SEARCHING FOR AMERICAN SUPERSTARS

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN LAUGHLIN, NEVADA, AND CLINT'S WELL, ARIZONA, YOU MIGHT FIND THE MEANING OF LIFE IN THE '90S. ROGJT.

The stage is filled with billows of fog, just like in a bad video. I glance at the band, and--yes--there's my man Bobby G., tux-clad and picking out the intro to "Pretty Woman." He throws me a wink, I feel like somebody. And then Terry Ray, knee deep in fog, walks out onto the stage.

But it's not Terry Ray, it's Roy Orbison! He begins to sing--sounds just like him. It's a hell of a re-creation, a tribute, an impression, whatever. Terry doesn't have to do much besides stand there. Ol' Roy wasn't the most athletic act in rock history, but that's where the Lovely American Superstars Dancers come in. Talk about truth in advertising. These are showgirls, Vegas-style, and they cavort about the somewhat avuncular Orbison with the grace, precision and finesse of professional dancing brick houses. Terry runs through the hits, the crowd loves it, and he's off.

Hold on, though, cause now we're going all the way to Houston--Whitney, that is! And Ross Scott, Whitney or not, can really sing. Only thing is, she looks more like Millie Jackson than Whitney Houston. And she talks more like Millie, too, at one point urging the crowd to "drink up! Everybody drink! Have a shot of tequila, a shot of whiskey--pretty soon I'm gonna look like Elvis!"

Perhaps this isn't Houston-correct, but Ross is great fun. And so are those dancers, masters of the quick costume change, now boogie-ing down in skimpy, fringy outfits that look like Flintstone negligees.

Sorry, but the next guy I just didn't get. In real life, he's Johnny Potash, Nevada State Fiddle Champion since 1984, but 12 times a week he's Charlie Daniels. He can play a mean fiddle, and has a waistline to rival Daniels', but who wants to see a Charlie Daniels impersonator? Charlie's not even dead or anything.

But that's just me. I don't even want to see the real thing doing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Thank God those dancers finally came out, this time inexplicably dressed in Dallas Cowboy cheerleader suits. Modified with thongs.

Don't you just love show biz?
More fog onstage, and there's Janet Jackson, the same one we saw earlier out in the world of lost money and free drinks. Well, she may not look much like Janet, but she actually sings better. This is Delona Simon, who, in the pre-Jackson years, sang back-up for Wayne Newton and was a member of the Playboy Girls of Rock and Roll. Whatever that was. She looks out at the audience, spots an aging guy with shorts and black socks pulled up high, arms crossed, untouched pink drink with umbrella protruding in front of him.

"Are you a nasty boy?" Janet purrs. He looks at his wife, shrugs, as the lady onstage locks into Ms. Jackson's monster hit.

I don't know if you've been keeping track, but the only American Superstars left on the bill are, is, the Blues Brothers. This should be good. These two guys, Dennis "Dogwood" Wycklendt and Dave "Snake" Hurley, have been playing together for 16 years, and doing the Brothers shtick for three.

A movie screen at stage right comes to life with a montage of the big car-crash scenes from The Blues Brothers movie, apparently to prime us all for the fun just ahead. And here they are, Snake and Dogwood, doing that ants-in-the-pants, pseudosoul dancing that Belushi and Aykroyd did back in the old days. They're doing "Soul Man," the band is tight (all wearing shades, natch) and the Belushi guy--or Jake guy--perfectly executes a few cartwheels. His partner is blowing harp, blowing Aykroyd's harp blowing away.

They're good. Real good. But that's the problem--they're better than the Blues Brothers. Too pro, too polished. At the end of the set, they introduce the band (Bobby! Bobby!), and the entire cast of Superstars returns to the stage to mime along with James Brown's "Living in America." Even Belushi and Orbison are chiming in, apparently from beyond the grave. And the dancers are back, now offering a star-spangled display of T and A.

But it's all good, clean fun, and I feel like a patriot. I live in a country where I can see people imitate superstars, and damned if it's not more fun than seeing the real thing. I wouldn't want to see most of these acts in the flesh anyway, and I sure wouldn't be able to get a seat this close.

@rule:
@body:The audience files out, satisfied and anxious to start donating money to the Hilton again. I stay behind, and it pays off in a private audience with Dogwood and Snake, still sweating from the big show.

I have the cosmic question ready: I want to know whether they're doing Jake and Elwood, or Belushi and Aykroyd doing Jake and Elwood. "Neither," says Dennis/Dogwood. "We're just Snake and Dogwood. Everybody sees what they want to see, it's kind of like magic. One of the things I like to say is any similarity to Belushi and Aykroyd is coincidental and unintentional."

Huh? This guy is sitting in front of me in a black suit, black shades and a black porkpie hat, after just coming offstage where he did a carbon copy of the act the boys from Saturday Night Live created. Like I might just confuse them for Shields and Yarnell? But the man has answers for everything.

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