“Dean and Friends” featuring Tom Stevens

Locals remember Tom Stevens and he remembers them — along with anyone else feeling a little old-Vegas neglect on the Strip.

His audience for “Dean and Friends” in the Riviera’s cozy Le Bistro cabaret is small but appreciative. When the impressionist does his Robert DeNiro singing “My Way,” one couple stands up and applauds.

When he finishes Neil Diamond’s “I Am … I Said” a different couple, on the other side of the room, gives up the standing O.

But it’s not until his full-blown “The Music of the Night,” complete with “Phantom of the Opera” half-mask, cape and even lighting cues on the little stage, that all two dozen or so are brought to their feet.

He will get them there again for the finale, his Ray Charles rendition of “America the Beautiful,” dedicated to armed-forces personnel as well as “police, border patrol agents, the Coast Guard” and anyone else watching our backs.

It’s the kind of act that used to make Las Vegas entertainment be seen as ironic. Now, it’s too rare to be mocked, at least for these underserved seniors looking for a little attention on a hot afternoon.

“I feel like there’s definitely a market for what I’m doing,” says Stevens, sitting with his wife, Perla, after the show. “I bring back the memories of the old days. Why do people spend so much money on memorabilia? There’s a warmth to seeing a performer onstage doing what I’m doing.”

The Long Island, N.Y., native gave up his job as a hairdresser in 2002, moving to Summerlin even though a job in the locals-oriented “Frank, Dean & Friends” came with no guarantee at the Suncoast.

After a cabaret show at the Rampart Casino and a few shows with a full band at The Orleans, Stevens hit the cruise ships. They offer a salary, a captive audience and a real band instead of recorded karaoke tracks.

But, the impressionist says, “I love being on land. And I hate being away from my wife.” So he decided to work the Le Bistro lounge, a pay-to-play venue that’s been many a little guy’s only real entry point to the Strip.

He started in January with three shows per week, recently adding two more afternoons (the newness of these matinees, combined with a preholiday lull, could have been a factor in this day’s low crowd count).

Stevens is sustained in part by locals, who steer visiting friends and relatives his way. “They even pay full price” instead of trolling the discount outlets, Perla notes.

His act could be placed in a time capsule to preserve the standard impressionist act of the past few decades. Stevens covers all the bases, from old standbys such as George Burns and Jimmy Stewart to the new stock favorites, Christopher Walken and Al Pacino. He teams Sylvester Stallone with Paul Lynde, pairs Jerry Lewis with Richard Nixon.

And don’t forget the Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias duet; no impressionist does.

Stevens does put his own stamp on the show in a couple of ways. He opens with a 15-minute stretch of a strong Dean Martin, complete with the patter: “Why am I shoutin’? I got the job.”

And he has good transitions, using, for instance, an anecdote about the Rat Pack struggling to find hit songs after the Beatles, instead of jumping from one impression to the other willy nilly. He even tapped into last spring’s news about a university piecing together the oldest recording of the human voice, all to set up “Danke Schoen.”

Where he sometimes goes astray is a common trap. It’s one that separates old-school impressionists from newer guys such as Jay Mohr, who use the voices more selectively and don’t make them the whole focus.

On the Strip, an impressionist boxed in as such doesn’t have the option of singing in his normal voice, or thinning out the weak bits. Hence, Stevens’ generous 90 minutes include a Frank Sinatra he shouldn’t bother with and a Tony Bennett that sounds more like Barry Manilow.

But he tunes in on the real Elvis Presley and not the generic imitation. Most of all it’s sincere, and so is the reaction.

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

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