Wednesday, June 26, 2013 | 8:47 a.m.
To impress your friends, mimic someone famous. It can be Jack Nicholson, or maybe Celine Dion.
If you’re good, they’ll laugh. If you’re great, they’ll laugh and say, “You should do that onstage!”
The late Danny Gans found this to be true. When he was a minor-league baseball player, he entertained his teammates on long bus rides by performing rudimentary impersonations of Nicholson, George Burns, even Kermit the Frog.
And Veronic DiCaire, too, has found this to be true. Her “teammates” have been musicians, singers and dancers instead of ball players, but still …
“When you are a singer, you always like to make your team laugh,” the woman known solely in Vegas as Veronic says while seated in a booth at Bally’s Jubilee Theater. “At first I was only doing imitations, impersonations, to make the people in my surroundings laugh. It was only that.”
It is not only that today, though. Veronic is the new star on the Strip, at the center of “Voices” at Bally’s. She is billed as “One Singer … Fifty Voices” and swaps stage time with “Jubilee” on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The show is on an open-ended run, with the first set of ticketed performance ending Aug. 31.
Veronic is attempting to achieve the improbable on the Strip for the last, oh, 15 years: to succeed as a Strip headliner by performing an impressions act. The most recent impressionist to establish long-term success on the Strip was Gans. Andre-Philippe-Gagnon barely broke stride at Paris Las Vegas more than a decade ago. Gordie Brown boomeranged from Golden Nugget to The Venetian and back. More recently, Greg London and Jonathan Clark hauled credible productions to the Riviera (and in London’s case then to Shimmer Cabaret at the then-Las Vegas Hilton) but couldn’t achieve big audiences even in small venues.
The granddaddy of impressionists, Rich Little, is loading out of Shimmer. And it is even more rare for a female impressionist to succeed as a standalone performer anywhere in town — or anywhere, period.
“There are not many of us,” Veronic says, somewhat sadly.
But Vernonic’s “Voices” production does enjoy considerable resources to bolster its chances at longevity, as it is produced by AEG Live and promoted by Dion and her husband, Rene Angelil.
The superstar and her manager husband provided the chance for Veronic to expand from a country/folk recording artist for Canada’s Warner Music. A native of Ontario, Veronic recorded two albums and was prepping for a third — all in her own soaring voice — when she was approached with the chance to open for Celine on her 2008 “Taking Chances” Tour.
But the person making the overture was neither Celine nor Rene. He was Marc Dupre, son-in-law of Angelil and an accomplished singer/songwriter, primarily in Canada. The original plan was for Dupre to open for Dion, but he was unavailable and turned to Veronic, with whom he had been recording. She was to perform singing impressions, but knew only five — all of French-Canadian singers, with Celine herself topping the list.
“I said, ‘Marc, are you serious? I have 30 minutes to fill, and I know five voices,’ ” she says. “I had to work on my voices.”
Veronic halted work on her album. She cut short her stage appearances and refused offers to appear on TV.
“I started working on my voices until it clicked for me,” she says. I sent a video where I expressed all of these French singers, and Celine and Rene accepted. That’s when I found out I can do imitations.”
Like, lots and lots of imitations.
Veronic performs dozens of voices in her show at Bally’s, easily approaching the 50 promised in the show’s ads and marketing push. Such contemporary stars as Beyonce, Britney Spears, Rihanna and Pink are juxtaposed against Billie Holiday, Judy Garland and Karen Carpenter. A country segment evokes Dolly Parton (absent the obvious top-heavy costuming) introducing Reba, Taylor Swift, Shania Twain and Carrie Underwood. The graceful singer and her half-dozen backing dancers — all brunette, contrasting the blonde star of the show — shake and bake while summoning Shakira and Tina Turner.
Veronic is clearly comfortable performing production numbers. Before opening for Celine, she played Roxie Hart in “Chicago” and Sandy in “Grease,” both French-language versions of the popular musicals.
“The words are very different,” she says, asked how those shows are different from those in English. “I mean, to sing ‘Greased Lighting’ in French is very different. It’s just weird.”
But it was suitable training for taking the stage in a Strip show. Veronic is onstage nearly nonstop. She is known to sprint backstage and runs from the stage as if she’s entered in the 110-meter hurdles.
What is not evident for the great singer is a live band, intensifying the emphasis on Veronic’s outstanding voice. The reason for the absence of live music is largely financial. Musicians are more expensive than tracks, and it is an adjustment to be singing to music piped into the theater rather than performed live.
“Obviously, back home I am a singer, and with live musicians, and at first it felt like there was something missing,” she says. “But we always have to think about — when we come to a new show, it’s a lot of money to put in a band.”
As Veronic makes that point, her husband (and show co-producer) Remon Boulerice contributes an argument from the production end of the equation.
“The decision was made that her voice is so close to the actual voices that we went with the tracks because the musicians every night can be either faster or slower, or be off a bit,” Boulerice says. “The energy might not be the same. So we said, ‘You know what? The music has to be perfect because Veronic will be right on.’ … The music has to be the same as what the album gives us.”
Veronic adds, “You never say never because at some point we maybe will be in a bigger theater and there we will add musicians. I don’t want to justify our idea, but I think right now the show needs to be so tight, and we need control over what is happening onstage.”
It’s a seemingly massive, even daunting, responsibility on the singer who knows enough about Vegas to know it’s a city that appreciates great talent. She has that. All that’s left is to impress the people in her surroundings.