Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009 | 10:08 p.m.
Entertainer Danny Gans, the man of more than 200 voices, has a massive media blitz set to tie in with the now-official Feb. 6 gala premiere of his all-new production at hotel mogul Steve Wynn’s just-opened Encore.
I can reveal that since leaving his eight-year-run at The Mirage to move over to his own Encore theater, he has built up a three-hour inventory of never-before-seen material! With more than 200 voices in his repertoire of impressions, no two of Danny’s performances are alike. The new show will amaze audiences of all ages with comedy, singing and celebrity impressions. Danny presents 60 to 100 flawless impressions each show that ranges from Sammy Davis Jr. to Frank Sinatra to Garth Brooks to Tom Hanks to John Mayer!
His upcoming TV appearances include "The Larry King Show" on CNN that will be taped Feb. 9 and broadcast Feb. 14. It all starts with Danny flying to Los Angeles on Jan. 29 for "Late Night With Craig Ferguson" and "The Bonnie Hunt Show." Then on Feb. 3, celebrity correspondent Donny Osmond will interview Danny here in Las Vegas for both "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider."
Danny is firing on all cylinders with his move to the Encore. His new album will hit record stores in March, and his book goes on sale in late May. We’ll have more on those when we have an exclusive chat with Danny just before his opening night. He’ll entertain the Wynn and Encore employees and hospitality industry folks at rival hotels starting Jan. 31.
His gala special performance to start the new run will be Feb. 6 to benefit the Greater Las Vegas After-School All-Stars and Communities in Schools of Southern Nevada, organizations with the shared mission of supporting local youth programs and services. Steve Wynn’s wife Elaine, director of Wynn Resorts, is a strong advocate of programs and services for children at risk of dropping out of school. Since 1995, she has co-chaired the Greater Las Vegas After-School All-Stars. She is the founding chairwoman of Communities in Schools of Nevada and was recently appointed as chairwoman of the national board of Communities in Schools, the nation's largest dropout prevention organization and the fifth-largest youth serving nonprofit.
The organization works in nearly 200 communities, located in 27 states and the District of Columbia, serving more than 1.2 million students in 3,200 schools. The Greater Las Vegas After-School All-Stars mission is to provide comprehensive out-of-school programs that keep children safe and help them strive to achieve in school and in life and currently serves 15 schools in the Las Vegas area.
Danny had entertained Mirage audiences in a 1,265-seat theater since 2000. His new Encore Theater has 1,500 seats, and I peaked in on his technical rehearsals earlier this week to get the first glimpse of the new production. The stage is a high-tech masterpiece with a backdrop of multiple LED HD screens. Danny sat center stage at his piano with the band on a three-tiered platform behind him. The lighting effects were dazzling in the run-through I watched. As modern and cutting edge as it looks, it also reminded me of the much wanted, up to-date version of the old glory Vegas production days. It came over as a glittering, wow, knock-your-socks-off piece of pizzazz, and at the same time is still a warm intimate show because of the plush red theater’s two-level seating design.
I didn’t want to interrupt the sound and lighting effects rehearsals to chat with Danny, but I did look up the notes of our last chat from the opening night of Donny and Marie Osmond’s Flamingo show, which he and manager Chip Lightman produced. To protect his voice and all the stars in his throat, Danny is strict with his rare interviews! Rare because he’s so diligent, disciplined and dedicated about keeping his voice perfect for his incredible impressions that he never talks before noon, never talks the day of his performances and prefers email answers to journalists’ questions! Thankfully for me, he made an exception.
Danny’s original dream was to be a professional baseball player, and he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals and the Chicago White Sox before an ankle injury ended his career. Today, the black belt karate man is still physically active with a daily program of lifting weights and doing various cardio exercises. Danny, who opened in Vegas in May 1996 at the Stratosphere, has raised $2 million for our local charities. Off stage, he’s passionate about a classic car collection of 1950s, ’60s and ’70s muscle cars. His current collection includes a ’58 Corvette, ’70 Cuda, ’69 Yenko Camaro, ’55 Chevy Bel Air, ’34 Ford three-window Coupe, ’67 Shelby Mustang, ’78 Trans Am Bandit, ’99 Prowler, ’58 Cameo truck, ’32 Window coupe, ’69 Corvette Convertible and ’99 Viper. He also has two custom motorcycles. He drives them all and parks them in his 12-car subterranean garage.
Robin Leach: In a sense, you were the first of the resident artists?
Danny Gans: Well, I think so. Long before Celine came, and I remember Celine coming to see me at The Mirage, and of course I was thrilled to meet her. She is one of those top five singers of all time. She came back a second time, and she wasn’t living here. I remember there was no talk of a deal. She asked me a lot of technical questions about publicity and the room and how many seats, and I thought maybe she is thinking of coming here, and sure enough. I think a lot of it is people are very attracted to getting off of the road, especially those who have been on the road a long time. Most of us, we feel like we don’t get paid for doing the show as much as we get paid for traveling.
RL: You were on the road for 15 years -- that’s a long time for traveling city to city.
DG: It was a long time. I knew I had to get off. There was a time when I really pursued an acting career about 15 years ago, and I had gone through being on a sitcom and doing four or five pilots that never got aired and small parts in movies. I had my hand in it, and it was a decision of to either do this full time, so I had to choose doing my own act or pursuing the showbiz and the acting. So I went back on the road and my kids started to get a little bit older, and I just couldn’t handle my son telling me about the little league game and how his mom videotaped it so I could watch it and how my daughter did really well in the school play I could see the videotape.
I was very successful, but I was on the road over 200 days out of the year. I don’t know if you know this story, but I played in 1995 a small theater in L.A. called the Coach Playhouse, and Variety did a review on me, and it was one of those reviews like I had asked my mom to write a review. It was wonderful and the Broadway people read the review and sent people out to see me, and they sent back good reports and Charlotte Nederlander came and saw me, kissed me on the forehead and said I am going to suggest you for Broadway. Six months later, I was at the Neil Simon Theater on Broadway, and I was only there for a limited run. It was only supposed to be for three weeks. There was someone coming in after me, and I had to go, but they offered me to come back in two months and go to the Brooke Atkins Theater for a year.
I was from L.A., my wife has a sister with four kids that live around the corner, her parents live down the street from us. My mom and dad live 20 miles away. My sister live 25 miles away, and I didn’t know how to handle uprooting everyone to New York even though I knew that career wise that would have been a great situation. My wife and kids came out to see me while I was on Broadway, and my kids were leaving as I was going to be there my last week, and my daughter, who was 7, did a picture for my dressing room. The picture had my wife, the kids and our dog standing on a hill, and I said where am I, and she pointed to the top of the picture. There was an airplane with a face looking out, and she said that is you. My daughter saw me traveling all the time, so I took my picture into the Nederlander’s office and I said this is why I can’t stay on Broadway. I am going home. They said to what? I said I don’t know. I have no idea what is going to happen, but I am going home. The last night there, we had our closing party, and by coincidence the entertainment director for the Stratosphere saw it and said, “you know I don’t have anyone to open the room in three months. Would you consider opening the room?” That is how it all started.
RL: You know the good Lord moves in mysterious ways, so your life has been set out like a road map.
DG: Well, it really is. I grew up believing in prayer, and you try to set the goals and you put God first, family second, and you put your career third, and I really try and do that. There is a lot said for surrounding yourself with talented people. My band, my crew, my managers, all of those people are very talented and driven. I owe a lot to the people of Las Vegas. When I came here, the word of mouth was so strong and then continuing on at The Rio, and now The Mirage. I just feel like from everyone from the cab drivers to the guy that works at the deli, they are all pulling for me. It is a really neat feeling. I am very proud to say this is my home, and it is a great place to raise my kids. I came to Vegas to be a dad and a husband, and if I do a Hollywood sitcom, it could provide all this fame, but I would never see my family. I would fly to L.A. to shoot, then come back to Vegas just in time to do the show.
RL: Your voice wouldn’t hold up to that schedule?
DG: It would be very tough. I would have to change my show where I wouldn’t sing as much and do more comedy. When I look at a lot of the people that come into my dressing room, I had a small part in Bull Durham, and I got to know Kevin Costner over the years. He has gone through a divorce, and he says I am really happy for you and your success, and I don’t mean your name on a theater, but rather your pictures on your wall of your wife and your kids, and you have been married for 25 years, and he said that is more than I could ever achieve. I tell that story over and over again. So when you ask me what I see for the future, I think that if God wants me to be a television star, that is great, but all I know is right now I have a new contract with Steve Wynn, so I am very happy to continue on in Vegas.
RL: Do you still find it amazing that so many years in Vegas, you are still the biggest resident headliner in town, packing the showroom every night?
DG: Well, I am flattered; we have worked very hard to get there. I get to the theater at 5:30 on show days, and we rehearse until 7, and we are constantly adding and tweaking what we have. We never take it for granted and we try to make every show like the first one. It is hard to explain that you have been selling out these rooms for 12 years, yet you aren’t the star of a sitcom, you are not the star of a movie, and you don’t have a record deal, but I am very fortunate, and I think that the show is blessed.
RL: You still guard the throat very carefully, and your health is completely back to normal?
DG: I do. I have strict rules. I don’t talk after the show. I don’t do interviews on show days, and unlike some other entertainers, I don’t have a lot of sand in the hourglass, so I have to be careful. It seems like every year I add more things vocally to the show, and it takes a toll. It would be very easy for me to go play golf and talk to my buddies, but I won’t have my full voice potential.
RL: And if you catch a cold and lose your voice, that means a hundred other people lose their voices.
DG: That’s right. The voice is the downside. There are a couple of guys in the show that have been working with me for 20 years, and I love them and I would love to spend more time with them, but I can’t because vocally it is hard and they understand that, but we miss each other. We go to the emails and such.
RL: So life in Vegas as an entertainer and a family man. What do you think of this city and how it has changed in the past decade you’ve been here?
DG: It became so huge, it is overwhelming. I don’t go to the Strip very often. My wife and I go out, but to restaurants that are in the neighborhood. But when I do get on the Strip, it is exciting to see where the town is going and rooting for my fellow entertainers. There are very few of us that are holding our own against the spectaculars, and so I am very proud of all of us and what is happening.
RL: What was the toughest voice that took the longest to get down.
DG: It has been Al Pacino. When I did it, I did it as a throwaway, and then when the movie Scent of a Woman came out, it was like, wow, he is really doing a character, and there was great dialogue. When I decided to do it as a part of my show, I did it as a tribute and not be funny about it, so when you do that, the impression had better be dead on. So I worked for a long time, and I got it. It took awhile where I could hold someone’s attention with dialogue. If you do Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, you have props to work with. Now I am doing John Mayor, James Blunt, and these guys aren’t really too funny, and their voices have to be right on. The oddball characters, the less popular ,are the ones that I am the most proud of.
RL: I’ve been told that after Howard Cosell’s voice, mine came along -- was that a little bit of a blessing?
DG: Well, your voice is great. I have been doing you in the show forever. Your voice is terrific. You were No. 11 in the “Twelve Days of Christmas” with the pipers’ piping, and I had you on a sandy beach. When the Truman Capote movie came out, I replaced you with him, but now that the movie has faded, I am going to put you back in.
RL: How on Earth do you hear all those other people?
DG: I’ve heard other impressionists say they would listen to tapes of other stars to learn how they would do voices. I don’t like to do that. If I look in the mirror, I would see Danny trying to do Al Pacino, but if I just watch videotape of Al Pacino, I can see Al Pacino, and so my face just happens and I can just hear it in my head. That is why I don’t like to go see other impressionists. I don’t want to do them doing the impression.
RL: Does it still baffle you that you can do this so well?
DG: Well, after so many years, I can hear a voice and I have it or I don’t, and by now once I get it, it is there. I am very thankful that I have something that I can do. Twenty years ago, I thought I was going to be a Major League Baseball player, and when that ended, I had nothing to fall back on, and all of a sudden the guy who was fun on a bus ride because he could do a couple of voices, it turned into a career. I feel like I had been given a second chance, and I’ve given it my best to make sure I would always be grateful for that.