Andre-Philippe Gagnon in One-Man Hit Parade

Andre-Philippe Gagnon leaves a lasting impression

Andre-Philippe Gagnon, at almost 48 years old, still has the chops and panache to pull off a solo show, impersonating voices as diverse as Barry White, David Bowie and Susan Boyle. Gagnon, a Quebec native, is touring Canada now with his English show, One-Man Hit Parade, which opened at The Canon Theatre on Wednesday night.

This show by "The Man of 400 voices" is aided by Moment Factory, the multimedia firm who's worked with Cirque du Soleil and helped create the visuals for the last Nine Inch Nails tour.

What we get is a backdrop of pixelated, moveable screens with motion sensors built in, enabling vocal antics to be punctuated with a multitude of lights. While this worked for some songs, I often found it distracting. When Gagnon -- as Frank Sinatra ‑- did a duet with a larger-than-life likeness of Celine Dion on the Jumbotron-like screen, her eyes appeared to shimmer like a woman possessed.

The show is largely a "60 years of rock-n-roll" retrospective. This can only be singlehandedly performed by someone of Gagnon's ability and range. There were some gaps in years and it came across as a very Vegas-like show, with a bit of Canadian content thrown in. Notably The Guess Who, Bryan Adams and Gordon Lightfoot.

I liked how he inserted his own words into some of the songs, such as when he impersonated Yoko Ono singing "I Wan To Wreck Your Band" to the tune of I Want To Hold Your Hand.

Gagnon's repertoire is chiefly of the male domain. The only other female voices impersonated in the main act were that of Tracy Chapman, Natalie Cole (in duet with Nat King Cole) and YouTube sensation Susan Boyle, channeling Madonna.

The most memorable moment of the show for me came when Gagnon walked into the audience to find someone to sing a few lines of The Way We Were. He plucked out a man in his 50s named Aldo, who played along in his off-key, eastern European accent. Then Gagnon imitated him perfectly, resulting in a roar of applause. The two then did a duet together, Gagnon seamlessly alternating the mic on himself and Aldo. Priceless.

Witnessing Gagnon perform the entire history of Elvis from young stud to fat Elvis in Vegas -- all in 60 seconds -- was quite a treat.

His best impersonations were of Sting, Mick Jagger, Billy Idol, James Taylor and Elvis, using his elastic face as leverage. And Gagnon's booming Barry White voice was truly something to behold.

Another trick he did was ask three ladies in the front row to choose from a list of singers, dancers and songs, which gave us on Friday night Barry White singing Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini while dancing like Michael Jackson.

"People ask me what I have on my iPod," said Gagnon. "It's just the titles of songs. I just sing along. I'm too cheap to download them." Instead he has what he calls an "aPod" (A for Andre). The aforementioned giant pixel screens came out in the form of giant aPods, which was pretty cool looking.

He picked out another audience member to help spin the aPod wheel, a la The Price Is Right. Then we went into Shuffle Mode, supposedly showing off his ability to do any impression at the drop of a hat. But this part of the act seemed rather staged. Not spontaneous or truly random like on Apple's iPod shuffle.

The trip through rock 'n' roll is alone worth the price of admission. But the encore included his classic "We Are the World" shtick, where he impersonated every singer with impeccable accuracy. It's too bad that, 25 years later, there's no real cultural equivalent for him to sink his tongue into.

Opening up the show is local a capella sensation Cadence, making the outing an especially entertaining night out. Make a good impression: Take your mom. Only two shows left!

Andre-Philippe Gagnon performs at The Canon Theatre (244 Victoria St.) on tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets ($50-150) are available online or by phone at 416-872-1212.

Photo courtesy Mirvish Productions.


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