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The '90s are long gone, but Prince fans can still party like it's 1999 when Jason Tenner gets on stage. Star of Purple Reign, The Prince Tribute Show, Tenner and his band perform Prince's biggest hit songs including "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy" and "1999."
The show is modeled after the legendary artist's performance in the 1984 hit movie "Purple Rain." Midway through the show, performers representing Morris Day and Jerome Benton are escorted into the showroom and take the stage. They keep the crowd on their feet with Morris Day and the Time's hit songs including "The Bird" and "Jungle Love."
Let's not forget this is Vegas. No show would be complete without a sexy showgirl and this revue delivers. For the song "Raspberry Beret" a buxom brunette in little more than a red beret joins the group on stage. She performs with the band for several numbers adding an ample dose of sex appeal to Tenner's already sultry moves as Prince.
Tenner has been performing his Prince tribute show in Las Vegas for more than 10 years. Dressing up as Prince for Halloween in 1996 sealed the deal for Tenner to turn from everyday band member to tribute artist.
"I went out dressed as Prince to a party at the Hard Rock. People were following me around and wanting to take pictures, and I'm like dang, it's Halloween, this costume is pretty good," says Tenner while recalling his first time dressing as the legendary pop artist.
Before this he was performing in a '70s and '80s cover band called Mothership Connection that also dressed in costume. After Halloween he decided to add more of Prince's songs to the set and soon they became the primary thing his band performed.
"Eventually we dropped the platform shoes and afro wigs and traded them for high heel shoes and eyeliner," jokes Tenner.
The band went from performing at a college bar to playing on the Las Vegas Strip at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay and other venues.
Being able to move and sound like Prince is something he learned from watching the movie "Purple Rain" probably more times than the editors that edited the movie, according to Tenner. He would watch the movie and then pause it and try to mimic Prince's exact movements and facial expressions. To perfect his voice he would sit in his home studio and record himself singing songs and then listen to how they sounded against Prince's voice.
"I did that for probably about a year. I figured if I'm gonna do it I'm gonna really trick people," said Tenner.
Transforming into Prince before the show takes him about 10 minutes to do his makeup and another 20 minutes to stretch and get warmed up to do "all those splits and all that stuff." Once he's at the showroom it takes him another five minutes to put on his hairpiece and get into costume. In real life he wears a beard similar to what Prince wore during his "Diamonds and Pearls" era.
Tenner has three main costume changes in the show. All of his costumes are things that he had designed especially for him. He had a costume designer in Vegas, and now his wife is helping him make and maintain his wardrobe. With some of his suits costing about $1,100 and his long coats $700, having his wife help out is a more economical option.
As far as getting in character Tenner said, "These days it's like I don't even think about it until my foot hits the stage and then it just turns on."
Along with acting like Prince, Tenner is friends with many of the performers who know and worked with him in real life. His friend LaMont Marcus performs as Morris Day in the show and through him, Tenner has met Jellybean Johnson and Monty, the drummer and keyboard player from the Time.
With an uncanny resemblance to the real performer, Tenner often gets comments from people that he looks like Prince.
"I think it's kind of strange to be known for being someone else. That's the strange part of it, but it's fun. I'm not one of those impersonators who goes out dressed up as Prince," said Tenner. "When that stuff comes off I'm back to just simple old me."
But on stage the audience is easily fooled. Purple Reign has been recognized worldwide as the premiere Prince tribute show. In 2008 they were the first ever Prince tribute act to be featured as a special guest on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
While seeing the real performer might not be an option, Tenner's show is the next best thing.
By Caroline Fontein
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