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Stars still shining on the Vegas strip

When the Barbra Streisand concert tickets went on sale, the MGM Grand Hotel’s 96 incoming lines fielded nearly 379,000 calls during the first three hours. According to the hotel’s telephone carrier, more than a million calls were attempted that day.

Evidently, there’s still a market for “name” entertainment in Las Vegas, even at ticket prices ranging up to $ 1,000.

Nevertheless, the entertainment on the Strip tends toward production shows, which entail a large initial investment, but can run indefinitely.

Production shows are spectacular events with emphasis on music, dance, costumes and settings, but usually with no “name” stars involved. Examples include Jeff Kutash’s “Splash,” now at the Riviera; “Donn Arden’s Jubilee!” at Bally’s; “Follies Bergere” at the Tropicana; and (taking matters in a slightly different direction) “Boy-Lesque,” starring Kenny Kerr, at the Sahara.

Generally speaking, according to the Las Vegas News Bureau, tickets to superstar shows generally range from $ 9-$ 95 per person; production shows charge about $ 30. Those Streisand tickets ranged from $ 1,000 each down to $ 50 , refreshments extra.

A production show that’s become a star attraction is the dazzling act by magicians Siegfried & Roy, currently at the Mirage, for which customers pay $ 72 .85 per person — including two drinks, tax and tip. Looming in the wings are magic production shows including “Melinda: The First Lady of Magic & Her Follies Revue,” twice nightly at the Lady L uck, Lance Burton at the Flamingo Hilton and “Spellbound … A Concert of Illusion” at Harrah’s.

In July, the MGM Grand’s 1,700-seat Grand Theatre will become home to “F/X,” a show combining human talent and on-the-edge special effects. Hotel sources, who are keeping mum about the exact nature of the show, claim a pre-production budget of $ 30 million. Until that show opens, star acts will be booked into the Grand Theatre on an occasional basis, but no names have been announced yet.

A recent survey of Las Vegas Strip showrooms found a few of the main theaters featuring stars on the highly profitable New Year’s Eve — Kenny Rogers at the Aladdin, George Carlin at Bally’s, Sheena Easton at Caesars Palace, Debbie Reynolds and Rip Taylor at Reynolds’ Hotel/Casino, Siegfried and Roy at the Mirage, Gladys Knight at the Desert Inn, and — of course — the triple play of Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Don Rickles, and Kenny Loggins in the MGM Grand’s three rooms.

Other stars playing at Strip hotels during December include country stars Tracy Lawrence, Chris LeDoux, Tanya Tucker, Charlie Daniels, Collin Raye, Ronna Reeves, Clint Black, George Strait, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. It’s not all country, though, with the Bolshoi Ballet and Penn & Teller performing (separately, it’s hoped) at Bally’s, Rich Little at the Sahara, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons and the 5th Dimension at the Desert Inn, and Gallagher smashing watermelons into the laps of ringsiders at the Sands.

Well-known names, all of them, but it’s a long way from the days when names like Sinatra, Streisand, Bobby Darin and Judy Garland regularly glowed on Strip marquees — and does anybody remember that both Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich played Las Vegas?

Part of the problem, of course, is that there are fewer stars whose acts would fit a Las Vegas showroom and audience — don’t look for Snoop Doggy Dogg or Nirvana to headline Caesars Palace any time in the near future. Elvis is long gone, and Wayne Newton is evidently moving to Branson, Mo., to join Bobby Vinton , Jim Stafford and Roy Clark.

And, should you insist on Elvis, maybe you’ll settle for a karate-chopping facsimile among the celebrity impersonators at the Imperial Palace’s long-running “Legends in Concert.”

Stand-up comedy prevails at Bally’s branch of the Catch a Rising Star chain of clubs, “An Evening at the Improv” at the Riviera, and the veteran team of Marty Allen & Steve Rossi at Vegas World.

Spectacles of a different kind still include the continuous big top attractions at Circus Circus, and the medieval jousting of “King Arthur’s Tournament” at the Excalibur.

On Sept. 14, the 1,600-seat Las Vegas Hilton Theater opened, completely redesigned, with a continuing production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Starlight Express.”

The show, which is in its ninth year in London, is notable for its cast of rollerskating singers and dancers who zoom off the stage and on tracks around the theater.

The Las Vegas production, directed by Arlene Phillips (who choreographed the show’s London and Broadway stands), features a 14,000-color lighting system, laser and fiber-optic effects and pyrotechnics.

The performers’ costumes alone cost $ 10,000-$ 20,000 each.

Those seeking a touch of the “old” Vegas need look no further than the Sheraton Desert Inn lounge, where for many months what many observers consider to be the best show in town has been playing on and off (and will be back Dec. 28): The reunion of songstress Keely Smith and Sam Butera, the late Louis Prima’s bandleader.

There’s no stage set as such, minimal special lighting and simple costumes. But, for their terrific music and fiery performance, they’re still “The Wildest.”

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