‘Coolest man who ever lived’ comes to Powers
Growing up in an Italian community in New Haven, Conn., Drew Anthony regularly heard the sounds of crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
“The big thing is I grew up singing American standards with my grandmother,” he said during a recent interview. “We used to do that for fun.”
A brief foray into pop music was abandoned when Anthony realized his natural disposition to classic numbers personified by singers of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. “My voice lent itself to sing older songs and the melodies.”
Throughout his days singing at home or onstage, he never imagined that he’d be making a career impersonating Martin, who was dubbed by Playboy magazine as “the coolest man who ever lived.” But a chance meeting with a Las Vegas producer led to Anthony’s decade-long portrayal of the Steubenville native who went from delivering bootleg liquor, serving as a speakeasy blackjack dealer, working in a steel mill and boxing, to a legendary career in music, film and television, and becoming an icon for generations.
Anthony’s branched out from a nightly Vegas production “The Rat Pack Is Back!” that includes impersonators of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. and developed his own show, “Dean Lives,” which focuses exclusively on Martin.
“I wanted to create a tribute to Dean Martin that involved different aspects of his career, which I broke it down into three — the early years with Dean and Jerry Lewis, the Vegas years when he broke up with Jerry, and then the Hollywood years when he did his television show.”
Of course, the evening will be filled with Martin’s biggest hits, including “That’s Amore,” “Everybody Loves Somebody,” “Volare,” “Memories Are Made of This” and “Sway.”
For his upcoming appearance at Powers Auditorium, Anthony will use nine local musicians, including his conductor, Youngstown native David Perrico, who lives and works in Las Vegas.
After taking part in live interviews on Friday, Anthony will then be joined by the rest of the cast of “Dean Lives,” its musicians and crew for a soundcheck and rehearsal a few hours before the curtain rises and the King of Cool lives again.
Joining Anthony onstage will be impersonators of Marilyn Monroe, a friend of Martin’s who appeared with him in the film “Something’s Got to Give,” Peggy Lee, who sang with Martin and appeared on his television specials, and Jerry Lewis.
Weaving the events of the theatrical tribute together will be the fictional Ol’ Theater Caretaker, a lifelong friend and fan of the entertainer.
“Dean was a very talented person who had the ability to think on his feet and look natural and relaxed,” Anthony explained. “There are the stories that he didn’t rehearse, but he was aware of the material. It was given to him and he’d know what was going on, but he wouldn’t rehearse with the people. He’d do it live when it was being recorded so it would be fresh and spontaneous.
“Also, everyone that I ever met that met Dean Martin would always have nice things to say about him.”
Originally, Anthony planned to be a jazz singer. He studied that musical style and bebop in New York. With a degree in hand he put together his own show that featured a setlist of American standards, and performed it in the Big Apple as well as some of that area’s major casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
Feeling that there would be better opportunities due to more casinos based in Las Vegas, he moved to Sin City.
Encouraged to check out the Rat Pack show, which treated crowds to impersonators of Sinatra, Davis and Martin singing and joking around just like the original legends did in the early 1960s at the Sands Hotel and Casino, Anthony got the role of a lifetime.
“The producer of the show noticed that I looked like Dean Martin. He said, ‘Can you sing the Dean Martin songs?’ I said, ‘I can.’
“Not until I came to Las Vegas and found out impersonating was a big job and people were doing that did I ever play Dean Martin. As soon as I came to Vegas, it clicked because I looked like him and could sing.”
His portrayal met with the approval of Martin’s daughter, Deana, who sang “Welcome to My World” with him at the 2010 Dean Martin Festival in Steubenville.
To prepare, Anthony watched and listened to Dean sing and interact with the Rat Pack, Lewis and other celebrities.
“When I read about Dean or watch Dean, I understand a lot of how he acts, how he feels. Through the years of watching him, I’ve gotten used to how he thinks. I use that as a way to say a line like, ‘What would he do here? He would probably do it like this.’ That’s the way I play him.”
Through his studies, Anthony realized how Martin’s most famous prop — a glass filled with liquor — was nothing more than an ingenious act by the performer.
“It was tea or apple juice. It’s an interesting gimmick. You appear a little drunk. You have the drink. It relaxes the audience. It’s less tense. It was a good idea on his part.”
Despite impersonating Martin for 10 years, he continues to “absorb” the icon’s audio, television and film performances. Through that, he’s come to understand how to insert his own personality into Martin’s improvised style.
“My grandmother used to call me a ‘scooch’ (Italian slang word for ‘pest’) all the time because I liked to tease and play around. I get to be half-Drew on the stage and get away with it because it’s similar to Dean, along with the look when I’m in the tux and I make the hair just right and, of course, have the facial expression like Dean because he had a big, beautiful smile. When you do those things, you can get away with quite a bit. I can act like Drew and still get away with it.”