The Colosseum at Caesars Palace may have been referred to in the past as “the house that Celine built,” but as the venue’s original marquee artist steps away, that house is due for a major rebuilding. At the same time that Caesars’ decision to take over management of the facility from longtime operator AEG and bring in Live Nation represents a marked shift, the 15-year-old, 4,300-seat Colosseum will get an ambitious overhaul this summer, significantly upping its game in the face of increased competition.
“This represents a culmination of a process to reinvent and reinvest,” says Caesars Palace’s regional president, Gary Selesner, during a tour of the Colosseum, referring to an estimated “quarter billion dollars” they have sunk into Caesars Palace over the last three years. “These improvements will lift it to a whole new level.”
With more than 40 venues nationally, Caesars Entertainment prides itself on being the third largest promoter in the U.S. after Live Nation and AEG as it eyes yet another expansion to its Las Vegas properties, which include not just the Colosseum but Zappos at Planet Hollywood (formerly the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts, and long the town’s premiere rock venue for touring bands).
Under the stewardship of Jason Gastwirth, named president of entertainment for Caesars last year, the Colosseum is set for a summer refurbishing that will bring its audio, lighting and video to state-of-the-art capability. The centerpiece of the revamp is a one-of-a-kind, automated lift seating system that will allow for reconfigurations, notably a general-admission, standing-room pit that doesn’t block views and will boost the venue’s capacity.
The move accompanies Caesars’ decision to take over from AEG operations at the Colosseum, which ushered in the current era of residencies with Celine Dion in March 2011 and went on to host the likes of Elton John, Rod Stewart and Mariah Carey. They’re not going it alone; Caesars is bringing in Live Nation, their longtime promotion partner at Zappos. That venue’s GM, longtime live exec Edward “Tex” Dike, will now assume the same duties at the Colosseum. But they’re not leaving former operator AEG out of the picture. AEG will continue to promote shows at Caesars venues, including an upcoming James Taylor residency that starts later this month and runs through mid-May.
On partnering with Live Nation while continuing to work with AEG on future promotions, Gastwirth says: “This is a relatively small town as far as that’s concerned. Our goal is to have good relationships with everybody.”
It’s all part of a renewed emphasis on entertainment in Las Vegas as a stand-alone entity, apart from the city’s traditional emphasis on gambling. With the Oakland Raiders set to join the NHL’a Golden Knights in playing in the relatively new T-Mobile Arena, and venues like James Dolan’s proposed Sphere, Caesars Entertainment has to keep pace with a very competitive Vegas entertainment landscape. No longer is music and entertainment a loss leader meant to keep people in the casinos; it now has its own pressure to contribute to the bottom line as a self-sufficient profit center.
Caesars already books several other venues in town, including the final months of Donny and Marie Osmond across the street at the Flamingo, where they’ve been doing their show for 11 years (recently announcing they’ll leave in November), and the R-rated carnival attraction “Absinthe.” On May 2, Caesars will open the Jimmy Kimmel Comedy Club at the LINQ Promenade. Not coincidentally, Zappos has just hosted Kimmel, the city’s native son, during a first-ever week of live broadcasts of his nightly talk show from the venue.
Entertainment president Gastwirth (pictured above) is proud that Dion’s 2011 Colosseum residency changed the city’s view towards musical entertainment. “People didn’t understand it at first because it was so unique, but it’s become a major aspect of our live programming at both the Colosseum and Zappos.” The latter has hosted multiple engagements by the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Backstreet Boys and Lionel Richie, with Christina Aguilera up next in May
Gastwirth is confident the retooling, which also includes revamped VIP suites and luxury amenities, will enable the Colosseum to continue as a coveted destination for superstar acts, either as part of a tour routing or for multiple residency dates.
“We’re doubling down on this theater while it’s still at the top of its game to bring it to the next level,” insists Gastwirth. “Las Vegas is a growing entertainment market, and this is an opportunity for us to stay in that leadership position. These improvements will make this the most versatile venue of its kind.
“The automated lift system will allow us an unprecedented flexibility for multiple seating configurations, which broadens the type of entertainment genre we can present here,” Gastwirth continues. “This allows for a fully customized environment that enables the artist to engage with the audience in a more intimate way. This is a refinement rather than a full-scale renovation. The artist remains our focus; the technology — the lighting, sound and video — is only meant to enhance the audience’s experience.”
Taking in Donny and Marie at the Flamingo across the street, you get a glimpse of a throwback to an old-school Vegas show room, as the siblings alternate good-natured putdowns of one another and kibbitzing with the blue-haired ladies in the front row. The show is surprisingly rocking, as Marie performs a sassy take on “Walk This Way” and Donny pumps out the Osmonds’ unlikely French heavy metal hit, “Crazy Horses.” But these golden oldies are, of course, still part of your father’s Sin City. By contrast, much of the rest of today’s Las Vegas has come a long way from the days of the Rat Pack, Wayne Newton and Engelbert Humperdinck, with rockers like Aerosmith and the Who making what could be their last stands while catering to affluent baby boomers and nostalgic millennials alike.
“Entertainment has been an important element in the rise of Caesars Palace,” concludes Selesner. “We see a great future here.”