Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

March 21, 2011

SIMPSON ON VEGAS #017: What's On

Posted by Hunter

Here we are with a new SoV, and this time it's all about Strip entertainment.

Jeff's full text is after the jump and in case you missed Dr. Dave's debut column yesterday, you can read it here.

Keep reading after the jump.

Celine Dion's return to Las Vegas has excited her fans and impressed most reviewers, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to chime in with a few impressions on the Strip's entertainment picture. I am not a regular show-goer -- the short list of shows I've seen in Las Vegas since moving here in 1999 includes "O," "Mamma Mia," "Avenue Q," "Spamalot," "Le Reve," "Blue Man Group," "Jubilee," Barry Manilow and Jerry Seinfeld (twice) -- but shows remain an important cornerstone of the attractions that separate Las Vegas from its competitors in the casino- and convention-city universes.

First, Celine. I don't care for her music, but she certainly has plenty of fans, people who are willing to pay the steep prices at the Colosseum (up to $255 plus taxes and fees for her new show). When she signed up with Caesars for her first stint, I was skeptical and underestimated her ability to draw enough fans to fill the venue's 4,000 seats and also thought that her fan base was unlikely to do much for the Caesars Palace casino action.

Celine's first show combined her music with Cirque-style production, a decision that likely was made to expand its appeal given the tremendous success of the first couple of Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil productions ("Mystere" and "O"). "A New Day" played for almost five years and grossed just short of half-a-billion dollars and helped keep Caesars relevant as it struggled to compete with Bellagio, Venetian and Wynn Las Vegas at the top of the market (and Mirage, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay in the next tier down). I'm not sure how much action Celine's fans and their significant others gave the Caesars casino -- I suspect it was less than the action generated by the fans of other classic Vegas performers -- but I guarantee her fans spent a ton on hotel rooms, food, spa services and retail. That was more than enough to make her return a no-brainer for Caesars. Filling up 4,000 expensive seats with folks who can afford them brings a spending crowd to and through Caesars, and that is a strong asset for a property that faces even tougher competition from its longtime peers at and just below the top of the resort market along with newer entries like Encore, Palazzo, Aria and Cosmopolitan.

Second, I'd like to say a few words about Cirque du Soleil. I haven't seen "Viva Elvis" and "Believe," but reviews haven't been kind, although "Believe" has apparently smoothed out some of its rougher elements if recent reviews are accurate. I don't know how well those shows have done at the box office, and that's what matters. I do know that I really enjoyed "O," and that people whose opinion I respect have told me that "Mystere," "Zumanity," "Ka," and "Love" are tremendous. MGM Resorts' exclusive deal with Cirque has been a goldmine for the company (starting with Mirage Resorts) and, despite the sale of Treasure Island and its "Mystere" production, remains a powerful corporate asset. When MGM executives look at the experience of the resorts that have hosted Cirque shows they have to like what they see: Not one of the shows has closed, ticket prices remain among the highest on the Strip, ticket sales have been robust and serious discounting was only necessary once the Great Recession hit the city. So it's easy to see why Aria opened with its Elvis-themed production and why the company seems intent on a Michael Jackson-themed show (let's hope that show is about his music rather than his revolting personal life, by which I mean his reported pedophilia, not his many strange habits).

Maybe the public will eventually grow tired of the Cirque-style shows, but their intrinsic assets are perfect for Las Vegas: Fantastic spectacle, high-quality production and a lack of much spoken English so as not to alienate our many international visitors. It is easy to criticize MGM for rolling out Cirque shows at almost every one of its properties (Mandalay probably gets the Jackson show; sorry for now, Monte Carlo, Excalibur and Circus Circus) but it is hard to argue with their success to date.

I think a varied blend of shows benefits Las Vegas. Cirque and Cirque-style shows like "Le Reve" are one cornerstone of the city's entertainment attraction (having almost totally replaced the old-style production shows like last-woman-standing "Jubilee"). Blue Man Group, which soon moves to Monte Carlo, the Venetian's "Phantom," and tribute shows like "Legends in Concert" and "Human Nature" are other assets as are the Strip's handful of comedy clubs.

Stars-in-residence are another important element and Celine comes back right at the top of the pecking order, ahead of Barry Manilow (Paris), Donny and Marie Osmond (Flamingo), Rita Rudner (Venetian) and, soon, Gladys Knight at the Tropicana. Recurring appearances by stars like Garth Brooks, Beyonce, Jerry Seinfeld, Elton John, Carlos Santana and Ray Romano are another significant piece of the puzzle as are performances by touring bands, singers and comedians at the city's impressive array of arenas and concert halls.

With all of those impressive shows it might seem like the Cosmopolitan's decision not to host a production show, a star performer or even a rotating cast of recurring performers wouldn't be that big of a deal. There's plenty of shows, and hosting regular appearances by indie music acts will only add to the Cosmo's image as a cool, outside-the-box property, or so some people have argued. I disagreed with Cosmo's plan right from the start and said so on our Vegas Gang podcast from the resort's opening. I was interested to hear Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin recently say that he, too, thought it was a major flaw for the Strip's newest property when he appeared on the Reno-based television show hosted by Sam Shad, "Nevada Newsmakers." The Cosmo may have good location, great restaurants, a hip nightclub and a cool image, but all is not perfect. There is a lot of hype, but the resort business is at its heart a business -- and that is where I think the Cosmo cannot succeed.

Speaking of nightclubs, many executives including Steve Wynn have talked about how resort nightclubs have replaced traditional entertainment for many visitors, particularly younger ones, and he is clearly right. But that doesn't mean that production shows, star singers, bands and comedians are no longer important, because they definitely are. It just means that nightclubs are a new and great revenue stream for hotels and spending option for visitors and also a terrific way to interest young folks in the city. Clubs and superstar DJs are a fantastic way to keep drawing people to the city -- along with traditional entertainment; newer, bigger and better hotels and hotel rooms; high-quality dining; spas; shopping; pools and golf.

I mentioned this on the podcast as well, and I'd like to end with this thought about entertainment. One of the coolest things about Las Vegas is driving down the Strip and seeing the array of shows on resort marquees, signs that reflect the era and imprint on visitors' memories. These memories prompt folks to return and to spread the word about Las Vegas, whether it was in the sixties with the Rat Pack; the seventies with Elvis, Liberace and Sinatra; the eighties and nineties with Siegfried & Roy and, most recently, with Cirque and Celine. Don't underestimate the power of entertainment to separate Las Vegas from its resort-city competition.

-- Jeff Simpson, March 2011


Read archived comments (8 so far)
March 21, 2011 8:10 PM Posted by Dave Lifton

The link on "read it here" before the jump goes to Dr. Dave's article.

March 21, 2011 8:11 PM Posted by Hunter

Ya, it's supposed to.

March 21, 2011 8:12 PM Posted by parchedearth

It is always interesting to see which acts are embraced by the Vegas crowd. I never would have predicted Celine would be such a big hit. Even Bet Midler was a slight surprise. I think Shania will do well (assuming she signs). I am really waiting for one of the burnt-out pop-tartlets or former boy bands to sign, but I'm guessing it will inevitably be one of the lesser talents who make it big on the strip. It is interesting how few of the big names (who frequently visit and are tired of touring) are willing to go into residency; especially with the solid paychecks. I think the casinos really struggle to attract big names for the longer runs.

I suspect that Cirque has run its course and we can expect Zumanity to close first. My understanding is that Believe is now essentially a magic show with most of the Cirque elements having been removed. Similarly, Elvis is still being tinkered with (to put more emphasis on the music). Just like the old showgirl productions, Cirque will eventually fade.

Cosmo is still feeling its way and may indeed discover they need a show. I'm not really sure they have a venue to host a show (depending on whether one of the convention spaces can be converted).

March 21, 2011 8:25 PM Posted by Hunter

Yeah, me too. I, like many others, thought there was no way Celine would work. I was totally wrong.

March 21, 2011 8:46 PM Posted by hail2skins

I think Cirque can still be effective if it concentrates more on the acrobatics like the first shows brought to town like Mystere, O, and KA (Le Reve also should be mentioned). I love the music of the Beatles, but count me as one that is less than impressed with paying $100 to listen to their music while people are dancing around with props.

I also am happy that Celine is back (liked her first show) and thinks that Vegas needs more headliner acts.

March 22, 2011 7:54 AM Posted by jinx

I think Cosmo can succeed without a show, but I think they'd benefit from one. If there is one thing Celine brought to Caesars and main attractions due to resorts is they bring an identity.

It doesn't even mean it has to coincide with the stars past. Garth Brooks doesn't bring Country to Wynn, he brings uniqueness. Celine brought a spectacle to Caesars and while not the biggest star around, she was a bookable star at the time that helped changed the perception of Vegas as a has been place for entertainers to retire.

I think Cosmo could further their image with the right act. I think the fact that MGM and Cirque are so tied together helps them, but I think over time, it's helped erode both brands, new Cirque shows are viewed with a sigh, in that there isn't much excitement for them. They still are turning in the revenue and that's certainly good, but I think they are missing out on the excitement that a unique experience can bring to the resorts and the brand. That brand value has to be difficult to measure, but I do believe that it elevates the value of the resort offerings when it's there.

I think Don Marrandino understood that a bit with Toni Braxton and then Donnie and Marie, in conjunction with the Go Room renovation, the Flamingo went from a lower tier property to high middle and even through the recession the erosion of rates and prices there seemed to be a bit slower then many other places.

For another example, look at Planet Hollywood, it's a bit easier to associate Vegas swanky and electric with a tent pole show like Peepshow, no one is going to claim Peepshow is some remarkable piece of work, but it's done an effective job at creating buzz and assisting in defining the resort.

March 22, 2011 9:36 AM Posted by MizzouGypsy

Cosmopolitan does indeed have a performance is dug out near the Wicked Spoon and is part of future plans. A recurring act probably isnt part of the plan, however, as long as DB continues to push the "Different" ideaology.

March 23, 2011 2:48 PM Posted by atdleft

I always hear rumors of Kylie Minogue wanting to headline on The Strip. I wonder if she can finally get a deal. Considering her big international fan base and her loyal LGBT following (even domestically), it may not be that crazy of an idea for Caesars (which is already hosting her occasional concerts).

Haven't there also been rumors of Madonna eventually wanting a Vegas show? She'd be a perfect fit for this town IMHO.