If you were holding off on seeing Danny Gans until he moved across the street to Encore, good call.
If you were expecting him to entirely reinvent his act in the process, try not to be disappointed.
Compare the singing impressionist’s relaunch to getting a new car. Everything’s clean and shiny. That first greasy fast-food bag has yet to hit the carpet. There’s a new spirit that makes you want to go racing down the highway like James Bond. But when you see someone else pulled over and realize you can’t afford a ticket, you remember it’s still the same ol’ you behind the wheel.
Gans has a great new showcase on the former "Monty Python’s Spamalot" stage, with sound and lighting eclipsing his old room at The Mirage. And he has a new backdrop of video panels, constantly animated with vibrant graphics and film footage.
But it’s still the same show with Gans in front of a bandstand, doing the impressions that have won him standing ovations since his Las Vegas breakthrough in 1996.
Whether that is good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. Some of you will read this and want to re-experience his "greatest hits" the way you do a favorite band. Others will say, "Thanks for the heads up. The Forrest Gump and Michael Jackson were fine the first time around, but I can wait a little longer."
There is one improvement everyone can agree on. Gans gave the show a good housecleaning, tossing out the old Ross Perot jokes and putting in references to Bernie Madoff, the octuplets and Michael Phelps’ bong hit.
That these casual gags — mostly within his Johnny Carson "Carnac" bit — are even worth mentioning, let alone praising, are a sign of just how stale things got during Gans’ eight-year run at The Mirage.
Gans may be watching CNN again, but his movie tastes run more to Turner Classic Movies than HBO. He’s still doing "Scent of a Woman" and "On Golden Pond," and ignoring, say, the Heath Ledger Joker that’s the biggest "gimme" to impressionists since Ray Romano or Mike Myers’ Austin Powers (both of whom are covered).
I would guess that’s because Gans knows he is much better at singing than satire. Much of his comedy, from George Burns to Jeff Foxworthy, is a direct lift from the source. He knows his real strengths lie in the musical impressions with the crisp seven-piece band.
Here, he is attentive to all ages, from Sinatra to the contemporary pop of Jason Mraz and John Mayer. Some of it sounds like glorified karaoke, but it sounds good just the same.
For the bulk of the act — the familiar part — I would say people get the Gans they deserve. Some of his impressions are astonishingly good, from the seldom-imitated Paul Anka to a Sammy Davis Jr. that skips the usual shtick and finds the real singer’s soul.
But people also go wild for the cheap stuff, and Gans is happy to pander. He’s going to keep doing Kermit the Frog or Louis Armstrong until enough of you stand up and say, "That’s so easy. A guy on my dorm floor could do Kermit."
But this was a crowd that, on this Friday night, was so ready to have a good time that it entertained itself by spelling out the letters to "YMCA" before the show even started. You think they’re going to complain about a frog puppet?
For them, Gans delivers an old-Vegas showcase people rarely get to see on the Strip anymore; one with every segment scientifically tweaked to punch the right nostalgia button, with nothing left to chance in the careful balance of laughs and sentiment.
When I think of it in these retro-Vegas terms, it’s a classic act. When I think of it more as a magic show, the illusions are never as impressive the second or third time.
"Don’t you miss me?" Gans asks as he slips into the Bill Clinton voice. If the answer is "yes," then Gans, like his Cheshire-grinning ex-president, is back in good graces.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.Video Review
7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays
Encore Theater, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South