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April 17, 2014

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REVIEW:

Frank Caliendo an impressive impressionist

Caliendo provides surprisingly original takes on some familiar subjects, including sports celebrities and George W. Bush

Image

Leila Navidi

Frank Caliendo uses facial expressions and gestures to portray his subjects, who keep interrupting him during his monologue. Caliendo, who finds humor on both sides of the political divide, says he once made Vice President Dick Cheney laugh.

Frank Caliendo performance

Impressionist Frank Caliendo performs at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009. Launch slideshow »

If You Go

  • What: Frank Caliendo
  • When: 9:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday (dark Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday)
  • Where: Lance Burton Theatre at Monte Carlo
  • Admission: $48.64-$81.36; 730-7136, montecarlo.com
  • Running time: About 80 minutes, including opening act
  • Audience advisory: Try to keep up with this comedian — he’s watching you.

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Beyond the Sun

Does Las Vegas really need another celebrity impressionist?

When the impersonator is Frank Caliendo, the answer is a surprising and emphatic yes.

Surprising, because judging from Caliendo’s posters and ads, we’re in for a gallery of crusty middle-aged white men, most of them past their sell-by date.

Come on: George W. Bush? Donald Trump? Jay Leno?

But Caliendo, who is performing a late-ish show four nights a week in magician Lance Burton’s plush showroom at the Monte Carlo, is sharp and smart with his gang of graying guys. His winning combination of observational comedy, inventive juxtapositions and vocal and facial mutability makes him the standout stand-up on the Strip.

Built like a major household appliance, moon-faced, with a crinkly-eyed smile, wearing a Tony Soprano-style shirt, Caliendo at times resembles John Goodman, Patton Oswalt and Jim Gaffigan in both appearance and delivery (plus more than a pinch of “South Park’s” lovably obnoxious Cartman).

Halfway through his act, it struck me that Caliendo is kind of Kathy Griffin for straight guys.

Bear with me here: Where Griffin bases her stream-of-consciousness shtick tattling on celebrity misbehavior, Caliendo mines the dudes’ portion of the pop culture continuum. Most of his stories and jokes take off on familiar sports figures and politicians and entertainers, heavily favoring the likes of John Madden, Mike Tyson, Charles Barkley.

And George W. Bush.

Bush’s gaffes and malapropisms were embarrassing when he was in office, but I guess we can laugh about it now — conjured by Caliendo, he’s hilarious and almost endearing.

“I miss having a president who always looked like he was looking directly into the sun,” says Caliendo, who amusingly imagines what Bush might be up to right now: Taking a bubble bath? Singing Duran Duran karaoke?

Caliendo claims to have made even Dick Cheney laugh at the 2007 White House Correspondents Dinner, and to his credit, he finds the political middle ground, tweaking the most recent presidents and managing to win chuckles from voters on both sides of the aisle.

He’s still working on his Obama — so far he’s got the POTUS’ distinctive introductory phrases, “Look” and “Here’s the deal.”

“If (Obama) says ‘Look,’ ” Caliendo says, “he thinks it’s important — and it’s probably gonna cost you a few bucks.”

Caliendo has the assuredness and easy rapport of the best TV talk show hosts. And throughout his monologue he slips in and out of characters, who keep returning to answer and comment on each other. So we repeatedly hear from Charles Barkley (“that’s turrable”), Bush, Bill Clinton and especially Madden. It’s an impressive braided technique, a seamless mash-up, a daisy chain of dead-on impressions. “I don’t know if you can tell, but I grew up watching a lot of television,” says Caliendo, who peppers the show with classic cartoon characters and TV voice-over guys, Dr. Phil and Jay Leno, even the whole cast of “Seinfeld” — minus Elaine. In fact, the only female character Caliendo attempts is Miss Piggy.

In one virtuoso bit, he reenacts “The Wizard of Oz,” with all the roles played by a manic Robin Williams — and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Helping to maintain the comfy talk show atmosphere, the show features an onstage four-man band, which warms the crowd up with Kiss covers and TV theme songs, and musically underlines Caliendo’s jokes.

Caliendo easily summons his panoply of characters without the benefit of makeup or effects, though at one point he digs into a prop trunk (labeled CARROT TOP), and indulges himself with a goofy lightning round of one-liners involving wigs and masks.

Though he’s made his fame on TV (Caliendo appeared on “MADtv” and is a regular on the “Fox NFL Sunday” pregame show), his audience shouldn’t expect to be passively entertained like couch potatoes. Caliendo’s delivery is subtle and fast, and he’s actively monitoring the audience, expecting us to keep up with his allusions and impressions.

It seems Caliendo barely takes time to breathe, but toward the end of the show, he gives himself a rest, lying down flat on his back.

“Hey, I work one full hour a day!” jokes Caliendo, who, just for a moment, transforms himself into a lie-down comic.

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