Fifty years ago, Elvis Presley was beginning a grueling Las Vegas concert schedule — two shows a night, seven days a week — that led to 636 sold-out shows at the International (now Westgate). “That show was hugely successful [and] introduced rock ‘n’ roll to the big Vegas stage,” said Richard Zoglin, author of the new book “Elvis in Vegas.”
Today, performers don’t even think about committing to such a long concert schedule, even at the hottest spots on the Strip.
“Artists don’t want to get tied down to a two- or three-year deal in Las Vegas,” said Norm Clarke, a veteran reporter who has observed the Vegas entertainment scene for two decades. “Lady Gaga didn’t sign a long-term contract, and if anyone out there is really hot right now, it’s her,” Clarke said of the superstar who will return to the Park Theater on Oct. 17.
Big-name stars doing shorter stints means visitors can see more than one showstopper in a weekend.
“The market has made this happen,” said John Katsilometes, entertainment columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Tourists want to see other acts, rather than the ones they’ve just seen. … You have so many other performers who are eager to headline in Las Vegas — and so many tourists who want to see different artists every time they come into town.”
With Celine Dion earlier this summer having ended her mega-run — 1,141 shows over 16 years — the era of long-term residencies is coming to an end as the self-proclaimed “entertainment capital of the world” reinvents itself. “There are weekends when you can see a half-dozen superstar headliners and have your selection of them,” he said.
The August lineup: Paula Abdul on Tuesday launched her “Forever Your Girl” residency at Flamingo Las Vegas, Def Leppard will open Wednesday evening at Planet Hollywood, and Lady Antebellum will perform at Palms starting Aug. 23.
Christina Aguilera continues her concerts Sept. 20 at Zappo’s Theater at Planet Hollywood, Aerosmith will perform Sept. 23-28 at Park MGM, and Tony Bennett will is scheduled for Sept. 25, 27 and 28 at the Venetian.
And it’s not just the length of residencies that has changed in Vegas. Venues have shifted too.
“We’re clearly seeing more artists playing in these theaters,” said Jason Gastwirth, president of entertainment for Caesars, whose performance venues include The Colosseum, where Dion performed before 4.5 million people.
That arena is currently undergoing a major overhaul to meet the demands of future performers, starting with Urban’s two-night stand in September.
“It’ll be a far more versatile theater, probably the most versatile of its kind,” Gastwirth said. “We’ll be able to have not only the seated shows that we’ve had in the past, but also general admission by being able to lower the floor near the stage to create that [general admission] opportunity” — and the concert party atmosphere that comes with it.
Even as they age, big-name rockers continue to draw crowds. Sting, for example, will be 68 when he performs at the Colosseum on select evenings next May through August. “These are world-class musicians with large fan bases and a significant catalog of music,” Gastwirth said. “They put on tremendous performances.”
But back to Presley. He redefined concert venues half a century ago by replacing intimate, clubby spots with the arena experience. “It was a big rock concert extravaganza, not an intimate nightclub, [Frank] Sinatra-Rat Pack-style show,” Zoglin said of Presley’s gigs at the International. “It was in a showroom that was twice as large as any other in Vegas.”
That showroom was a 2,000-seat theater that, by today’s standards, is small. Zappo’s boasts 7,000 seats, the Park 6,400, and the Colosseum 4,300.
“Elvis was Las Vegas,” Dion once said from the Colosseum stage during a TV tribute to Presley. “If wasn’t for him, so many performers like myself would probably never have had the chance to do what they do in this town.”