Rus Anderson didn’t set out to perform a tribute concert to Elton John. And yet, here he is.
Anderson came to the United States in 2003 to attend college. The Scottish musician found there was a lot of work in and around Clearwater, Florida. “I played the piano bars, trolled the beach bars, playing Top 40s song, playing for tips.”
In 2009, someone in one of his venues said, “You kinda remind me of Elton John. And I thought, how? I was 29, and he was in his 60s.”
The audience member clarified that Anderson reminded him of the Elton John of the 1970s. “I’d never seen any of his old performances,” said Anderson. So, he turned to YouTube – a relatively new platform at the time. After watching some clips, he thought, “Yeah, I can do that.”
It was Anderson’s wife, Molly, who suggested he could do a tribute show. He started small, playing in piano bars. “I wore the feather boa, the fancy glasses. It all grew from there. It just happened.”
That was the birth of The Rocket Man Show, which comes to the Providence Performing Arts Center this Saturday.
“Agents started calling, I was booking bigger venues. I had to get a band, and I needed costumes.” Anderson’s wife is a seamstress and makes all his costumes which are very true to the performer and the timeframe. “She started making me elaborate costumes. I fill a gap in the market with a tribute to the Elton John of the 1970s.”
Twelve days after Anderson’s show, the real deal will perform at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, and Anderson will be part of the show. He was recently asked to join Elton’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour.
“I got a phone call from Elton John’s office,” says Anderson. “They asked me to partner with him. They wanted someone to be a ‘body double’ for him in the videos they’ll be projecting behind him on stage at his shows.”
The videos are reenactments of John’s favorite moments. “They don’t have good footage from back in his early days. Certainly, nothing they can make look good enough on a 200-foot screen.”
John’s people were considering hiring an actor but soon realized that wouldn’t work. “Someone in Elton’s office knew me, so they passed some videos up the chain. Finally, they showed them to Elton, and he said, ‘That’s the guy.’”
The next thing Anderson knew, “I’m sitting there with Elton John. It’s unbelievable. I had to pinch myself.” He and his wife had traveled to Los Angeles to film the videos. “Elton was so impressed with Molly’s costumes, he told us to bring them with us.”
Back to The Rocket Man Show. “That’s my own. It’s like a full Elton John concert from 1973, 1974. It’s Elton at his peak, running around on stage. Back when every song was a hit.”
Songs like “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Tiny Dancer.” “Almost all his greatest hits, says Anderson. He does travel into the 80s a bit, with songs like “I’m Still Standing.”
Now 42, Anderson and his wife live in Clearwater and are “getting back into it.” Prior to Covid, Anderson was doing 150 shows a year. “I’m back up to about 100 shows in the next 12 months.”
In their downtime, the Andersons “enjoy what Florida has to offer. Fishing, hiking, theme parks, the beach. We act like tourists.” Occasionally, they’ll go back to Scotland and England to visit with his family. His wife is a native of New Jersey, and Anderson jokes what his kids will sound like should they have some. “It will be like ‘Braveheart’ meets ‘The Sopranos.’”
Anderson is excited to perform for the first time in Rhode Island. “I’m excited to introduce my act to Rhode Island and give some younger people the chance to meet this guy. Elton has a whole new era of fans.”
Providence Performing Arts Center presents The Rocket Man Show on Saturday, July 16. For tickets and information, call 401.421.ARTS or visit www.ppacri.org. Just announced: tickets in the second dress section are just $10.