Published Friday, Feb. 6, 2009 | 10:29 a.m.
Updated Friday, Feb. 6, 2009 | 12:07 p.m.
When entertainer Danny Gans says “curtain up” tonight for his gala premiere at the new theater in Steve Wynn’s the Encore, it marks the ultimate homecoming. “Reuniting with Steve Wynn is a dream come true. I’m at the top of my game, and the best is yet to come,” Danny said.
A stellar lineup of stars including talk show royals Larry King and Bonnie Hunt have RSVP’d for the red carpet party. It’s all to benefit Elaine Wynn’s favorite community effort Greater Las Vegas After School All-Stars to support local youth programs and services. Since 1995, she has co-chaired the All-Stars, which successfully works in 15 schools to prevent at-risk children from dropping out.
Danny, who has been named “Best All-Around Entertainer” 11 consecutive times in Las Vegas, was thrilled to turn his premiere night into a fundraiser for Elaine’s top charity. Tonight, he showcases the new 1,496-seat theater, which was transformed from "Spamalot" headquarters after the Monty Python musical moved out. As singer, comedian, actor and impressionist, Danny truly is the “man of many voices.”
I talked with Danny in an exclusive one-on-one interview before the star-studded night:
Robin Leach: You started at the Stratosphere, then starred at The Rio, moved on to The Mirage, and now you are about to open at Encore. Is each time like starting all over again? Does each opening night get larger than the previous opening nights?
Danny Gans: Yes. The Stratosphere, when it happened, it was this “three-month-only gig.” It began my Vegas run, which has become the longest gig I have ever had. I did one-nighters all around the country. I had come from Broadway, and that was a two-month gig. I thought, “OK, this will be three months.” I had no idea that it would be any longer, but that opening night turned into nine months at the Stratosphere, and it was so electric -- we didn’t know what the response would be. It was a great response that night. When we had the opportunity to go to The Rio, it was, like, “OK, now I am becoming a resident headliner here.” That opening night was also part of the building process, and then The Mirage opening night.
Now I am with Steve Wynn again. As a resident headliner on the Strip, this is the ultimate big deal to now be reunited with Steve at the most lavish hotel in Vegas. I was trying to think of a way to say it, and I think I feel like I have the golden ticket: Steve Wynn is Willy Wonka, and Encore is the chocolate factory.
I saw you sneak in, Robin, the other day to watch a little of the rehearsals. Our new theater would be the most gorgeous theater on Broadway. It is big enough to hold any Broadway production, and we have created such a fantastic production for the show that is beyond my wildest dreams. John Featherstone, who is my lighting director, has made it so incredible. I can’t wait. I am chomping at the bit to get out there.
RL: You sound genuinely excited for the opening night -- just like a young kid at Christmas.
DG: Oh yeah. We’ve just had our first employee show. I get to test out the theater in front of people and the things that we are doing. I am nervous and excited. I am not sleeping well. I keep waking up with new ideas: “Oh, let’s do this cue instead of this cue, and, oh, can we make it a little longer?” It is like going to Disneyland again.
RL: If you looked at somebody’s ordinary resume and you saw that they had worked at four hotels in Vegas, you would say, “Oh, this is someone that can’t hold a job.” Put that storyline of yours into showbiz perspective, so that as a star who has to make a journey to the top, you can explain how you can’t go any higher after where you have landed right now.
DG: If you look at the venues I have played, each one was a steppingstone. My past before showbiz was baseball, and when I look at it as a baseball player, it is like me getting drafted into professional baseball. The Stratosphere would have been into minor leagues, and The Rio would have been AAA of minor league. The Mirage would have been like me playing baseball for the L.A. Dodgers. Now, the Encore is I am playing centerfield for the New York Yankees.
RL: Steve is this genius who has an amazing grasp of showbiz, knowing what works and what doesn’t work in Vegas. He has told you to keep his favorites in the show. You want to put in new things, making the jump different from one resort to the Encore. How do you handle both so that both you and Steve get your own way?
DG: To be honest, that will be the toughest thing of all. When I left Mirage, we had created a system of what we called in terms of how to communicate with the band “windows of opportunity.” That was the way we approached the show. Each year we would start off by saying, “OK, this is the first 20 minutes of the show, and we would create a generic 20 minutes that would touch the age groups of 30 to 90.” You would know this person and this music; it wasn’t too hip or too old.
After that, the band and the lights were waiting on me: “Oh, he is going here, that would be the next 10 minutes. He is going into the contemporary singers, let’s just follow him. That bit can be one minute or 15 minutes. Oh, he is going into the acting bit where he is going to do scenes from movies. Oh, that is going to be 12 minutes. Oh, he is skipping the Apollo Theater thing and going into ‘Twelve Days of Christmas.’ Well, that is going to be 12 minutes. Oh, Michael Jackson and then Elvis. Oh, he is not going to do the Broadway thing tonight. He is doing the baseball story.” The band all knows where I am going, but the show changes night to night. So if you came three nights in a row, you would see at least 20 minutes difference every time you are there.
I explained that to Steve six months ago. I said, “Look, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to have the same concept or do you want me to come in with a best of show?” He said, “I know you are a creative guy and you are always putting in new voices. I want you to still be able to do that, but there are favorites that I have that I know my audience, my gamblers and the age group of people that are going to be coming to Encore, which is 35 and up, are really going to appreciate it. And I know these are standard and legendary performers, and you really have to try to get these in every night.”
He makes out this list. I am looking at it, and I said, “Steve, this is 90 minutes right here.” He says, “Well, buddy, slaps me on the shoulder, that is why you do what you do, and I do what I do. You will work it out.” That is why we have spent such long hours figuring out how I am going to get in new voices that I have like Jason Mraz, Pat Monahan from Train and James Blunt and John Mayer and maybe an Obama sketch. We have this whole thing with a tribute to the band Chicago; I found a whole new closer for the show. I said, “Steve, my show is going to be two hours long. He said it couldn’t be two hours: “This is Encore. No two hours.” I thought, OK, well I will figure it out as I go along, and my objective is to please the audience, so that is what I am going to do.
RL: So Danny, since you mentioned Obama, you have no choice but to put him in the show since he is the No. 1 executive of the land. Is he an easy or difficult voice to imitate?
DG: “He talks with pauses. It’s a wonderful voice. I haven’t perfected it yet. I’m in the beginning stages. Give me another two weeks of working on it every day, and I will embrace him by then. The most difficult voice of all to do was Al Pacino. That was a long, arduous process because his voice was different in Scarface than it was in Goodfellas. His movie "Scent of a Woman" clinched it for me. I think it was his finest moment as an actor. I went to see that movie so many times, I sat in the seat doing the lines with him. It was really special, but don’t take me to the movies because I talk during the film. I can’t help it -- that’s my job!
“The fastest voice I ever got down was Regis Philbin, but I never had him in the act. I’d worked with him in New York, and one evening he came to see the show, and we were standing backstage together. He said, “Do me.” He got so animated looking at the trophies in my dressing room and all the photos, but there were none of Regis. He ribbed me over that, and I was able to talk right back to him in his own voice. It was one of the funniest moments of my life when I went out that night and introduced him from the stage in his own voice. I’d nailed him in less than 15 minutes!
RL: One would never guess that a budding baseball player would be able to become the most successful impressionist in the world?
DG: When my baseball career ended, I knew I had this gift. I went to see Rich Little. I was in awe of him. I felt I could do that, but I wanted to be different. So I started the musical thing of doing the singing voices of Sinatra, Elvis and Michael Jackson. Then I moved on to Eric Clapton and Boz Scaggs, and I’d found my niche.
There’s at least 20 percent new stuff in the Encore show that has never ever been seen before. For the first time, I have a full production set in Vegas. I sat in front of the computers with John Featherstone, and we created 100 hours of visually exciting ideas that you will see on the stage.
RL: So how long is the contract? How long does this gig last?
DG: It’s an open-ended contract. It’s the most incredible deal in the world. Steve told me, “Stay as long as you want. As long as you are selling tickets, your home is here.” So for me it is a joy to come to work. I feel like the star centerfielder. The Encore is such a luxurious home, I feel I have to dress up to actually come to work. This is my final stop. It doesn’t get any better than this. I can’t go any higher. This is the jackpot, and I’ve hit the winning home run out of the stadium in the final game of the World Series."