Battle of the tributes looms

There hasn’t been a showdown with Elvis. Not until September, anyway. But Damian Brantley’s stock has gone through the roof.

Brantley’s Michael Jackson tribute anchored the Stratosphere’s “American Superstars” for years. He’s now in “Legends in Concert” at Foxwoods casino in Connecticut.

No surprise that he closes the show; the Elvis who traditionally provides the “Legends” finale is conveniently on break. “I’ve had a standing O every single night, if not more than one per show,” Brantley says. “To follow that is probably tough. It’s more than just my performance.”

Brantley is due back on the Strip in September to join “Legends” at Harrah’s Las Vegas. In the meantime, his phone hasn’t stopped ringing with other offers. “I have to say it’s been pretty wild,” he says. “Out of control.”

Same with the California-based impersonator E’ Casanova, who says he has been getting “at least 12 to 15 offers a day on every scale,” including one for Madison Square Garden.

Believe it or not, there were a handful of Elvis impersonators before the real Presley died in 1977. Some even played Las Vegas. But the real explosion came after he died.

With Jackson, the Strip already seemed loaded with impressions and costumed tributes. At the height of his pariahdom, there were dancing Jacksons even in male and female skin shows (“Thunder from Down Under” and “Crazy Horse Paris”).

In April of 2005, while Jackson was on trial for child sexual abuse, I wrote of Brantley: “You’d think that anything Jackson-related would be horrifying. … But now I get it. Brantley is doing the real Jacko a favor by remembering the good days … not the shambling, pajama-bottomed freak we see on the news.”

The whole world is doing that memory twist now. That’s good news for E’ Casanova, but a little bittersweet. He’s been touring a full-length Jackson tribute and trying to sell it on the Strip.

Last year, he went “literally up and down Las Vegas, banging on people’s doors,” trying to sell a “Thriller” 25th memorial concert. “It was met with so much resistance. It was so sad and frustrating that these people were so negative.” And now, “Here they come with a U-turn. That irritates me really bad.”

Death clarified a distinction E’ Casanova had been trying to explain: “His personal life and what he does onstage to me are like two separate entities. We’re only focusing on what he does onstage.”

“Superstars” co-producer Mark Callas says Frederick Henry’s tribute already closes the show and may be expanded. “Legends” producer Brian Brigner says he’ll make the Elvis-or-Michael call in September.

“It’ll be an interesting discussion.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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