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December 18, 2014

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Impressionist Danny Gans jumps to the Rio

Blame it on the Rio for Danny Gans' jumping off the Stratosphere, that tower of trouble where he made his Las Vegas debut. Less than a year later, the entertainer has left that off-Strip resort for another.

When his contract with the Stratosphere expired in December, ending a seven-month run, Gans was free to negotiate with other resorts, and several -- including the MGM Grand and the Stardust -- made pitches.

Ultimately, the Rio made the biggest impression on the impressionist, who signed a three-year deal. His first show in the hotel's Copacabana Showroom is Wednesday.

"I'm excited. I've been a big fan of the Rio long before they made me an offer," he says. "It's a wonderful property and it's looking toward the future. I like that a lot."

Gans also was impressed with CEO Tony Marnell, whose approach to business is similar to his own.

"I think he's a good guy and a smart man who's not afraid to take chances and look to the future. He knows what people want. Something that stuck with me about him early in the negotiations was that he was saying his whole objective was to please people and give them what they wanted and needed.

"That impressed me, because that's what I think about when I put my show together, not so much what Danny Gans wants."

Gans was referring to his long-standing practice of accepting requests.

"For years, towards the end of my show, I would say, 'What do you want me to do?' And they would start yelling things out. I would make mental notes and put together an act based on what people yelled out."

Gans says he enjoyed his run at the Stratosphere, but says the property's shaky financial picture made it impossible for him to remain. When his contract expired, the hotel expressed an interest in keeping him but never made a contract offer, says Chip Lightman, Gans' manager.

"They couldn't give us a three-year commitment or guarantee Dan's salary," he says. "That was too risky for us. We both have our families to consider."

Lightman says it was an amicable departure. Stratosphere President and CEO Richard Schutz agrees.

"We were thrilled with Danny and honored that he started with us, but we completely understood that he moved on," Schutz says.

The two sides, however, were at odds over promotion -- Gans wanted more than the one billboard Stratosphere was giving him -- and the number of shows per week -- the Stratosphere wanted more than the five he was giving it.

The split, ultimately, was mutually beneficial. Gans will continue to give five shows a week at the Rio and save the wear and tear on his voice (his primary concern). Stratosphere will generate more income from its showroom (its primary concern) with its new "American Superstars" show, which plays twice a night, six days a week.

Gans says the Rio was amenable to his schedule in part because of the popularity of Club Rio, its late-night disco in the Copacabana Showroom.

"That was one of the first things I told them: 'If you want me to be there a long time, I have to take care of my voice.' Physically, I can do three shows a night. I'm in great shape. It's my voice that's the tender instrument. I can't abuse it. Singing is technically wrong for your voice anyway. It's bad for your voice."

Lightman says Gans briefly attempted to perform twice a night on Saturdays at the Stratosphere "and his voice couldn't take it. The show sold out, but Dan couldn't talk the next day. He promised himself that, unless it's a special situation, he's gonna try to never double up again, even for a single night."

Gans and Lightman say they approached the Stratosphere about a promotion campaign, but that the property's financial situation precluded the publicity blitz they were seeking. Schutz acknowledges as much.

"There was a limit to what we were willing to pay," he says.

Not Marnell, who went to work aligning the Rio's name with Gans' almost the moment Gans finished his last show at the Stratosphere, on Dec. 16.

"I went to the airport the next day to go home (to Los Angeles) and my name was already up in baggage claim, where the Copacabana sign is," Gans says. "They were jumping right on it. I was blown away. They had gone out of their way to show me they wanted to do the right thing by me. It makes me want to work that much harder for them."

It's understandable.

"For instance, at the Stratosphere I had one billboard in town. Before I even opened at the Rio I believe I had 20," Gans says. "I have a major marquee in baggage claim (at McCarran International Airport). I have a billboard on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, right out in front of the House of Blues."

Gans had no radio or TV spots with Stratosphere. He has them now. He will also have a full-time publicist.

"Just everything you could possibly think of, from TV ads to all the employees wearing Danny Gans buttons. They're just really taking care of business."

Gans is also talking about hosting a weekly variety television show from the Rio.

"It would be like an updated 'Ed Sullivan Show,'" he says. "I would come out and sing a song or tell some jokes, and tell them who's on. It could range from regulars in town to guests who are coming in. It wouldn't be anything like a typical talk show with a couch and a desk. I think it would be so easy to put together."

The Rio had initially hoped to lure Gans when his one-man Broadway show ended last year. Gans, in fact, came to the Rio's attention when he performed at a private high-roller party there early last year. Lightman says they would have accepted if the offer hadn't come with a request to wait until its "Copacabana" dinner show ended -- about a year.

"We didn't want to wait that long," Lightman says. "Danny enjoyed playing publicly (his forte had been private corporate functions), but he didn't want to be in New York and so far away from his family (a wife and three children). So we decided to go ahead with the Stratosphere.

"I have nothing but nice things to say about it, but it didn't have the financial wherewithal to do it. Even though Dan was making a lot of money for them, they couldn't afford to do the marketing. They asked us (after Gans' initial three-month contract expired), 'What would it take for you to stay till the end of the year?' We said, 'For you guys to pump up the advertising.'"

Stratosphere gave an acceptable answer, and Gans stayed. "But nothing changed," Lightman says. "If anything, it started diminishing a little bit."

It was around that time that the Rio and other properties began to inquire about Gans' availability.

"We told (the Stratosphere), 'If you guys want Danny, we're willing to meet you. But we need a safety net if you go under and we need a commitment to marketing that the Rio and all these other places are giving us.'"

Lightman says there was talk of Gans taking over the Michael Crawford role in "EFX" at the MGM, "but it wasn't right. He's had his band for five years and didn't want to give them up, and it was (Crawford's) show. He didn't want to take over a situation where people would say, 'That's Michael Crawford's show.'"

Gans chose the Rio when Marnell told him and Lightman that he was closing the dinner show early specifically for him.

"I wish the Stratosphere nothing but the best," Gans says. "They took a chance, because I did not have much of a following in Las Vegas."

But the Rio's commitment to him made the move a no-brainer.

"That was really a big selling point because, when we went to them, we were basically sold on the property, the people and the integrity that had to do with the Rio. We're looking to build a career," he says, "not just sell seats."

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