Performers small in stature, big in spirit

Little people have always enjoyed steady work in show business, and Antonio Hoyos has been a 4-foot presence on the Strip since 1978.

When Siegfried & Roy headlined “Lido de Paris” at the Stardust, Hoyos was hired to be the end product of an illusion that purported to shrink Roy.

“I would walk off the stage and people would touch me and go, ‘My God, you are real.’ “

That wasn’t the full naivete of showgoers in 1970s Las Vegas. When Hoyos would hang out in the lounge, people would encourage him to catch the revue: “This magician makes himself real little and it’s amazing.”

“That’s when I’d know that the act was going good,” he recalls.

For almost 20 years, Hoyos has worked as a sidekick to magician Kevin James. On Friday, the two wrapped a three-year run in “World’s Greatest Magic Show” at the Greek Isles, and soon they’re off to ports as near as Universal Studios and distant as China.

But until Labor Day, Hoyos also is onboard with a new venture, “Little Legends” at the Harmon Theatre. And for the first time in years, the 54-year-old performer is surrounded by other little people. Younger ones, who all know each other.

All of them have been making good money on the club circuit, doing send-ups of Elvis, Britney or Kiss. And you know that once something is the hit of the Custom Car & Chopper Festival in El Paso, it’s bound to get a shot on the Strip.

But is “Little Legends” empowerment or exploitation?

Hoyos stands by the former. “It’s more recognition of what a small person can do than what a small person looks like,” he says. Society has changed since the sideshow era. “We became established people. We are people of a smaller stature but have the capability to do pretty much anything they allow us to do.”

He is writing a book called “How I See the World at Four-feet Tall” to let people know “the height has nothing to do with it. It is the spirit you create out of it.”

Today the real Britney Spears is the sideshow, a national distraction from the real news. So when people go see 27-year-old Terra Jole as Mini Britney, are they goofing on Jole or Spears? Or does it even matter?

If people show up sporting one attitude, “it changes by the end of the show,” says Jole, who moved from San Antonio to Hollywood at age 21. She used to be the lead singer for Mini Kiss but saw her career blow up after starting the Britney act in February.

“The cool thing is there are so many people who are very uneducated about little people,” she notes. “And I feel like doing this, they’re seeing we’re just like anybody else. Talking to people after the show, it’s a very positive outlook most people have.”

Mike Weatherford’s entertainment column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 383-0288 or e-mail him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com.

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