Little keeps legends breathing even if act is wheezy

rich-little-headshot.jpgPosterity, take note: Rich Little is a hero. Gladiator of a Thousand Voices.

While the veteran impressionist continues his Jimmy Stewart & Friends at LVH through May 23 in what he hopes is a prelude to a hit Broadway run, it would be easy to dismiss it—and Little—as quaint time capsules. Strictly speaking, they are. Presenting a gallery of greats gone by, he inhabits Stewart and “friends” including Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jack Benny and John Wayne.

Where Little, 73, once spoke as these legends, he now also speaks for them, trying to keep a generation still part of the pop-culture conversation. Unfortunately, the cachet of the spokesman—one of his era’s best impressionists—has dwindled.

Watch the show (it’s previewed on and it feels less Vegas than Smithsonian, comically and culturally. How many under-70-year-olds wouldn’t look blank-eyed at his Lionel Barrymore impression? Unless they’re fans of Turner Classic Movies and old TV, younger audiences will find the shtick creaky. Plus, when a Little punch line is the word “asshole,” he looks apologetic, even stricken. That’s kinda sweet. Also ancient.

Back in 2007, organizers of the White House Correspondents Dinner, gun-shy after Stephen Colbert’s 2006 scorched-earth routine that left President Dubya un-amused, opted for Little. Beltway columnists characterized his routine as practically arthritic. Besides, impressionists overall are hard-pressed to remain relevant given indistinct modern celebrities who might otherwise reinvigorate their acts. (Seen anyone do a boffo Brad Pitt? Justin Bieber?) Yet Little soldiers on, carrying the memories of a generation’s icons on his shoulders.

Let’s not canonize him or his motivations. Performers want to work. Egos crave the stage. However, pop culture rockets at light speed now, fueled by online media obsessively chasing the new and fresh while burning off the old and familiar, even when the old and familiar were new and fresh an hour ago. Keeping Stewart and Benny alive in Vegas now is a semi-miracle. Gatekeepers of hipness can marginalize or ignore Little, but as they too age out of pop culture’s sweet spot, he’s an example they should remember as they rage at their own slow fadeout.

So Little fights to keep his peeps alive in the cultural consciousness. Will he eventually lose? Yes, he will lose. Time always wins. Still, he fights. That’s why Rich Little is a hero.

NOSHING ON NOTES: Good Day LA anchor Lauren Sanchez, one of US Weekly’s “Hottest Bodies,” shakes her shapely self with the Pussycat Dolls at Planet Hollywood on May 19.  … Highlight at The Smith Center is comedian and former Laugh-In star Lily Tomlin (May 13), who at 72 is only a year younger than Little. Make a “ringy-dingy” to 749-2000. … Some singer who spells her name funny with a “z”—yeah, Liza Minnelli—performs May 12 at the LVH. Ringy-dingy them at 732-5111. … Beefcake parade American Storm opens May 10 at the Plaza, shifting from Planet Hollywood, making it, oxymoronically, an off-Strip strip show. Speaking of which …

OFF-STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Here’s a catering suggestion: When musical-theater genius Stephen Sondheim arrives in July at The Smith Center, some enterprising downtown eatery should roll out a Sweeney Todd Buffet. Bloody good idea, no?

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