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Mar. 13, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal


KING FOR A DAY

Reporter performs as Elvis impersonator

Watch the Video
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click on photos to enlarge them...


Corey Levitan, left, sings and strums in Steve Connolly's Elvis Presley tribute show at Fitzgeralds.
Photo by Craig. L. Moran.


Connolly, right, shows Levitan the famous Presley hip-swivel, a complicated, assymetrical move involving one leg.
Photo by Ralph Fountain.


Backstage before the gig, Connolly, left, gives Levitan a refresher course in the proper arm motions and sneer.
Photo by Ralph Fountain.

Levitan, left, and Connolly trade verses on "All Shook Up," the finale of a set that also included the Elvis favorite "Love Me Tender."
Photo by 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 at Fitzgeralds.

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 bathroom.

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 Love Lucy."

"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 believe it."

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 hungriernot 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 Southern accent.

"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 songs.

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.

Click here to read more of Corey's adventures at his home page, FearandLoafing.com.

 

 

 


COREY LEVITAN
FEAR AND LOAFING




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