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Step into it: Zappos Elevates Vegas' Theater Experience

Step into it: Zappos Elevates Vegas' Theater Experience
J.Lo lights the Zappos Theater stage on fire. (Denise Truscello)

When the popular The AXIS at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino reopened this spring as Zappos Theater, this state-of-the-art, intimate auditorium will host the innovative, rotating A-list residencies that have become its signature over the past four years and add major new headlining performers that will be the talk of the Strip.

Britney Spears wrapped a stunning four years of her "Piece of Me" extravaganza at The AXIS, seen by over 900,000 fans during its run, on New Year's Eve. Residencies from Backstreet Boys, Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez's award-winning "All I Have" show will carry over into Zappos Theater. Legend Lionel Richie also returns with his show, "All the Hits." New Zappos Theater residents will begin to be announced as early as this month.

The theater setup, with a small venue feel and modifiable stage and lighting, appeals to artists as much as it does fans, said Jason Gastwirth, senior vice president of marking and entertainment for Caesars Entertainment. "[The theater] is a canvas for artists to have a custom show," he said. This ensures that the venue can always bring in top talent. "The artists are always world-class, with a global audience," Gastwirth said. Shows can craft a fan experience they might not have on a stadium tour.

This fan-forward style makes the venue an amazing place to see a residency, and promoters have responded. "We doubled the number of shows that we were doing with Backstreet Boys," explained Kurt Melien, president of Live Nation Las Vegas. "[Theirs] was one of the fastest-selling residencies in history – maybe even the fastest. Demand has been incredible."

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Vegas-based shoe and apparel retailer Zappos serves as the auditorium's new sponsor, but the partnership goes much further than naming rights, said Kristin Richmer, senior brand marketing manager of Zappos. "[The partnership] is an awesome opportunity to bring our brand to life," said Richmer. Venue features including online merchandise and drink ordering will be inspired by Zappos' pioneering e-commerce model.

Zappos is headquartered at the former Las Vegas City Hall. CEO Tony Hsieh also heads the Downtown Project, revitalizing Las Vegas as a cultural and economic hot spot for both residents and tourists. "This city's always been special to us," said Richmer.

"We are very excited to have a partner like Zappos, who is very interested in Las Vegas," said Gastwirth, as the famed local theater meshes with the Vegas focus of the business. "It speaks a lot to the theater that a partner like Zappos would come on."

Zappos Theater will continue the thriving format of hosting four or five rotating residencies at any given time. The appeal of this approach is twofold. Visitors can easily plan a Vegas trip around a show date, and it provides variety that appeals to returning music fans.

"You've got lots of folks from the West Coast in particular, or even the Midwest, that are coming to Vegas two to three to four times a year," Melien said. "They love the theater and they saw Britney Spears last year, and now they want to come back and see Backstreet Boys or Lionel Richie or Jennifer [Lopez]."

Melien said that Zappos Theater especially appeals to millennials, who aren't as interested in the nightclub scene but are not yet attuned to the veteran artists who perform some of Las Vegas' long-running residencies.

"There were shows, obviously, that people of that demo were going to, Cirque du Soleil and others, but there wasn't a consistent offering of music concert events," said Melien. "So that'll continue [at Zappos Theater]."

Hospitality at Zappos Theater will continue to be served by Vegas nightlife legend Victor Drai – the man behind the Strip's Drai's Beachclub and Nightclub at the boutiquey Cromwell Las Vegas – and his team. Expect sophisticated bottle service and masterful mixology.

-Paul Rogers, Custom Publishing Writer