GORDIE BROWN ILLUMINATES DOWNTOWN
By Esther Lynn
Comparisons between Mirage headliner Danny Gans and downtown Las Vegas's newest star, Gordie Brown, are inevitable...and perhaps warranted. There are a number of similarities in the type of entertainment both men do -impressions - as well as their show business backgrounds. As was the case with Gans when he opened the new Stratosphere showroom in 1996, Gordie Brown's name may not be a familiar one with Las Vegas residents and visitors but, like Gans, that shouldn't be the case for long. Both Gans and Brown have a history in Las Vegas. In the case of Gans, he was one of a number of mostly undiscovered performers in a revue at downtown's International Hotel (now Main Street Station) in the late 1970s. A booking in the lounge at Nevada Palace on Boulder Highway followed. In Brown's case, for six months, he was part of the small cast of impressionists who performed in Rich Little's "Copy Cats" at the Sahara, and was one of the specialty acts with "Melinda, The First Lady of Magic" during her 1988 stint at the old Landmark. Oh yes, both fellows are family men. Gordie Brown will become a father for the fourth time in the fall. Gans has come a long way in the past two decades. The same can be said for Gordie Brown. And that is where most of the similarities end.
What audiences get when they see Gordie Brown is a very entertaining, high-energy show by a warm and gracious talented performer anxious to please. Based on reaction to the show I saw, he is accomplishing his mission. Gordie takes on approximately 60 personalities per show. In the acting and comic category, he covers a wide variety of entertainers including "All in the Family" characters Archie and Edith Bunker, Jim Carrey, Johnny Carson, Tom Cruise, Billy Crystal, Robert DeNiro, Clint Eastwood, Henry Fonda, Michael J. Fox, Katharine Hepburn, Dustin Hoffman, Jay Leno, Christopher Lloyd, Jack Nicholson, Garry Shandling, now Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jimmy Stewart, Christopher Walken and John Wayne. From the world of music, there's Gordie's original parodies of songs made famous by Louis Armstrong, Garth Brooks, James Brown, Johnny Cash, Tracy Chapman, Billy Ray Cyrus, Sammy Davis Jr., Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, M.C. Hammer, Julio Iglesias, Chris Isaak, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Billy Joel, Elton John, Tom Jones (with an assist from "Fantasy Island's" Tattoo), Annie Lennox, Gordon Lightfoot, Meat Loaf, Dean Martin, Alanis Morissette, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Ozzy Osbourne, Elvis Presley, Kenny Rogers, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, Randy Travis (whose lips don't move when he sings), Vanilla Ice, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, and even "American Idol" reject, William "She Bangs" Hung. There are also takes on the contemporary musical groups Barenaked Ladies, Green Day, Matchbox 20, 4 Non Blondes and award-winning Santana. Even Ted Koppel and Mike Tyson turn up in appropriate, and not so appropriate, spots. If he is up to it, you might even hear Gordie's impressions of Joe Cocker and Jerry Seinfeld, voices he considers the most difficult for him to duplicate. With Gordie's expressive, malleable face, and a few simple props, not only do you get the sound of the performers, you also get an uncanny physical resemblance with many of his characterizations.
What audience members WON'T get is the "typical" impersonators portrayal of familiar stars doing all too familiar lines. You can expect the unexpected when you see Gordie Brown. Since he considers himself first and foremost a comic, and he writes all of his own material, prepare yourself for something a bit different and definitely off the wall. Although he steers clear of heavy political topics, he does keep up on the latest news, incorporating it into his act. It also isn't unusual for him to throw in some surprise material. He is very fortunate to have a group of consummate musicians behind him, as they have to be prepared for just about anything.
Brown has wisely selected seven of the finest players around to back him up - both instrumentally and vocally. Prior to joining Gordie at the Golden Nugget, the Steven Lee Group had been entertaining crowds in the Bellagio's tony Fontana Room for the past four years. Led by 26-year Las Vegan Steven Lee on guitar and vocals, the band members consist of Brenda Leonard Cowart on keyboards and vocals, Keith Nelson on bass, Adam Shendal on drums, Rocco Barbato on saxophone and Joe Bergeron on percussion. Keyboard player and vocalist Jeff Neiman, who worked with Gordie Brown in Northern Nevada, returns to Las Vegas to continue his association with the talented performer. In one of those "isn't it a small world" coincidences, at one time or another over the last three decades (that would be in the '80s, 90s, and now in the 2000s) Steven Lee and Jeff Neiman have performed as band mates in both Northern and Southern Nevada.
It was a 1946 film, "The Jolson Story," and Larry Parks' portrayal of the vaudeville and Broadway stage great Al Jolson, that impacted a young Gordie Brown. In high school his show business connection was that of a musician and actor. He wrote music, played guitar and sang with a group of his contemporaries, and in school musicals he played Tony in "West Side Story," Conrad in "Bye Bye Birdie" and Capt. Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music."
Brown has been successfully earning his living as an impressionist since he was old enough to work. Before becoming a vocal impressionist, the Montreal, Canada-native created another kind of impression. As a political cartoonist with the Ottawa Sunday Herald, Brown's impressions were done on paper with pen and ink. It was during those days that he entertained his co-workers with jokes done in the voices of well-known celebrities. His fellow workers thought he was good enough to compete so they entered him in a local talent competition. They were right. Gordie Brown took first place the contest.
It was in 1987 that Gordie made his first plane trip, flying to Las Vegas to pursue his dream...and his idol, Paul Anka. A fan of the fellow Canadian singer/songwriter, Brown was determined to meet Anka. It took time but it finally happened, resulting in a friendship and Brown becoming Anka's opening act during a Canadian tour. It was during that '87 trip to Las Vegas that Brown gave a videotape of his act to Bonnie Saxe, mother of magician Melinda. Seven months later, Bonnie called Gordie to join fellow impressionist Babe Pier and juggler Anthony Gatto as one of the specialty acts in Melinda's show. Gordie packed up his car and headed for Nevada. In 1993, he shared the stage with Paul Anka at the Desert Inn. Seeing his name on the Strip marquee, in the same size letters as the headliner, is one of the highlights of Brown's career. Over the years, Gordie also opened for Louie Anderson at Bally's, toured with Barry Manilow during 1995, and performed in Dick Foster's productions of "Spellbound" at both the Landmark and Harrah's in Las Vegas. He spent a few years in Los Angeles doing stand-up comedy. He made his national television debut on A&E's "Evening at the Improv." That was followed by a job co-hosting NBC's "Friday Night Videos," a starring role on PAX TV's "Twice in a Lifetime," and several appearances on "Hollywood Squares." Gordie also wrote and recorded the theme song for the Emmy Award-winning animated TV series, "Life With Louie." Gordie is a much sought after act for corporate events, having performed for Ford, General Motors, Pepsi, Porsche and Toyota among others. During the two years of his one-man, many-voices show at Harrah's in Reno, Gordie earned numerous awards including the Reno Gazette Journal's Best Casino Show for both 2002 and 2003, Nevada Magazine's Best New Show/Best Entertainer for 2002 and Best Entertainer/Best Comedian for 2003, and the Sacramento Bee named him Entertainer of the Year in 2002.
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