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Copy-Cat Cavalcade

It was just a quick postshow breakfast for Eric Martin and some fellow Vegas entertainers. A chance to wolf down some grub and talk shop with about half the cast of the Imperial Palace's Legends in Concert extravaganza before calling it a night.

None of the performers were household names. A couple, in fact, had only been in town a few weeks. Why, then, was everybody else in the buffet room staring at Martin's party? Did the singer have scrambled egg on his face? Did one of his cohorts across the table just commit a silent-but-deadly gastric indiscretion?

Then it hit him. The costumes! Of course. In their enthusiasm over the feast, the half-dozen Legends had nearly forgotten they all were still dressed as the show-biz celebs they impersonate for a living.

"It was kinda funny," recalls Martin, the Dan Aykroyd half of Legends' Blues Brothers team, in a recent phone interview. "And then when we became self-conscious about it, even we started thinking about how strange it would be if the real people were ever in a situation like that, eating breakfast together and talking."

Life with Legends, it seems, can occasionally be like an episode of TV's Quantum Leap gone awry: a half-dozen mild-mannered regular Joes transported into the bodies of famous people, both living and dead, only visible as their real selves to each other.

"I don't think people ever mistake us for the genuine articles--especially when we're all sitting together in some place like a restaurant," says Jay White, a kind of Neil Diamonoid. "But they still, for whatever reason, feel uncomfortable about approaching us. We spot them looking in our direction, whispering to one another. It's funny. But I suppose when there's a bunch of us together, it can make for something of a spectacle."

"PEOPLE COME TO SEE Legends in Concert because they feel like, `I never got to see Elvis or Roy Orbison in person. This is the next best thing,'" muses Brad Fry, the show's marketing director. "Or they think, `I saw him but my kids didn't.'"

Still others come to see the seven-year-old Vegas mainstay, Fry says, for the sheer fantasy of seeing all these stars together in the same show-- something that could never happen in real life. "I think John Stuart, the producer, obviously hit on something very clever when he came up with this concept. It's really a fascinating show."

Stuart's concept, at its root, was far from original. Vegas has always been overpopulated with Elvis and Marilyn impersonators; Beatlemania revues have kept the Fab Four on the Strip; and look-alike singers have been frightening Cher and Tina Turner fans for years. Stuart, however, cleverly merged Vegas' best impersonator acts into one show and diversified the roster. Sure, Legends had its Elvis. But the glitzy ninety-minute showcase was also possibly the only place you could go to see spittin' images of Nat "King" Cole, Bobby Darin, and Kenny Rogers--to say nothing of Dan Aykroyd.

Today, Legends in Concert is widely recognized by impersonators everywhere as the apex of star-aping. "Most people that impersonate someone usually end up in Las Vegas trying to get in with Johnny and Legends in Concert," says Martin, a former Phoenix pet-food manufacturer who goofed around with his Blues Bro shtick at bar competitions until Stuart discovered him and waved some serious money under his Wayfarers. (Legends, incidentally, employs more than its share of ex-Arizonans. Kenny Bennett--who changes his last name to Rogers for Legends shows--lived in Tucson before moving to Vegas, and Fry spent time in Phoenix.)

"Legends is the highest you can go as an impersonator, probably in the whole world," agrees White. "I don't think there's another step you can ascend above Legends if you're an impersonator."

Because of that rep, impersonators have long swarmed to Legends like tabloid photogs to Rosanne Barr's mooned behind. And Stuart continuously auditions new acts, adding back-up Blues Brothers and spare Chers to his stable should, say, his number one Kenny Rogers decide he's ready to tour with a Dolly Parton impostor. Naturally, it didn't take long before Legends accumulated more Presleys, Diamonds, and Michael Jacksons than it knew what to do with.

That's when Brad Fry came in. His lofty job title reads "vice president of marketing and product development," but the former board member of the Scottsdale Center for the Arts is really a kind of Legends distributor.

Since being appointed to the job a few months ago, Fry has sent a duplicate Legends cast to open an extended run at the Boston Trade Center and dispatched third- and fourth-string teams to conventions, state fairs and hotel lounges from Canada to Hawaii.

"The way it works is a client selects the artists that they want based on a number of variables--the age demographics of their audience, the type of show and so on," Fry explains. "And then we'll send them a package of Legends best suited to their needs."

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Jimmy Magahern
Contact: Jimmy Magahern