By: Sam Wagmeister - Nightlife Editor
Rarely have so many celebrities packed a room as they did Tuesday (7/14) evening at the Tropicana Casino’s Laugh Factory. Clint Eastwood and Willie Nelson were there.
Johnny Carson brought Carnac the Magnificent. Jack Lemon was still battling with Walter Matthau and Katherine Hepburn bickered with her On Golden Pond co-star, that “old poop” Henry Fonda. Presidents, singers, actors and actresses paraded across the stage in a nostalgic tribute, but none shown brighter than Rich Little, the comic genius who brought each of the larger-than-lifers to life in his recreations at the premier of his one man retrospective of Little’s own life in show business.
Little didn’t throw the celebrity names against a dart board and then utter a few lines of dialogue in their voices; the show was biographical and he recalled stories of times he shared with them.
Born in Canada, Little was discovered by Mel Torme, then a producer on Judy Garland’s variety show. After his US television premier on her show, Little’s career blossomed as he became a fixture on Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show, Hollywood Squares and the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. His career included a couple of regular spots on the weekly TV Guide schedule and regular guest appearances on variety shows and sitcoms.
As tributes were paid to the elite entertainers, their images flashed on the big screen televisions bookending the stage. The images were pencil sketches created over the years by Little. “I sketch almost every day. I’ve done it almost my whole life.”
At one point, Little recreated with comedic liberties the true story of a Presidential press conference when Ronald Regan handed him the microphone and left the room, instructing Little to finish the conference as the President. Little’s brilliance was further exhibited when he smoothly transitioned recreating conversations, alternating the voices of Fonda and Hepburn, Lemon and Matthau and others. Little’s mastery of the gestures and mannerisms further enhance each tribute.
In a world of shock humor and consonant-bombs, Little approaches each subject with reverence and respect. The production is interlaced with classic video clips of Little’s appearances with Carson, Garland, the Dean Martin Roasts and more. At one point, Little rested himself sat at the on-stage stool as a video clip played; he exhibited to the few audience members who stole a glance at him the depth and reverence of the clip and the “old days.”
The audience was brought to tears laughing at Little’s non-stop one liners of Andy Rooney’s 60 Minutes observations and his memories of Hollywood Squares Paul Linde. “He was so funny that we’d fall out of our squares.”
The show is tight, well paced and family rated. Only once did he use one of the “Seven words that you can’t use on television” and that was the one that George Carlin claimed “shouldn’t even count.”
Rich Little Live is scheduled to run through August 23. The curtain raises at 7:00 pm at the Tropicana Las Vegas Hotel’s Laugh Factory comedy club. The show is dark Monday and Friday. Tickets are available by visiting http://www.troplv.com/las-vegas/shows-entertainment/rich-little-live-laugh-factory
Editor’s Note: Rich Little and the late Steve Rossi collaborated on Jimmy Stewart and Friends, which ran for a year at the LVH, now the Westgate Hotel and Casino. What may be the last chance to see the critically acclaimed show performed live will be July 31, when Little goes before the cameras to film the show for a television audience.
The performance takes place at the Scherr Forum Theater inside the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks CA. Tickets are available at http://www.civicartsplaza.com/showinfo.php?id=260