Big shoes to fill, that Frank Sinatra. But Bob Anderson has been sizing them up for, oh, 40 years or so now.
The singing impressionist has a lot of friends and fans in Las Vegas. He moved away in 2003, but any time he comes back, locals make it worth his while. He can pack little rooms at the Suncoast, or the Italian American Club, on the strength of an act he has honed since the early 1970s.
Today is different, though. Anderson has a lot on the line with an expensive showcase at The Venetian. In elaborate makeup that takes two hours for an Oscar-nominated makeup artist to apply, he will sing a full-length Sinatra tribute he hopes will end up in London’s West End or concert halls across the country. Or even … Las Vegas.
“I put the whole thing together, I raised all the investment capital, I even wrote the business plan,” Anderson says. “Every component is right,” from musical director Vincent Falcone to makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji and veteran producer-director Stephen Eich, longtime managing director of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
If today’s show doesn’t prove the viability of Sinatra — and Bob Anderson — in Vegas, nothing will. If this is a Sinatra song, it’s “All or Nothing at All.”
In 1977, Anderson became a fixture at the Top of the Dunes nightclub. For three years, Sammy Davis, Tony Bennett, Tom Jones and others would show up to watch him imitate them.
But for the past couple of decades, everything I’ve written about Anderson had the theme of a man out of time. Not only was he out of phase with the Cirque du Soleil era, but unable to ride the waves of younger interest in Rat Pack cool.
In 2002, Anderson followed an unauthorized Sinatra tribute called “The Main Event” with a self-financed run at the Stardust. When neither worked out, he headed to Branson, Mo. “I’m moving and I’m not coming back,” he said at the time. “It’s tough to even get the smoky lounge anymore.”
The smoky lounge is back today, for the “saloon” segment of “Frank — The Man The Music.” The long-form tribute with a 32-piece orchestra has been two years in the making. There were even talks with the Sinatra estate about making it a sanctioned production, before Anderson ended up keeping total creative control with a group of independent investors called Hoboken Productions.
The free show gave away 750 tickets in three hours. It will be filmed as a calling card for theater managers and those who book pops orchestras, but Anderson really hopes to impress entertainment buyers on the Strip.
“The main question I had to get past for a long time,” he admits, is “Why am I doing this?” For years he was frustrated by the success of the late Danny Gans. But eventually, he gave up chasing the “man of many voices” format and thinned down his book of impressions.
He kept thinking entertainment buyers would finally say it’s time. “Let’s take Bob Anderson because he re-creates the greatest memories the Vegas stage has ever had. Now is the time. Let’s produce Bob doing that.”
“I keep trying to tell myself that, and then I said, ‘Wait a minute.’
“People knew about Bob Anderson, they knew about my act. I knew that Vegas changed so much, and maybe what I was doing wasn’t selling in Las Vegas. But they can’t tell me that Frank Sinatra will not sell in Las Vegas.”
At least not if he is done right.
“Here’s what happened. The Sinatra waters have been muddied up so bad by wanna-be Sinatra impersonators and cornball Rat Pack shows and guys putting their hats on halfway,” he says. “This is nothing like that. This is a Broadway show, man.”
Sinatra never saw Anderson at the Dunes, but in his later years he caught the impressionist at the Desert Inn and in New Jersey and New York. “He liked me,” Anderson says, and told people, “This kid’s got a hell of an act.”
Now the “kid” shows photos of himself in the silicone makeup to young people at an airport; a test to see if they know who he is supposed to be. Out of 25, 22 got it right. “He is relevant,” Anderson says.
And so, he hopes, is the guy behind the makeup.
Contact Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.