'Day' in Vegas ends with $400 million in sales

When Celine Dion takes her final curtain call in Las Vegas on Saturday, her “A New Day” show will have grossed $400 million in ticket sales over her four-year, eight-month run at Caesars Palace.

Deemed a risky move when Dion began her residence at the then-new 4,100-seat Colosseum, her show has rewritten the rules regarding headliner entertainment in Sin City. She will have racked up 717 performances, provided she performs tonight and Saturday, and she has played to better than 95% capacity throughout the run.

Add sponsorships and merchandise sales, and Dion show’s tally hits a half-billion dollars, according to the show’s promoter, AEG.

In each of its first two years, “New Day” took in $80.5 million; it was the second-highest grossing concert “tour” of 2003 and third highest of 2004. She pulled in $81.3 million in 2005 and $78.1 million last year.

Her residence opened the door to bring in Elton John’s “Red Piano” show at the venue and has spawned imitators such as Barry Manilow at the Las Vegas Hilton. Bette Midler will take over for Dion starting Feb. 20; she is inked to deliver 250 shows within the 2½ years that follow her opening. John will do about 50 shows in 2008, and another performer — rumored to be either Diana Ross or Cher — will be coming in to do an additional 80-100 shows per year when Midler and John are out.

Five years ago, when Caesars Palace built the showroom and partnered with promoter AEG, Las Vegas’ hottest attractions were Siegfried and Roy and Cirque du Soleil’s “O.” Most venues held fewer than 2,000 patrons, and entertainment bookers were looking for the next “Mamma Mia” — a Broadway import that would attract hordes.

“Sometimes, it’s the simplest concept that works best,” said John Meglen, president and co-CEO of Concerts West and officer of AEG Exhibitions. “We had to build (a venue) this large to make the numbers work. A big name entertainer is only going to do one show per night.”

In her first calendar year, Dion attempted to do 200 shows, which proved to be too much as illness forced a dangerous number of cancellations. “Cancel too much, you get a reputation, and it kills you,” Meglen noted.

Her slate was reduced to 160 shows per year while John upped his commitment. To keep the venue operating regularly, it has been used for one-nighters, occasional appearances by Jerry Seinfeld and specialty programs geared to visitors in town for the annual Rodeo Week (Dolly Parton or Tim McGraw, for example), the Chinese New Year and Mexican Independence Day.

The Dion plan that wound up working was to alternate between five shows one week and four shows the next.

Midler will be performing five nights per week, with Mondays and Thursday dark. She is near the end of working on the show in New York and will be coming to L.A. to start rehearsals this month at Sony Studios. Dion, meanwhile, begins a worldwide tour Feb. 14 in support of her latest album, “Taking Chances.”

“This has created a paradigm in this marketplace when you are high end,” Meglen said. “The MGM model is Cirque-based, and it’s very successful and a very good formula. Since we’ve been doing this — and we have been approached with a lot of ideas (for shows in the Colosseum) — we have not changed from our model: The headliner with a creative show that cannot tour. The only place you can see it is in Las Vegas.”

AEG will also be using the resident-artist model for Echelon, which is expected to open in either 2010 or 2011.

Company is also in the process of building a new Joint at the Hard Rock that will open in summer 2009. Capacity will be 4,000 general admission or 3,000 seated, and it primarily program one-nighters.

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