|Impressionist and comedian André-Philippe Gagnon brings his hilarious musical renditions and performance to the Mary Winspear Centre for two shows in late March. Photo by Melanie Bernier|
The reputation he has developed over the past four decades now sees him billed as the Man of 2,000 Voices. Yet Andre-Philippe Gagnon is also proud of a voice impression that goes beyond human mimicry.
The bit had its beginnings during one of his many trips to Europe, which included stops in Brussels, where Adolphe Sax invented the instrument that came to bear his name. Audience members at the Mary Winspear Centre March 27 and 28 to see Gagnon’s new show, The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, may see him reach into his bag of vocal tricks and pull out a saxophone.
“(Sax) tried to create an instrument as close as possible to the human voice,” he says, while for his part, Gagnon goes the other way around. “I want to try to surprise them again and again.”
Having first shot to fame in 1985 at age 22 by accurately voicing all the featured singers in USA for Africa’s “We Are The World” on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, this native of Quebec City has since thrilled audiences worldwide with his uncanny knack of reproducing well-known singers and his hilarious live stage act.
Gagnon is an extremely rare entertainer who is equally adept in English as in French, and is just as likely to take on a new voice in either language, which is part of the reason he remains extremely popular in Europe.
Whether it’s crooning as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, reliving the ‘60s through the music of The Platters, the Rolling Stones and other British Invasion bands, covering off the ‘70s disco craze, the ‘80s, ‘90s and the more contemporary stylings of Ed Sheeran, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and others, Gagnon works hard to keep things fresh. For a recent tour in France, he mastered the voices of a handful of French artists, to better connect with the local audiences.
He goes one further, however, selecting one man at random from every crowd to sing a duet with him and then mimicking them on the spot. “It’s an exercise I really like to do. It’s really fun and they don’t expect it,” he says.
Gagnon has shared the stage with the likes of Celine Dion, and has performed for royalty and even a pope during his career. When he was starting out, however, one of the giants of impressionist comedy who inspired him was fellow Canadian Rich Little. “I had the chance to meet him early on and I told him, ‘you’re the guy,’” Gagnon recalls, adding that Little later came out to see a special Gagnon performed in Las Vegas.
While it seems fewer comics are making impressions, musical or otherwise, the central part of their act these days — perhaps an illustration of the difficulty of doing so — Gagnon continues to break new ground, noting that he’s seeing more younger faces in his audiences. It may be that this art form hasn’t gone out of style just yet, but this energetic 56-year-old says it’s always been about rekindling and creating memories.
No matter where he’s performing, he takes audience members on a musical ride back through the decades, to special moments in their lives: “these songs will remind you of someone, a graduation, a certain moment after a hockey game, a time you had your heart broken …”
When he was younger, he was thrilled to simply have fun creating this unique brand of humour to entertain people. He feels fortunate that he can continue making a living at it, he says, whether it’s doing public shows or private corporate gigs.