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Rick Faugno stands out from the crooner crowd with ‘Body & Soul’

When human entertainers strike back against the DJs, those of us rooting for the mortals welcome any and all to the battle.

But so far, it’s a choice between two lounge revivalists who seek, as Rick Faugno tells audiences, “to keep that spirit of classic Las Vegas alive.” With former “Jersey Boy” Faugno jumping into the game with Matt Goss, the difference between the two is easy to sum up.

Goss plays the part at Caesars Palace, wrapping himself in the trappings of retro-swing, and cherry-picking the more fashionable parts of the old-Vegas aesthetic.

At the Las Vegas Hilton, Faugno wears a neutral suit of no particular vintage and doesn’t load you up with visual cues to time-travel back to an earlier era.

He doesn’t have to. He lives there.

You get the idea this guy couldn’t leave the 1960s if he had to, because he sometimes tries. That cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” was the hokiest thing in the show. And this is a show where Faugno plants his feet and sings “I’ve Gotta Be Me.”

Faugno (pronounced fon-yo) is slim, sleight (“Sir, the stage adds 16 inches,” he jokes when he steps off it), and liquid on his feet as he glides through an opening James Brown medley. He stands out from other crooner revivalists by putting the footwork back into the phrase “good old-fashioned song-and-dance man.”

He isn’t just doing a Vegas-style act. At times he’s doing the actual act, re-creating Sammy Davis Jr.’s electrifying showstopper of jazz-singing a three-song medley to shifting drum rhythms. Later, he suits up in tap shoes for a percussive duel with drummer Brian Czach.

Faugno grew up in musical theater, a background he explained in “Songs My Idols Sang (and Danced),” his first side venture during the 3½ years he played Frankie Valli in The Venetian company of “Jersey Boys.”

When Faugno and the “Jersey Boys” producers came to a parting of ways recently, “Body & Soul,” this newer showcase at the Shimmer Cabaret, became the main gig. There was some risk Faugno would lack gravity, or theatrically oversing the standards and pop classics, as he sometimes did in “Songs.”

Not to fear. With Czach as musical director of the four-piece band, good jazz taste prevails. Faugno’s voice is in a strong but natural register. Done-to-death Sinatra songs get fresh treatments: a lilting, West Coast-jazz take on “The Best Is Yet to Come,” or the upright bass of Fred Watstein leading “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” into an unexpected “Mack the Knife.”

It isn’t all so assured or special. The obligatory Michael Jackson salute near the end seemed a bit forced. So do the jokes, even if they are funny. Maybe I’m type-casting him from his Valli portrayal, but Faugno seems to carry that air of a guy who has a lot to prove.

And Faugno’s two nice-try originals (“Why Do I?” and “Say You’re Sorry”) at an upright piano don’t quite give a full sense of what he’s all about. He made a lot of local fans covering this autobiographical ground in “Songs,” but a little repetition wouldn’t hurt in this tourist-oriented venue.

Whatever we still don’t know about him, we sure know about his influences. And if Faugno can expand beyond his base of loyal seniors to lure in some of Goss’ derby hat and choco-tini crowd, they too will get a very real sense of why the old Vegas is worth bringing back.

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

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