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.

"In fact, if it weren't for my hot pink 1959 pickup, people wouldn't even question me."

Like Bosko, nightclub singer Duke Hazlett--the show's Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra--drifted into the impersonation game by default. "The whole business has changed," says Hazlett. "Used to be I'd work 12 weeks in Chicago, go to Miami for another 12 weeks, then up New York. Well, those days are gone--there is no nightclub circuit anymore. So I came up with a 55-minute show called "Reflections of Sinatra." I also have a Sammy and a Dean and we do a "Reflections of the Rat Pack" show. It goes over beautifully, if I may be so bold."

For impersonation buffs, Hazlett's dual turns as Crosby and Sinatra would appear to be an impenetrable challenge. Bing Crosby simply does not look like Frank Sinatra (both singers appeared in High Society without particularly confusing the audience) and, truth be told, Duke Hazlett doesn't really bear much more than a passing resemblance to either. In fact, from certain angles, he could just as easily pass for Gene Kelly. Or Mel Brooks. Or Mel Brooks doing Frank Sinatra in High Anxiety.

That's where the art of illusion comes in, explains Hazlett. "What I do is psych myself up to be Bing or Frank onstage," explains Hazlett. "How would Bing hold a pipe or arch his eyebrow? How does Frank carry a drink onstage? The voice, the movement, the facial gestures--they're part of an overall package. Just saying 'Hey, you dirty rat!' without going through the Jimmy Cagney gestures doesn't mean much."

The only member of the Apache Junction cast who has actually met the legend he portrays ("Frank's always been very nice and gracious to me"), Hazlett is aware he may soon be in the eerie position of watching his own particular living legend turn into one for the ages.

"People have said to me that when Frank dies, I'm going right up into the six-figure bracket," says Hazlett, addressing the issue of Sinatra's highly publicized series of recent health problems. "Well, I don't listen to that and I refuse to believe it. If he passed away tonight, I certainly don't think it would be very tasteful to go and do the performance. I think I'd take a moratorium on what I do for a week or two."

If Gertrude Stein were to snare a ringside seat at "Legendary Superstars," she might be tempted to comment, "An Elvis is an Elvis is an Elvis."

But she'd be dead wrong.
"There are about five Elvises who can play the main showrooms in Vegas," producer Michael Paloma reports. "Then you've got a couple of B's, a whole lot of C's and then there are those you don't even want to talk about."

The verdict's still out on the replacement Presley that Paloma brought in for a week when the resident Elvis left the building for a brief gig in the Bahamas a few months ago.

Although Paloma had previously worked with the substitute, he hadn't seen him in a few years and was horrified to discover the replacement had ballooned to nearly 300 pounds. "Don't see the show tonight," begged Paloma at the time. "You'll crucify me. Jeez, the guy's legs--tree trunks!"

Adroitly using his avoirdupois to comic advantage, however, the porcine Presley won the audience over by cleverly parodying the bloated late-period Elvis. Wandering through the theater while singing, he snatched at bags of popcorn and other snacks, a running gag that brought the impersonation to an entirely different level.

Crowd-pleasing as the fill-in was, Presley purists like the regular "Legendary Superstars" Elvis insist that shift was not an upward move.

"For the real, true sense of what Elvis is about, that sort of parody is just not funny," says 37-year-old Presley look-alike Paul Casey, the only cast member who truly looks like the star he portrays. "At the end, Presley was a very depressed, sad person. His whole life had turned to shit. He hated the way he looked, his management wasn't letting him do what he wanted, he didn't care and he fell into drugs. I'm sorry, but that's what happened."

After nine years of crisscrossing the globe in a white, high-collared jumpsuit, tinted aviator glasses and muttonchop sideburns, Casey can definitely relate.

"I can see how the man got burned out on it," says Casey. "I myself can't do anything further than what I'm doing right now. I need to take it to another level."

In view of his respect for Presley (which didn't prevent him from accepting a role as an Elvis impersonator in the less-than-reverential Honeymoon in Vegas), just what that level might be is unclear.

"I don't know what I'll do," says Casey of life after Elvis. "Maybe I'll go into entertainment law. I'd also like to produce. I do know that I want to give something back to the people."

The "Legendary Superstars" sole female cast member may be the only woman in show business who, when asked for her autograph, scribbles three names--Marilyn Monroe, Patsy Cline and Marsha Finn. As it turns out, that triple-decker John Hancock is indicative of her enigmatic approach to celebrity pantomime.

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