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Chicago notches No. 50 as The Venetian Theatre rocks on

Updated February 26, 2024 - 7:07 pm

The Venetian Theatre was not constructed for rock ‘n’ roll. Victorian in design and regal in its atmosphere, the venue was custom-built for “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular.”

But it’s been a dozen years since “Phantom” flew out and the chandelier was bolted to the ceiling. Since then, theater has become a hot room for headliners.

Most have been classic-rock bands, with Chicago due to celebrate its 50th performance in the venue on March 6. That’s the most shows of any headliner ever in the room. The venerable rockers returned to a sold-out run Wednesday night.

The bands that play The Venetian Theatre typically kill it, at the box office and onstage. Earth Wind & Fire, Styx (in a double-billing with EWF, and also Don Felder and Nancy Wilson), ZZ Top, REO Speedwagon, Smokey Robinson, Foreigner and Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band have all sold out the 1,815-seat hall. It’s not merely music, of course. Among comics, Mike Epps, and David Spade with Nikki Glaser have prospered in the theater.

Live Nation executive Billy Conn, who books the room, has adopted a formula — of sorts — for seeking bands to play the venue. The concept arrived from John Baruck, the veteran entertainment exec famous for his management of Journey and partnership with Irving Azoff.

“When the residency model first started coming up, like 15 years ago, we were asking, ‘What acts are we looking at?’” Conn says. “And John said, ‘Find someone with 13 hits.’ That’s 13 in the top 50, or even top 100. Then you can build from there, maybe play your album here and there, or add new stuff. It gives you a great base to try new formulas.”

REO Speedwagon has found that formula in its “Hi Infidelity” extended engagement. Chicago easily fills the Baker’s Dozen-hit requirement, with 20 top-10 hits, 11 No. 1 singles, five No. 1 albums.

The band gets the royal treatment when playing the Phantom’s former home.

“When you see the members of Chicago come in, they love it, they go to Bouchon for the Sunday brunch and enjoy the city. The wives, the families come out and relax and enjoy the suite and comfort of being here,” Conn said. “To be able to go down to the elevator, do the show and come back to their own room versus getting on a tour bus is very, very attractive to these bands.”

Tease this …

A popular act among locals, headed up by entertainers who have also become popular among locals, is heading to an upscale entertainment-retail center on the Strip …

Cool Hang Alert

Vegas icon Frank Marino returns to performance with “Divas Drag & Drinks” at 4 p.m. Sunday at 24 Oxford at Virgin Hotel.

Marino revives his Joan Rivers persona. He’s not reviving the brunch concept. Too complicated with a full stage show in that room.

Otherwise, drag greats abound — abound, I tell you! — with Sammy Gonzales as Liza Minnelli and Mariah Carey, Steve Wayne as Cher and Celine Dion, Jeremy Thomas as Beyoncé and Rihanna, Adriana Evans as Lizzo and Donna Summer, and Kenneth Rex as Pink and Britney Spears. Rex also performs the show-closing “What Makes a Man a Man.”

There are showgirls and widespread frivolity. Go to virginhotelslv.com for intel.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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