by MIKE CHAIKEN
Tribute shows tend to have a bad reputation. And tribute shows that arrive via Las Vegas have a definite cheese factor that stick to them.
But, I’ve seen “Legends in Concert” a number of times over the years at Foxwoods Resort Casino and I’m never let down. There is nothing cheesy about them.
I was able to catch the opening night (Nov. 25) of the current run, which sets up shop in Connecticut until Jan. 1, and had a blast.
First of all, as is the case with its current incarnation now playing at the casino, the performers are real performers.
Yes, they work within the framework of paying homage to Elvis (Bill Cherry), Michael Jackson (J Lucas), Prince (Frank Moore), Whitney Houston (Cynthia Minx), and Taylor Swift (Elizabeth Scarborough). Their singing voices will offer inflections that reflect those stars. Their dance moves will be based upon the originals. And they will do what they can to look like their chosen stars.
But the bottom line with most every Legends cast member I’ve seen is that they are top notch performers.
I’ve seen Cherry before as Elvis. And his 1969 Elvis is spot on. His voice is right. His movements are just right. And he looks the part. But more importantly, however, is his performance has an ease of someone who knows how to embody the character fully. When he speaks to the audience, it’s not mimickry, it’s more improvisation. He is also confident enough to select a set list that strays from the obvious. For instance, “CC Rider” was never a signature Elvis tune, but Cherry attacks it with aplomb. And if the song wasn’t the Elvis aficionados’ favorite track, he made them remember it and reconsider it.
J Lucas as Michael Jackson also was—from a dancing point of view—one of the strongest tributes to the King of Pop I’ve seen. His dance moves are explosive and aggressive, giving a clear indication that his training is top notch. Even if you weren’t a Jackson fan, Lucas’s dancing was hypnotic.
Moore was one of the evening’s performers who actually looked like his chosen celebrity, Prince. He had the appearance down pat. But, he also had the musical chops to match the appearance and he did a great job with tracks like “Little Red Corvette” and “I Would Die 4 U.”
Cynthia Minx stepped out on stage as Whitney Houston. Of the performers, she probably looked least like her chosen star. But Minx also was probably the most musically talented of the performers of the night. Her vocal were impeccable. And she demonstrated her skill on Houston’s technically difficult and emotionally draining, “I Will Always Love You.”
Elizabeth Scarborough was charming and endearing as Taylor Swift. She also, at least for this evening, the only performer tackling a contemporary artist still alive and breathing. (Tony Kishman, who played Sir Paul McCartney, did not perform at the opening night show at Foxwoods.) She probably offered one of the most physically trying performances of the evening as she sang “Shake It Off” with all sorts of cheerleader moves. (Lucas really moved a lot but his performance didn’t require him to sing and dance at the same tim as he evoked Michael Jackson.) She also offered up a performance that the real Taylor Swift would approve of.
Secondly, aside from the “stars,” Legends works because they have a crackerjack band on stage. The musicians really push the songs, and inject them with an incredible energy that is more in the spirit of a live pop performance than just a tribute to a star. The backup singers also do a great job tackling a variety of genres to give the songs more vocal depth.
Thirdly, the dancers are fabulous. Again, like the musical performers, they don’t just go through the motions. They push themselves and several of them were breaking into some serious sweat on Nov. 25.
At the end of the evening, the audience clearly had enjoyed themselves… offering up a standing ovation to everyone involved.
“Legends in Concert” takes the stage on Tuesdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. until Jan. 1. For tickets, go to Foxwoods.com.