Jose Sinatra is a physical, musical and verbal collage of every narcissistic torch singer who has ever flaunted his ego on the Las Vegas casino circuit.

The beam from the spotlight catches his tacky gold lame vest and bounces back into the audience.

As the room grows quiet, he jingles the maze of gold chains around his neck. He pats his slicked-back hair with one hand and, with the other, takes the microphone.

"You know, there's a strange feeling in the air tonight," he says in a breathy whisper. "I think it's the fact that we're here together, sharing our love, sharing our hopes and our dreams."

He sits down on stage and blows kisses to the crowd. Then, he starts singing a syrupy love song, "All by Myself," to the guitar accompaniment of the Troy Dante Quintet.

His exaggerated vocals could make milk curdle. And yet, an older couple sitting near the back are gently tapping their feet and nodding their heads with enjoyment.

As everyone else starts to laugh, they begin to look around, annoyed. Only after the song is over are they let in on the joke.

Sinatra stands up and blows more kisses into the crowd. "Thank you, thank you," he says warmly. "I love that song almost as much as I love myself."

His next song is a vintage torch standard, "It Had to Be You." In his version, the title is changed to "It Has to Be Me."

Then comes a newer song, "Lovin' You." When Minnie Riperton recorded it in the late 1970s, she followed each chorus with a tender falsetto wail. When Sinatra sings it, he follows each chorus with a horrifying primal scream.

More songs follow: Neil Diamond's "I Am, I Said." Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." A tribute to Karen Carpenter.

Between songs, Sinatra tells the audience a little bit about himself--and a little more, it's safe to say, than they care to know.

Like, he is the No. 1 singer in Argentina, Mexico "and parts of Ocean Beach." He's been cast in the title role of an upcoming film biography of Jim Nabors.

His favorite poet is Rod McKuen, and his singing idol is Wayne Newton. He has dated Brooke Shields, and given advice to John Lennon and Michael Jackson.

And he recently wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning article for a magazine called "Teen Fave" in which he urged young girls to abstain from drugs and sex "until they can hide their dependencies."

Backstage after his show, Sinatra tosses off his gaudy attire and rumples his hair. It's time for his alter ego, Bill Richardson, to tell the real story behind Jose Sinatra.

For close to a decade, Richardson, 33, has managed the Guild Theater in Hillcrest and the Ken Cinema in Kensington. Four years ago, he said, he developed his nightclub act "as a parody of the Las Vegas singer who thinks he's the greatest thing in the world and the idol of every middle-age woman in America."

"I had always laughed at people like this," Richardson said. "I laughed when Wayne Newton decided to dye his hair black and grow a mustache; I remembered watching him on the 'Ed Sullivan Show' when he was this fat blond kid who everyone thought was a woman, and then all of a sudden he became the epitome of Las Vegas glamour.

"Even today, I laugh whenever I watch the annual Jerry Lewis telethon. For 24 hours, you see this outrageous parade of celebrities who look and sound so silly, and yet they're being perfectly serious."

Frank Sinatra to Barry Manilow. Wayne Newton to Julio Iglesias. Their vocal intonations and their gestures. The way they dress and the way they move. Everything comes together in the glittery stage persona that is Jose Sinatra.

Since Richardson became Jose Sinatra, he has performed at weddings, private parties and such nightclubs as the Spirit and the Bacchanal.

Initially, a tape recorder provided the background music. Two years ago, Richardson teamed up with guitarist Jan Tonnesen, whom he pretentiously dubbed the Troy Dante Quintet.

For the first few moments of the duo's set--or, rather, "love sharing"--the audience is usually at a loss as to whether what they're seeing is emulation or satire, Richardson said.

"Every time we play, there's someone in the crowd who can't understand what everyone else is laughing about," he said. "But that's intentional. We start off fairly serious, and we give it a while before we start getting crazy.

"Even at the end, though, there are still some people who think we're being perfectly straight. That's OK, too--what we're doing is subtle humor, and subtle humor is not for everyone."

For the time being, Richardson said, he and Tonnesen are content with playing rock clubs or private engagements once every two or three weeks.

But eventually, he said, he would like to play more frequently and perhaps venture into more sophisticated facilities like hotel lounges--although he concedes that "that could be too real, since hotel lounges regularly feature the type of entertainer we're parodying."

Still, Richardson said, if he and Tonnesen do expand their performance schedule sometime in the future, the world will be a better place.

"As Jose Sinatra tells his audiences: 'My music turns my own pent-up anger about worldwide hatred into a missile of love, penetrating the moist darkness and planting a cogent seed of caring, of kindness, of Jose Sinatra.' "

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World