The Great Pretenders
Propeller-shape ceiling fans whiz above tables, and mirrored etchings of fighter planes and combat choppers hang above the bar. A blue-and-white Piper stands guard by the back patio and a circa 1942 aviation tower crowns the building. But the candles, mirrors, and a waterfall of hot pink and silver tinsel hint at Mayday's Restaurant and Lounge's show-biz shimmer and Las Vegas verve.
Pressed against the south side of the North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines, Mayday's offers patrons a three-way view of the airport's runways and a chance to jive to live acts like Elvis Presley and Rod Stewart. Sort of.
"We went with a DJ for the first year, and then we started seeing that probably wasn't going to be good enough," says Mark Siple, manager and owner of Mayday's and a 25-year veteran of the fickle hospitality biz. Although Siple expanded his calendar to include country and oldies bands and even a weekly karaoke night, a phone call from local Elvis tribute king Chris MacDonald propelled Mayday's music from the usual house-band covers to the kitschy glitz it now exudes on the nights MacDonald graces the stage. "He was good right from the start," says Siple.
With his wavy black hair and sideburns, a blue-eyed baby face, and two costume changes, which include Dinner Jacket Elvis and Leather Elvis, MacDonald works the crowd at Mayday's like a pro. On a recent Saturday night, during "Can't Help Falling in Love," he glides off the stage and floats around tables full of giggling women, stopping to serenade one by easing into the empty seat beside her and looking soulfully into her eyes. On more upbeat numbers like "Treat Me Nice" and "Return to Sender," MacDonald offers the expected hip swivels, does sexy slides up and down the mic stand, and between-song trivia, which he began accumulating at the age of eight.
"I got into the music through my mom, when I was a little kid," he says. "We watched Elvis movies. I liked the music and I saw Ann-Margret in a pair of white shorts in Viva Las Vegas. I thought, 'Well that's interesting.' And the ladies liked him." Ditto with MacDonald. For his rendition of "Hound Dog," he gets the room rockin' with a bit of call-and-response action, and the mostly female response would have made even the King proud.
MacDonald began his journey to Elvisdom when he began gigging with Remember That, a lip-synch group that discovered him one Halloween while he was trick-or-treating with his then-three-year-old daughter. "I dressed up as Elvis. We knocked on a door, and a guy asked me if I wanted to do a show," MacDonald recalls. "They did different artists -- Jerry Lee Lewis, Ricky Nelson, that kind of stuff. I went ahead and said, 'Fine, I want to do it, but I don't want to lip-synch. I don't want to do a Milli Vanilli.'"
After a brief stint with the group, MacDonald realized that live singing needs live music, and he formed a backup band, the Moments. Four years ago MacDonald left his day job as a landscaper, and his act has since rattled and rolled its way through corporate shows for GM, tributes at the Sunrise Musical Theater, Elvis tribute CDs, and even an all-original country album, Deuces Wild, recorded at the Al Jolson Studios in Nashville. The album plays as a potential soundtrack for a proposed Brooks-and-Dunn-style, country-and-gambling revue, during which MacDonald plans to grace the stage as himself for a change. "I'm not a musician. I'm a song and dance man," he says. "Right now we're shopping around for a room in Vegas, which isn't easy sometimes."
If the deal goes through, MacDonald moves on, and avid fans like Bernice Loiacono are likely to cut "Viva Las Vegas" from their fave list. A regular MacDonald follower, Loiacono recently trekked from Miami with 17 girlfriends from New York to watch the Man Who Would Be King strut his stuff. When she talks about MacDonald, she sighs deeply and places her hand over her chest. "He's a down-to-earth guy and a good entertainer," she says. "He gave me one of his red scarves, and I loved him even more."
Recognizing that not everyone wants crooning and swooning, Mayday's manager Siple decided to add George Orr of "The Hot Rod Show" to the lineup a few years back. A native of Scotland, Orr, who cites his age as "younger than Rod," began impersonating the Spiked-Hair One when he encountered a few, er, Rodstacles in his musical career.
"I had a rock band in Britain, but I always had the problem of looking and sounding like Rod," he explains. "Every time we played, someone would accuse me of trying to be Rod. So I kind of gave up on the music business. Then I moved to the States."
Orr unwittingly jump-started his career again during karaoke night at Coastlines in Fort Lauderdale. After a friend egged him into belting out his own gravelly rendition of "Maggie May," a representative from Princess Cruises stepped up to Orr and asked him for his act.
"That kind of put the seed in my mind," he recalls. "About a week later, I was with a girlfriend I was trying to charm at another Fort Lauderdale bar. All the seats were right in front of the band, who were making fun of me, but I was already used to that. They kept on shouting, 'Come on Rod, give us a song.' So I thought, why the hell not? I got up on stage and blew the place apart."
Like MacDonald's, Orr's shtick spreads beyond Broward County. He describes recent gigs at Bayside Marketplace in downtown Miami as "unbelievable" -- "They think it's Rod, so we get mobbed for autographs!" -- and the Hot Rod Show plays venues across Florida. "We are like the biggest thing in Fort Myers; we're the Beatles of Fort Myers," Orr says, laughing. "We go to these small towns that don't get a lot of big-name entertainment." Word apparently traveled even farther west as well, all the way to Las Vegas, where the Legends Concert series at the Imperial Palace got wind of Orr's act and asked him to join. Orr balked.
"It's a big deal if you can do two songs and [have] half a voice and you look like somebody," he says. "But I don't want to go on for 15 minutes. I want to do the whole thing." And he does. Opening a recent Saturday-night set with "Infatuation," Orr struts across the stage sporting black leather pants and a starched-white, high-collared shirt. For raunchier songs like "Hot Legs," he changes to shiny red sneakers, white jeans, and a turquoise muscle shirt, à la middle-period Rod, and Orr's bobbing and weaving during "Maggie May" smacks of Stewart's early frenzies. Orr even flies off stage and drags one inebriated patron to the front for a bit of jiving. Backed by a band that includes a double-decker, '80s-sounding organ, Orr banters between songs in a barely comprehensible Scottish accent.
The crowd doesn't seem to mind. By the time "Young Turks" rolls around, there are more folks dancing on and in front of the stage than sitting at tables. Two teenage girls grind their butts at Orr, and a sixtysomething couple bops in front of the stage mouthing, "Tiiiimmmmmmme is ooonnn my side."
"We pretend to be Rod, and they pretend to be Rod's fans," Orr says. "They know it's not real, but they join in the fun. That's the thing about rock 'n' roll: If you're into it, it doesn't matter who's doing it."
Chris MacDonald performs May 15, 21, and 29 at Mayday's, 7501 Pembroke Rd., Pembroke Pines. George Orr performs May 8 and 22 at Mayday's. Call 954-989-2210 for showtimes.
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