Gwen Stefani opens residency with Las Vegas-inspired show

Gwen Stefani took position in front of a neon-psychedelic ranch setting, wearing a frilly cowgirl outfit laced in golden bling. Her gaze zeroed in on a spot in at the edge of the stage in the VIP section of Zappos Theater.

“I see a lot of admiring eyes on my sparkles. I know, it’s ridiculous,” Stefani said. “You don’t know what it’s like to wear a cowgirl costume right in front of Blake Shelton. It’s like my fantasy come true.”

True, so true. Stefani and Shelton are Vegas’s power couple of the moment, the former opening her “Just a Girl” residency on the Strip before an adoring capacity crowd Wednesday night at Planet Hollywood. Adding a dash of Vegas to her concert show, Stefani donned the cowgirl getup, sliding into a pair of shimmering white boots to complete the ensemble.

No doubt, Stefani arrives with a clear idea of what to present in a Las Vegas Strip production. She opened with Vegas grandeur, performing “Hollaback Girl” on a wondrous staircase with costumed dancers as showgirls. The scene hearkened to the happy extravagance of “Jubilee,” “Folies Bergere” and “Lido de Paris.”

Yes, those shows are gone and the showgirl herself is nearly extinct in Las Vegas. But if you have noble imagination and are generously resourced, she can live forever. Stefani and her team of backing dancers are giving that Vegas icon, and the city’s grandeur of production shows, a new spin in her 25-show residency (shows run this weekend and also select dates in July, December, February and March).

The staging elsewhere was slick and stylish but not overwhelming. Stefani’s dancing image and such elements as Betty Boop and spinning sunflowers were shown on the video panels at flanking the set. She took a rose-shrouded, rising stage for “Don’t Speak” near the end of the show. At one point we were treated to dancers grooving with fake tubas and gigantic bananas (for the callback in “Hollaback Girl’).

A fit and confident 48, Stefani paced the show smartly with a high complement of No Doubt hits. “Spiderwebs,” “Hella Good,” “Hey Baby,” “Ex-Girlfriend,” “Don’t Speak” and the show-titled, “Just a Girl.” She performed solo singles, too, among them “Luxurious” (fortuitously spelled out on the LED screen), “Cool” and the show-capping “The Sweet Escape.”

But in Stefani’s world, you can also sing songs you wish you’d written, and hers were Blondie’s “The Tide is High” and Rihanna’s “Umbrella.”

As it was opening night, the show was marked with a few snags. We had the requisite wardrobe malfunction when Stefani was tangled in one of sparkly corsets (designed by Jeremy Scott, who also got a call-out from the stage). Stefani invited three young girls to the stage to get her out of that mess.

“Someone get up here and take this (expletive) off me right now … See, this is basically our dress rehearsal, and that’s why I said tonight was one of the most memorable of the entire tour.”

She did say that, and also, remarkable to note, Stefani also powered through her own vocals in a theater famous for vocal tracking. She was occasionally out of breath, which is typically an indication that a singer is, you know, singing.

In one of her five costume breaks, Stefani spoke to the audience through a video clip midway through the show. She talked of her personal life, how’d she’d long been “unlucky in love” and had hoped to have many kids and a “perfect family.”

“That’s something I dreamed of for a long time, but my own love life experience wasn’t what I thought it would be,” she said. “I feel like I had so much love to give inside me, but I was unlucky in love, which has been a blessing because I’ve been able to write about that and share that and have this incredibly blessed musical career.

“There was a point in my life where I felt that I was losing everything … When I look back at all the times my heart was broken, it was always music that healed me.”

That clip was in black-and-white, a stark contrast to the splashy spectacle of live performance, and showed Stefani’s face up close. It was a moment that pulled it all together. Artistically, and even personally, this stage show is Gwen Stefani’s way to reflect, cut loose, dress up and show off.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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