Thursday, March 30, 2000 | 8:53 a.m.
If You Go
Who: Danny Gans.
Where: The Danny Gans Theatre at the Mirage.
When: Nightly, starting Tuesday; dark Mondays and Fridays.
Tickets: $67.50, $99 (Gold Circle).
Information: Call 792-7777.
Webster's Dictionary defines "mirage" as: "something that falsely appears real."
To use the definition flatteringly, the Mirage's new star is a classic mirage.
He's Michael Jackson. Or not. Tom Jones? Close, but not quite. Elvis is inarguably no longer living, except on this stage. Same with the late George Burns, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. Whoa, it's Garth Brooks ... or rather a plausible facsimile. We're even duped into thinking Pee Wee Herman has made a resounding Las Vegas comeback.
But it's only a mirage.
Mega-mimic Danny Gans, the multivoiced entertainment machine who briefly commanded a $99 ticket price during his final months at the Rio, opens Tuesday at the Mirage's Danny Gans Theatre, marking his third and (he hopes) final Las Vegas resort affiliation.
The devout family man who recently released a Christian rock CD entitled "Brand New Dream" says he is indeed living a dream.
"Can it get any better than this?" Gans asked recently during a break in rehearsals. "I'm in the best situation in the best theater in town. I'm perfectly happy."
Which is to be expected. The deal between Gans and the Mirage is for eight years, giving him a comfortable and secure home base. Initial speculation put Gans' annual salary at around $10 million per year, a flexible figure given that his income is based solely on a percentage of gross ticket sales (Gans' representatives have said it would take three months, at least, to accurately gauge his annual take at the Mirage).
Gans' new digs, too, are impressive. The Danny Gans Theatre, built to Gans' own intimate specifications, has a seating capacity of 1,265 people. Construction costs topped out at around $15 million.
In the land of billion-dollar megaresorts, that's half a water show.
As for Gans' ticket prices (always a juicy topic), they're set at $67.50 per seat. That's a little more than $20 cheaper than the Rio's asking price, and the first 3 1/2 rows are designated as "Gold Circle" seats that run $90 a pop and are also available to the general public.
"The look (at the Mirage) is very different," Gans said. "The theater has a lot more seats and the rake (slant) is so dramatic. You really feel like you're on stage with me. The lights are spectacular, the stage is spectacular.
"They've built me the theater of my dreams."
Gans jokes that "I've dropped the impressions. It's all polka and juggling now," but his act covers mostly familiar territory. He plans to open with a takeoff of Will Smith's "Wild Wild West" then perform as Ricky Martin, Austin Powers/Dr. Evil and Engelbert Humperdinck, sing "Music of the Night" from "Phantom of the Opera" and whip through his trademark "Twelve Days of Christmas."
Gans' relentlessly expanding repertoire now encompasses more than 300 impressions.
"If you were to see me close at the Rio (in December) and saw me now, the change (in the performance) would probably be 30 percent," Gans said. "I do everything from Macy Gray to Nat King Cole and everything in between."
During the closing weeks of his two-year run at the Rio, Gans issued questionnaires to fans asking what bits they enjoyed most and what they would like to see added to the show.
"We tallied up the favorites and people liked what they were seeing for the most part," Gans said. " 'The Phantom of the Opera,' twelve days of Christmas, Sammy Davis Jr. A lot of the older people wanted to see Sinatra."
Gans is consciously gearing his material to a wide audience. Profanity is taboo -- Gans wouldn't curse if a safe fell on his foot -- and the show is, as Martin Mull would term it, as pure as driven snow.
"I know I have to please a wide range of ages," said Gans, a former professional baseball prospect who has been married for 18 years and has three young children. "I do some classics as well as the MTV stuff to appeal to that group."
Gans does allow for an obliquely naughty segment when he employs his Bill Clinton voice and sings "Mambo No. 5."
You know, "A little bit of Monica in my life ..."
"I couldn't do it as Lou Bega, because not enough people know him," Gans said, referring to the singer/songwriter who made "Mambo No. 5" an incessantly played hit. "It's gotta be Bill Clinton."
Gans has expanded his backing band since the Rio days. Holdovers Tim Manfredi on keyboards and guitar, and drummer Raphael Erady join Gans at the Mirage along with keyboardist Bill DeLoach, percussionist David Ringenbach, trombone player Randy Crawford, trumpet player Pete Brescian and saxophonist Fred Champoux (pronounced "shampoo").
"Adding more musicians gives us a lot more range," Gans said. "It's a much more full show than before."
Away from the stage, Gans received surprising news when Mirage Inc. CEO Steve Wynn was bought out by billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, controlling shareholder of MGM Grand Inc.
Gans and Wynn had bonded over the past few years and the budding professional relationship had personal underpinnings. During an appearance on the "Today" show three years ago, as Gans was being interviewed in front of the Mirage, Gans publicist Chip Lightman mentioned to Mirage Vice President Alan Feldman that Gans would love to be a headliner at the Mirage one day.
At the time Gans was stationed at the Stratosphere. He soon moved to the Rio, where Wynn caught his show at least a half-dozen times, undoubtedly considering luring the budding star to the Mirage.
"I'm kind of saddened that Steve is leaving. He was the main reason I was coming to the Mirage and I respect him as a true visionary," Gans said. "We had a great working relationship and friendship. I like him as a businessman and as a person."
Gans has not spoken with Kerkorian since the MGM-Mirage merger was finalized.
"I think it's a little premature," Gans said. "I don't think the ink has even dried on the deal yet. But it's not a salary situation. I'll make a percentage of the ticket sales and there's really nothing else to dictate what I'll make ... The contract is structured in such a way that I'm going to be left alone here."
Ticket prices and theater amenities became high-priority negotiating points as Gans' contract with the Rio neared its inevitable conclusion. Gans was dissatisfied with the setup at the Copacabana Showroom, which doubles as the dance haven Club Rio and is now home to David Cassidy's "At the Copa" production.
The Copacabana's circular dimensions left some in the audience squinting from the showroom's outer reaches, which was frustrating for Gans and his three-piece band. Members of Gans' entourage also related stories of recurring maintenance and technical problems in the showroom.
An infamous example of Gans' frustration with the hotel: One of the first nights after the Rio jacked up his ticket price to an "O"-rrific $99, a faulty hydraulic lift used to raise a couple hundred seats to stage level went on the fritz. A sellout crowd was turned away, even though Gans offered to perform for a smaller-than-average audience. Most of disaffected were irate tourists not appeased with the Rio's offer of a refund or tickets to a future Gans show.
However, control over ticket prices was the primary point of contention between Gans and the Rio. In his nearly five years as a Las Vegas headliner Gans has had the fortuitous dilemma of rapidly outgrowing his market value. After a successful run on Broadway in his own one-man show at the Neil Simon Theatre, Gans started in the "Forever Plaid" range of $29.50 when he opened at the Stratosphere in 1996. A year later he opened at the Rio at a reasonably priced $39.95.
Realizing it had hired a veritable cash cow, the Rio stepped Gans' prices up to $44.95, $60, $83 and finally, in May, $99. Only "O" at the Bellagio, commanded a higher price (although it also offers $90 seats). Gans had no control over the price hikes at the Rio and averted violating his contract by complaining about the steady raises through representatives.
Despite the high prices, Gans has consistently worked to avert a greedy image. While considering offers from every major Strip resort, Gans said he consistently fought for control of ticket costs. Even Wynn sought to secure market value for Gans, who would join famed money-makers Siegfried & Roy as the Mirage's prized entertainers.
"Basically, Steve wanted the shows to be on the upper level of pricing, up over $100 where I was at the Rio" Gans said. "I didn't want that. I had been fighting ticket prices and I need to show people I'm a man of my word."
Gans, who has effectively tossed locals a bone with a series of four discounted "Local Appreciation" shows (still to be scheduled) at the Mirage, originally considered a tiered pricing scale. But he reneged as his theater neared completion.
"There's not much difference in the closest seat and the furthest," Gans said. "Even if you're in the far right corner, it's a great seat."
Performing for 44 weeks a year, five nights per week, won't serve as Gans' lone entertainment outlet. The "Brand New Day" CD, in which Gans sings in his own rich voice, is at No. 28 on Billboard's Christian music chart (and No. 10 on the less-prominent Christian Music Association chart).
Also, the long-discussed television pilot starring Gans, to be produced by Aaron Spelling, is scheduled to be taped in late April or early May.
Gans hopes the pilot is picked up by a network for anywhere from eight to 24 episodes. The show's plot centers around a family man attempting to balance family and career while keeping a busy schedule performing for sold-out audiences on the Las Vegas Strip.
Sound familiar? It's Gans' story, naturally, and it's no mirage.