Impressionist Gordie Brown gets audiences laughing as Harrah's resident headliner
By Gaye Delaplane - Best Bets

Stardom definitely appeals to Gordie Brown. The headliner of Harrah's Reno's early show admits his goal is to become a STAR - and it has nothing to do with ego.

"Only when you have a name, when you're a star, do people flock to see you entertain," he said in a recent interview after his show in Sammy's Showroom. "Then they come to see you because they know your talent, they know what you do - and they know you'll give them a great show because you have a reputation for doing great shows.

"All I want to do is entertain, make people happy. I want people to come to my shows and forget their troubles for a while. I just want them to have a blast."

Brown had just given his Friday night audience a "blast" and had been rewarded with a standing ovation. But many people, Brown admits, still don't really know who he is or what he does.

They'll find out at Harrah's. He's booked to be the "resident headliner" in an indefinite engagement. The show is presented by Dick Foster, who also produces the late-night show, the "Whisper" adult revue.

"I worked for Dick Foster in 'Spellbound' for two years in the early "90s," Brown said. "He contacted me and asked me if I wanted to do the early show here. This is a real opportunity for me. It's a chance to do my own show in a wonderful room. It's the first time I've worked with a live band, and it's great to have the chance to work at Harrah's."

Though presented by Foster, Brown produces his own show. He's the writer, arranger, singer and impressionist. In many impressions, he takes the hits of such stars as Willie Nelson, Tom Jones, Randy Travis and Stevie Wonder, and adds new, comedic lyrics. He has a talent for spot-on impressions, not only capturing the right moves, but the facial expressions and vocal quality of the person he's impersonating. He's-adept at capturing the airy falsetto of the Bee Gees' lead singer, Barry Gibb, (he describes him as sounding like a sheep with a cold), switching quickly to Neil Diamond and on to Willie Nelson, complete with Nelson's phrasing and nasal tones. When a powerful voice is necessary - as with Tom Jones, Pavarotti, Garth Brooks and Sammy Davis Jr. - Brown more than delivers. It makes one wonder how he would sound doing himself.

"Not like anyone I do in the show," he said.

The show's pace and mood changes from segment to segment. For example, his rendition of Aaron Neville singing the "The Star Spangled Banner" is so slow that the game announcer (Brown, again) can get through a baseball game before Neville finishes the song. At the other end of the scale, Brown's impersonation of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" is beautiful and touching. During his Elvis sketch, he uses the microphone to curl his hair, and while Elvis threw scarves into the audience, Brown tears off pieces of toilet paper - a bit that brought the house down.

The five musicians - sax, trumpet, keyboards, guitar and drums - create the tempos and melodies that immediately bring various entertainers to mind. (They occasionally break into hardy laughter, indicating that Brown has let loose a surprise ad lib.)

While the cast of characters stays pretty much the same in Brown's shows, there's always something new because of his ad libs. "I like to mix it up with the audience," he said. "I like the ad-libbing, working off new people and ideas."

Funny ad libs and impersonations have always come easy, he said. And combining singing, acting and comedy into first-class entertainment is his passion.

"I love to entertain. It's my calling," he said. "It seems to go through every bone in my body."

Brown, 36, was raised in Ottawa, Canada. He didn't discover his creative streak until he was talked into performing in "West Side Story" in high school.

"That's when I fell in love with acting, singing and comedy," he said. After working four years as a political cartoonist for the Ottawa Sunday Herald, his co-workers entered him in an industry talent contest where he took first prize. He then developed an act and worked nights entertaining in Ottawa while continuing his work as a cartoonist. He soon developed a big Ottawa following.

"One night I watched an Al Jolson movie and I said, 'That's me. I have the same passion to entertain.' I got in my car and drove to Las Vegas because I felt that was the entertainment capital of the world."

Brown knew that Paul Anka, also from Ottawa, lived in Las Vegas. For months he visited Anka's home, trying to see him. Finally, Anka agreed to meet him and ultimately, Anka hired Brown to open his shows.

"I did that for a year and a half - it was a dream job," he said. "It just shows that you should never take 'no' for an answer."

Anka's support led to other opportunities and now Brown is doing his own show the way he wants to do it.

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