Gordie Brown brings song, dance and humor to a downtown institution
By Jack Houston
Photography by Christopher DeVargas
Why does Roy Orbison only move his eyebrows when he sings, while Randy Travis never moves his lips? And why does “Achy Breaky Heart” bear an uncanny resemblance to the theme from Barney & Friends? And, given their unintelligible vocalizations, is it possible that Bob Dylan and Ozzy Osbourne were actually separated at birth?
If Gordie Brown doesn’t necessarily answer these questions during his whirlwind 90-minute performance at the Golden Nugget, he at least brings them to our attention—all the vocal tics, over-the-top histrionics, trademark expressions and infamous scandals that have defined our favorite celebrities. Sometimes he does it through a full-blown song, sometimes with just a simple prop.
When Brown goes “big,” he goes way big. Michael Bolton never recorded “Frosty the Snowman,” but Brown’s overwrought impersonation of the singer tackling the Christmas classic is uncanny. Same goes for his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as sung by Aaron Neville—it just goes on and on and somehow manages to get funnier with each passing line.
Other times all Brown needs is a pair of sunglasses and a trademark smile and suddenly he’s transformed into Risky Business-era Tom Cruise. A little curl of the lip and you’ve got Robert De Niro. A few steps into the famous “snake dance” and he becomes Axl Rose.
Brown didn’t initially set off to conquer the world as a performer. Born in Canada, he worked as a cartoonist for the Ottawa Sunday Herald, where his political caricatures hinted at what he would later bring to fruition onstage. He took the circuitous route to Las Vegas, opening for the likes of his Canadian idols, Paul Anka and Rich Little, and earning residencies in Lake Tahoe and Reno before starring at the Golden Nugget in 2004. Aside from a brief jaunt opening for Celine Dion on her North American tour, he’s been a fixture in the city ever since, steadily employed and consistently funny.
Some of Brown’s impressions are so time-tested it almost wouldn’t be a complete show without them. That’s why his duet between Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson (“To All the Plants I’ve Smoked Before”) stays in the set, and why an unfaithful Kenny Rogers (“She Believes Me!”) never goes away. And it’s hard to grow weary of the almost surreal gag involving Fantasy Island’s Tattoo subbing in for Tom Jones’ notoriously large package.
Mindful that his act must constantly keep evolving to stay fresh, he also throws in a dose of some of today’s top stars. Coldplay singing about Brokeback Mountain? Eminem searching for M&M’s? Rob Thomas opining about a woman’s chest? Alanis Morissette as a Midol pitchwoman? It’s all here.
By the time he kicks into overdrive with show-closing tributes to Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, it’s long been made clear that Brown can be anyone he wants to be. The only question that remains is, who will he become next?