Impersonation Nation

The Blues Brothers, Marilyn, The Killer, Ol' Blue Eyes, Der Bingle and The King himself! The "Legendary Superstars" revue takes a Las Vegas formula to Apache Junction and audiences are, well, doubled over.

To paraphrase a Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator, "there's a whole lotta fakin' goin' on!"

In a business where following in someone else's famous footsteps is the only path to success, originality would not seem to count for much.

But last year, in the midst of performing a Blues Brothers act in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, veteran John Belushi impersonator Michael Paloma had an epiphany: Why not copy his boss--and start his own show?

"Every day, we had a lot of buses coming in, all these seniors on oxygen," recalls Paloma, who attended college at Arizona State University. "I'm thinking to myself, 'Jeez, this is great!' I know another place just like this--Mesa, Arizona! Every winter, they get a million of 'em!"

After spending years on the road assembling a checkered show-biz resume that covers virtually every field of entertainment except lap dancing, Paloma moved back to the Valley and began creating his show. Or, more precisely, re-creating it--"Legendary Superstars" is a virtual photocopy (albeit scaled down) of the show at the Las Vegas Imperial Palace, where Paloma once served a six-year stint.

Unlike traditional producers who are plagued by such niggling real-life concerns as scheduling conflicts, illnesses, even the death of a performer, impersonator impresarios like Paloma have at their finger tips every performer in the history of show biz--living or dead. In duplicate.

As he ticks off his dream cast, Paloma sounds like a man preparing a shopping list. "I wanted a Marilyn. I wanted a Frank. I wanted a Bing." Pause. "The Blues Brothers will work in any show--they're the most popular act going. I wanted an Elvis--he's the second most popular." Waiting in the wings are the Andrews Sisters, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.

If this stellar roster hearkens back to an earlier era, that's because it mirrors the taste of the average "Legendary Superstars" ticket buyer. Explains Paloma, "I really hate to cut the kids out of this, but the truth is it's the seniors who are going to make the payroll. So I give 'em a mixture and hope for the best. Reba McEntire is coming in, so maybe that'll bring in a younger country crowd." The show is scheduled to run through April, when it moves to the Wisconsin Dells.

Working from a pool of impersonators based almost entirely out of Las Vegas, Paloma eventually hired a rotating stable of pseudostars who all live rent-free in a Mesa apartment complex provided by the show. Each performer supplies his or her own costumes, material and musical arrangements. According to Paloma, salaries range from $800 a week for an opening act to $2,500 for an Elvis.

While there's not a Donna Summer ringer in the lot, Paloma's superstars work hard for the money. In addition to performing eight shows a week, the cast members are also expected to spend several mornings a week handing out promotional brochures at shopping malls, RV parks, community colleges and flea markets--in character.

"That's when the reality kicks in," confides one seasoned "superstar" accustomed to the cushier conditions of Vegas. "You realize, 'Gosh, I never had to do this before.' It makes you realize you're working a ground-floor operation."

During intermission at a recent "Legendary Superstars" performance, the show's publicist attempts to impress a cluster of concertgoers by announcing that several cast members had "actually worked in Vegas!"

But rather than draw the intended response, her statement merely elicits puzzled looks. "Then what are they doing out here in Apache Junction?" asks one elderly listener.

In the words of the King of Rock 'n' Roll--or, in these woods, a pretender to the throne--"TCB, ma'am."

"To me, the main attraction is the money," answers Woody Neel Bosko, the house Jerry Lee Lewis. A writer, jazz musician and lounge performer since the early Sixties (Bosko can be seen as the lounge pianist in background shots of early episodes of The Love Boat), the 52-year-old performer says, "Believe me, there's nothing I love more than sitting in a nice cocktail lounge playing some real cool jazz with some real fine players. Creatively, there's nothing finer. But that ain't where the money is--yet. My wife and I are trying to pay off an apartment building we own so I'm doing Jerry Lee Lewis rather than sitting in some hotel in Vegas working for scale."

Bosko credits his wife, Justine Carrelli, with the idea to impersonate The Killer. An American Bandstand regular when the show was still being broadcast from Philadelphia, Carrelli was screening some old videotapes of the show for an upcoming documentary when she noticed her husband bore a fleeting likeness to the star.

Reportedly one of only two Killers-for-hire in the country, Bosko says his only cosmetic preparation for the role was coloring his hair. "Some 'legends'--and I'm glad to tell you that none of them are in our show--take this thing way too seriously," explains Bosko. "Some of them think that they are that person they're playing--they get tons and tons of plastic surgery. Some of them are just plain nuts, actually.

"When I'm onstage, I am Jerry Lee Lewis," continues Bosko. "But when I'm in the dressing room or out on the street or at the store, I'm Woody.

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