Thursday, March 6, 2014 | 6 p.m.
Editor’s note: The following is the cover story of the spring fashion issue of sister publication Vegas Magazine.
The singer is deep into her performance, performing with ample enthusiasm as the headliner at the Grand Dolly Opry. Veronic DiCaire stands alone in this generous interpretation of Dolly Parton, asking the audience to “use their imaginations” to envision her being blessed with two of Parton’s greatest attributes.
“Pretend they are here,” she says, smiling and boosting her bra with her hands. The star laughs, and the crowd does, too. Who needs padding when you can persuade a paying audience to play make believe?
Veronic has just blown through “9 to 5,” a must for anyone summoning the stage stylings of Dolly Parton. But she will have guests in this show-within-a-show, and she gazes to the stage’s wings to call out the next guest star at the Grand Dolly Opry.
Suddenly a look of befuddlement crosses the face of Veronic. Her eyebrows narrow, he mouth takes the shape of a smirk. “Oh, no,” she calls out unexpectedly. “Where am I?” There a pause, and Veronic turns to the crowd. “I am having a brain moment here. Hold on.”
The crowd giggles. One of the 50 voices she summons on this night is lost. Some unintended suspense falls over the theater, until, after a few moments, Veronic grins and says, “Reba McEntire!”
The crowd cheers as Veronic then scrambles across the stage to bring Reba into the show. The shift in personalities was seamless. Even during her mental, mid-show stumble, Veronic stayed in character. It was Dolly Parton who momentarily lost track of the show’s script.
“How funny was that?” Veronic says later during a sit-down interview, conducted only after she rearranges a sectional sofa and a love seat so that she is facing her interviewer up close. “There is so much going on in my head sometimes.”
Sister, you’ve got that right.
Dozens of voices populate the mind of Veronic, many more than the 50 or so she produces onstage every night. In a single performance, she opens up “interpretations” — chosen over “impressions” or “impersonations” as a description of her art — of Beyonce, Adele, Taylor Swift, Christina Aguilera and Celine Dion.
And that’s just in the first five minutes.
“Crazy” by Patsy Cline leads into Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” Annie Lennox’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” abuts Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield.” Amy Winehouse sets up Susan Boyle; Lady Gaga is a fitting complement to Madonna. Late in the show, Veronic takes to the piano for a remarkable stretch where she sings as Norah Jones, Alicia Keys and Karen Carpenter.
Many of the most difficult voices are held for the electrifying conclusion of Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston. Save for Janis Joplin (and she might well get to that legendary voice), Veronic unleashes every great female voice over the history of contemporary music.
As she says, “Artistically, I am very happy. Everything is happening so fast, and I am thinking, ‘Where did this time go in this city that has no sense of time?’ You know? But I feel I am accepted. I feel that this is now my home, and what I do has become appreciated by fans and also my fellow entertainers.”
Veronic will be at Bally’s at least through November, as her latest contract extension carries her through the end of that month. She seems tireless in a show that is so dependent on her vocal talent, her personal appeal and indefatigable work ethic.
In her Las Vegas production, Veronic is backed by a half-dozen brunette dancers (that hair color offsetting her own long, blond strands) and a series of LED video panels on the immense Jubilee Theater stage. As the name of the famed Bally’s theater indicates, this is a venue designed to host one of the Strip’s most lavish productions, ever.
At times, the surroundings seem about to envelop the show’s star. She is boosted by the backing dancers occasionally but not consistently. There is not a single musician employed in the show, as all of the music is tracked over the theater’s sound system.
From the audience, the attention, and emphasis, is almost solely on the lithe and sprightly woman from Quebec.
But the star is equipped to handle, well, being a star.
“I don’t realize that honestly because I don’t feel alone in the show because I have dancers and I have my little team,” she says, nodding toward her husband and also a co-producer in the show, Remon Boulerice. “And, I’ve got 50 other people with me.”
One of those voices is singularly important to the singer’s arrival and growth on the Strip. Veronic is backed by one of the greatest entertainers ever to play Las Vegas, and anywhere else, for that matter. She is a protege of Celine Dion, who helped reinvent the superstar residency on the Strip when she moved into the Colosseum at Caesars in 2003.
Immediately upon her arrival, Dion began setting attendance and ticket-sales records on the Strip and has become one of the most important performers to play Las Vegas for her seemingly boundless worldwide appeal. She regularly sells out the 4,100-seat theater with a ticket price topping $250, making her the most bankable star in the city.
Consequently, when Dion throws her support behind an artist, Strip officials take notice. Her manager/husband Rene Angelil and she made the unprecedented move of co-producing (with entertainment behemoth AEG Live) an artist in Las Vegas, throwing their tacit endorsement and an actual financial investment behind Veronic. AEG Live also books Dion’s shows at the Colosseum, and Caesars Entertainment owns Bally’s, so already a convenient set of partnerships was in place to bring Veronic to Las Vegas last June.
The link between Dion and Veronic was established organically, and largely by coincidence. It helped that Veronic is originally from Ontario, sharing French-Canadian heritage with Dion. The opportunity for Veronic to open for Dion on the 2008 Taking Chances tour surfaced when Mark Dupre, an accomplished singer/songwriter and the son-in-law of Angelil, suggested Veronic as an opening act on that set of performances.
At the time, Dupre had been scheduled to open those arena dates but was unavailable because of his recording schedule. He had been working in the studio with Veronic, who was a country/folk artist on Canada’s Warner Music label. Veronic was asked to perform singing impressions to open for Dion but knew just five voices at the time — with Dion topping the list. She quickly developed a 20-minute set featuring more than a dozen vocal interpretations.
Suffice it to say, Veronic sufficiently warmed up the crowds.
“She opened 11 shows for me on that tour, in front of 22,000 people,” Dion says. “She immediately drew the crowds’ attention and brought the crowd to their feet every night. And from this beginning, we have decided to get involved in not only producing her, but to try to help her and bring her to the rest of the world because we believed that she has an amazing vocal talent.”
Dion’s voice of support for her friend and protege is as powerful as the moment when she belts out “My Heart Will Go On” at the Colosseum.
“Well, Veronic has one of the best voices in the world,” Dion says. “She doesn’t do just one style. My God, it’s like she sings one way, then she sings in another voice that is better than the original. And then she sings one that nobody has ever touched.”
Even as she speaks, Dion’s praise gains momentum.
“Listen, it’s unbelievable, from a singer’s point-of-view, what she does,” she says. “I wish I had her to help me out a little bit here and there in my show, when my voice is not in top shape. I wish she could be available to help me finish a song. I am thinking, ‘I wish I could have Veronic come off the bench for this!’ ”
In providing a stage for Veronic in Las Vegas, Dion and Angelil are inarguably in the business of show business. Even with the effusive praise, her success is not a certainty. Over the past two decades, the only resident impressionist to enjoy consistent success on the Strip was the late Danny Gans. Several highly talented impressionists have performed briefly on the Strip, and either settled in venues downtown (including another of Dion’s opening acts, Gordie Brown, who has found success at the Golden Nugget) or left Las Vegas entirely.
Asked about the business prospects for an entertainer she so strongly admires, Dion chuckles.
“All my life, I’ve never been part of the business. My own interest in Veronic is strictly in her pure talent,” she says. “My husband and I, we’re together in the producing of Veronic to try to help her. So, automatically they’ve given me a title, business-wise, of being a producer. But I have to say, being sarcastic with a little smirk here, that once you are in the business for so long as a singer, when you start talking in a meeting because they want to have your opinion. Then they kind of pay attention a little bit more.”
Dion is playing the role of catalyst, primarily, in Veronic’s attempt to gain an audience in the U.S.
“My role is for her to have a chance, to be heard in America, to make her as big a star as she is in Quebec and in France and Belgium, and anywhere there are French-speaking people,” Dion says. “She is huge there. Huge.”
This growth to notoriety in Las Vegas, and in the U.S., will be married to artistic growth. There is the sense among many of her fans, along with her entertainment colleagues in the city, that Veronic’s show would be markedly improved with a band. Dion does not dismiss this assertion but does allow that a band of backing musicians is something to be earned.
“We want the focus to be on her voice, with a few dancers for numbers here and there,” Dion says. “Let’s put it this way: I think if we would have tried to put her out there with a big set of musicians, there would have been even more pressure on her than there already was. I’m not talking about how much money it would cost — I am talking about pressure and giving Veronic some room to grow the show out, over time.”
Dion remembers her own career arc. She was not always surrounded by an orchestra.
“I didn’t start in Vegas with a big group of dancers and a big show. I started in a shopping mall,” she says, chuckling. “It’s that way that it happened for me.”
Veronic is far more interested in expanding her already mind-blowing vocal capacity. She likes the idea of performing a video-audio duet with Johnny Cash as she sings as June Carter Cash. That would revise the great walk-on appearance she made with “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s, when she joined the cast for a spin through “Jackson.” She’s always considering the next voice, asking such questions as, “Is Carole King good for the time when I am at the piano? What about Janis Joplin? Do you think people would enjoy her?”
But mostly, Veronic wants to perform even more frequently.
“Can I say that I would love to add a fourth date, or it’s going to make some stir?” she asks, laughing. “I would love to have a fourth day. Let’s say I would love to play on Mondays because we figured out that we miss a lot of people who are telling us, ‘Veronic, we just got in on Saturday night, and we were thinking about going to see your show Monday, but you’re not on.”
It sounds like more work, actually.
“It might be, but you know, sometimes it’s hard for me to start back in the show after four days off,” she says. “So, if I add a fourth show, I would actually keep that momentum going.”
As she says that, you understand that this is a woman going forward, fast. Slowing down is not in the master plan for Veronic. Those 50 voices need to be heard.
Transport yourself to the opulent and excessive Roman Empire at Caesars Palace. But the ever-changing Caesars Palace is far from ancient. The hotel and casino is constantly raising the bar for what visitors can expect in a Vegas resort experience.
Caesars Palace features 3,348 rooms and suites in five towers, including the new luxury boutique Nobu Hotel and Restaurant, which opened Feb. 4, 2013, in the totally remodeled Centurian Tower. Caesars features 129,000 square feet of gaming space, including the Strip’s largest poker room and a 250-seat sports book. Other amenities include about two dozen restaurants, a four-level shopping mall, four pools, a spa, Pure and Poetry nightclubs and Pussycat Dolls.
Dining options include restaurants from world-renown chefs Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay and, on Feb. 4, 2013, Nobu Matsuhisa.
You never know what characters you’ll run into at Caesars with regular performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Elton John and maybe even the emperor himself.