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October 24, 2014

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Bob Anderson takes a shot (of Jack) with Frank Sinatra at the Venetian

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John Katsilometes

Bob Anderson performs a sound check during a rehearsal of his show at the Venetian with music director Vinnie Falcone and guitarist Joe Lano.

Bob Anderson

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Bob Anderson is pouring his heart and soul into this show, in which he is starring Sunday night. There is his voice, too, and certainly his sterling reputation in Las Vegas.

Because if you ask longtime entertainers, and those who have followed the entertainment scene in this city, they will tell you that no one does what Bob Anderson does better than Bob Anderson. He is the master vocal impressionist, a singing “interpreter” whose career dates to even before interpreter was used to define what he does.

But there is even more than his personal passion and vast vocal talent in this mix. There is an investment of time and, of course, money behind “Frank The Man The Music” at Venetian Theater at 7 p.m. Sunday. There is more than $400,000 collected by Anderson from investors for just this one show, which is why tickets are free (call the Venetian box office at (702) 414-900 to reserve seats on a first-come, first-served basis).

Anderson and his group are wagering that sum that there is still an audience eager to be entertained by a man who has Sinatra’s legendary vocal quality, mannerisms and will be made up to look exactly like the Chairman of the Board. Makeup artist Kazu Tsuji, nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” has been assigned that task.

Consequently, this is no mic-in-the-corner effort. The show at the 1,800-seat theater is at once a showcase for a production Anderson wants to stage full time on the Strip and also a test of the strength of the Sinatra brand and his name recognition in Las Vegas and beyond.

“I will tell you this,” Anderson says during a break in rehearsal with the rhythm section of his 32-piece orchestra, a group that features master jazz guitarist Joe Lano, Sinatra’s longtime piano player and bandleader Vinnie Falcone, bass ace Bob Sachs and drummer Mike Mecham. “I was at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) recently, and I went to 25 kids under the age of 30, most of them under the age of 25, and held up a photo of Frank Sinatra and asked, ‘Who is this right here?’ “

Anderson was not surprised at the response.

“Twenty-two of them said, ‘That’s Frank Sinatra,’ and the other three said, ‘I recognize him, but I can’t place the name,’ “ Anderson said. “People know Frank Sinatra. Hell, you look around the Strip and you’ve got shows with Beatles music and Elvis still being represented. There is room for Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas.”

But is there room for Anderson himself? That’s another question. Anderson’s 30-year run on the Strip is part of Las Vegas entertainment lore, as he started at the Sahara (fluking his way into a gig opening for Nancy Sinatra when the scheduled performers, The Everly Brothers, got into a fight and skulked out of the booking) and moved to such famed Strip hotel-casinos as Desert Inn, Riviera and Dunes.

Anderson’s Top of the Dunes shows from 1975-’85 were famous overnight hangs for all major Strip headiners of the day, with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Don Rickles, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Steve Lawrence, Jack Jones and Tony Bennett among those to head up to the lounge to sing and play and unleash the shtick with Anderson. Over the years, Anderson opened for George Burns, Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope, Dom DeLuise, Red Skelton, Nancy Sinatra, Davis, Shirley Bassey, Shirley MacLaine, Johnny Carson and Rickles, among other stars. He was a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show” and has for decades been well-liked by fellow entertainers in the city.

But about a decade ago, Anderson hit a professional drought in Las Vegas and moved to Branson, Mo., which has since served as his base for performances across the country. He has performed at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz and the Italian-American Club over the past year while speaking coyly of this orchestral adaptation of Sinatra’s music at “a big room” on the Strip. Venetian Theater is that room.

“What we want to do is show you the experience of Sinatra that does not exist anymore,” Anderson says. “This is the full show, the best presentation of his music you will find.”

Though Anderson is known for his vocal and physical dexterity, performing rote impressions of Davis, Martin, Bennett, Bobby Darin, Lawrence, Jack Jones, Andy Williams, Mathis, Nat King Cole and Tom Jones, he is focusing solely on Sinatra in this show. The story follows Sinatra through the early days of his career, to his recording sessions at Capitol Records (including false starts and in-studio conversations), and even some time spent at a bar toasting shots of Jack Daniel’s. Expect jokes about the production’s location — the Venetian sits on the old Sands property — as Anderson is one of the few entertainers to headline at both of those famous hotels.

For a sit-down residency in Las Vegas, Anderson says he needs to draw 650 paid patrons at $60 apiece to pay his investors and see a profit. The orchestra is paid at a union rate and is not cheap, at $7,500 per show (not counting rehearsal time), and the makeup process is expensive. But Anderson says there is real interest in the production from people with real money in this show playing a residency on the Strip.

“I can tell you there is an interested party,” he says. “Otherwise, I would not be putting in this much work.”

At that, the great singer is called back to the stage. When he gets there, he dials up a familiar Sinatra song, calling out, “You make me feel so young!"

For Bob Anderson at the Venetian, spring has sprung. Whether this project is simply one wonderful night or a real career revival will be left to the masses.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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