeled boots, bowler hat and enough makeup to rival Gene Simmons, certainly looks relaxed sitting in his dressing room at Treasure Island, one of the most popular hotels on the Las Vegas strip.

Miles, a 1992 Edgewood High School graduate, plays the role of Moha Samedi, a combination clown and comedian, in Mystere by Cirque du Soleil, which has been playing to sold-out audiences for 30 years.

By his look, it appears Miles is one of those entertainers destined for the Las Vegas bright lights. But once he takes you through his 30-year journey, you realize it was a matter of impeccable timing and immense talent that led to his big break.

You don't go from the EHS stage to the 1,500-seat Treasure Island Theater overnight.

After graduating from Ohio University in 1996 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts, Miles joked that with no job opportunities, he'd move back home with his parents.

"I could figure it out from there," he said with a laugh.

But he landed a small part in a summer theater in St. Louis and moved there hours after receiving his college diploma. A few months later, he returned to Athens, where he played a cowboy character in a play.

The next stop was in a townhouse he shared with some buddies in Jersey City. He acted in some local theaters and played with small bands in cafes and bars. The money provided ramen noodles, but at least he met his future wife, Jessie Miles, a 1995 graduate from the Ohio University school of dance.

"New York is the best city to live in if you have lots of money," Miles said during a phone interview from his Las Vegas home. "Not so much if you're a starving artist."

So they packed up all their belongings, rented a 10-foot U-Haul and took two weeks to drive from New York to California.

He was hired as a substitute teacher in a kindergarten though eighth grade private school. He also did "a little bit of theater," he said.

Their first son, Luke, was born on May 4, 2003.

Then they got the call that changed the course of their careers.

His sister, Amy Carder, a 1988 Edgewood High School graduate, said her husband, David, a 1987 EHS graduate who was enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, was being transferred to Iceland for two years and they were looking for house sitters.

So she called her brother.

"Living in Las Vegas seemed like a horrible idea," he remembers thinking.

Then he thought about the tremendous job opportunities there and the money they would save.

"Let's just go," he told his wife.

When they got to Las Vegas, they learned that the transfer orders to Iceland were delayed for several months. Suddenly, Miles, his wife and their son, were living with the Carders and their five children.

From a family of three to a house of 10.

Miles returned to his education roots by working for Mad Science, a science program for elementary students. He performed at school assemblies and instructed teachers during their in-service days.

But no amount of science could remove the performer out of Miles. He landed some comic parts in local downtown theaters.

"Whet my whistle" is how he described another sip of the stage.

Miles was told that Le Reve, a stage production in residence at the Wynn Las Vegas casino resort, was looking for an on-call clown to fill in when there was a sickness or injury.

He auditioned, got the part in September 2008, then was hired full-time.

He performed two shows a night, five nights a week. For the next nearly nine years, he estimated he performed the same show 3,700 times.

"A pretty healthy run," said Miles, 50.

He then landed a role as Moha Samedi, a circus ringmaster, in Mystere, the first permanent residence in Las Vegas. Deemed a theatrical "flower in the desert," Mystere recently celebrated its 30th year and has been honored eight times as "Best Production Show" by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Miles serves as the master of ceremonies and interacts with an old man character who wonders in from the casino and interrupts the show. He's the narrator "nobody listens to," Miles said.

He called working in Las Vegas "a dream come true."

But that doesn't mean he spends time at the all-you-can-eat buffets, casinos and sports books.

He's not a tourist.

He's a resident.

He and his wife, and their two adult sons, Luke, 20, and Carter, 17, live about 15 miles north of the Vegas strip, across the street from his parents who moved there from Trenton.

Toward the end of the one-hour conversation, Johnny Miles the clown became Mr. Serious.

It was time to reflect on the journey from Trenton to Sin City and every stop in between.

"Eventually you come to realize there are moments throughout your life when you think you're in control and the universe finds a way," he said. "You just have to do what you love and follow your dreams.

"We feel blessed, lucky. You have to take advantage of opportunity and take a risk without knowing what the next thing will be."

That makes perfect sense in Las Vegas, where people understand taking a risk without knowing the result.