It didn't take long for Mario Cantone to work up a sweat Friday night at the Berklee Performance Center. It's been 12 years since the Stoneham native has played for a Boston crowd, and he hit the stage with the enthusiasm of a man thrilled to be back in his element.
Cantone opened with a musical number and then launched into a series of rapid-fire impressions before the cymbals had stopped ringing. He was Shelley Winters crouching on a piano, Julia Child as the Hunchback of Notre Dame (''Sanctuary! Sanctuary! And bon appetit!"), and Dick Cheney as a pirate, all of them savaged and left behind in the first few minutes of an almost two-hour performance.
This was a big show, complete with a band and dance numbers, worthy of the Broadway performer Cantone has become since he moved to New York in the '80s. He has the comic timing to have replaced Nathan Lane in ''Love! Valor! Compassion!" and the musical chops to star in Stephen Sondheim's ''Assassins," and every bit of that talent was on display.
Cantone is a wonderfully gifted mimic, able to capture his target's voice and mannerisms so perfectly he often doesn't need to give them actual words to say. His Faye Dunaway yelling at a cab driver and his Cher are all nonsense and blather but eerily accurate.
Even before Friday, one had to assume his impressions of his Italian family members were equally deft. But the cheers and laughter coming from Cantone's own relatives, whom he acknowledged in the crowd, gave his bits on his mother, siblings, aunts, and uncles the feel of a public family reunion.
Cantone's pacing failed in only two sections -- extended takes on Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland. The voices and expressions were again dead-on, but some of the material was weak. But the soft spots still contained worthwhile scenes, such as Minnelli and her backup dancers barging into an
Cantone earned a standing ovation with ''Laugh Whore," the title musical number from his recent Showtime special, closing a show well worth the 12-year wait.