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September 21, 2014

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headliner:

Gans shapes encore show for Wynn

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Steve Marcus

Danny Gans relaxes Friday in his dressing room at the Encore Theatre. Gans, a Las Vegas headliner since 1996, signed on to perform there at Steve Wynn’s urging.

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  • Danny Gans on how the economy is affecting the show. (Jan. 2009)
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  • Gans talks about how the show's format allows for flexibility. (Jan. 2009)
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  • Gans talks about leaving the Mirage for Encore and working for Steve Wynn. (Jan. 2009)
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  • Gans on keeping old material in the show. (Jan. 2009)
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Beyond the Sun

IF YOU GO

Who:Danny Gans

Opening benefit: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6, benefiting Communities in Schools of Southern Nevada and the Greater Las Vegas After-School All Stars

Regular performances: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays beginning Feb. 10

Where: Encore Theatre

Tickets: $95 to $120; 770-9966

Parking hint: Fans are probably better off parking at Wynn Las Vegas. If you park at Encore, wear walking shoes because it’s a long hike.

Danny Gans has been riding a wave of success since his Las Vegas debut at the Stratosphere when it opened in May 1996.

The resort wanted to create a King Kong ride that climbed the side of the 1,000-foot tower carrying passengers in its belly. King Kong never made it.

Instead, impressionist Gans became the 900-pound gorilla of Las Vegas, starring in one of the most popular shows on the Strip and producing another — Donny & Marie’s at the Flamingo.

He climbs the latest step next Friday, debuting at the 1,500-seat Encore Theatre at a benefit and starting a regular schedule of four shows a week Feb. 10.

During a recent interview, Gans reflected on the move across the Strip and on his career. He sits on a deeply cushioned armchair in his comfortable dressing room, which has walls decorated with sports memorabilia — baseballs signed by Ozzie Smith and Rod Carew, footballs signed by Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott.

Gans says he fielded offers from several resorts last year when his nine-year contract with the Mirage was almost up. Then he got an offer from Steve Wynn, who owned the Mirage when Gans opened there in April 2000. The casino owner wanted to lure him away from the Mirage’s 1,200-seat Danny Gans Theatre so he could be the entertainment at Wynn’s new resort, Encore.

“I thought, ‘Man, he’s the reason I went to the Mirage in the first place, because of Steve Wynn,’ ” Gans says. “He’s such a visionary, such a winner. He believes in me and what I do, and I wanted that again.”

The Encore Theatre takes its name from Wynn’s new resort, but the theater is between Encore and Wynn Las Vegas. It’s the theater where “Monty Python’s Spamalot” played until July.

When Gans looked at the theater, he was sold.

“The Mirage theater was built out of a ballroom. The ceiling was only so high and the stage only so big, so there was not a lot you could do, productionwise,” he says. “But in the new theater you could put on any major Broadway musical. Man, that was so exciting for me to think about what I could do with my current material and with some new material. It was a win-win situation.”

Or Wynn-Wynn.

Gans certainly knows how Wynn operates, and Wynn has seen Gans’ show 20 times.

Wynn drew up a list of favorite bits he wanted to see in the new show, but told Gans: “You can do new stuff too, whatever you want to do, but make sure you do this.” Gans looked at the list and realized there wasn’t any room for new material. “Steve, this is like an hour and a half of material. I can’t do it.”

The Encore show will have a new opening, a new closing and some new bits in the middle, Gans says, but he won’t abandon fans’ (or all Wynn’s) favorites.

“When I don’t do certain impressions in the show, people will start yelling out,” he says. “About an hour and 20 minutes into the show they start getting nervous like, ‘Is he going to do them? Why hasn’t he done them?’ Then they yell out, ‘Hey, do Sammy.’ When they yell it out like that, I just stop what I’m doing and do Sammy.”

His seven-piece band is moving with him, and so are his 200 or so characters. The biggest change will be in the production values. Gans tapped John Featherstone, who worked with him on his one-man Broadway show, to design the lighting.

When Gans arrived in Las Vegas, in 1996, he had no idea what was in store for him.

“I had just left Broadway,” he says. “Before Broadway I was just a road warrior. I had been on the road 15 years solid, doing 200 days a year on the road — theaters, clubs, corporate dates, dinner theater, just constantly working.”

He and his wife had just had their third child, and his older kids were wondering why he wasn’t around for Little League games and school events.

“I was becoming like the Harry Chapin song (“Cat’s in the Cradle”) and I didn’t want this anymore,” he says. “Then this Vegas thing came around.”

The three-month gig to open the Stratosphere stretched into seven. Gans cemented his early success by reaching out to locals, setting aside 200 seats a night for cabbies, maitre d’s and waitresses — people who met the public and quickly spread the word of his show.

The show was such a hit that Harrah’s Entertainment came calling and invited him to perform in the Rio’s Copacabana Showroom.

“It was amazing,” Gans says. “I was getting great press: ‘20/20’ did a big deal on me. ‘Entertainment Tonight’ did a piece. I kept thinking, ‘This isn’t going to last forever. They’ll get tired of it eventually.’ ”

Apparently not.

But Gans objected when the Rio started to raise ticket prices near the end of his three-year contract.

“When I came here my ticket prices at the Stratosphere were $29,” he says. “When I opened at the Rio they were $35.” Eventually tickets for his show reached $100. “I said, ‘Guys, come on. I’m just one guy in front of a trio. It’s not fair. I want the show to be affordable to everybody, not just the wealthy.’ ”

Then Wynn lured Gans to the Mirage.

“I wanted to be on the Strip,” he says. “If there’s an end of the rainbow for entertainers in Vegas, it’s being a headliner on the Strip in a megaresort. There isn’t anything better than that. It’s like playing Broadway or winning the Oscar.”

Gans says he’s not dwelling on the bad economy.

“Sure, I’ve felt the impact,” he says. “You can see the town is depressed, and there are not so many people and shows are closing and stuff, but I just focus on, ‘Let’s make the show the best it’s ever been and hope the people will come.’ ”

After Encore, where does he go?

“There’s no upper move,” Gans says. “This is as good as it gets. How could I do any better than this?”

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