Thursday, September 18, 2008

This Week's LVW Column: Star Blight

Star Blight

Despite Dion’s run, Vegas is still basically where passé stars come to roost


I was pushing my editor at a major newspaper hard last week to let me do a piece on Donny and Marie Osmond’s surprising resurgence as a resident act on the Las Vegas Strip. She wasn’t buying it.

“This is typical Vegas,” she IM’d back. “They’re passé.”

But wait! No! Donny’s been on stage lo these many years, and Marie’s big again thanks to Dancing With The Stars.

“Passé,” she repeated. “It’s what Vegas does.”

That rankled me. I’ve always taken it on as one of my missions as a journalist to promulgate a more accurate picture of what Vegas is and does out there into a world transfixed by clichés and shorthand.

To some extent, Vegas has won the battle on several fronts, becoming well-known and respected for its impressive food scene, its beautiful hotel accommodations, its top-shelf shopping. You don’t hear much anymore about the $2.99 steak dinners, squalid rooms designed to propel guests back onto the casino floor or seedy T-shirt stands.

So here I was, taking up the battle. Vegas has changed, I insisted.

“Look at Bette, Cher, Manilow, Elton John!” I shouted back in all-caps.

But she then pointed out the obvious, the truth I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge but which has been there in front of me all along. “Passé, passé, passé, passé,” she wrote.

And all I could think of as those words appeared was: OMG! She’s right!

Ladies and gentlemen, at some point when we weren’t looking, the Céline Revolution was canceled. In fact, I think many of us forgot what the Céline Revolution was supposed to be.

Read the rest HERE


lrichmagic2 said...

One argument.

Bette, Cher, Manilow, and Elton are all past their prime or passe perhaps. However, the lot of them are artists who can and do do something that Donny and Marie, Toni Braxton, Wayne Newton, and yes even Frank Sinatra could not.

The Colosseum artists are all arena players. Each of their last gigs were arena tours and were some of the highest grossing tours of the years they were working. Elton John continues to tour, in arenas, during his off time in Vegas. In that sense, they are every bit on par with Celine Dion.

Touring acts are typically dominated by such oldie acts because there is expendable income in that age bracket. And decades worth of fans. Which is why The Rolling Stones (and this fall Madonna) are one of the few acts in the US able to fill a stadium.

Realistically could Aguilera, Spears, Timberlake, Stefani, et al sustain a Las Vegas showroom. I am not sure. But keep in mind that Celine was 10 years older than Britney, Justin, or Christina when she started her gig. At their age, she was still on the road.

And one could argue, that Dion herself was becoming less relevant as a 'pop' star herself. Her 'My Heart Will Go On' peak was in 1998 followed by time off to start her family. By the time that her comeback album hit charts the music market was a very different place and from then to now I don't believe she has produced a Top 40 'hit.' But she has moved comfortably into the A/C market; a market where artists like Midler, Manilow, Cher, and Elton are embraced.

Just some thoughts.....

lrichmagic2 said...

Two more thoughts I had, and can not figure out how to edit my previous post.

What does the term 'relevant' mean?

The Colosseum/Hilton acts still are able to move CD's to some extent. Each of their last two albums have sold decently and in some cases even been at the top of the charts. As has Dion's.

Toni Braxton has not. Donny and Marie have not.

None of the Colosseum/Hilton acts would get play on MTV. But neither did Dion at the time that her show opened.

ChrisR said...

Of course Vegas residencies are 'passe'. To sell out a large theatre every night for several years, you've got to have had a career well past the point of lighting up the headlines as the next big thing. You need to have built up a huge fan base, recorded several albums. That means you're no longer 'new' or of mass interest to the press. The music press likes new. People, however, will happily take old standards, and the real long lasters will pick up new fans over the course of 10-20 years... as they become part of the cultural musical landscape they will become established enough to do a residency.

Vegas won't have a one album wonder ensconced in a 2,000 room theatre... they'd sell maybe a few days, but not weeks and years as the fan base is not there (they artist is still growing it, and it'd be a backwards move for them to expect the public to come to them).

Tracey said...

Well the Osmonds embarked on a tour starting in the UK where they sold out Wembley in 1 hour, that is pretty impressive. They ended in Salt Lake City at the Pioneer Days concert, where the conference center was packed with over 20,000 each night. I saw the show in Vegas and it is fabulous and entertaining.

R-J Guy said...

i dont think steve's saying that there's anything wrong with filling showrooms with proven sellers. that makes sense. What he's saying is that the buzz after celine was that all these CURRENT stars in their primes were going to descend on Vegas and not a single one did. Right?

Charles in Richmond, VA said...

So, much to your chagrin, would you have to include Criss Angel as one who came to Vegas in the peak of his popularity to fill a showroom? Granted he's not a singer but he is a performer.

Maya said...

Chrisr is correct. Great comment. It takes a long career to build the fanbase necessary for a longterm residency.

What is passe, btw? All of the artists mentioned in the blog can be seen on television in specials or on the entertainment shows (except perhaps Braxton). I've seen Donny and Marie hosting a couple of things and of course Marie on Dancing with the Stars. I did see a report that they'd sold out Wembley and the O2 arena.

Sure, none of these stars are A list necessarily anymore, and some are more able to move CDs than others. But all have long careers and maintain some level of presence on tv.

Is that really passe?

gregoryzephyr said...

Why such disdain for established entertainers but fascination with Broadway hits? Would your editor say that The Producers, Mamma Mia, Phantom of the Opera are "passe"? After all, they were proven and long running shows? Apparently long running Broadway hit shows opening in Vegas are newsworthy but long running successful singers are "passe." Just goes to show you that entertainment writers generally reside in their own world from the rest of us.


Actually, Gregory, I had meant to include in this column some discussion of Broadway but I don't get unlimited space. I think it has always depended on what Bway shows. Hairspray and Jersey Boys, for instance, got very little ink nationally. Phantom did because it had been out fo the spotlight for awhile and there was a Vegasy angle to it with the $40m theater.

Also, it's not that the national media just ignores Vegas entertainment because the acts are passe. I did lots of stuff about Cher, Bette, etc. It's just that I think we had a mistaken impression that we're in a new era of Vegas entertainment and we're not; we're in the same era as ever. Celine was an anomaly.

Re: Criss Angel. Yes, I agree, he is the closest thing to Celine in this respect. I should've mentioned him and I thought if it but forgot when I was writing to do so.

Suzanne said...

Speaking as a completely average Vegas tourist, I'm glad the Celine Revolution never caught on. I won't spend $200 a ticket for a show that isn't a once in a lifetime opportunity - I'd rather spend that money playing blackjack and meeting random people. I will spend money for Wayne Newton, a Rat Pack Tribute and some of the smaller shows which I find to be just as entertaining as the big names.

Maya said...

strip podcast guy, I meant to ask this in my earlier post - what would you like Vegas to be? Are you thinking a bunch of Celine-type shows? For Vegas not to be "passe," what should it be?


Maya -- i don't have any problem with what Vegas is. Passe acts are great, too. But there was an expectation that there would be all these major stars in their prime settling here thanks to the Celine example. It didn't happen. That's all I'm pointing out!

mike_ch said...

When Vegas loses it marbles, which is what's slowly happening as the economy sinks and all the experimental things come unhinged, it reverts back to a big fancy Branson, Missouri. Donny & Marie are classic Branson.

D&M at the Flamingo is today what Don Rickles at the Desert Inn was a decade ago. I can't imagine anything thinking it's a big deal for any other reason than Harrah's said it is.

lrichmagic2 said...

I would argue that shows like Avenue Q, Spamalot, Hairspray, Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys, and the Producers are 'current' and could liken them to a relevant pop-star. They each are from this decade at least.

And all (but two) have closed!

Phantom is the Cher of this analogy. It is passe in as much as they don't make shows like that anymore. And it is now approaching its third decade. It has toured the world already and is settling down in a super-sized Vegas way.

Judy and Dagmar Jenner said...

Good points, Steve. Call it what you may -- Vegas is full of fabulous entertainers. Many of them have been around for a long, long time, and, of course, command high prices, which is mostly affordable for their main fan base, the baby boomers. Our city might not be the best place for an indie rock band to start their career (with several exceptions), but that's OK. The theaters are filling, people are coming to see the passé artists -- so it's working.

Jinx said...

I remember the press Celine generated and being there at the time of the opening, and there was a huge buzz for the show, some lukewarm initial reviews as well, but it was different.

Prince is the only thing that made me sit up since then and say, hmm, chris angel too, to a degree, but magicians have not always had a lot of venues to regularly perform outside of Vegas, and outside of Copperfield not many could tour and command an audience.

I'm intrigued by the rumors of Mariah being signed by PH, they may just be that internet rumors, but in my opinion it's as big if not bigger then Celine at Caesars. Is she pass her prime, perhaps, but she's still relevant at least as much as Celine was and was a bigger star at her peak then Celine anyway.

Liberace said...

"Donny and Marie" were passé from Day One. "Wayne" wasn't even passé when he started; he was a joke. They may have filled venues and sold records, but let's not confuse musicianship with box office.

Oh, I forgot, this is Vegas. Carry on.

lrichmagic2 said...

Mariah I think is still somewhat relevant. And continues to make music that she hopes will get her Top 40/MTV attention. But on tour Mariah's record sales have had a weird way of failing to translate to ticket sales.

Following her breakdown but prior to her Mimi resurgence Mariah even played the Colosseum as part of her tour. Celine, aside from her residency at Caesars, has been strictly arenas (or larger in other parts of the world) for more than a decade.

So, I'm not sure that I agree with Jinx's statement that Mariah at her peak was bigger than Celine.

Jinx said...

Good point Irishmagic, I guess its a perception thing at least for me and certainly a U.S bias I would say, I don't doubt that Celine's got a wider world wide audience, but at the same time she may very well have a larger U.S one too, well certainly now at least due in part to the Vegas show. My main point though is that Mariah would be similar being booked in Vegas to Celine in that she's not quite a has been.

However if Whitney comes back and settles in at a casino, that would be has been territory :)

JIM J said...

this is a great read. i enjoy this blog a bunch.