Master of Mimicry

Given his success over the past two and a half decades, combined with the fact that success stemmed from his imitation of others, you would never assume that Andre-Philippe Gagnon was relatively shy when he was in school.

But it’s a fact that the 48-year-old entertainer can chuckle about today.

“I was actually a relatively shy kid when I was in school,” Andre-Philippe says from Florida where he was performing earlier this month. “I was not one to get up in front of people on my own; friends actually had to insist and persist for me to get up in front of anybody.”

Influenced by music from the Brit Invasion as well as popular American bands of that same era, Gagnon discovered that his ability to retain and mimic the singing style of vocalists of the time came to him relatively easily.

As a hockey-playing youngster, Andre-Philippe started doing impressions of his coaches for his teammates in the confines of their locker room.

“For whatever reason, I was not shy around the guys that I played hockey with. I eventually discovered that doing these impressions was a good way to make friends. I thought it was fantastic to be surrounded by smiling people.”

Fast forward to 1985 where Andre-Philippe had his inaugural performance at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival. He entertained a capacity crowd with spot-on imitations of the singers featured in the We Are The World benefit single, much to the delight of show attendees.

Soon after that fateful performance, Andre-Philippe was on his way to perform on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, giving the Quebec entertainer exposure to more than 15 million American households and setting him up for certain international success. Buoyed by the increased fame, Andre-Philippe returned to his home province in 1986, launching a tour that would see him sell more than 21,000 tickets in the first three hours of sales across the province. From there, Andre-Philippe’s star continued to rise to even greater heights.

In the late ’90s, fellow Quebecer Celine Dion invited him to be the opening act on her Let’s Talk About Love world tour, an opportunity that would eventually lead to him being offered a residency at The Venetian in Las Vegas.

“Having the opportunity to support Celine on her world tour really opened a lot of doors for me,” he says. “At one of those shows I performed at, there were some producers from Las Vegas in the audience who saw the act, liked it and suggested I consider setting up shop in Las Vegas for a period of time.”

Andre-Philippe jokes that while many would consider Las Vegas among the least desirable cities in which to raise kids, Sin City actually proved to be an excellent environment for all concerned.

“Where we lived, we were approximately a half-hour away from the Las Vegas ‘strip’ and honestly, it looked like any other place you would live in the world. My kids had the opportunity to attend a really great school and were educated in both English and Spanish while we spoke French at home. They might not have received that education had we not lived in the U.S.

“Having the opportunity to perform at the same venue night after night while we were in Las Vegas had its perks as well. I was able to be home to put my kids to bed every night, help them with their homework and just be around to support my family. I never would have anticipated that Las Vegas would help provide my family with such stability.”

Andre-Philippe admits that touring has lost some of its appeal over the years and prefers having his family travel with him whenever possible. But given the fact that he performs approximately 40 weeks out of the year, it is obviously not always feasible to have his family tag along.

The shows he will perform at Casino New Brunswick this weekend focus primarily on the history of rock music from an American point of view.

“Included in the show are bands from the Brit Invasion but also includes stuff from The Platters, Elvis and Roy Orbison through Cat Stevens, James Taylor and even some Johnny Cash.”

The show’s production is being overseen by Quebec multimedia company Moment Factory, a group who has helped stage productions for Nine Inch Nails as well as Cirque du Soleil.

“The production aspect of the show is pretty special,” Andre-Philippe says. “It is very interactive for both myself and the audience and makes for a very visual show. It is so much more than just me being on stage performing a bunch of songs.”

Article published in February 24, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript