Variety, Vegas a natural fit


For years it seemed variety TV died with Ed Sullivan. But lately it's been sneaking back, in the guise of various awards shows or "America's Got Talent." Today's combination of Ellen DeGeneres and the Strip might be just the right formula to flush it into the open again.

"Ellen's Really Big Show" tapes today in front of a live audience as part of The Comedy Festival at Caesars Palace and airs Monday on TBS. On paper, it seems to have a good balance of names synonymous with Vegas -- Wayne Newton, Lance Burton -- and national acts such as Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crow and Lyle Lovett, whose Large Band serves as the house band.

"If it works and we're all happy with the results, we could do it again," says Michael Wright, who oversees original programming for Turner Entertainment Network. "I am so hoping that people love this show, because I love the variety format. I don't necessarily see this as a weekly series, but I do see this as something you can do again and have fun with it."

Las Vegas is "actually one of the few places where the variety show thing still exists," Wright notes. "You can actually go to Vegas and find a sword swallower; you can find these funny-crazy acts. So there was a real natural fit between a show being done from Vegas and Ellen's desire to do a celebration of the variety show format." ...

Speaking of The Comedy Festival, this is the second year in a row Barbra Streisand has invaded their spotlight. No one's saying Streisand and Chris Rock compete for the same entertainment dollar. But still, it's strange: The festival that picked this November weekend because it's supposed to be slow had competition from the Rolling Stones in 2005 and Streisand last year.

This Saturday, however, no tickets will be sold for Streisand's private gig at Planet Hollywood. But that won't stop the Planet Hollywood bash from stealing media attention. Did I mention the two-day celebration features another private show Friday by the comedy fest's 2005 headliner, Jon Stewart? ...

Celine Dion released her new album this week, and starting Friday, fans can buy concert tickets for her post-Vegas life. Her world tour hits travels far and wide -- South Africa, Asia, the works -- before landing in Boston Aug. 12 for a U.S. leg that will keep the singer busy through January 2009.

But after that? A recent USA Today interview leaves the door open to the "Celine replacing Celine" theory: The idea that she could return to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace on a scaled-down basis, now that a plan for Cher to share the room with Bette Midler apparently fell through.

Dion said her family is building a new house in Florida but will keep the one at Lake Las Vegas "because all my son's memories were created here." Also, the U.S. tour is produced by AEG Live, who backed her Las Vegas run. ...

"America's Got Talent" winner Terry Fator not only gets his wish of becoming a Las Vegas headliner, but he jumps straight into the ranks of its big-ticket headliners. The top ticket for the ventriloquist's Las Vegas Hilton dates next year is $149 before taxes and service charges. However, the lowest price to get in the door is $49 and the average price is $70; the most expensive seats also include a meet-and-greet with Fator.

The Hilton's news release touting a "$1.5 million (plus) deal" for 15 shows through May may be an admission of an old-Vegas business model. Selling all 1,635 theater seats for 16 shows (counting an early evening gig on New Year's Eve) would gross $1.8 million, making Fator almost a loss leader to get folks into the casino. ...

The male dancers of "American Storm" have a new home inside Polly Esther's club at the Stratosphere. The troupe spent two years at the Riviera before closing there in August. Shows are at 8:30 p.m. and ticket-buyers can stay in the club without paying a cover when it opens at 10 p.m.

"American Storm" and the Excalibur's "Thunder from Down Under" are co-produced by Las Vegan Adam Steck and Australian producer Billy Cross. The two also made a showroom headliner of psychic Sylvia Browne -- she'll be back at the Excalibur for 10 days each month next year -- and have a hand in the Luxor's new bordello-themed restaurant and lounge CatHouse, due Dec. 28. That makes them the rare show producers to cross into the clubs that have otherwise become a threat to ticketed attractions. ...

A contract was pending earlier this week for "Fab Four Mania" to move to the Sahara and replace "Matsuri," which closed Saturday. The Beatles tribute currently has a 6 p.m. slot at the V Theater at Miracle Mile Shops. Producer David Saxe would continue to oversee the revue at the Sahara, where it would play in tandem with Trent Carlini's Elvis tribute. By pure coincidence, the two shows also shared the Las Vegas Hilton stage in 2004. ...

Finally, R-J colleague Jason Bracelin was surprised, to say the least, when "Little Anthony" Gourdine took offense to the phrase "doo-wop" in an interview last summer: "Let me educate you," he told Bracelin. "We do not sing doo-wop. We haven't had a doo-wop song since 'Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop' in 1960. Everything we've done has been R&B. We're not a doo-wop group. I want to get that straight."

Gourdine may not be thrilled with the jacket designer of "Doo Wop -- The Music, the Times, the Era" a coffee table book by veteran DJ "Cousin Brucie" Morrow, which sprays the phrase "Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop" across the back cover.

And the Las Vegas-based Gourdine probably won't be caught near the "Cool Bobby B Doo Wop Convention" at the Alexis Park on Friday and Saturday.

Mike Weatherford's entertainment column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 383-0288 or e-mail him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com.

 

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