Lately everything’s been coming up sevens for Las Vegas. After ditching the misguided family friendliness of a few years ago, Vegas rediscovered its naughty nature. Following a fresh influx of adult-oriented attractions and accommodations, grownups started gravitating to Sin City again. The lesson learned: This is no time to let it ride. Even the most successful enterprises understand the power of Vegas’ “more is more” mindset, evolving in the hopes of keeping the attention of those cash-dropping visitors. At 99 years old, Vegas remains as vivacious as a showgirl, and she’s unafraid to admit to needing a nip here and a tuck there to keep the glamour from fading.
No aspect of Vegas has enjoyed a more refreshing facelift than its entertainment scene. Yes, the Howie Mandels still headline and the Wayne-iacs are going strong, but the resounding success of A-list extravaganzas has resulted in a stellar series of shows not seen since the heyday of Frank, Dean and Sammy. Following Celine Dion’s lead and giving her a well-deserved break, Elton John has stepped into her slot at Caesars Palace Colosseum with his extravagant David LaChapelle-designed stage show “The Red Piano” (complete with cheeky homoerotic imagery and mammoth video of Pamela Anderson on a stripper pole) as part of a three-year performing stint there. It seems such a sure bet that an entire specialty store opened in the Forum Shops to peddle Elton-branded merchandise. Look for the success of Dion, John and Jerry Seinfeld (another Caesars regular) to inspire other peaking superstars to find long-term home bases in Vegas.
Cirque du Soleil’s latest smash is the adult-only, erotically charged “Zumanity,” an inspired combination of visually arresting sensual imagery, awe-inspiring athleticism and acrobatics with a hearty dollop of racy wit. Recently tweaked and revamped after its debut performances proved too hot for even the Vegas audience, “Zumanity” blends the best of Cirque’s innovative staging with the titillating sensibility of a traditional topless review. Cirque du Soleil now is teaming with the MGM Grand for yet another high-tech epic extravaganza, this time rumored to include such new elements as CGI, puppetry and martial arts.
Possibly inspired by “Zumanity’s” sexy success, the Rio will close its “Showgirls” revue to make way for “Erocktica: Sex, Sweat & Rock ‘n’ Roll” in May, mixing classic rock performed by a live band with a sultry femme element described as akin to the playful, pulchritudinous pages of Maxim magazine. And taking a page out of the successful “Mamma Mia!” run at Mandalay Bay, Paris Las Vegas is launching “We Will Rock You,” the lavish hit rock musical first staged in London focusing on the life of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury and featuring 25 of the group’s hit songs. The show, produced by Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor (as well as actor Robert De Niro), debuts in September in the intimate 1,450-seat Paris Theatre des Arts. Meanwhile, the Mirage is planning to conjure a replacement act for the sidelined Siegfried & Roy–rumors are buzzing that it will be a “Yellow Submarine” musical featuring classic Beatles tunes, as interpreted by Cirque du Soleil.
While the interactive ride trend seems to be fading fast, “Star Trek: The Experience” at the Las Vegas Hilton kicked things up to warp speed with the recent addition of the darker, edgier “Borg Invasion 4D,” in which terrifying drones of the relentless, cybernetic Borg Collective attempt to capture and assimilate Vegas visitors. The new experience uses 3-D and 4-D effects to create a chilling virtual adventure in the popular “Trek” universe.
Beyond the entertainment scene, other Vegas heavy-hitters are making alterations and additions to their properties well before their guests grow bored. Even the ultra-successful 2-year-old hotel/casino the Palms, with its oh-so-trendy clubs Rain and Ghost Bar, has amped up its edge with the March addition of the Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company, the first in-casino tattoo parlor: It’s open until 3 a.m. on weekends, perfect for when you just need to add a new tat to your backside right now.
Few locales are as forward-minded as Mandalay Bay, which already features a wealth of splendors. The mega-resort has unveiled its lavish yet elegant and understated stand-alone sister property THEhotel, now the largest hotel in all of Las Vegas with the largest standard suites in town. And what suites they are: There’s a living area with massive flat-screen TV, DVD player, private bar, professional desk space and fax machine; and a luxurious bedroom, with posh down comforters, dark wood armoires, another flat-screen TV and a sumptuously appointed bathroom (where a more compact TV is mounted).
The hotel has raised the bar significantly and ushered in a new era of sophisticated luxury, with its $25 million, two-story Bathhouse gym and spa, public spaces decorated with exquisite artwork by the likes of Andy Warhol and Richard Serra–and NO intrusive casino. Yet it’s not without a hint of Vegas-y sin: With spring in the air, guests are invited to try out the newly created, private Moorea Beach Club just off Mandalay Bay’s pool, where European-style sunbathing–that’s topless to you and me–is allowed.
Nearby, the recently unveiled Mandalay Place offers a wealth of unique-to-Vegas shopping options, including Samantha Chang, Shoe Obsession, Just Cavalli and the first Nike Golf store, as well as dining and drinking spots such as the Burger Bar, where you can sample a killer Kobe beef burger, and 55 Degrees, a sleek, futuristic-looking wine bar offering a wide range of vino by the bottle or the glass.
Add-on towers seem to be all the rage in Las Vegas these days, but then bigger has always been better in Glitter Gulch. There’s the new $275 million, 1,013-room Venezia Tower at the Venetian, complete with chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon restaurant. The MGM Grand has the Emerald Tower, which took its room total past 5,000, while Caesars Palace has its upcoming Caesars Tower, a 345-foot-tall, 949-suite Romanesque luxury wing–apropos of his song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Elton John provided an autographed gold brick for the foundation. (Other upgrades afoot at Caesars include an open-air Roman Plaza, an expanded Forum Shops and a new Forum Casino entrance.)
The club scene continues to thrive–the lines are getting so long outside Tabu, Curve, Light, Ice, etc., that lasvegas.com has introduced an online service allowing clubbers to pre-book a VIP host to escort them past the velvet ropes at some of the most in-demand nightspots, with prices varying by locale. The latest arrival is Plush Ultra Lounge & Supper Club at the Rampart Casino/JW Marriott in Summerlin, the brainchild of owner/chef Gustav Mauler in partnership with Hollywood’s Key Club. Meanwhile, the more venerable scenes are getting mod new makeovers. MGM’s recently revamped Studio 54’s new mojo clearly worked: Britney Spears recently stopped into the jam-packed disco and partied with her hometown posse until 4 a.m.–it seems the scene was sizzling enough to keep her out of the wedding chapel this time around.