By JOE KERNAN
The Edwards Twins started an extended run at the Odeum Theatre in East Greenwich Monday night and pretty much blew the roof off the joint. If you are one of those people who would love to see a fabulous Vegas-style show but never had the chance, this one is for you.
The identical twins are widely acknowledged as the best and most varied impersonation act to come out of Las Vegas in decades. Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel and dozens and of other voices parade through the small theater like a who’s who of popular entertainment. The two musical brothers, with aid of elaborate taped arrangements, pull this off all by themselves.
“Neil Diamond came to one of our shows and told the people he was with that I was lip-syncing his music,” said Anthony Edwards, who does Diamond. “He couldn’t believe it when I stopped suddenly and started talking.”
For Eddie Edwards, being accused of that sort of cheating is music to his ears.
“When you do it so well that the stars themselves are fooled, then you know you’ve done something special,” he said. “We like it when people are skeptical like that because it means we are doing our job well.”
Unlike so many impersonators, the Edwards twins are not attempting to parody or mock the performers. Their approach is that of paying homage to their subjects and their total immersion into the role is uncanny. As much personality as the two men have off stage, they prefer to subsume their own egos and become the people they portray, a process that Anthony admits was more complicated than he thought when he started the act about 10 years ago.
“I do so many different people that I had a few instances where I got confused,” admitted Anthony. “When we were first starting out I remember a friend telling me that he heard a little Elton getting into my Neil and I was pretty upset at the time, but that doesn’t happen anymore.”
Eddie Andrews said the highest compliment he ever got was when Barbra Streisand saw the show and told a friend how impressed she was.
“‘Of all the people who I’ve seen try to do me, he was the best,’ she said. You can’t do better than that,” said Eddie, who also does an astonishing impression of Cher as part of their two-hour show. But his Bette Midler is almost scary. Midler is a separate kind of performer and a real challenge to impersonators, mostly because her act is a bit of a parody of performers just like herself, a subtle achievement that she has mastered. She has become famous for not acting famous and her salty asides have been what made her all too human and appealing to audiences. Eddie Edwards captures her banter perfectly. Remarking on her clothes, Bette/Eddie says:
“My father would be furious if he saw me in this outfit…It belongs to him…These slacks are like a cheap hotel…No ballroom.”
One of the main criticisms directed at impersonation acts is, why bother to watch if you can stay home and listen to the records?
The Edwards Twins quickly dispose of that objection by the way their impersonations appear so natural and live. They are, after all, performing live and the subtle little mishaps that happen on stage are handled with aplomb, the way the pros they are playing would. It’s this sense of being completely at ease on stage makes you think they have been in show business all their lives, which, in fact, is almost the case.
Eddie and Anthony were born in Burbank, California, in 1965. Neither of their parents were performers but their grandfather, Eddie Eldon, was a noted guitarist who had played with the Sons of the Pioneers and Elvis Presley, among others. But their parents early recognized how entertaining their twins could be and encouraged them.
“The part of Burbank we lived in was where a lot of the movie and television writers lived,” said Anthony. “So, even though our parents weren’t in show business we were around it all the time. The young Ron Howard used to play with my older brother.”
Anthony said he and Eddie began entertaining family and friends when they were about six years old, not the least bit troubled by the way their parents presented the entertainment as a package deal of food and fun for them and their neighbors.
“My mother used to plop us down in front of the television and we watched all the best shows, like “Laugh-In,” “Carol Burnett” and “Sonny and Cher”,” said Anthony. “We would dress up and put on shows and invite the neighbors over for a barbeque.”
So, it is no surprise that the usual venue for the twins is cabaret and supper clubs, a milieu that fits their performances very well. In fact, it was the success of their appearance at the Newport Playhouse last summer that prompted them to come to the Odeum.
“We were selling out every night and it became clear that we needed a bigger place,” said Eddie. “We are here Monday and Tuesday nights and down the Cape for the rest of the week.”
The twins have rented a house in Matunuck for the summer and for the fall have booked themselves into a theater in Arlington, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, for what they hope will be a an extra long engagement.
“We hope to become a regular fixture there, like the Blue Man Group and other acts that continue to draw people in,” he said.
At 39, where the Edwards boys are now, every entertainer has to start thinking about the future. Both see the long-range engagements as a little easier on the mind and body than a grueling tour schedule. Performing six days a week would exhaust any performer and with the energy the Edwards Twins bring to their act and you can almost imagine bookies in Las Vegas offering odds on, not if but when, the dynamic duo will burn itself out.
“We have to stay in good shape,” said Anthony, who does most of the talking when they are not talking in unison. “Eddie especially has to watch his weight because of the women he plays but we use up so much energy in the act that’s not as difficult as you’d imagine.”
You’d be forgiven if you thought the boys had been playing together all their careers but that’s not the case. Eddie honed his impersonating skills as a member of the “An Evening at the Cage” cast, a revue base on the hit musical and movie “La Gage Aux Folles.” Anthony was a music major in college and taught piano on the university level before he became, of all things, a police officer.
“I did that for three years and, as much as I liked working in law enforcement I eventually had to make a choice,” he said. “I had been moonlighting as an entertainer and that was beginning to take up too much of my time. Eventually I had to choose between being a cop and being an entertainer.”
Anthony and Eddie have been working together for a couple of decades now and are going as strong as ever. But both of the men realize that there will come the day.
“I think we have about 10 good years left doing this,” said Eddie. “Eventually the voice will go and we’ll be doing other things.”
Wisely, the boys have chosen to invest much of their earnings in Las Vegas real estate.
“We already have four houses in Vegas that we live in or rent,” said Anthony. “It’s all waterfront,” he said, and explained that there are a number of manmade lakes in the area that hold fish and ducks and other aquatic amenities.
“After this, we’ll probably go into producing,” they said, in perfect unison. “That’s the most likely route.”
Anthony said he is a born-again Christian and credits all their success to the Lord but he doesn’t affect any pious airs. He’s not a preacher but he is already well along in his plans to produce a gospel and worship record he hopes will be recognized as better and different from the lackluster albums offered on late night television that are done by people that seem more full of themselves than the spirit of the Lord.
“I remember seeing a blurb on one of those records that said, ‘He’s the best worship artist recording today,’ or something like that, and it was signed ‘Myself,’” said Anthony, giving off a can-you-imagine-that expression. “The difference with my record is that I intend to use professional musicians and a professional choir.”
Anthony feels that the Lord is responsible for their good fortune and deserves nothing less than his best.
“This was given to us by the Lord and there’s no reason for us to have an ego about it,” said Anthony. “I never want to be like that.”
At the Greenwich Odeum, 59 Main St., East Greenwich, Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. Tickets for all seats are $19.95. Available through Arttix at 621-6123, or at www.arttixri.com. Visa and Mastercard accepted.