There are no costume changes for Bruno Mars in his year-ending shows at T-Mobile Arena. Not a criticism. Merely an observation. Mars wears his customized Hooligans baseball jersey, with “Magic 24” stitched to the back.
He’s ready always ready to play. The Hooligans, his backing band, also wears jersey, though mismatching. It’s like an all-star lineup, with Mars the captain. He performed to an ear-piercing response Sunday night in the first of two year-closing shows at T-Mobile. Mars has Boyz II Men — themselves resident Strip headliners, at the Mirage — as his opener on his “24K Magic” tour.
— John Katsilometes (@johnnykats) December 31, 2018
Mars performed all the familiar songs, broke out the electric guitar and showed off his now-familiar dance moves. He’s confident and effortless, making a fashion statement in his chic-casual athletic gear, even stepping across the stage in vintage Nike sneakers.
— John Katsilometes (@johnnykats) December 31, 2018
Expect Mars to be back at Park Theater in 2019, as he’s in the second year of a two-year contract to play the venue. The dates just need to be made public and put onsale. Mars, and Cher, also set to return in ‘19, join the highly anticipated Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Aerosmith residencies, all new to Park Theater. They are among the superstar trend-setters for the modern-day Vegas residency.
It’s a tricky description. Is a headliner really a resident performer if he or she plays, say, 20 shows a year on the Strip? I have finally settled into how to refer to these occasional headlining runs of two or three nights a month over one or two years: Extended engagements is about right. The days of a true 32- or 44-week residency in the city’s major venues is no longer financially or artistically realistic. Today it’s all about short bursts for a rotation of top-selling artists.
Even Mars, a major arena draw, had scores of seats available at face value hours before his show at T-Mobile (hours before his show, seats were also offered through such online free-ticket services as House Seats). Don’t blame the quality of the performances; it’s simply that the market remains hyper-competitive for top-dollar shows ($450 for floor seats for Mars; $460 for general-admission for Gaga).
But you can turn a profit in Las Vegas even if you don’t sell out every show, as Gwen Stefani has reminded during her run at Zappos Theater, adding more than 20 shows in 2019 without needing to wipe out every performance.
The best description of the Las Vegas entertainment scene was from a friend earlier this year who has worked on Strip production shows for decades: It’s the resident headliners that dominate the theaters, Cirque du Soleil has its handle on showrooms, and everybody else fighting it out to be noticed. And, the impact of the Vegas Golden Knights, who fill 40-plus dates at 18,000 per game at T-Mobile, has also been felt across the city.
Andrew Tierney of Venetian headliners Human Nature told me recently, “A family that has disposable income will often rather go to a Golden Knights game than see Human Nature, and that is new for us.” VGK is also felt at such venues as Myron’s Cabaret Jazz, which feels softer sales on nights the hockey team plays a home game — and there, even a drop of 20 tickets has a significant impact on the artist’s profits and the show’s vibe. In this schematic, even shows that would seem to have a solid chance of success — remember the sports all-star show “Renegades” at the 160-seat Cleopatra’s Barge? — actually face stiff challenges.
But there are pockets of undeniable success. “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace continues as the leading production artistically and commercially in the city. Barry Manilow (Westgate Las Vegas) and Carlos Santana (House of Blues at Mandalay Bay) are booked through next year among “legacy” music stars. David Copperfield can’t seem to perform enough sold-out shows at his theater at MGM Grand.
Magic, generally, remains a force across the Vegas landscape, with Criss Angel having just opened his characteristically ambitious production “Mindfeak” at Planet Hollywood. Such figures as Hans Klok (Excalibur) and “America’s Got Talent” champ Shin Lim (venue to be determined) are now in the 2019 conversation. Penn & Teller at Rio, Mat Franco at Linq Hotel and Mac King at Harrah’s are all proven box-office winners in Las Vegas’ magic kingdom.
This is without considering the lingering popularity of nightclub DJ headliners. Now-familiar stars as The Chainsmokers, Calvin Harris, Martin Garrix and Steve Aoki (both in residency at Hakkasan and Wet Republic at MGM Grand and Omnia at Caesars Palace) draw thousands to their late-night/early morning sets on the Strip. Someday, the pendulum will swing away from the EDM scene, but it’s not today.
For those who want first-class showmanship, the city is still home to Frankie Moreno (South Point and Cab Jazz) and Matt Goss (1 Oak Nightclub at Mirage). Both have used Las Vegas as a springboard to explore great projects and performances outside the city — Moreno’s tour of performing-arts centers around the country, and Goss with his well-reviewed “After The Screaming Stops” documentary of his reunion with his brother Luke in the boy band Bros.
Always, I hope for more calibration on the entertainment scene. I am especially supportive of terrific shows in comparatively small showrooms (I love “Opium” at Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Bronx Wanderers as they move to Linq Hotel, and, always, “Zombie Burlesque” at V Theater at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood). Tape Face at Harrah’s is wordlessly brilliant and looking to expand his brand in the same fashion as Blue Man Group. “Miss Behave Game Show” at Bally’s is a master class in top-level improv. The new news amid comedy clubs is Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club coming into Linq Promenade this spring, and the first Vegas outpost of New York’s iconic Comedy Cellar having opened at the Rio last April.
Male revues, which have become a Vegas institution, continue to draw solid business, as there seems no shortage of bachelorette parties in this city. In November I attended the final show “Thunder From Down Under” performed at its ExCal showroom before moving to its temporary venue on the casino floor (the production in Adam Steck’s SPI Entertainment stable is moving into the Klok theater this spring). I was met by a small riot of 300-plus women going absolutely nuts. The long-running “Chippendales” at the Rio (especially when Tyson Beckford is the guest host) and “Magic Mike Live” at Hard Rock Hotel further prove male revues do big business in Vegas.
The female revues, too, thrive. Column fave Anita Mann’s “Fantasy,” which opened in 2000, remains a hit at Luxor, toggling with the brilliant prop comic Carrot Top. Bugsy’s Cabaret at Flamingo is similarly blessed with similarly oddly matched hit shows “X Burlesque” and Piff The Magic Dragon. Those shows are in Matt and Angela Stabile’s Stabile Productions lineup.
So there’s optimism, amid the frayed nerves about the ticket-buying market, entering 2019. The new year’s most intriguing decision is how Caesars Palace and booking partner Live Nation expect to fill the void left by the departure of Celine Dion. The the modern-day queen of the Las Vegas residency is closing at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace on June 8, after a 15-year run that began with “A New Day …” in 2003.
Celine might be back on the Strip in a year or two, but in ‘19 someone will take the chance to star in the venue that even Elton John says is “the room Celine Dion built.” But it won’t be Bruno Mars. He’s already booked.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.