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April 19, 2014

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Who needs a jumpsuit to portray Elvis? Not Lou Gazzara of ‘Vegas! The Show’

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Lou Gazzara as Elvis, with Tara Palsha as Ann-Margret, in “Vegas! The Show.”

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Lou Gazzara portrays Elvis in "Vegas! The Show" at V Theater at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.

The Kats Report Bureau at the moment is Starbucks on Decatur and West Sahara, where the Wi-Fi’s high and the vibe multilingual.

As always, I am still working on English.

Time for the rake, picking up a couple of nuggets about the King:

• Lou Gazzara is not your typical Elvis impressionist because he’s not a really an impressionist at all. He is not even specifically an Elvis Tribute Artist as recognized by Elvis Presley Enterprises, but he is effective nonetheless as Elvis in “Vegas! The Show.” The production at Saxe Theater at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood celebrated its third anniversary this month and is an audience favorite for its sample platter of Vegas acts, entertainers and iconic scenery.

Naturally, Elvis, who died 36 years ago today in Memphis, plays a mighty large role in this show. But the depiction as performed by Gazzara is not the typical jumpsuit-clad Presley favored by most tribute artists — especially those who want to hearken to Elvis’s days at the International and Las Vegas Hilton. Gazzara strides onstage smartly attired in a replica of the white, double-breasted western-cut suit Elvis wore during his legendary 1968 network TV special.

In the backdrop is the famed “Elvis” sign, beaming brightly with red light bulbs. That performance pre-dates Presley’s appearances as a headliner at the International and is not the Elvis image many fans (especially hard-core devotees, of which there are multitudes) might expect out of “Vegas! The Show.” Credit show producer David Saxe for picking that moment in time and for the performers — Gazzara especially — for selling that performance

“David went with the 1968 comeback special and the white suit, and we have gotten a lot of flack from people — ‘Where’s the jumpsuit?’ ” Gazzara said during a phone interview. “These are the die-hard Elvis fans who will tell you you’re wearing a ring on the wrong finger. But we’ve talked about it, and there are a lot of different avenues to take with Elvis. The 1968 special was really special and was happening around the time he was in negotiations with the Hilton. It turned his whole career around.”

Gazzara reached the finals of Season 2 of “American Idol” in 2003 (the season won by Ruben Studdard) and also portrays Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Elton John and Wayne Newton in “Vegas!” The Elvis song selected for the production is not a Presley hit but was one that spoke of undying optimism: “If I Can Dream.”

“He was singing a message of hope during a very difficult time,” Gazzara said. “It’s not a famous song, but it is a really moving and motivational song.”

Presley’s is a famously difficult voice to master — anyone who has seen an Elvis impressionist contest is reminded of such — but Gazzara says nailing the intangible qualities of the King were particularly challenging as he stepped into the role.

“I had rehearsed and rehearsed his voice, so I felt pretty comfortable singing as him,” Gazzara said. “ But I kept thinking, ‘What is he doing that’s so cool? The way he wiped the sweat off his brow, all of his mannerisms that made him so cool were tough to get right. I did a lot of mirror work. You can get the mannerisms, by you can’t be exactly him. “

But that doesn’t prevent others from trying. Dozens of ETAs have descended on Elvis Week in Memphis, and to see how Vegas is being represented, keep on-a readin’ …

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Chad Collins of Las Vegas waits to walk down the red carpet before the Las Vegas Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest on Friday, May 10, 2013, at Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas. Collins won the contest.

• The Las Vegas entrant in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Contest at Elvis Week in Memphis has reached the final round. Chad Collins, winner of the Las Vegas semifinal round held on Fremont Street in May, has advanced to the Top 10. A total of 26 ETAs entered the competition on Tuesday. On Saturday night, the king of Kings is to be crowned.

As noted previously, Collins has long performed a tribute to Tim McGraw. If he does emerge as the victor at Elvis Week, he would be the second contestant out of the Las Vegas contest to win the international championship. Justin Shandor topped the field at Fremont Street in 2010 and went on to win the worldwide title in Memphis.

A single ticket for the show at Cannon Center for the Performing Arts is $70, reminding that the free semifinal show at FSE was a pretty good value. Especially for Elvis fans.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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