After hearing a whistle from the audience, Jeffrey Allen, attired in full Elton John regalia, jauntily replied: "I appreciate that from the lady because the show's not that authentic, so give me a call."
That's all part of the double nature of "Piano Men," appearing at Harrah's Reno through June 26. It's subtitled "A Tribute to the Songs of Billy Joel and Elton John," and it is part tribute, part imitation.
Usually, such shows attempt to re-create as closely as possible an appearance by a particular artist. Most of them, as a result, come across as pretty silly. This one fares better because although there are moments like "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Billy Joel," these two musicians (Michael John playing Joel) drop in and out of character, along the way providing some solid music.
Exactly why audiences respond so enthusiastically to imitations is difficult to pinpoint. Certainly part of it is cost. When Elton John himself performed this past February at the Reno Events Center, the top ticket went for $179.50, plus tax, and that was a bargain compared with some of his Las Vegas prices. Another part of it is a genuine love of the artists and their music.
There is no doubt these two are not Elton John and Billy Joel, but the audience is in on the joke and can have fun anyway.
So, when songs like "Crocodile Rock," "Benny and the Jets," "New York State of Mind" and "Italian Restaurant" start to flow in quick succession, who really cares if the performances are exact, as long as they are good? In this case, they are good indeed, and the five-piece band backing the two is excellent, especially Scott Webb's reed playing.
There's a little too much of the are-you-having-a-good-time shtick. This audience is asked to make some noise if they like the blues, for instance, and they do, but evidently not enough, so they are asked again. There is a lot of clap-along urging and the finale is one big prompt, the audience to stand, clap along, sing along and even move toward the stage. If they're not having a good time, by God, they will before it's over!
Both artists perform the music well and have fun doing so, Joel at his plain piano, John at his draped and feathered one. There are the expected gaudy and ridiculous costumes for "Elton," including the Donald Duck, and "Billy" does a few body wheelies atop the piano.
The audience leaves having had a pleasant 90 minutes, and many line up to have their pictures taken with the artists in the lobby. Not the originals, by a long shot, but never really trying to be and fun for a night out. (8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays; $25, $29; 800-427-7247 or harrahsreno.com)
Around the Silver Circle
The Street Vibrations Spring Rally makes a return next Friday through Sunday in Victorian Square in Sparks. Live entertainment, Live Fast motorcycle aerial jumps, bike games, competition ride-in shows, and 80 vendors are scheduled with blue-collar rocker Eddie Money in the Celebrity Room of John Ascuaga's Nugget on Friday (9 p.m.; $42; 800-648-1177 or janugget.com). A $40 entrance fee allows motorcycle participants to join in the ride-ins and bike games, get VIP parking, and attend the VIP party. Onlookers can watch the action for free.
A sight of a different sort will be available on Saturday at the Grand Sierra where as many as 100 are expected to rappel down the side of the 27-story resort from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the "Over the Edge" fundraiser for Special Olympics. Those taking the plunge must weigh no more than 200 and no less than 100 pounds and can register at OverTheEdgeReno.com.