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'Dean Lives' brings the magic of Martin to the Palace Theatre stage

| Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
Drew Anthony portraying Dean Martin
Drew Anthony portraying Dean Martin
Drew Anthony portraying Dean Martin
Drew Anthony portraying Dean Martin

When Connecticut native Drew Anthony moved to Las Vegas in 2006, Dean Martin wasn't necessarily on his mind.

Fresh out of music school, Anthony anticipated putting together a jazz quartet and performing standards in lounges.

“The first week I was in Las Vegas someone told me to check out the Rat Pack show. I went, the producer was there and he could not believe how much I looked like Dean Martin,” he recalls. “I had no idea this was a big business. I told him I was a singer. He put me in the show the next week as a sub and soon after full time. I have been playing Dean Martin six nights a week, 52 weeks a year for over 10 years now.”

He brings his “Dean Lives — A Musical Salute to Dean Martin” show, a multimedia presentation that includes a 12-piece orchestra, to Greensburg's Palace Theatre Jan. 6.

“After years of experience portraying Martin, and seeing how well-loved and missed he was, and appreciating him so much myself, I decided he deserved a stand-alone show that was only about him and his legacy,” he explains.

The Palace audience can expect to see what Anthony calls a “wonderful musical tribute” to Martin's career. Presented in three acts, it covers his debut with Jerry Lewis, his Vegas years and his Hollywood and television show era. Anthony says Martin will be accompanied by some of his closest friends, including portrayals of Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Marilyn Monroe and Peggy Lee. The musical acts are reveries, written by Anthony, tied together by an actor portraying a lovable old theater caretaker whose character was as lifelong friend and fan of Martin.

Long after his death on Christmas Day 1995, Martin's music and memory still resonate, Anthony says.

Western Pennsylvania residents have seen that in the renewed popularity of Martin's version of “That's Amore,” which Pittsburgh Pirate fan favorite Francisco Cervelli chose as his “walk-up” song each time he bats at PNC Park. His singing bobblehead was an in-demand collectible last season.

Jim Caporali isn't surprised.

The owner of Murphy's Music Center, Allegheny Township, and leader of the Murphy Music Center Big Band, says “Dean Martin IS the epitome of all things cool. He has the looks, the deep voice and the swagger to boot.”

Caporali and his fellow musicians see younger people singing along with the band to Martin songs.

“A lot of his music is played on TV and in movies. It appears fresh and new to the younger generation. I have heard his songs on popular TV shows such as ‘Hawaii Five-0' and the ‘Blacklist,'” he adds. “We do use Dean's songs in all our standard set list and people really enjoy them.”

Most requested are “That's Amore,” “Ain't That a Kick in the Head” and “You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.

“No one has ever been cooler than Dean Martin. And no one ever will be,” insists John Noble, Greensburg attorney, entertainer and Frank Sinatra tribute artist.

He recalls hanging out with Drew Anthony when Noble, presenting his “Almost Sinatra” set, opened for him and his Vegas “Rat Pack” tribute buddies on Sinatra's 100th birthday weekend at the Monroeville Convention Center in 2015.

“He's a very cool guy and strikingly handsome in the true Dino sense,” says Noble, who plans to be in the audience at the Palace Theater show.

Noble believes Sinatra took a back seat to Martin “in looks, comedic talent and likability ­— not even close.” “But Frank had the power, and capital, to produce the best recordings with the world's best songwriters, musicians and orchestrations, with Dean otherwise getting the much simpler ‘second tier' songs, and making the most of them. “

Noble says he loves Sinatra's music, “but I love Dean.”

“So, whenever I do a performance, I'm ‘singing Frank' but ‘playing Dean.' It's the best of both worlds,” he explains.

Anthony never had the opportunity to meet Dean Martin or see him perform in person.

All of his experience has been from reading biographies, watching video, listening to recordings and talking to people who knew him.

“I've loved singing classic songs since I was a boy,” Anthony says. “I've always enjoyed entertaining and making people happy. Playing Dean Martin, who is so well loved and remembered, is a wonderful opportunity to do those things.

He believes a new performer can learn something important from studying Martin's career and approach to entertaining.

“The reason why Dean was so well-loved is that he was very natural and sincere,” he says. “Be those things, do what comes natural to you and you can succeed.”

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune Review contributing writer

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