The "Simply Reba" tribute returns to the Riverside Resort because it is "simply good." This time, however, when the show returns to Don's Celebrity Theatre, Wednesday-Sunday, June 19-23, a new element has been appropriately added — a tribute to Reba's buddies, Brooks & Dunn.
Wendy T reprises her role as Miss Reba, but expanding the show to include Brooks & Dunn allows a whole new layer. It recreates moments when these long-time friends toured and performed together on several occasions over the years. The best part of all, the three of them can perform the beautiful mega-hit, "If You See Her/Him," recorded in 1997 by each separately, but then filmed for an accompanying poignant video featuring the three of them.
Let's face it, country icons don't get any bigger than Reba McEntire or Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, for that matter. McEntire is the reigning queen of the genre, a title she has earned and keeps earning even as she tried her hand at other areas of entertainment throughout the years. Turns out, in addition to her trademark soaring vocals, she's also a pretty darned good actress, too.
Brooks & Dunn came together in 1991 at the suggestion of record executive Tim DuBois. Both were vocalists and songwriters struggling separately, but when they started writing music together, they created magic.
They released 50 singles, of which 20 went to No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs charts and 19 more reached Top 10. Two of these No. 1 songs, "My Maria" (a cover of the B.W. Stevenson song) and "Ain't Nothing 'bout You", were the top country songs of 1996 and 2001.
Brooks & Dunn also won the Country Music Association Vocal Duo of the Year award every year between 1992 and 2006, except for 2000. Two of their songs won the Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal: "Hard Workin' Man" in 1994 and "My Maria" in 1996.
Reba also has become a popular character for tribute artists to emulate. But there are only a handful of artists who respect her and her music and do the role justice. Wendy T is one of those few artists and the concept of the show is a straight-up Reba concert, but with the cool element and the undeniable chemistry shared with Brooks & Dunn.
Performing as country music's dynamic duo are Rick and Bob Stinson, a.k.a. the Stinson Brothers, who are considered one of the best tributes to the duo out there. They have performed as part of "Legends in Concert," and now bring that talent to this Laughlin stage.
Career highlights include performing as "Ricky Bobby," then being signed by Capitol Records Hollywood and A&M records Nashville, singing and recording with everyone from George Michael to Dan Seals.
The boys have had their own TV show and radio show on Warner Bros. and performed on cruise ships, countless clubs, amphitheaters, and showroom production shows. This time the show takes audiences into those moments when Reba and Brooks & Dunn shared the stage, recreating the experience of being at one of their concerts.
Wendy T has been a Reba tribute artist longer than most, and it all started when someone mentioned their resemblance to each other.
"Well I started in a band and, of course, I was trying to get a record deal in Nashville. Somebody said I looked kind of like Reba, so that's how it happened and that was years ago," she told the Laughlin entertainer. "Then I got involved with 'Legends in Concert' out of Las Vegas, and that became my staple of impersonating.
"That was a long time ago and I don't want to put a date on it…," she said with a laugh. "I was their first Reba that they used in 'Legends in Concert.' I worked with John Stewart and worked with all big shows back then, so that's how I started doing that. It was because I was in Nashville trying to get a record deal and someone said I looked like Reba — I had big long curly hair back then. I wear wigs now. Reba doesn't do that 'sprayed to Jesus hair' any more either. But that was her thing in the day, the long red curly hair.
"I think my first gig was out on a cruise ship and with "Legends in Concert" I did a cruise with Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley."
While the hair and the look — and even the singing portion — weren't much of a stretch, taking on the persona of the country star and her speaking voice, however, was a bit of an undertaking.
"Sure, the vocals were a natural transition," Wendy said. "I was in Nashville working on all original country music and so absolutely the vocals weren't that difficult for me. "She's an amazing singer and you know, she's got really good songs — she's really good at picking a hit song. And, of course, I'm an actress.
"My background is in acting as well, not just singing," she added. "So for me, doing a character is something that's perfect for me. I've played 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown,' which I'm sure Reba could play. I know she did 'Annie Get Your Gun' on Broadway and that was another one I've done excerpts from before.
"I'm an actress first and then an impersonator, so it's easy for me to do that. Then I branched out and I do Dolly (Parton) all the time. Dolly is my main character now because I live up in the Pigeon Forge area in eastern Tennessee. I work with three different Kenny Rogers and I do Dolly Parton all over the world," she said. "People don't think that I can look like Dolly, but I'm really good with the drag and the wigs, and the other stuff that goes with Dolly.
"Reba was really inspired by Dolly, she was one of her mentors, so I think there's a little bit of Dolly in Reba's voice, you know?"
It was Reba's speaking voice that proved to be the biggest challenge.
"I studied with a comedian who did impersonations because I had never done this before, so he was my first go-to, learning from a comedian who did different voices," Wendy said. "Of course he didn't do Reba, but he told me how to do it. He told me how to study it and how to sound like her … and that was my biggest thing, the speaking voice.
"It's easy to mimic someone when they're singing, but when you have to speak like them — my first try I sounded just like Elvis because it's a Southern accent, and I'm from Denver, Colorado, originally, so I have no accent," she explained. "Now I can sound like Reba at the drop of a hat — (and she slips into the character… 'Hi, I'm Reba McEntire, I'm just tickled to pieces y'all called me today to do this special interview. Just don't let me have to sing with Barbara Jean.’).
"Because Reba had her TV show, I think it's so it's much easier for girls studying her now. They can watch her talk," she added.
So what is it that sets Wendy's Reba portrayal apart from the others?
"Well, I have a spunky personality," she said. "I think that's kind of what makes my Reba different from other girls who do Reba. I think it's my personality 'cause I'm really energetic, and I'm also an actress. I think that's important because you really have to act the songs and have a lot of emotion when you're singing the power ballads. Music videos made her an actress, too."
The most popular Reba song anywhere Wendy performs?
" 'Fancy'…children of all ages, they love 'Fancy,' " she said. "They want to hear 'Fancy' and they don't realize it's about…you know. And the kids are so funny. They sing along with it, with the same Southern accent, too.
"Reba's 'Fancy' is probably her most iconic. I love singing that and 'Why Haven't I Heard From You,' and that wasn't even a No. 1 hit. Isn't that weird? It's so recognizable and I do it because everybody likes it."
There's a good chance those songs will be in the Laughlin show along with a whole lot more.
"There's gonna be current songs that will be in the show. There's some of the new stuff and the old iconic stuff, too. It's a good mix."