She steps out on stage with a shocking weave of bright yellow hair, her short sequined dress showing off toned legs as she belts out Born This Way.
It can’t be easy having to change in split seconds behind 12-foot curtains on a stage in front of a packed audience, but Bonnie Kilroe has made it her living as a celebrity imposter.
She can make Gaga look and sound like the “lady” herself, and is known for her Patsy Cline and Cher impersonations, as well as those crazy costumes.
Last year, Kilroe slipped on a cowboy hat, and red dress with white tassels to sing as one of her icons, Cline, when she presented her tribute to the late country artist to a packed house in the Vernon legion last October. And on Saturday, she returns to the legion, this time with a full-on, two-hour Vegas meets Vaudeville show that will be like the who’s who on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Tired of waiting for the phone to ring from film casting agents while working as an actress in her late-20s, Kilroe says she decided to pool her talents and make something happen by producing her own celebrity imposter act.
“That’s when I did my first show with bad costumes and wigs, cassette tapes and amateur production,” she admitted. “That grew into a wonderful production show on the cruise ships with a live band, top-notch wigs and costumes, and multi-media DVD clips of the characters between costume changes.
“It has really grown into a great show, but as it’s grown, so has the amount of preparation, packing, organizing and producing. It’s a really big show and takes a lot of effort and a few people to pull off. I need a great sound engineer, and a trusty dresser behind that curtain.”
Growing up in Vancouver, Kilroe wore out her Cline cassette tapes, singing along to Walking After Midnight, Crazy and the like, eventually taking her passion to the stage when she tried out for the stage musical, A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline.
She didn’t get the part, but that taste of performing led her into a lucrative career.
Also influenced by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, Kilroe had all their tapes and watched all their movies.
“I loved watching old musicals,” she said. “I was always mesmerized by the sequined gowns and feathers.”
With no formal voice training, except for a few lessons while she lived in New York, Kilroe has used her natural abilities for her act to evolve from emulating Cline to her Vegas meets Vaudeville.
She honed her craft doing numerous singing telegrams (which she occasionally still does as Marilyn Monroe and Cher), and dinner theatre, where she was asked to impersonate famous people.
“That is where Streisand and Dolly were born for me, musical theatre,” said Kilroe. “I did a few productions and really worked my voice cruise ship lounge singing, which I was always a little bored by because I was an entertainer not just a singer, so I slowly worked in a feather boa, costume changes and eventually wigs as well.”
With 14 costume changes, including wigs, full-on outfits, accessories and “appendages,” Kilroe has had everything from a beautiful, big dressing room to small closets and electrical rooms with cold cement floors to use as her change area. And then there’s the 12-foot curtains she brings on stage with her, if no change room is available.
Kilroe admits she has had her share of wardrobe malfunctions, but it’s all part of the fun.
There’s been broken zippers, missing moustaches, and the few times she has forgotten to put on full underwear.
“There was only a g-string with Cher a couple times but I let it slide because it made sense,” laughed Kilroe. “Once my Dolly (Parton) dress was missing and I just went out with hot pants and the boobs… People didn’t even notice as long as I had the big red lips, big blonde wig and big silver boobs.”
Perhaps it’s the g-string, but Kilroe still gets the biggest audience response from her Cher impersonation.
“I look, act and sound the most like her as a whole and people just love it,” she said. “She has such an attitude and I play it up big time which gets big laughs, same with the comic energy of Tina (Turner) and Dolly. Dolly’s costume is hilarious and my Tina moves are so exaggerated that I have seen people doubled over.”
More recently, Kilroe has added a few new artists to the act she calls Rock Chicks, including Madonna, Katy Perry, Pink and of course Lady Gaga, who is also part of her Vegas show.
“I love doing Gaga. She has a really flashy dress, but the costume change is almost impossible to make, and of course Cher’s costume is very impressive and sexy but also a tough one to do in 47 seconds.”
Kilroe brings her Vegas meets Vaudeville tribute to the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 25, 4609-29th St., Vernon, Saturday. Tickets are $30, which includes a roast beef dinner. Dinner starts at 6:45 p.m. The show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the legion’s bar in the lounge.