Friday, Sept. 17, 2004 | 9 a.m.
Danny Gans is a gifted impressionist who has been sharing his gift with fans in Las Vegas since premiering at the Stratosphere in May 1996.
Only eight years have passed since Gans made that first appearance, after spending years on the road performing mostly at corporate functions.
But a lot has happened during that time -- he left the Stratosphere and moved to The Rio, after only seven months; he spent three years at The Rio and then The Mirage built him his own showroom, where he has been for four years.
A year after he moved to The Mirage, the tragedy of 9/11 occurred.
Since then, Gans has provided free shows to members of the local police and fire departments on the anniversary of the tragedy. Last Saturday (the third anniversary of 9/11) was no exception -- he gave away 500 tickets.
Gans called the guests "true celebrities" and thanked them "for what you do for us every day -- not just that day, but every day."
Before the show, Gans was given a commemorative coin by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. The coin, about the size of a silver dollar and embossed with an American flag and the Metro police star, is like the ones carried by many officers.
It was a mutual admiration society that filled the 1,280-seat Danny Gans Theatre.
Gans admired the fans, and the fans were wild with enthusiasm over Gans, frequently applauding his humor along with his uncanny ability to recreate familiar voices and characteristics of celebrities.
But then the impressionist has always had a legion of fans who are awed by his ability to segue smoothly between Neil Diamond and Sarah Vaughan and dozens of other celebrity impressions.
Wearing his signature attire -- all black, save for red socks and white-topped shoes -- Gans is his own warm-up act. He bounds onto the stage and is Smokey Robinson singing "Tears of a Clown," Blood, Sweat and Tears doing "Spinning Wheel" and Tom Jones singing "Delilah."
After doing quick impressions of Joe Cocker, the Temptations and other singers from the '60s, he spoofs country singers Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis and Garth Brooks.
His take on comedian Jeff Foxworthy, noted for his line "You might be a redneck ..." was a highlight of the show.
"If you've been accused of lying through your tooth, you might be a redneck," Gans said. "If your wife tells you she's game and you shoot her, you might be a redneck."
One segment of the act focuses on vocalists sometimes difficult to understand. Using only their intonations and their phrasing, he does a convincing Michael McDonald, Al Jarreau, Aaron Neville, Prince, Michael Bolton, Stevie Wonder and Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish.
Gans rarely misses his mark as he glides through his roster of impressions.
Granted, some of his bits might be growing a little worn -- Ross Perot, for example -- but fans don't seem to mind. He does the voices so well and puts so much energy into his performance that they don't care that some of the characters are as old as Moses (he does Gregory Peck and Truman Capote doing their impressions of Moses, which is hilarious).
One unintentionally funny moment came when Gans announced he was going to do his impression of Tony Bennett.
"Tony Bennett is more popular now than he has ever been in his entire career," Gans said.
The audience was silent. Usually demonstrative, fans sat motionless, seemingly taking Gans by surprise.
But he quickly recovered. Bypassing Bennett, Gans veered off course and sang Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do."
Then he took a quick poll, asking the fans if they watched VH1 and MTV. The majority did, and so he did his impression of singers popular on those stations -- including John Mayer and David Gray.
One of his best impressions is of Frank Sinatra. In one bit, as Sinatra, he sang "Hakuna Matata," from Disney's "The Lion King." Had Sinatra sang the song, I can't imagine him singing it any differently.
After running through a few more voices (Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, among others) he finally slipped in his Bennett impression, but it was brief.
During the evening Gans demonstrated his acting ability, with scenes from movies featuring such stars as Al Pacino and Tom Hanks. And he sang a song in his own voice, showing fans he is a vocalist in his own right.
The standing ovation Gans received at the end of his performance was well deserved -- and that isn't a false impression.