Diamond days for impersonators 

Who: Nearly Neil Diamond

Where: The Crab Shack

When: Thursday, Jan. 16 and 30

Oh, sweet Caroline, I have a crush on a man old enough to be my father, and his name is Nearly Neil Diamond. He sang to me today. Just to me.

OK, so it was over the phone for work purposes but it was still a swoon-worthy moment. And it was from his hotel room. At The Flamingo in Las Vegas, baby, Vegas. And that voice, all in one.

I stumbled upon Nearly Neil a few months ago after perhaps a few too many appies at the Crab Shack. I never knew I was a Neil Diamond fan but when legendary impersonator and ’70s child actor-model Bobby Bruce hit the stage in a sequined black open-chest pirate shirt, tight flamenco pants and baring think black side burns that resembled furry pets, a movement awakened inside me. I was hooked.

That night, the familiar beats of Forever in Blue Jeans started, and then Bruce sang. Oh-my-god, he sounded exactly like the real Neil Diamond. The way he moved, the tone in his voice – the crowd went nuts. Women surged to the front in hand-waving unison, men hung around the bar singing along with glee. What was I witnessing? Grown outdoorsy guys, you know, manly men, enjoying the sounds of the ’70s with pride.

As Nearly Neil Diamond and other incarnates like Austin Powers, Bobby Bruce and his business partner and wife (sorry girls), Lorraine, have spent the last eight years enthralling fans throughout North America, Australia and South East Asia.

Bruce has taken Nearly Neil to stadiums, to cabarets, to casinos, trade shows, even fancy resorts in the Cayman Islands. You name it, he’s played there and the Crab Shack snagged him for a regular throughout January. The humble Bruce believes the popularity of his shows comes down to accessibility.

"I sing where the real Neil Diamond probably wouldn’t. For some people this is the closest they’ll ever get. I take his music to the grassroots level and for one night, fans get to live out their fantasy. I love it," said Bruce.

The real deal Neil and nearly Neil have never met, and Bruce is content with that.

"I’ve never tried to. I’d hate to come across as some freaky stalker. Besides, Neil is only one tribute character I do, it’s just the one people love the most."

In fact, Bruce was never initially a huge Neil Diamond fan at all, he just discovered he had the voice.

"I was singing in a cabaret restaurant and one night we all had to impersonate someone. I really wanted to do Tom Jones but someone said to me, actually it was an Elvis impersonator, that I should try Neil Diamond. It was just an occasional party trick for a year but then it caught on," recalled Bruce.

Bruce only knew of Diamond as a lounge singer, but when he listened to more of his albums, especially Hot August Night, he became a fan.

"That album is the Diamond I base my act on. The stage shows of the ’70s. He was so alive, so vibrant and far beyond anything I’d ever heard before," he said.

For our interview, Bruce was in Las Vegas for a few days conducting "research." He was checking out other tribute shows, which he believes are eclipsing all other forms of cabaret.

"I would say 60 to 70 per cent of shows in Sin City are now tributes," he said.

The trip also involved a search for a few new stage outfits.

"They don’t sell those shirts from the ’70s any more. Occasionally I find them in thrift stores in Nashville or Vegas but these days it’s the women’s department in Eaton’s that I go to for inspiration."

Catch Bobby Bruce as Nearly Neil Diamond at the Crab Shack for only two more shows this month. Tickets are $10. Doors at 9 p.m.. Call 604-932-4451 for bookings.

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