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Gladys Knight sees magic in music

In reaching beyond their own hits, Garth Brooks and Celine Dion have nothing on Gladys Knight.

Those superstars seem to be trying to recession-proof their shows by covering familiar songs made famous by others, everything from Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” for Brooks to “Ben” — Michael Jackson’s infamous ode to a rat — for Dion.

But Knight, who opens at the Tropicana on April 5 for her first residency on the Strip since 2005, says she has “always done that.”

“Great music is great music. Some of those things I’m blessed enough to be able to do, I wish I had recorded,” Knight told reporters Monday in a news conference to announce the run. “Everybody wants a hit. But there’s something magic about some of the music that’s out there.”

Knight’s version of “The Way We Were” has become almost as much a signature song for her as it is for Barbra Streisand. “If there’s a song that touches you, I’m interested in doing it, if it’s at all possible.” However, she added with a laugh, “I don’t go outside of myself or my realm. If it’s something that doesn’t suit me, I ain’t gonna be up there messin’ it up.”

Knight will sing five nights a week in a run booked at least through October. It could be extended if both sides are happy, and Knight says she would love to do a full-blown Christmas show with school choirs.

In an unusual move for a limited run, the aging Tiffany Theater will be renamed the Gladys Knight Theater for the duration of her tenure.

The contract is between Tropicana management and Freestyle Mac, a partnership of Steve Walker and Knight’s husband, William McDowell.

Producer Jay Bloom, who last year signed what was presumed to be an all-inclusive lease for the theater, continues to produce roommate titles “Recycled Percussion” and the afternoon Beatles tribute “Yesterday.” “Recycled” will work around Knight’s schedule, taking an earlier time slot on days she performs.

The singer of classics such as “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” reopened the Flamingo’s classic showroom to headliners when she worked there from 2002 through 2005. …

Unless someone decides to call in Don Rickles and Keely Smith for a final “going in style” salute, magician Rick Thomas may be the last entertainer to play the storied Sahara hotel before it closes May 16.

Thomas plans to reopen today for a final two-month run, after a working vacation in Bermuda.

“Striptease the Show” won’t bother to reopen for a limited run after taking what it called a winter break to restructure costs.

“If I’m going to spend $50,000 on advertising, I’d rather put it into a new venue,” producer Jim Hayek says. …

A Las Vegan of recent vintage, Flavor Flav, has been announced to play the Fairy Godfather in “Sisterella,” a comic R&B musical by native composer Larry Hart. Michael Jackson backed Hart’s first production of the Cinderella story in Pasadena, Calif., in 1996.

The new revival is bound for the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, Calif., next fall, then hopes to land at the Las Vegas Hilton, says spokesman Quincy Krahsna. However, Hilton executive Rick White stresses there is no contract or final deal for the musical.

White says he would like to get another production show into the Hilton’s big room to work around weekend concert headliners, the way the short-lived “Triumph” planned to before its quick exit. Resilient magician Steve Wyrick is one name that has come up, but again White says nothing is confirmed.

With “Triumph,” Wyrick and Thomas all on the market, casinos may enjoy a reverse bidding war if they’re in the mood for a magic show. …

The Japanese-themed revue “Matsuri” has set up a donation box inside the Imperial Palace showroom for the American Red Cross’ earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. …

Today’s final note circles back to Celine Dion. Her name certainly sells itself, but her Michael Jackson tribute medley gets a jump-start on a certain Cirque du Soleil production headed to town.

So does her new show’s use of three-dimensional illusions — a variation of the classic “Pepper’s ghost” haunted house effect — making a filmed image lifelike and occupying “real” space, not a flat screen.

Not to say this will drain any tickets from Cirque’s “The Immortal” tribute, which plans some sort of holographic resurrection of Jackson. But it’s a fun development in terms of industry bragging rights, and the issue of who did what first on the Strip.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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