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October 22, 2014

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Review:

Gang of (almost) doppelgangers

‘Legends in Concert’ at Harrah’s a tribute revue with some real talent

Image

Sam Morris

Katie Murdock gives a spot-on impersonation of Britney Spears in “Legends in Concert” at Harrah’s. One difference: Murdock actually sings onstage.

If You Go

  • What: “Legends in Concert”
  • When: 7:30 and 10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; 6 p.m. Tuesday and Saturday; dark Thursday
  • Where: Showroom at Harrah’s
  • Admission: $49.95; 369-5111, harrahslasvegas.com
  • Running time: One hour and 20 minutes
  • Audience advisory: For best results, sit at least a few rows back from the stage.

"Legends in Concert"

The Terry Forsythe Group plays the Temptations during Launch slideshow »

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Beyond the Sun

Legends in Concert

Matt Lewis, who portrays Elvis in Launch slideshow »

There’s one show on the Las Vegas Strip at which the farther away you’re seated from the performers, the better.

At Harrah’s Showroom, “Legends in Concert” offers a buffet of showbiz knockoffs, close-enough simulations of a handful of pop music stars. But sitting close-up serves only to disturb whatever fragile illusion the impersonators manage to create.

The “Legends” company is a mini-industry, supplying impostors to six cities, including Atlantic City, N.J., and Branson, Mo., rotating casts from a roster of nearly 100 impersonators, including at least five Elvii. The current lineup at Harrah’s features look- and sound-alikes of James Brown, Britney Spears, David Bowie, the Temptations and (always) Elvis Presley; the most recent cast featured Jay Leno, Tom Jones and Whitney Houston.

The faux fun began with James Brown, convincingly reincarnated by Herb Rawlings, complete with Dynel hair, patented gestures and split-slides. Rawlings quickly worked up a sweat on Brown’s hits “Living in America,” “I Feel Good” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”

As Britney Spears, Katie Murdock goes the real thing one better — Murdock actually sings and dances at the same time. Beginning with a tip of the sequined top hat to Spears’ “Circus” tour, which recently played the MGM Grand, Murdock demonstrates what would happen if Britney’s mike were live during the exerting gyrations, breathing hard into the headset mike while bleating “All eyes on me at the center of the ring” like a hormonal goat — just like Britney herself! Spears might consider hiring Murdock to stand in for her: She’s the same age, toned and tan, and nails all the hair flips and intricate arm choreography on “I’m a Slave 4 U” and “Toxic.” And (just like Britney), Murdock spoke exactly three times to the audience, twice to say “Woo! How y’all doin’?” Hilariously, one of the hoodie-sporting backup dancers is a ringer for Britney’s former hubby, Fed-ex.

David Bowie was on next, and much chattier than Britney or Brown. But David Brighton’s imposture made Bowie look butch by comparison — more Julie Andrews than Thin White Duke. Brighton has the willowy build and delicate cheekbones, even the mismatched eye colors, but he’s missing a suggestion of the stage presence that comes from, well, knowing that you’re David Bowie. As they did for the previous performers, the video screens showed images of the real Bowie for (unflattering) comparison. And however faithfully approached, hits like “Suffragette City” and “Modern Love” didn’t catch fire with the Harrah’s crowd.

This is a good place to commend the nine hardworking dancers — unfortunately costumed in shiny vinyl — and the rocking five-piece band, particularly guitarist Marcelo Falcon, who effortlessly summoned every style from James Brown’s funky chicken scratch to Mick Ronson and Carlos Alomar’s signature sounds on the Bowie hits.

A Celine Dion doppelganger had been promised, and I was looking forward to that, but we got the Temptations instead, and it turned out to be a great thing.

The five-man Terry Forsythe Group was well into “Get Ready” before realizing that their microphones weren’t working. Forsythe motioned for the band to subside, and he and the other singers continued the song a cappella, with the audience delightedly clapping and singing right along. It was a thrilling bit of real showbiz in a revue of routine facsimiles — “Night at the Living Wax Museum.”

The snafu brought the show to sudden life, and the Forsythe Group suavely navigated the harmonies and dance steps accompanying “Cloud Nine and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”

“Legends” winds up with Matt Lewis as a young-looking Elvis Presley, and though he more closely resembles Elvis as played by Nicolas Cage, he made an endearing, amusing impression as the once and future King. Lewis/Elvis has lots of moving parts, and he’s a big flirt — he amusingly focused his attentions on one particular cotton-topped lady in the crowd. I never noticed the similarity between Elvis and a certain Caesars headliner before, but Lewis could easily impersonate Cher in a pinch.

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