By the measure that counts most on the Strip, Toni Braxton’s run at the Flamingo Las Vegas was an unqualified success.
“It was very profitable, and especially in these times, that’s a good thing,” says Flamingo Las Vegas president Don Marrandino. “There was never a weekend when we weren’t full.”
But I wonder how many people who saw the show felt the same way? How many left, as I did the couple of times I saw it, with the feeling that what could have been great instead wavered between “OK” and “pretty good”? That Braxton’s Las Vegas story was still one of unrealized potential?
Braxton seemed quite the coup in May 2006. Here was a singer with 16 million sales of her first two albums. A singer whose hits weren’t tied solely to a teen audience. And above all, a singer who hadn’t already worn out her casino welcome through overexposure.
As it turned out, Braxton had been starting a family. She was optimistic at the onset of a run that allowed her to play working mom in the Celine Dion mode. “The dry heat is perfect for me because I’m asthmatic. I’m the opposite of Celine,” she said.
The singer was personable and engaging, both offstage and in her stage banter. But the chatter — if not the skimpy outfits — turned out to be the best part of “Revealed.” The voice wasn’t the one people remembered. In fact, people Braxton pulled up from the audience often outsang her.
The show did pull in “a market niche that was never really served here,” Marrandino notes. It was extended for a full contract term, until Aug. 20. But Braxton last performed on April 7. A heart scare sent her to the hospital, and after a long wait-and-see, it recently was decided not to risk further aggravation of her heart condition, pericarditis.
Does that explain everything? I still wonder if her heart wasn’t in it on another level.
The whole thing reminds me of the difference between pop stars and that rare breed of entertainer who has both the stamina and the zeal to perform week in and week out.
As Marrandino concedes, Vegas can beat the stuffing out of an entertainer. “In retrospect, if I were to design the show, I’d make it a little bit less physical,” he says.
And it’s really hard to get this Vegas-showcase thing just right. If the performance is too rote, the trouper comes off a hack. If it looks too difficult, the star comes off a diva.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the year-round headliner becomes a rare creature; Cher and Bette Midler are attacking the Strip more modestly.
And those who do get a full-time post on the Strip need to be here not merely because they want to stay in one place, but because they simply can’t stay away.
Mike Weatherford’s entertainment column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 702-383-0288 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.