Legendary impressionist Rich Little has been delighting audiences in the Shimmer Cabaret at the LVH (Las Vegas Hotel) with his new one-man show Jimmy Stewart and Friends during its pre-Broadway run since it debuted on May 27th. Originally scheduled to end on July 4th, the run has been extended with performances continuing Saturday through Wednesday evenings at 8:30pm.
Featuring 28 different characterizations instead of just one, which is usually the case in an 11/2 hour show like this, the Man of a Thousand Voices, co-wrote all of the material with his producer Steve Rossi, who is perhaps best known for being half of the famous Allen and Rossi comedy duo.
The set is simple: a desk, loveseat, a few chairs and lamps and some plants. The show opens with a screen coming down showing footage of Rich and Jimmy, some of it taking place during one of Dean Martin’s legendary comedy roasts. Among the on stage props are several hats that Little uses to bring his impressions of many friends of Jimmy’s including Henry Fonda, Stan Laurel, Walter Brennan and Humphrey Bogart to life.
The show blends old jokes with new comedy while both details of Stewart’s personal life and his career highlights are explored with a little help from his friends. Little starts at the beginning with Jimmy’s humble beginnings as the son of a hardware store owner in Indiana, Pennsylvania then follows his college days at Mercer and Princeton where he planned to study architecture, his life altering meetings with Henry Fonda and director Josh Logan and his decision to become an actor. In fact, Stewart shared an apartment with Fonda and Logan on West 63rd Street in New York. After appearing in few Broadway shows, Jimmy was seen in Yellow Jack by a casting director from MGM and asked to do a screen test leading to a seven year contract and a move to Hollywood. Touted as the “next Gary Cooper”, which he describes in character as “ridiculous”, Jimmy would go on to become #3 Greatest Film Star Ever according to the AFI.
Rich Little’s one man show charmingly presents other parts of Stewart’s life, such as his military service; how he met his wife Gloria, who he married on August 9, 1949, at Gary Cooper’s house and the birth of his twin daughters Judy and Kelly in 1951. It also covers his career highs like making all three of his films with Frank Capra and the depression he felt later in life when the juicy parts stopped being offered. Along the way we’re introduced to his friends and the people who influenced and made a difference in his life. From old jokes Little shares to characterizations of Clint Eastwood doing a spoof of Dirty Harry as a plumber and Humphrey Bogart playing George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life” as if he were Rick in “Casablanca” to more personal type anecdotes leading to his singing Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World like the way he would have done it at Gloria’s birthday party in 1957, the show is rich in nostalgia while it entertains. It offers a wonderfully intimate view of Stewart’s life and the Hollywood Icons who were a part of his world. From Cary Grant to Katherine Hepburn to Dean Martin and Jack Benny and a tribute to Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, all are colorfully represented and easily identified.
Perhaps the most endearing character among Stewart’s friends is Harvey, a six foot invisible rabbit he once shared both the screen and stage with, who has his own table reserved for the performance. Jimmy loved playing in “Harvey” and Little talks about their collaboration by explaining how Universal didn’t want Harvey originally because “they couldn’t see him in the part” and how they originally wanted Bugs Bunny in the role. He describes Harvey as a clown who pulled pranks and told jokes, giving his imaginary friend a definite personality and style.
Radio, TV, Movies, Stage – Jimmy Stewart conquered them all while being an attentive father and devoted husband until he lost his wife to terminal lung cancer. He was a success and a survivor who battled loneliness later in life and lost his adopted son Ron during the Vietnam War. Little notes that he could have been an architect, a pilot or a hardware store owner, but instead he reached for a star and grabbed it. He also states that no man is a failure if he has friends and Stewart had some amazing ones along with great talent and a loving family. Perhaps this is best reflected in one of the last lines of the show, which is “It’s been a wonderful life”.