How many famous personas you can juggle in a single evening?
The top limit seems to be 20 – according to award-winning celebrity impersonator Bonnie Kilroe, who does it routinely in her one-woman musical-comedy show, Divas: Vegas Meets Vaudeville.
Just how she manages this feat will be showcased when the sassy, vivacious performer brings her act to the Crescent Legion’s Club 240 on Friday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. (also waiting in the wings, for Peninsula audiences, is Kilroe’s affectionate spot-on tribute to country music queen Patsy Cline, scheduled for Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at Blue Frog Studios in White Rock).
The Vancouver-based Kilroe, who enjoys her busy life travelling for gigs at venues all over Canada and the U.S., has reached a point in her 15-year-plus career where she’s receiving ample recognition from her professional peers, including prestigious awards at the annual Sunburst Convention of Celebrity Impersonators in Orlando, Florida
Born in Richmond and raised in Surrey and Delta, Kilroe cut her teeth as a performer doing musical theatre shows around the region, including a Peace Arch Musical Theatre Society production of Anything Goes at Surrey Arts Centre, in which she took on the bravura role of nightclub star Reno Sweeney, long-associated with the legendary Ethel Merman, who created it on Broadway.
Becoming a celebrity impersonator extraordinaire isn’t something that happened overnight, she said, describing the process as a “a series of accidents.”
It’s clear that an extended gig delivering singing telegrams developed her confidence in going to all kinds of unlikely venues.
It also started her on the road to impersonation – some of the telegrams were delivered a la Marilyn Monroe.
And when she started putting together bands to back her act singing standards for cruise ship and casino gigs, it was a short step from “having fun with a boa” to slipping more and more ‘tributes’ into the mix.
It’s clear that her exceptional singing and acting skills – and knack for comedy – all come into play in her current depictions of a staggering array of stars of past and present, ranging from Mae West and Marilyn to Cher, Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Reba McEntire, Tina Turner and Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Shakira, always with plenty of audience interaction.
Performing the show is, Kilroe says, “a marathon” – particularly when you consider that she’s also juggling the wigs and props and costume pieces that complete each character (albeit usually with the help of a dresser).
Some characters are quite accurate impersonations, while others veer more to parody, she admits.
“As long as people are laughing, as long as they’re being entertained, that’s what’s important to me,” she said.
The final impersonation of the show is always Cher, Kilroe said.
That’s because, while other stars can be evoked with a wig and a few costume pieces, Cher’s look is the most demanding to achieve, she said.
“The real show is behind the scenes when I’m stark naked and struggling to get into the leotard,” she added, with a laugh.
“I’ll have to make sure I have good dresser with me when I’m at Club 240…”
It’s helpful that she’s her own boss, and skilled at improvisation, which gives her an option to change the lineup depending on the audience, particularly when working with her favourite sound man – and partner-in-life – Joe, who has learned to become adept at following her impromptu cues.
“Sometimes I’ll do it on the fly – I’ll say ‘Just go with me – if I do this, do the next song’. There have been a few shows where he’s been doing sound and helping dress me as well – the poor guy is run off his feet,” she said.
While she’s always adding new impersonations to her repertoire, it hasn’t substantially lengthened the show, Kilroe said.
“What I’m doing now is switching people out – I’ll take out Julie Andrews and put in Patsy Cline, for example, in some places.
“I have a show that I do for gay audiences which is fairly different from the show I might do for a group of seniors. Sometimes I can make it as risque as I want – I have a ‘dirty’ version of Julie Andrews’ My Favourite Things – but there are other situations where I think, hmm, maybe I shouldn’t do Julie.”
Kilroe agrees that being able to concentrate on evoking a single artist – as she’ll do with Cline in November at Blue Frog – is almost a chance to relax.
“I love her material so much and it works so well with my voice,” she said. “After Divas, it’s a walk in the park!”
The Club 240 venue is at 2643 128 St. and tickets ($25) are available at the legion or online at www.brownpapertickets.com
For more information, call 604-535-1043.