Variety brings the desert to life and up to date
From dealmakers looking to grow their acts, to a top chef cooking unique cuisine, Variety’s Vegas Showbiz Tip Sheet brings the desert to life and up to date
Prinz says clients excited about desert gigs
As head of music for UTA, Rob Prinz has been bringing acts as varied as Celine Dion and Ricky Martin to Las Vegas for years. Now he sees a sea change in both the perception and the reality of his clients’ relationship to the market.
“There was a time when people saw Las Vegas as an elephants’ graveyard of sorts,” he recalls. “But it’s now seen as a sexy place to set up shop. For artists like Bob Seger or Hall and Oates, it’s a significant market and one that they want to return to often.”
Repeat business is certainly a factor in Prinz’s success. Having brokered Jerry Seinfeld’s multi-year residency several years ago, he’s ensured that the comedian maintains a presence at Caesars Palace — one that’s likely to be further extended later this summer. As far as his new talent goes, Prinz is high on mentalist Lyor Suchar, who was recently booked for a residency at the Palms.
“The key to success in Vegas is for a performer to be able to connect to an audience on a basic level,” he says. “That applies to the entire food chain — from singers to comics to jugglers. Being relatable is a must.”
From Streisand to the Stones, Sturm gets it done
In his more than two decades in Las Vegas, Richard Sturm has booked supersized events in virtually every corner of the sports and entertainment realms.
Events include everything from shows by Barbra Streisand and the Rolling Stones to championship boxing matches and the recent bout between Manny Pacquaio and Shane Mosely.
In heading up the recently rebranded MGM Resorts Intl., Sturm has overseen a multiplatform organization that also extends to television and showrooms (which hosts “The Lion King,” Criss Angel and numerous Cirque du Soleil shows).
Sturm says last year was a bit challenging in terms of market share, given the nearly 100 shows operating in Vegas, but notes that in 2011, “We are on track to see the biggest number of events in our history, and in such a competitive environment as Las Vegas, that is no small task.”
He remains bullish looking forward as well, noting that MGM is reupping the Blue Man Group for a stand at the Monte Carlo for next year, and prepping for the 2013 Mandalay Bay opening of the Cirque-Michael Jackson collaboration.
Improv at Harrah’s still providing laughs
Since 1995, the Improv comedy club at Harrah’s Hotel has been serving both locals and tourists on the Las Vegas Strip with its mix of well-known performers and up-and-coming comedians.
Sixteen years later, business remains brisk and the laughs haven’t slowed down either.
In April, co-owners Budd Friedman and Mark Lonow announced a five-year extension with Harrah’s owner Caesars Entertainment. The club, which offers multiple shows each night, helped to launch the careers of Jimmy Fallon and Jay Mohr and other comics such as Steve Byrne and Maryellen Hooper.
“We work very hard at keeping up the quality of acts and bringing in unusual comedians who have a point of view and something to say,” says Friedman.
He recalls when Fallon had to leave the venue after being asked to become a regular on “Saturday Night Live.”
“We’re very proud of our alumni. Although 99.5% of our acts would have made it even without the Improv, we certainly helped them get there a little faster, a little bit easier and a little bit classier than they would have without us,” says Friedman.
‘Holly’s World’ captures life of E! star
When Holly Madison, formerly of E!’s “The Girls Next Door,” pitched “Holly’s World,” a show about her new life as the headliner for “Peepshow” in Las Vegas, the reaction from her former cabler wasn’t too enthusiastic.
“They were like, ‘Vegas won’t work. Why don’t you move to Chicago or Miami?'” recalls Madison, who was told that every year the network produces a pilot set in Las Vegas, and every year that pilot fails.
“We’ve had trepidations doing shows set in Vegas,” admits Jason Sarlanis, E!’s VP of original programming and series development. “It’s always been a great destination for our shows, but it’s been that town that you really want to visit, but don’t know if anyone’s actually living there.”
Madison convinced the network that if she could be a girl next door at the Playboy Mansion, she could certainly make these suburbs relatable.
“What we found appealing is that Holly showed a different side of Vegas,” says Sarlanis. “She showed that there are actually houses there. That things happen during the daytime. It was a fresh take for us.”
Fans of the buxom blonde have found it equally fascinating. “Holly’s World” is averaging 1.6 million viewers in its second season, more than doubling the network’s primetime delivery and scoring its highest ratings among the coveted women 18-34 audience.
Pellegrino brings talents to the Tropicana
A vivacious chef with a devoted local following, Carla Pellegrino brings Italian specialties to the recently opened Bacio at the Tropicana, newly revamped after a $180 million renovation.
“I’m going to try and make everybody happy,” says Pellegrino as she continues her pursuit of authenticity using the freshest of ingredients. Her menu combines northern Italian (“white food”) and Southern Italian dishes such as house-made pasta topped by “juicy slow-cooked marinara.”
Formerly the co-owner/executive chef of Rao’s Las Vegas at Caesars Palace, Bacio is her baby. Since moving to Las Vegas to open Rao’s in 2006, she’s warmed to the town that she describes as an international food capital, much like New York City. She strives for the personal touch in the dining room.
“I like to stop by each table, hear feedback and interact with customers,” says the vet chef who got her start at age 10 in her mother’s catering business.
Food is still a family affair. Always on the go, she also oversees hot eatery Bratalian — a mix of Brazlian and Italian cuisines — in nearby Henderson, along with her sister and brother-in-law.
Caesars Palace houses Celine, Elton
Thanks in large part to the dual efforts of Caesars Palace president Gary Selesner and AEG Live CEO John Meglan, the property has developed a reputation as the town’s biggest music draw. A good bit of the reputation — and revenue — stems from the troika of residencies that have taken root in the Colosseum in the past year.
The much-touted return of Celine Dion earlier this spring generated huge results, with a total of 85,000 seats sold. A second round of dates, kicking off on June 7, is also “nearing total sellout,” according to Selesner. Given Dion’s built-in downtime, Caesars has also booked Elton John and Rod Stewart for alternating stands.
Meglan notes that artists in residence tend to be older and more established, but that the property is looking to broaden the base with an increasing number of spot dates by younger-skewing artists, such as Janet Jackson and Kylie Minogue. Also, Luis Miguel has booked four dates in September, as part of the celebration for Mexico’s Independence Day.
BASE Entertainment spread across the Strip
With footholds in both old-school Las Vegas and on the cutting edge, chairmen Scott Zeiger and Brian Becker bicoastal BASE Entertainment cover virtually the entire waterfront — from the 5-year-old “Phantom” at the Venetian to the recently launched “Absinthe” on Caesars Palace’s Roman Plaza.
Zeiger says the changing infrastructure of Vegas has enabled the company to grow exponentially.
“There was a time when all of the Vegas properties had inhouse entertainment departments that created shows, but that’s no longer the case, and that’s where we come in,” he explains. “We don’t need to create shows from the ground up, but we team with a wide array of creative talent like Jerry Mitchell (who shapes Planet Hollywood’s ‘Peepshow’ extravaganza), and that’s a winning formula.”
Zeiger says the company is in development talks with MGM to bring projects into at least one of its Vegas properties.
Mandarin Oriental soothes the nerves
Calm and serene aren’t customarily associated with a visit to Las Vegas.
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel has wowed guests with its tranquil ambiance since opening in December 2009. A chic retreat from the Strip’s sensory overload, the 392-room hotel forgoes gaming (there’s no cacophonous casino floor), raucous nightclubs and the scene those bring. Adding to the rarefied air: Smoking is prohibited.
Certainly the City Center-located property is not completely without sensuous diversions: Among the highlights are the 27,000-square-foot spa with Eastern-tinged therapies, the sleek sky lobby on the 23rd floor, the view-rich Mandarin Bar that overlooks the dazzle below and a star-chef restaurant, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire. Design is by Adam D. Tihany who’s added many artful touches (the shimmering gold brick lobby wall) and sumptuous oversized bathrooms with soaking tubs.
Guest privacy is also paramount, says general manager Rajesh Jhingon.
“We arrange private entrances, and incredibly unique, private experiences for guests that wish to enjoy a relaxing vacation truly away from the fanfare,” says Jhingon.
Pocketcasino brings gambling on the go
The game-changing device pocketcasino, offered to customers at the Venetian Hotel, may just make the days of playing blackjack from a table as outdated as a rotary phone.
The touchscreen device allows wagers to be made from just about anywhere around the casino — from a gondola, a room, the bar, a buffet station or the sports book. It features a Samsung Galaxy tablet and operates like any mobile phone app.
Chris Reynolds, senior manager for pocketcasino, says the gambling gadget is fast becoming a hit with every gaming segment.
“For the hardcore gambler who really pays attention to the odds, it is more than on par with everything else in the casino,” says Reynolds. “Even our self-proclaimed non-gamblers are interested in it just from a tech point of view.”
Users of the device can bet on everything from free throws incomplete passes to traditional casino games such as craps, baccarat and poker.
Cirque du Soleil dominates the desert
One might be able to fit its nimble performers into a mold, but Cirque du Soleil is the circus that refuses to conform.
That’s why the Montreal-based troupe has become virtually synonymous with the ever-transforming Las Vegas nightlife through its visually breathtaking shows that range from the aquatic to the erotic, with an homage or two to musical royalty in-between.
With seven resident shows that annually rake in more than $600 million — and that’s before merchandising — Cirque du Soleil has been able to capitalize on the rapid development of Sin City for almost two decades. When Vegas wanted to appeal to the entire family in the early ’90s, Cirque introduced their first permanent production, the fantasy spectacle “Mystere.”
Also playing are “O,” “Ka” and “Criss Angel: Believe,” as well as massive productions showcasing the music of the Beatles (“Love”) and Elvis Presley.
Add it all up and 121,000 customers attend a Cirque on a weekly basis.
Their trick to success? Reinvention.
“Every time we’ve branched out we’ve brought a new segment of audience to Cirque,” says senior VP Jerry Nadal. “Every time (founder Guy Laliberte) looks at a new production, he wants to reinvent the company and stay cutting edge, extending the limits of the possible.”
Those limits now include bringing Michael Jackson and Neverland back to life, which Cirque intends to do with a permanent show at Mandalay Bay in 2013.
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