Gordie Brown Conquers Downtown (yet again)
He’s headlined in Reno (Harrah’s) and on the Las Vegas Strip (The Venetian, Planet Hollywood), and now Gordie Brown comes full circle as the returning star of The Showroom at The Golden Nugget Hotel, the elegant flagship of downtown’s famous Fremont Street. The charismatic Montreal native has been called a singing impressionist, but he’s big on comedy as well, incorporating original lyrics into his subjects’ signature songs for maximum parody hilarity.
Launching into his energetic repertoire at the first strains of music from his five-piece band, Brown seamlessly morphs into his vast assortment of iconic singers; Tom Jones (turns out his famous trouser bulge is a strapped-on Herve Villechaize), Randy Travis (sings without moving his lips), Garth Brooks (mourns the loss of his hair) Willie Nelson (mourns the loss of his cash, but likes his recreational inhalations).
All this, while Mick Jagger’s chicken-like strut prompts a shotgun aim from a trigger-happy Dick Cheney, and Michael Bolton croons a multi-octave ballad – loudly. M.C. Hammer’s swift sideways scuttle, Michael Jackson’s fragile nose, and Axl Rose’s human figure eight gyrations make rapid appearances, as do Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles’ distinctive head movements. Gordie Brown is just getting started, and incorporates Elvis, and one of his own idols (and fellow Canadian) Paul Anka into the act, along with Billy Ray Cyrus, Neil Diamond, Kenny Rogers, and Sammy Davis Jr. Thirty minutes have not yet passed, and already the crowd onstage rivals the one in their seats.
The only difference is that we are many and he is only one.
Non-musical subjects are not off the hook; Brown serves up scenarios to showcase his skill at lampooning them as well. John Travolta obsesses about his hair; Bill Cosby just has to work a pudding reference into his act. A piqued DeNiro face surfaces, wanting answers. Bush, Clinton, and Obama make an appearance out of the same Canadian body in a blue embroidered shirt, with distinct mannerisms and inflections (and states of mind) to fuel a fictional but clever conversation.
He covers a wide variety of entertainers including Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man, Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Garry Shandling and Jerry Seinfeld, with whom he’s worked. What the audience gets is Brown’s impression of those he chooses to parody. He writes all his own material, making the instantly recognizable and even the cliché, new and full of rediscovery. For example, John Wayne’s legendary crooked swagger becomes an inability to walk a straight line as the Duke circles menacingly, but ineffectively, after his bounty.
Brown’s Clint Eastwood cannot fathom how he sees through his extra-squinty eyes. Christopher Walken’s intense audition, complete with halting, philosophical asides will create hysterical howls of recognition; even though you’ve never seen this before, you have – and Brown is skillful enough to slip that to you slyly.
Then there’s Mike Tyson saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em,” referencing Evander Holyfield’s ear-chomp. As Chris Rock, he complains about not being able to have a cooking show because “nobody wanna see a brotha with a big knife.”
The rapid-fire delivery leaves you feeling as if a large Gatling gun of laughter were trained on you so that you couldn’t count the number of times you’d been hit. Brown goes for the laugh rather than the spot-on imitation, fully aware that not all the impressions are going to resonate with younger audience members. And even if the occasional impression lacks precision, it invariably captures an essence you’ll appreciate.
Brown banters with the audience, ad-libs with his band, and strolls down the center aisle, singing to whoever catches his eye. He thrives on interaction, feeding off of the energy of the room and knowing who to summon for the gathering. Don’t be surprised if the dozens of personalities he conjures up for your show are completely different. Tracy Chapman, Joe Cocker, Annie Lennox, Sylvester Stallone, Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Katharine Hepburn and Roy Orbison just may be on the guest list.
Time flies when he’s on stage, but be warned. Use the restroom before the show starts or you may wind up a part of it. Brown will put a spotlight on those exiting the theater when nature calls, and quiz them about it. He’ll flirt with the women shamelessly, but tell you in the next breath that his wife is expecting their fifth child at any moment. His charm reaches from the back of the stage to the back of the house, never needing a bathroom break, just a microphone and a mouthful of musical wit.
Brown was a former political cartoonist with the Ottawa Sunday Herald before making his mark on the entertainment world. In 1993, he shared the stage with Paul Anka at the Desert Inn. For six months, he was part of the small cast of impressionists who performed in (fellow Canadian) Rich Little's "Copy Cats" at the Sahara. He’s also opened for Louie Anderson at Bally's, toured with Barry Manilow during 1995 and more recently, with Celine Dion. He has spent a few years in Los Angeles doing stand-up comedy, making his national television debut on A&E's "Evening at the Improv." and several appearances on "Hollywood Squares." He also wrote and recorded the theme song for the Emmy Award-winning animated TV series, "Life with Louie." And he’s published a book of famous caricatures, a set of visual impressions to augment his voice and gestures.
Seems the man’s just not satisfied with leaving well enough alone. Lucky for us. Like the venue which hosts him nightly to standing ovations and enthusiastic crowds, Brown proves again and again, just how golden he can be.
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