When Jason Tenner first began performing as Prince in the late 1990s, he was too young to grow the proper beard or chest hair, and so he had to apply fake scruff before each show.
Today, after 22 years playing the role of The Purple One in Purple Reign, the popular Las Vegas Prince tribute show, he no longer needs to do that, but it still takes him 20 minutes to prep for the role before a gig—applying makeup, slipping into his ruffled silk shirt and stretching out. It's a routine Tenner will go through in Sarasota on Saturday, May 4, when the traveling version of the show hits the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
The Prince tribute show has been a mainstay of Las Vegas nightlife for decades, with a calendar stuffed with five performances a week. Tenner has taken the show out of Vegas before, but the current swing that includes a stop in Sarasota is the band's first extended tour. "Vegas is a great place to stabilize your life as a musician, because the world comes to you," says Tenner. "But having the tour bus experience is something I've wanted to do my whole career."
Because of Prince's unique mix of musicianship, vocals, dancing, style and swagger, imitating him is no small feat. Before taking on the role of Prince, Tenner was only a casual fan. "I really got into him when I did the impersonation," he says, "and then I started listening to him and it blew my mind. I've got mad respect and much love for his body of work." Purple Reign includes tracks from all of Prince's career, but Tenner says his favorite period runs from 1987's Sign o' the Times through the early 1990s.
Prince was always revered, but appreciation of his music risen since his death in 2016. "The crowds spiked right after he died," says Tenner. "The numbers shot through the roof. People were crying all the time. We realized how cathartic the show was."
Purple Reign starts at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets are $39.10-$60.50.