When vocal impressionist, Jimmy James called to tell me he’d been booked to perform in Las Vegas, I was thrilled. A dear friend since the late-‘90s, Jimmy had already established himself as a legend in Provincetown, where he’d been selling-out shows for more summers than he cared to admit – and this, after a couple decades of his “Marilyn Years” – which found him on every talk show, from Donahue and The Joan Rivers Show, to Geraldo and Sally Jessy Raphael, as Marilyn Monroe.
Having found his voice (actually dozens of them), Jimmy segued from the visual to the audible, and now sang impressions of such iconic female artists as Cher, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Karen Carpenter, Stevie Nicks, Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline, and Judy Garland.
But when he told me the name of the venue at which he’d be performing – the Starbright Theatre – I was confused. “Where’s that?” I asked. Well, it turns-out that the Starbright Theatre is located in Sun City Summerlin – and as such wouldn’t be drawing the gay audiences that have packed Jimmy’s shows from P-town to Palm Springs. But, I realized, this could be the perfect niche for him: After all, how great to have a few hundred people who not only remember Judy Garland, but may very well have watched The Judy Garland Show, in its original run on television!
A presentation of Mistinguett Productions, the producer had Jimmy in town weeks in advance, promoting the show on television and at casinos like Sam’s Town and The Suncoast – which had him running ragged, but very excited.
As usual, Jimmy put on a terrific show. And the Sun City audience couldn’t get enough. One of the things that Jimmy does best is imagining what it’d be like to have two of his “divas” sing together (like having Billie Holiday and Judy Garland sing a duet of “The Man that Got Away”) or to have one sing something completely unexpected (imagine if Cher had been cast as ‘Grizabella’ in Cats, and sang “Memory” – (see video, below)). And his take on Liza Minnelli singing Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” – as she did in Sex and the City 2 – well, let’s just say that between the laughing and the clapping and the wheezing and the hacking I’m glad that it didn’t literally “kill.”
In preparation for what I’ve affectionately dubbed the “Miracle Ear” audience, Jimmy had decided to “butch-up” his show, a bit; and featured some male voices in the line-up. So there was Lionel Richie singing “Endless Love” with Diana Ross; there was Sonny Bono singing “And the Beat Goes On” with Cher; and a haunting impression of a 19-year old Elvis Presley singing “Love Me Tender” – that brought the house down.
But at the end of the day, it’s his impressions of women that set Jimmy apart. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, after he sang Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do” as Judy Garland; while his take on José Feliciano’s Christmas song, “Feliz Navidad” sung à la Bette Davis, tickled everyone’s funny bone.
As his finale, Jimmy performed his “8 Divas” which is the Duke Ellington classic “I’ve Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” as sung by eight of Jimmy’s divas – Cher, Mae West, Judy Garland, Eartha Kitt, Barbra Streisand, Marilyn Monroe, and Bette Davis.
After the show, in the lobby of the Starbright Theatre, the crowd of fans and well-wishers was so packed it was all I could do to jump-up and wave at Jimmy, and yell “Call me!” before I was trampled by an unruly gang of octogenarians, on Hoveround scooters, wanting to meet the man who’d so deftly resurrected so many of their favorite entertainers.
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