Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and Dave Ehlert walk into a bar ...
It’s not a joke. It could actually happen this weekend when veteran performer Dave Ehlert gets presidential for his one-man show, “Abe Lincoln & the Civil War,” in Lebanon on Saturday, then morphs into Samuel Clemens for “Mark Twain 100 Years Later” in Belleville on Sunday.
“Lincoln and Twain are a lot different,” Dave said of his many alter egos. “Both have a keen sense of humor and a great way of communicating.”
Hold on there, Dave. Lincoln was 6-foot-4 and Twain was just 5-foot-8, and they looked nothing alike.
“Yes, Lincoln was a lot taller.”
How do you pull that off?
“Trade secret,” he said, deadpan. “It’s all about special effects.”
Like Twain’s white suit, ever-present cigar, mop of curly gray hair and thick gray mustache. And Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, beard with bare upper lip and dark suit.
Dave is the one you might not recognize because he didn’t want to send a photo of himself out of character. It must be a performer thing.
Dave looks like his famous characters on stage, but it’s when he speaks that you think you are in the presence of the real McCoys.
“My favorite Lincoln quote was when someone accused him of being two-faced. ‘If I were two-faced, sir, would I be wearing this one?’” Dave/Lincoln snapped back.
My job is to entertain people and have people learn something — and not be able to tell the difference.
Dave Ehlert on being Abe Lincoln and Mark Twain
And, you’re likely to hear Dave/Twain say, “My father often told me before you criticize someone you should walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’ll be a mile away, and you’ll have their shoes.”
Promotional material for Dave’s Lincoln show describes it as “90 minutes of historical drama, humor and education” and “how a Union president fought against Slavery and racism in Pre and Post War Days.” It includes a timeline, Civil War-era music and a video presentation.
Dave has done a lot of research for the material in his shows.
“There are volumes of information out there,” he said. “Much of it is contradictory. ... My Lincoln show includes a lot from his younger days, which explains how he made the decisions he made.”
He sees himself as a performer and an educator.
“My job is to entertain people and have people learn something — and not be able to tell the difference.”
Dave, 64, of Manitowoc, Wis., has been in show business for 50 years.
He began performing in 1965 as Elvis, 12 years before The King died, in what has become the longest running Elvis tribute show in the world. He was the first performer to be inducted into the Elvis Performer’s International Hall of Fame, and has performed in 44 states, Mexico and Canada.
From 1994 to 2012, he operated a theatre in Branson, Mo. There, he widened his act to include impersonations of other characters: Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, Liberace, Willy Nelson, Roy Orbison, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and many more.
Those music shows also are in demand.
“Elvis is the easiest for me because I’ve been doing him the longest,” Dave said. “The most difficult is Roy Orbison because he has such a distinctive, demanding voice.”
In 2004, Dave was “drafted” into the role of Twain when the scheduled performer was unable to make it. He had one week to gather all the Twain background he could find, then walked on stage in full character, cigar in hand. He has been Mark Twain ever since.
He decided to walk a mile in Lincoln’s shoes in 2011, while researching Twain’s involvement in the Civil War.
Clarice Kuch, treasurer of Lebanon Woman’s Club and Abe Lincoln chairperson, saw Dave perform his Mark Twain show last year at the Looking Glass Playhouse in Lebanon.
“Everybody really had a good time,” Clarice said. “He’s a great Lincoln and makes it a lot of fun. We just had to have him back. This event is our main fundraiser for the year.”
Dave also has written three books, which will be available at the shows: “If I Can Dream: The Story of Being Elvis for 50 Years,” “Elvirus! Elvi-Geddon: Dawn of the Elvi Invasion” and “Lethal Lecture: The Lincoln Library Murders.” They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and www.smashswords.com.
So Dave, with all these characters inside you, do you ever get a chance to be yourself on stage?
“Not really. Being myself is tough because I haven’t been myself for so long.”
One of his most memorable performances was when a woman in Lady Lake, Fla., decided it was a good idea to combine two events, his Lincoln show and a convention of the Sons of the Confederacy.
“I walked out on stage as Abe, and there were 50 confederate soldiers in the audience in full uniform. Now, that was a little uncomfortable.”
At a glance
Here’s what you need to know about Abe Lincoln & the Civil War
- What: 90 minutes of historical drama, humor and education with Dave Ehlert as Abraham Lincoln
- When: 7 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Looking Glass Playhouse, 301 W. St. Louis St., Lebanon
- Tickets: $12 in advance; $10 for students; call 618-537-2379 if using credit card, 618-537-4961 if using check. $15 on the night of the performance. Note: The Looking Glass is not selling tickets.
- Sponsor: Lebanon Woman’s Club. Proceeds will be given back to various community organizations (fire and police departments, scholarship, food pantry, etc.)
This is what you need to know about Mark Twain 100 Years Later
- What: Dave Ehlert as Mark Twain
- When: 3 p.m. Sunday; doors open at 2 p.m.
- Where: Bellecourt Manor, 225 East A St., Belleville
- Tickets: $15 adult; $10 student. Advance tickets at BMO Harris Bank, 2 Carlyle Plaza, Belleville
- Information: 618-235-3269 or 618-726-7847
- Sponsor: Optimist Club of Belleville