Who’s the man?

Gordie Brown is all you need for a successful one-man casino show

Rated 4.0

Choosing a casino show is a bit like choosing your dinner. Sometimes you want a fine dining experience with soup, salad, steak and lobster and a bottle of wine. Other times, only a thick, messy sub sandwich will do.

Likewise, sometimes you want your casino shows to be over-the-top affairs complete with set changes, outrageous costumes, big dance numbers and sequin-gowned divas. Other times, a one-man show is all the entertainment you need.

Gordie Brown fits into the latter category, and like any good sandwich, he offers a bit of everything. He doesn’t need all that pomp and spectacle, because he’s got it all inside of him. Brown sings, dances, impersonates and satirizes. If you’ve ever driven down Center Street and glanced at the Harrah’s Reno sign at the corner of Second Street, he’s lauded as “funny, hysterical, etc.” He’s certainly not boring, and perhaps the good buzz is what keeps crowds lined up in front of Sammy’s Showroom every week.

I tried to attend his show last Friday, but it was sold out. Perhaps the place was packed because of last weekend’s Great Reno Balloon Race, or maybe it’s just that he’s a popular entertainer. Whatever the case may be, I returned to the same long line of people Sunday night. This time, however, I had reserved my ticket.

I was seated in front of the stage and shared the table with a group of retirees on vacation. One of them noticed my dateless self and warned me that Brown just might pick on me that night. I was tempted to ask for another table farther back, not because I was worried about being singled out, but because I was too close to the stage and my neck was strained from looking up.

A few minutes after 7:30 p.m., Brown hit the stage accompanied by a live band. Wearing a black velvet shirt and black pants, he quickly launched into a series of musical parodies of songs by Tom Jones, Randy Travis, Vanilla Ice and Hootie & The Blowfish. The only costume changes for his performance were a couple of hats, a curly black wig and several pairs of sunglasses, which he used to transform himself from Elvis Presley to Elton John. His Michael Jackson and Sammy Davis Jr. impersonations were very believable, despite his obvious white guy exterior.

Although I managed not to get singled out, a psychologist from Illinois became the butt of a few jokes. A young man up front was nicknamed “Sparky” after Brown took on a Jimmy Stewart impression and cracked jokes about getting old.

But in between the jokes and parodies, Brown would sing a few straight-up renditions of popular songs. He sang Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” in that distinctive froggy voice and did an energetic medley of Elvis tunes, including “Suspicious Minds.” My only complaint about the show was that it seemed too short, clocking in at just over an hour. But I guess all that singing and impersonating can wear you out, and the adult revue, Whisper, followed Brown’s show.

It’s interesting to note that Brown started out as a political cartoonist for the Ottawa Sunday Herald. When his co-workers entered the Montreal native in an industry talent contest, he won first place, and his career took a completely different turn. He went to Las Vegas and was discovered by Paul Anka and Rich Little, who signed him as an opening act. The gigs led to other performances with entertainers such as Kenny Rogers, Barry Manilow and Jerry Seinfeld. He has also made TV appearances on shows like Hollywood Squares and PAX TV’s series Twice in a Lifetime.

Wow. The guy can sing, act and draw cartoons. Is there anything he can’t do?