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July 30, 2014

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Review:

Danny Gans: Here, he’s Mr. Close Enough

Likable entertainer Danny Gans makes up for weaknesses with quantity

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Leila Navidi

Danny Gans shown performing on March 20.

Danny Gans

Singer, impressionist and comedian Danny Gans, shown performing at the Encore Theatre on March 20, died suddenly Friday at his home in Henderson. Launch slideshow »

Danny Gans

If You Go

  • What: Impressionist/singer Danny Gans
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday; dark Monday, Thursday, Sunday
  • Where: Encore Theatre
  • Tickets: $75-$120; 770-9966 or www.encorelasvegas.com
  • Running time: 90-plus minutes
  • Audience advisory: Boomer humor

Sun Blogs

Beyond the Sun

Only in Las Vegas ...

... can you play slots at 4 a.m. at 7-Eleven.

... can you get married at a drive-through chapel.

... is Danny Gans a household name.

Mention Gans anywhere else in the country and you’ll likely be answered with a puzzled look. How did this genial guy, a singing impressionist, become arguably an entertainment brand name in Las Vegas?

I’d say it’s a tribute to the efficacy of the billboards and cab-top posters touting Gans as “Entertainer of the Year” (those hype signs don’t bother to mention which year, or who crowned him such).

After stints at the Stratosphere and the Rio and eight years at the Mirage, where he reigned in his self-titled theater, Gans recently moved across the street and into the new Encore Theatre.

In his performance uniform of dark suit, red socks and black-and-white spectator shoes, Gans comes across as a friendly, eager-to-please fella, with a bright perma-grin. His niche is comfort-zone entertainment, avoiding anything even faintly controversial, usually aiming for the sentimental jugular.

Boyish and buoyant, Gans bounds onto the stage and jumps right in, singing Chicago’s 1970 hit “25 or 6 to 4,” backed by a punchy seven-piece band complete with horn section.

A chain reaction of singing impressions follows — fragments of songs by Blood, Sweat & Tears, Tom Jones (Gans resembles a beefy, younger Jones), Joe Cocker, Michael McDonald, Al Jarreau, Rod Stewart, Anita Baker — like a restless hand on a radio dial or an iPod on random shuffle.

Specifically, an iPod belonging to an early Baby Boomer: heavy on the classic rock, indicating an engagement with pop culture that had pretty much stopped by the mid-’90s.

Gans is a quick-change artist, using his supple voice, elastic face and body English to jump from character to character.

But here’s the thing about his impressions: They’re close but not killer, more like suggestions or indications of his subjects. Similarly, Gans’ comedy thrives more on shared recognition — “I remember that!” — than on insight or wit.

What he lacks in precision, Gans makes up for in quantity. In his 90-minute-plus program, Gans delivers an impressive buffet of impressions, and he does nail quite a few of them, of course, particularly the old-school Vegas types: Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin — in self-duet with Jerry Lewis, and the inevitable Elvis. And Gans’ George Burns is dead-on and endearing.

But a 20-something woman sitting near me confessed that she had no earthly idea who Burns was. Ditto during the extended stretch of Johnny Carson, a sort of “greatest hits” sampler of “The Tonight Show,” featuring Carnak the Magnificent. Gans’ incarnation of Carson is deliciously, dryly droll; hilarious — if you grew up watching the revered late-night talk icon.

And that cultural divide between generations will conceivably prove a problem for a significant number of potential ticket-buyers. Maybe the Encore could put up a sign like those outside amusement park rides: “You should be at least 35 to ride.” Younger audience members might find themselves making a list of names to google when they get home: The Ides of March. Boz Scaggs. Funk & Wagnall.

Gans keeps the act fast and loose and maintains a close focus on his audience’s attention; his shows reportedly vary from night to night. At a recent performance, for instance, Gans introduced a tribute to the musical stars of the ’40s and ’50s, but sensing a tepid response, he quickly shifted gears and segued into imitating more contemporary pop stars, including John Mayer, Jason Mraz, James Blunt and that “you had a bad day” guy (then again, this could very well be built-in “spontaneous” shtick.)

Not bad, but then none of those fellows is distinctive-sounding enough yet to merit impressions.

Gans’ act has a few overlaps with that of Terry Fator, the singing ventriloquist who recently opened on Gans’ former stage across the street at the Mirage. There’s a played-out Michael Jackson bit, and when Gans pops a Kermit puppet on his hand to croon “The Rainbow Connection,” he makes it amusingly clear that he is not a ventriloquist. And there’s Louis Armstrong.

Like Chekhov’s famous gun, this seems like an unwritten law of the Vegas stage: If you see a trumpet sitting on stage, you’re going to get a Louis Armstrong impression by the end of the show, and odds are it’s going to be “What a Wonderful World.”

My impressions of Gans’ new 1,500-seat room at the Encore: It’s an elegant, clean-lined black box that keeps the focus squarely on the main man. And it has great acoustics — this would be a swell place to see your favorite band — and admirable lighting. Bits frequently end in sudden blackout, leaving Gans’ Osmond-white grin emblazoned in your mind’s eye, Cheshire Cat-style.

Whatever you make of Gans’ singing and impressions — almost there? close enough? — what you’ll take away is the memory of that nice-guy smile. Which may be enough to make him Entertainer of the Year around here.

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