Quick: name 3 famous voice impersonators!
If you managed to eek out anyone other than Rich Little or to a far lesser extent Jimmy Fallon, you're beating me. Then there is André-Phillipe Gagnon. The guy you have to describe to your friends as "the 'We Are The World' or 'Pink Panther Saxaphone' guy". For those that remember but don't remember, allow me to re-introduce you to him.
I was about 4 or 5 when I first heard of André-Phillipe Gagnon. My relatives had the TV on the french CBC channel and everybody seemed to be brimming with excitement. That was back when families would actually huddle around the television at a scheduled time for what was then known as "a happening".
Suddenly, there was a man on screen making the audience on TV, as well as the one in my aunt's living room roar with applause. André-Phillipe Gagnon managed to redfine the era where stand-up comedy was still cementing itself as THE form of entertainment, by mimicking EVERY voice in the legendary USA for AFRICA group of singers and celebrities.
Dubbed an "overnight success", Gagnon would rise to international stardom after an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Soon, he would be selling out arena shows, and even picked up a regular spot in Vegas, where he spent a decade performing.
The first time I saw André-Phillipe live was about 20 years ago. Now, with his "One Man Hit Parade" tour boasting a roster of over 400 impressions, I was a little surprised to hear many of the same voices I did when I was a kid. Still, after all these years, many people I talked to in the audience said it was their first time at one of his concerts, which may be part of the secret to his longevity - always attracting new audience members.
The show that tours today is very well-rehearsed, which is no doubt is a result of the Vegas stints. The difference between Gagnon and other performers who have done Vegas runs is while the show is polished and truthfully hasn't changed THAT much over all these years, his infectious energy and sincere scatter-brain antics take you on a mile-a-minute ride of ups and downs which still give it a fresh feel.
Fans of André-Phillipe's old show will notice that the days of the quick costume changes and many props have come and gone. There is one site gag involving a prop I won't spoil for those about to have the tour visit them, is expertly executed and has a great payoff.
Now, instead of props and costumes, "APG" as he's known to the crew and his fan club, uses 4 HD video panels which are expertly choreographed and move about the stage with the help of stagehands. The screens definitely aid in the presentation, especially for those acts known to have a lot of stage effects.
Easily the most impressive piece of technology is what I was assured is a very REAL "A-PAD" app, which turns the big screens into an i-Pod emulator, complete with audience member coming on stage and picking the songs at random.
Props or no props, it all comes down to what you're paying to see - a vocal impersonator. While the first part of the show is dedicated to reviewing the origins of rock and pop music, once Gagnon moved away from the 50's to the 80's, those of us in the crowd who could appreciate his impression of Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis numbered in the tens.
Still, like his very show, many of the voices André-Phillipe chooses to perform as are timeless. Standouts are Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and he seems to love picking on poor Joe Cocker. His Gordon Lightfoot will make you misty-eyed, while his Barry White may very well impregnate you by the time he's finished. The show-stealer for this humble reviewer has to be his Ray Charles. I've always been a fan of Ray, even before Jamie Foxx made it cool to say that again, and André-Phillipe could likely sell-out a tour doing that impression alone.
Keeping with the times, he has integrated the occasional current-day chart topper, but most of the audience he's playing to stopped caring about new music around the year 2005 anyway. The standards are also there, including Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, and a Frank Sinatra that can't be beat.
André-Phillipe Gagnon is a show everyone should at least see once. He truly is a heritage artist, and since he runs a clean show, is a fun night out for even the most easily offended - like the lady sitting behind me that night who still left with a smile on her face.
Venue: Winspear Centre, Edmonton AB
Ticket Price: $41.50-$61.50
Price I paid: $0.00 w/Media Pass
Is it worth paying to see? Yes.
COMMENTS OVERHEARD LEAVING THE THEATRE:
"I can't believe that, what a vocal range!"
Grown man in what I'm guessing his 50's-60's trying to imitate APG's Mick Jagger/Michael Jackson Moves
"Do you think that iPod thing was real?"
- Iconic performer - A True Canadian Overnight Success that has lasted decades
- Still puts as much energy and excitement into his show as he did decades ago
- Affordable ticket price, and opening standup comic makes for an intermission free feature presentation
- SOME of the material is becoming dated and may need to be cut loose.
- Not everyone in the crowd appreciates that APG studied more concert tapes than studio recordings - if you're lucky enough to have heard may of his "live" inspirations, they're bang-on.
- "We Are The World" seems to have been retired. Luckily, a certain jungle-cat inspired performance remains intact :)