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Rich Little invokes spirit of old Hollywood with new show at LVH

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Rich Little does an impression of former President Richard Nixon during the state GOP convention at Green Valley Ranch on Friday, July 9, 2010.
Photo: Steve Marcus

By Andrea Domanick

Acclaimed comedian and impressionist Rich Little is known as “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” but it’s precisely 27 that he showcases during his new one-man show, “Jimmy Stewart and Friends,” which opened April 30 at the LVH.

The act centers on Little’s interpretations of the late Jimmy Stewart, whom Little describes as “a great friend,” as well as impressions of Stewart’s close friends and colleagues musing on their relationships with the legendary actor.

“It’s really more of a play, a tribute, rather than me performing,” the 73-year-old Little says of the show, which tells the story of Stewart’s life and career through the chronological reflection of the other characters. For example, Little begins with Stewart’s early Hollywood cohorts like Henry Fonda and Humphrey Bogart, and eventually transitions into late-career companions like Andy Rooney and former President Ronald Reagan.

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Rich Little at The Mob Experience at the Tropicana.

“Jimmy had a lot of notes about him, so I didn’t want to make the show just him talking for an hour and a half. I decided to pick out other people connected with his life to help tell that story.”

Little was first inspired to do a show about Stewart while the two collaborated on various charity projects later in Stewart’s life but admits that the Oscar winner wasn’t exactly enthusiastic when Little suggested it.

“I told him I was thinking of doing a one-man show on his life, and he didn’t think it was good idea. He said, ‘For one thing, with the way I talk, the show would be over five hours long!’” Little says, recalling Stewart’s distinctive drawl. “But I think he was quite flattered, though he was a modest man.”

Ultimately, writing and performing “Jimmy Stewart and Friends” was a process five years in the making for Little, in part due to the unprecedented challenge of having to play multiple characters at once. An earlier version of the show, which had Little dressed as Stewart and conversing with prerecorded impressions of the other characters, fell flat when Little attempted it in Mexico a few years ago.

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Rich Little is flanked by Jeff Leibow, Deven May, Rick Faugno and Peter Saide of Jersey Boys at the Palazzo.

“It just didn’t work. It needed to be all-live. But once we figured that out, there was the challenge of doing all these different people and Jimmy at the same time without looking like any of them,” he says, admitting that it takes the audience a few minutes to catch on to the one-man, multiple-voices format. The goal, he says, is to “hide in plain sight” behind the varying impressions rather than use costumes and staging as a crutch. “After the audience figures out how it works, they keep waiting for the next one, and after a while they can’t wait to see what I’m going to do next.”

Little debuted in Las Vegas at the Sands in 1969, and his new show marks a welcome return for him to the local stage three years after wrapping his headlining act at the Golden Nugget due to illness (“Everyone was sick of me,” he jokes).

While he’s thrilled to be at LVH, Little also sees the gig as an opportunity to fine-tune the show for his ultimate goal of the Broadway stage. Still, the veteran performer is in no rush and is enjoying reviving the stars of his Hollywood heyday for the younger generations that come through Las Vegas.

“I’m very encouraged, it was a great crowd, better than I expected, actually,” Little says of his opening-night performance. “I was surprised by how many young people who came said they enjoyed the show, that they didn’t know any of the characters, but they loved the humor. I don’t really understand how that works, but I take it as a big compliment!”

Little performs "Jimmy Stewart and Friends" Saturdays through Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. at the LVH's Shimmer Cabaret. Tickets are $63.90 and can be purchased at the LVH box office or through its website.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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