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October 21, 2014

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Jerry Lewis keeps it crisp at South Point; next stop is Cannes Film Festival

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Christopher DeVargas

Jerry Lewis poses for a portrait in his Las Vegas home Wednesday, May 8, 2013.

Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis

Having banked three sold-out shows at South Point Showroom, Jerry Lewis is headed to the country where he is so legendarily beloved: France.

Lewis is to be the subject of a tribute before the premiere of his latest film, “Max Rose,” at the Cannes Film Festival, which begins Wednesday and runs through May 26. Lewis will attend a screening of the film, in which he portrays an aging jazz pianist trying to cope with the death of his wife.

Lewis also is still talking of “The Nutty Professor” debuting on Broadway at Marquis Theater in mid-November, though there has been no formal announcement of that booking. Lewis has targeted Broadway for the musical adaptation of his classic comedy for at least three years and has specified Marquis Theater as the theater since his November show at The Orleans.

Lewis’ weekend performances at South Point were far less elaborate and demanding than his one-off at The Orleans Showroom last November. I’d anticipated, as did most fans, that Lewis would be accompanied by an orchestra or backing band, as was the case in The Orleans show taped for PBS (but his music director, Vincent Falcone, was in the crowd Sunday night). Lewis prefers working with an orchestra in his stage shows, allowing him to sing a few numbers in between his stage shtick and video footage.

But singing is pretty fatiguing for the 87-year-old Lewis these days. At South Point, Lewis was seated for most of the 1-hour, 15-minute appearance and performed a strictly one-man show, telling jokes and introducing a long stretch of TV and film clips.

Of these, my favorite was a TV appearance from, it seemed, the mid-1950s, with Lewis working with Carol Burnett for the only time in his career. In the skit, the two characters are, for lack of a better term, geeky as they perform a klutzy mating ritual. Both wear thick, oversized glasses and clothing (Burnett in a gown and Lewis in a tux) that don’t quite fit right.

“I think you have ... animal magnetism,” Burnett tells Lewis.

“I think I caught it at camp,” Lewis responds, then moments later cowers in the fetal position on the sofa.

Another series of scenes, of Lewis performing maybe a dozen hard falls on his back, made you wince. “If you want to know why I have back problems,’ he told the audience, “This is why.”

Whump!

Lewis was graceful in his responses to the audience during the Q&A segment, teasing some audience members but not in the same biting manner he often displayed during the PBS show. “Your comedy got me through my childhood,” one questioner started. Lewis answered, “It got me through mine, too.”

One brazen questioner did ask Lewis what had happened between the comic legend and the Muscular Dystrophy Association that led to Lewis' departure from the annual Labor Day Telethon and the organization entirely. "We did the work we needed to do," Lewis said. "That's all that matters."

Lewis ended by singing a truncated, a cappella version of “Somebody” from “Cinderfella.” It was a warm sendoff. Lewis has made eight appearances this year, counting the three at South Point. This format might lack the music, but the man was sharp and funny and ably guided the audience through his famous career.

Lewis is never, ever boring and — tip your hat to this — can still fill a room in Vegas. But whether he'll be back onstage again is uncertain.

As is always the case with Jerry Lewis, we watch and wait.

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

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