Mar. 13, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
KING FOR A DAY
performs as Elvis impersonator
photos to enlarge them...
Corey Levitan, left, sings and strums in Steve Connolly's Elvis
Presley tribute show at Fitzgeralds.
Craig. L. Moran.
Connolly, right, shows Levitan the famous Presley hip-swivel, a
complicated, assymetrical move involving one leg.
Backstage before the gig, Connolly, left, gives Levitan a
refresher course in the proper arm motions and sneer.
Levitan, left, and Connolly trade verses on "All Shook Up," the
finale of a set that also included the Elvis favorite "Love Me
Craig. L. Moran.
"I like those, uh, sideburns," Steve Connolly quips as the
audience waits for us to start, "and that hair. It looks like maybe
you couldn't afford the Hair Club for Men."
I'm not a bad Elvis impersonator
— if there aren't any others
nearby to compare me to. But I'm about to imitate the King of Rock
'n' Roll alongside one of the world's best. Connolly and I are dueting on three Presley songs at one of his sold-out tribute shows
Honoring the slim version of the legend who made Las Vegas
synonymous with fat versions, Connolly has the vocals and mannerisms
eerily down. Yet what truly distinguishes his act is how well he
captures the young Presley's playfulness.
"I don't really have that many tics," Connolly continues
hound-dogging me onstage, as I test out the shoulder shrugs he
taught me. "That's more tics than a swamp in Florida."
Connolly graciously agreed to coach me how to fake, rattle and
roll. But he wasn't about to risk turning his acclaimed Spirit of
the King show into "The Gong Show"
— even for a night. Although
I've played guitar and sang since the eighth grade, impersonating
Elvis is a science. Connolly rehearsed me hard at his Las Vegas
home, at times treating me less than nice.
"Are you impersonating a gorilla?" he asked after I threw both
arms up, trying to follow his advice to spread myself out (thus
appearing larger than life).
Standing 5-foot-5 with a big nose and ears, I'm more elvish than
Elvis. But Connolly himself proves that physical dissimilarities can
be offset. He resembles the young Jay Leno as much as the young
Presley, yet exudes uncanny Elvis-ness while barreling through
"Hound Dog," "That's All Right" and "Burning Love."
"Only one arm," said my ducktailed Yoda. "Always think
asymmetrical. Elvis was asymmetrical." (It's true. His hip swivel
favored one leg, and his sneer one lip half.)
Connolly wasn't big on Presley while growing up in Worcester,
Mass. He idolized KISS and Aerosmith, beginning his music career as
a heavy metal guitarist. It was the producer of a 1995 homeless
benefit in Boston who suggested Connolly's future calling, after
seeing his band perform "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Jailhouse Rock."
"I thought he was nuts," Connolly said.
But the suggestion haunted Connolly, who ultimately accepted the
offer to tuck his long hair into an Elvis collar.
"That was it," Connolly said. Six months later, he landed Legends
in Concert at the Imperial Palace, and by 1999 had his very own show
at Bally's — where he earned a grand a night. His Fitzgerald's
stint began in 2003.
"Another Elvis, that's all Vegas needs!" cracks a cook as I enter
a Fitzgerald's kitchen in full costume, searching for a backstage
It's now 10 minutes before my debut, and I finally feel fit to
tie Connolly's blue suede shoes (if not fill them). In addition to
rehearsing nightly, I have listened to 60 consecutive days of the
all-Elvis channel on Sirius Satellite Radio.
The cook directs me two doors down to the right
— to a meat
locker. He chickens out before latching the door behind me, a la "I
"Sorry, I just had to do that!" he says, cracking himself up.
This is an omen, and I heed it. Connolly warned me against
"taking care of business" before performing. Elvis can be better
channeled, he said, if my knees shake from suppressed urination. I
wait in the wings, jiggling.
"Tonight, we've got a special guest," Connolly tells 120 people
who paid good money to see Elvis done justice to. "You're not gonna
When I hear my name, I step onstage to the beat of "See See
Rider" in my head.
"Hey, he's short!" shouts a heckler, halting the imaginary music.
"He's a short Elvis Presley!"
Connolly rebuts: "I like to call him Tiny E."
OK, so it's not a rebuttal. Actually, it's a reference to a 1992
"Saturday Night Live" skit starring Nicolas Cage as a four-inch
Elvis who terrorizes his normal-sized lackeys.
Connolly then derides my costume-shop wig and shades, but lays
off of my jacket —only because I borrowed it from him, along with
the Gibson ES-135 guitar. Like me, however, the leather isn't even a
real fake. It's a vinyl replica of the one Presley wore on his 1968
NBC comeback special, during which he sat in a circle with his band,
taking acoustic jabs at his old hits.
This is arguably the best Elvis period
— despite its shameful
ignorance by U.S. postage stamps. The 33-year-old Presley still
looked and sounded like his pharmaceutical-free younger self. But he
was hungrier — not yet for chicken-fried steak five times a day,
but to reclaim the rock throne he lost to the Beatles while he was
in Hollywood, making and remaking the same movie about a bumpkin who
punches out bad guys while crooning tunes about seafood.
Connolly had his own reason for deciding I was right for the
sit-down portion of his show.
"Nobody will be able to tell your height that way," he said.
The powerful pulse set by Connolly's live band (lead guitarist
Steve Fansler, keyboardist Mike Dowe, bassist Doug Turley and
drummer John Plows) is my cue. I lower my voice 2 octaves below my
true range (helium soprano) and my mike stand 7 inches below Elvis'
true height (6 feet).
"Baby, What You Want Me to Do" comes first. Connolly and I belt
the blues tune in tandem. There are no glaring mistakes (although I
invoke Travolta more than Presley during the arm throws). But there
are still some suspicious minds.
"Thanguverramuch," I address the crowd, as Connolly praises my
"Yeah, Southern Nevada!" the same heckler shouts.
Next, Connolly and I alternate verses on "Love Me Tender." I
ad-lib leaning the mike-stand floor-ward during "and I love you so."
The crowd applauds louder this time; the heckling stops.
Click here to listen to audio of all three
I really sell our big finale, "All Shook Up." My pelvis goes so
Elvis, a hula-hoop placed around my waist would shoot up over my
head. (The bursting bladder does help.)
The song's final guitar chord segues into a standing ovation. I
toss my guitar pick into the crowd, like Adrian Vandenberg after a
1990 Whitesnake concert. Connolly even calls me out for another bow
before I sprint to the men's room.
"I'm nervous about keeping my job," my mentor jokes.
During Connolly's regular post-show meet-and-greet, I hear
numerous permutations of "good job." One or two audience members
add, "you were so cute" and pinch my cheek.
But these are not honest evaluations of my impersonation skills.
For all his ribbing, Connolly set these people up to play along. (I
know this because of something he said while introducing me: "I hope
you people play along.")
I stop asking how I did and pose a different question: What if
you paid to see an Elvis impersonator and I was the only one you
got? Just me, no Steve Connolly, for two hours.
Suddenly, it's return to sender.
"He helped you, and that made it all right," says Julie Ottaway,
a 30-year-old retail manager from Marion, Iowa who is trying
desperately to spare my feelings.
Do be cruel, I beg of her.
"But I'd have been disappointed if I paid $30 to see just you,"
she finally admits. "You didn't sound good enough. And your look..."
Ottaway eyes me up and down without completing the sentence.
Thanguverramuch, ma'am, for helping determine my future. I've
decided to stick with impersonating a journalist.
here to read more of Corey's adventures at his home page, FearandLoafing.com.