Friday, July 23, 2004 | 9:17 a.m.
The stage at the Westward Ho is rockin' with talent.
Altru Entertainment has produced a heart-pumping little show that is almost guaranteed to please anyone who has an ounce of rhythm in his or her feet.
The always-interesting Blues Brothers, Bobby Darin in his prime and a youthful Jerry Lee Lewis under one roof create an evening of pure entertainment.
"Shake, Rattle and Rock" is one of the casino's rotating roster of promotional shows that perform for a couple of months and then move over for the next production.
It will be in the second-floor Crown Room on Wednesdays and Saturdays through Aug. 14.
The production is part of the Westward Ho's "Fabulous '50s Doo-Wop Dinner and Show." It will be followed by the "Grubstake Jamboree 'Steak' Barbecue and Show" (August through November), the "Puttin' on the Ritz Dinner and Show" (January through March) and the "Ho-Waiian Luau Dinner and Show" (March through June).
Have I mentioned that all of the shows include dinner?
It's hard to beat the price of $16.95 -- a buffet, a couple of drinks and a modest production whose entertainment value is above average.
Sure, the room is large and the stage small, but you don't need a lot of space for the shows you see here. The buffet is the main attraction. The entertainment is icing on the cake.
"Hot Lava" has been one of the most popular shows at the Westward Ho since it premiered in 1988. The production is the featured entertainment of the "Ho-Waiian Luau Dinner and Show."
If "Shake, Rattle and Rock" returns after its inaugural two-month run, the Polynesian performers are in danger of losing their standing.
How can you miss with top-flight tribute artists doing their best?
Art Vargas is one of the top Bobby Darins in the country.
Eric Martin (as Elwood) and Carmen Romano (as Jake) are superb as the Blues Brothers, a tribute show they have performed more than 8,000 times.
And enough can't be said about relative newcomer Lance Lipinsky, a 19-year-old entertainer who, as Jerry Lee Lewis, has poise and stage presence far beyond his years.
These days it's almost unheard of for a show with such modest production values as this one to feature a six-piece backup band, but producer Janet Ten Pas bit the bullet and hired some great musicians to enhance the performances of the three stellar acts.
Keyboardist Jeff Johnson, guitarist Tom Amato, bassist Berry Abernathy, drummer Joel Richman, trumpeter "Chief" Mark Sanchez and saxophonist Rob Stone play great music, a treat for those of us growing tired of recorded tracks.
"Shake, Rattle and Rock" starts off at an extremely high energy level with Vargas, and picks up speed as the show progresses.
Vargas has been performing most of his adult life, beginning in nightclubs in his native Detroit after graduating from high school in 1982.
The similarity between he and Darin was so striking it didn't take long for him to realize that his destiny (at least short term) would be in that direction.
In 1987 he joined the cast of "Legends in Concert" at the Imperial Palace and remained with the show until 1994.
Vargas has incredible energy and stamina as he works in overdrive to please his fans with "Splish Splash," "Dream Lover" and "Mack The Knife."
As he sings he not only has Darin's voice but also his swagger, his dance steps and the facial expression that lies somewhere between smugness and pent-up laughter.
Vargas, during a break between the Jerry Lee Lewis and Blues Brothers acts, also performs the Cab Calloway classic "Minnie The Moocher."
Lipinsky, thin, with unruly hair that flies around when he throws his head back, would be Jerry Lee Lewis re-incarnated if Lewis were gone, but he isn't. He's still around, and fans have Lipinsky, who has been doing Lewis for three years, to remind us of him in his prime.
The talented teenager plays a white baby-grand piano with his fingers (that fly across the ivories), his feet, his elbows and other parts of his anatomy.
He stands on the piano bench and plays. He stands on the piano and sings. He kicks the bench out of the way, crouches over the keys and pounds out the music while tossing his head and his hair around during "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Breathless."
And as he prepares to perform "Great Balls of Fire" he strikes a match, tosses it into the innards of the piano and smoke begins to flow from the strings as a fire burns.
Lipinsky, onstage, has Lewis arrogance and total confidence in himself as an artist. The kid blew away the audience, which was made up mostly of senior citizens.
And then came the Blues Brothers.
Elwood and Jake (clad in black suits, white socks, sunglasses and hats, with briefcases handcuffed to their wrists) saunter onto the stage and immediately launch into the routine patented by Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi.
Super cool as they turned cartwheels, played the harmonica and sang the blues, Martin and Romano were loved by the audience, and they returned that love, at times venturing offstage to mingle and joke with the fans.
This is what Vegas is all about -- pure entertainment.
And a buffet.