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Forget the clichés about the Vegas residency being a déclassé prelude to retirement. Since 2003, when Céline Dion began her $681.3 million residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, talent has been clamoring for coveted spots on Vegas stages. Chart toppers who could fill arenas across the country are setting up shop in Vegas to take advantage of state-of-the-art venues such as Dolby Live at Park MGM or the new Resorts World Theatre. Among the megastars with recent runs are Silk Sonic, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Usher, whose kinetic show was a celebrity magnet, attracting the likes of Tom Holland and Zendaya.
But with all of the above moving on, who will take their place as must-see resident artists? The most obvious — or at least most imminent — candidate is U2, whose 25-date show, U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere, debuts Sept. 29 at the 20,000-seat venue, the most capacious to ever host a residency.
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Live Nation Las Vegas president Kurt Melien says Latin artists could be the next major trend in residencies. “We are very close to inking a deal with a Latin artist who primarily performs in Spanish, which will be completely novel for this market,” he says.
Bobby Reynolds, senior vice president of AEG Presents Las Vegas, which works exclusively with Encore Theater at Wynn, Resorts World Theatre and the Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, says they have their eye on comedy and magic. The 1,500-seat Encore Theater sees a regular rotation of comedians fresh from the “Netflix” special circuit.
Even though it is small by Vegas standards, it is known in the industry as a “headliner house.”
“It is the only place you can see Lionel Richie in that intimate of a venue,” he says of the resident artist who only otherwise plays arenas.
“Sebastian Maniscalo [who does more than a dozen dates a year] at Encore Theater has been a huge win for us,” he says. AEG has added a slew of other comedians who keep returning including Taylor Tomlison, Nate Bargatze, Ali Wong, Jim Gaffigan for multiple dates. This summer, Theo Von did four sold out nights at Encore Theater and moves to Resorts World Theatre this fall.
David Blaine who started across the street at Resorts World Theatre is moving to Encore Theater with a new residency starting New Year’s Eve.
A smaller venue got Kylie Minogue to sign the deal on a long-speculated residency. She starts at the 1,000-seat Voltaire in Venetian on Nov. 3, performing on select Friday and Saturday nights through May. The theater is being outfitted into more of a classic Las Vegas showroom style, with table seating and champagne and caviar service. It is meant to be a pregame, main event and late night after party versus a traditional concert, holding its crowd well beyond the typical 90-minute show runtime.
Voltaire is conceived by producer Michael Gruber, who is also a Venetian executive and former talent agent. Prior to this role he was head of new business at Caesars Entertainment and worked on residency deals with Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban. He also brought Hell’s Kitchen to film at Caesars for two seasons.
“Today, gambling is 22 percent of the draw, so to capture the other 78 percent, you have to [give people something to do] that includes food, beverage and entertainment. When you go to a show, and it’s an hour and 10 minutes, or to a concert, and it’s an hour and 30 minutes. What do you do next?” Gruber says. “Voltaire is an option for people to get a VIP experience that they feel good about. This is their night with a global superstar like Kylie.”
The 4,100-seat Colosseum at Caesars Palace, meanwhile, is hosting Garth Brooks and Adele, and folks are paying a premium to see them in a (relatively) intimate setting: Ticket prices start at about $600 for Adele and $350 for Brooks.
Jason Gastwirth, president of entertainment at Caesars, says the VIP addons that now come along with the residency opportunity are deeply attractive to both artists and fans. They allow the artist to build their endorsements into the audience experience. Caesars sold Sting’s wine at the bar in the Colosseum when he performed there, Adele’s merch shop is packed even when she’s not performing and John Legend’s rosé was the focal point of his meet n’ greet add-on, which included a Q&A and intimate performance.
“We’ve had artists where our venues are the only place you can see them in North America,” he says, “But in other cases, it’s a hybrid approach, with a residency in Las Vegas, and then, they perform on the east coast or internationally. Along with Live Nation, we engage with them to find out what might be the right time for a residency. We look for those who have a wide global following and those who don’t want to travel around as much as you do with a tour.”
According to Pollstar, the average ticket price for live entertainment in Vegas from 2021-22 was $151.69 — the highest in America. But that alone doesn’t explain why superstars are flocking to the Strip.
“There’s a reason why these big residencies don’t exist in other places,” says Melien. “Because there’s no other city that has invested this much capital to building theaters uniquely for music.”
Adele’s production has been likened to a 40-truck stadium show being staged in a 4,100-capacity theater each weekend. She even brought in her own state-of-the-art immersive sound by L-Acoustics L-ISA technology, ultra-high-resolution spatial audio.
Melien says he knows something is going right based on the number of artists who initiate contact. “When I started in this business just about 20 years ago, it was very rare to get an incoming call,” he says. “Now it’s about 50/50, and you never know who will be on the other end of the line.”
This story first appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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