To celebrate Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday, Free Family Residences and Essential Enterprises (FREE), which cares for people with disabilities, brought some Elvis impersonators to Osso Bucco on University Place — including one of FREE’s own residents, Steven Malerba (described by the program’s Greg Lynch as having “mild” mental developmental problems), backed by a chorus of female residents.
Pro and semi-pro Elvis impersonators fleshed out the program — including Greenpoint’s own Robert J. McArthur, his buddy Brian Bergdoll (normally a John Travolta impersonator, but game for anything), and Little Italy restaurant Puglia‘s own EP entertainer Jorge Buccio — but Malerba (above far left), resplendent in late-Elvis jumpsuit and wig, was the main attraction, performing a medley of “All Shook Up” and “Falling in Love With You.”
Ossa Bucco graciously served fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches to the small but attentive crowd.
Malerba, 47, has been living at FREE’s Happogue facility since he was 29, he says. “The agency has its ups and down, but it’s good,” he told us. He’s been an Elvis fan since childhood, when he saw his first Elvis LP and “I said, I like this guy.” He can’t name a favorite song — “I can’t even think of ’em” — but with prompting he favors “C.C. Rider.” He doesn’t have a favorite Elvis period, but he definitely doesn’t like him “when he was fat.”
He enjoyed the performance — “It felt like a million bucks… it hit me like a ton of bricks.” We suggested he should play more gigs. “If I could do that, I would love it.” Malerba says he drums. What kind of drums, we asked. “They really have no name,” he says. His favorite drummer is Buddy Rich. “I try to play like that, but I don’t really.”
Malerba may have been the most unusual Elvis impersonator we’ve ever seen, but the unique Italian flavor Buccio (far left above) gave his act is up there, too. He tells us he started out doing Italian songs and opera, but someone told him he looked like Elvis “with the sideburns and everything” and it took off from there. Now he’s at Puglia’s every night, he says, and he’s proud of his achievement. “All the Elvises from Vegas and all over the world,” he says, compliment him on his rendering of Elvis’ “American Trilogy,” because “you need a real tenor to hit that high note.”
FREE’s public relations director Patrice Radowitz tells us the performers take part in a “theatre dayhab” program in which they’re trained in dancing and singing. FREE’s Jeff Cohen says they’ve done difficult shows like Into the Woods and Tommy. “When they come out at the end for the curtain call,” he says, the music is usually “We Are The Champions” by Queen, “and I defy you not to have tears in your eyes.”
Many of the FREE Players have done shows for years and been well-covered in the press, and they handled this engagement like troupers.