Lady Gaga in Las Vegas: A history of Sin City residencies, from Liberace and Frank Sinatra to Celine Dion

Star begins 41-date stay at legendary Nevada gambling resort on 28 December

Joe Sommerlad@JoeSommerlad
Friday 28 December 2018 10:15
Lady Gaga wows Super Bowl with half-time performance

Lady Gaga will commence her Las Vegas residency today.

The superstar, last seen making her debut as a lead actress in Bradley Cooper’s film A Star is Born, will give 41 performances at the Park Theater at Park MGM as part of the run, presenting two different shows: Enigma and Jazz & Piano.

The former will be “a brand-new odyssey of her pop hits built as an experience unlike any other in Las Vegas”, according to the resort, while the latter will present stripped-down versions of her best known songs.

The tradition of established musicians playing the desert gambling Mecca dates back to Liberace, who first entertained audiences holidaying in Nevada in 1944 and continued to do so until his death in 1987, earning as much as $300,000 a week and embodying the glitz of the resort better than anybody.

The Rat Pack were the next to entice crowds away from the slot machines and gambling tables: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop swilling cocktails and performing together at the Copa Room of the Sands Casino over the three-week period it took to shoot Lewis Milestone’s heist caper Ocean’s 11 in spring 1960.

Elvis Presley found redemption in Vegas, packing out the International Hotel for seven years between 1969 and 1976. He had actually played the New Frontier Hotel and Casino for two weeks at the very start of his career in 1956 but struggled to win over an ageing audience bemused by his energetic brand of Dixie-fried rock and roll. “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it”, he might have said, anticipating Marty McFly.

In the Seventies and Eighties, the entertainment on offer was largely provided by plastinated crooners such as Wayne Newton, Barry Manilow and Tom Jones – the latter a stalwart of Sin City, having reportedly played there at least once a week for more than 42 years.

These tuxedoed veterans represented a safe choice but accepting the silver dollar meant agreeing to be preserved in formaldehyde, belting out fan service night after night rather than trialling more challenging new material.

Other after-dinner entertainment included stand-up from comedians such as Don Rickles and Jackie Mason and magic from the likes of Siegfried and Roy, David Copperfield and Penn and Teller, for whom playing Vegas represented the lucrative pinnacle of their careers, not a nadir.

By the Nineties, the evening attractions laid on by the hotels included more theatrical fare like Cirque du Soleil and imported Broadway productions.

Enjoy unlimited access to 70 million ad-free songs and podcasts with Amazon Music Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

Sign up

But everything changed in 2003 when Canadian diva Celine Dion signed on to sing her greatest hits at Caesar’s Palace.

Still in her prime – “My Heart Will Go On” was a worldwide smash just six years earlier – Dion foresaw the potential of a residency, tapping into a captive audience with money to spend while simultaneously eliminating the need for exhausting and logistically complex touring. In her hands, playing Vegas felt like a coronation, a confirmation of her status as showbiz royalty, not an admittance of defeat or acceptance of partial retirement.

Her show A New Day... duly ran for four years in a 4,100-seater auditorium, the Colosseum, custom-built for the purpose for a cool $95m. According to Billboard, the extravaganza is the most successful in the resort’s history, earning almost $400m after being viewed by more than three million paying punters over 719 performances.

“Celine was a pioneer without question,” Kurt Melien, vice president of entertainment at Caesar’s​, told The Daily Telegraph in 2013. “Twenty years ago, we couldn’t have got someone the stature of Britney Spears to appear in Vegas [she did, in 2013]. Stars likes her would never have considered it if Celine hadn’t paved the way. She changed the face of modern Vegas.”

Dion returned to Vegas in March 2011 and is there still, her new show Celine raking in even more chips and set to run until next June.

Her success inspired Elton John to follow suit. His show The Red Piano followed at the Colosseum between February 2004 and March 2009, running to 248 shows and earning $169m before it was replaced by residency runs by Cher and Bette Midler respectively, the latter’s suffering dwindling audiences when the Great Recession hit a decade ago.

Another key development brought a change to the city’s nightlife at this point: Paul Oakenfold began a residency at the Palm Casino’s Rain nightclub, a deliberate bid to attract a younger clientele. It worked, heralding the belated arrival of DJs, clubbing and electronic music on The Strip. Calvin Harris, Diplo, Tiesto and David Guetta would all follow.

Country star Shania Twain performed her show Still the One at Caesar’s in 2012, complete with live horses, but her audience was much like Celine Dion’s, comprised of fans in their 30s nostalgic for her Nineties heyday.

The arrival of Britney the following December saw the pop promoters finally tap into the younger crowd arriving in town for a good time. Like Elvis, Britney used the opportunity as a platform from which to launch a triumphant comeback, her show Piece of Me running for four years and 250 performances at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino.

Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez have since rolled out big shows of their own, the former set to return to the Colosseum in 2019 for The Butterfly Returns.

The concept of “mini-residencies” has also taken off in the last 15 years, with CeeLo Green, Bruno Mars and Pitbull all mounting short runs, with CeeLo’s Loberace a tribute to the man who kick-started the whole residency phenomenon in the first place.

Even rock acts are getting in on the act. Meat Loaf, Guns N Roses and Motley Crue have all performed, while Blink-182 and Aerosmith will be among Gaga’s competitors for ticket sales next year.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

With gaming increasingly taking place on people’s phones rather than at real roulette tables, the “Entertainment Capital of the World” has been forced to reinvent itself.

So far, it has proven itself remarkably adept at doing so, much like its latest acquisition, herself no stranger to a drastic change of direction.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments