© Bally's
Donn Arden's Jubilee!, Bally's Las Vegas is a classic Vegas experience that has over twenty-five years of sequined showgirls under its gaudy belt.
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updated 2/21/2007 6:12:01 PM ET 2007-02-21T23:12:01

Not everyone can spend their entire vacation at the poker table, so when you're not in one of Vegas' Hottest Card Rooms, you'll probably be seated inside one of the city's huge entertainment complexes. Caesar's Colosseum, the Mandalay Bay Events Center and the MGM Grand Garden Arena are all examples of the glitzy venues that host long-running Broadway productions, the ever-popular Cirque du Soleil shows, and headliners like Celine Dion and Danny Gans. Now termed "Broadway West," Las Vegas is where the most successful musicals come to roost, and it has also become ground zero for new and exciting shows from stars like Prince, Elton John and Jerry Seinfeld.

While old standbys like Cirque du Soleil's 'Mystere,' which opened in 1993, and the 'Copacabana' man, Barry Manilow, have long formed the backbone of Vegas entertainment, more recent hits like 'The Producers' replenish the pool of talent. Not only are now-classic Vegas shows such as "Jubilee!" still top-sellers, but newcomers like the Pussycat Dolls also have crowds clamoring for tickets. According to the most recent report from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 71 percent of visitors see shows on which they spend an average of $106 -- signs of a booming industry.

Eager to attract box-office smashes and big name artists, large casino resorts like the Bellagio and the Mirage often custom build theaters for shows. In June, the Venetian unveiled a $40 million theater for a special production of Andrew Lloyd Weber's perennial favorite, "Phantom - a Las Vegas Spectacular." And indeed it is. Cut down to 95 minutes, the show includes enough mind-numbing special effects to dazzle the least Broadway-literate show goers. The Palms is also planning a new state-of-the art theater called The Pearl, which will open on April 21 with a kick-off concert by Gwen Stefani.

Due to her enormous success at Caesar's Colosseum, Celine Dion signed on to another year of concerts in 2007, and is well on her way to joining the ranks of Vegas legends like Wayne Newton and Burt Bacharach. An exhausting five nights a week, her show, "A New Day…" continues to be a huge draw, due in part to its rambunctious staging, originally envisioned by Cirque director Franco Dragone. When Celine's on break, Elton John's "The Red Piano" takes over the theater in an over-the-top show produced by celebrity photographer and director David LaChapelle.

Beyond those two towering talents, a number of pop stars have begun staging their shows in Vegas resorts to much acclaim. Prince debuted at the Rio last November, and performs weekly in his sexy, low-key venue, Club 3121, a type of supper club where you can reserve a dinner package for $350.76 per person. Not to be forgotten, Grammy-winning singer Toni Braxton has taken up residence at the Flamingo, and rumors are rampant that Michael Jackson is planning a Vegas show as well.

As the longest-running Broadway production on the Strip, "Mamma Mia!" continues to be its most popular and successful musical. Jennifer Leo, founder of the blog LasVegasLogue, recommends the show because it's "good, all-around fun." Calling the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino its home, the show still runs at full length in the same theater where it debuted in 2003. Cast member Rick Negron, who plays Sam, attributes the musical's success on the Strip to its worldwide appeal. "People from all over the world know what it's about. When people come to Vegas, they want to go for the sure thing."

© The Wynn
Combining the wit of Monty Python and a Grammy-winning score, "SPAMALOT' was a huge success on Broadway and on its national tour. The buzz surrounding the musical is sure to translate into a Vegas showstopper when it opens in the special Grail Theater at the Wynn on March 8. Actor John O'Hurley stars and award-winning filmmaker Mike Nichols directs.
Broadway West is also fertile ground for new shows that have enjoyed recent success in New York and on national tours. With former Baywatch star David Hasselhoff in the flamboyant role of Roger DeBris, "The Producers" at Paris Las Vegas is generating a lot of buzz, and even fellow thespian Negron concedes that he pulls it off well. The truncated, 90-minute version has been getting really positive reviews since opening on February 9 -- easy to imagine, considering its record-breaking number of Tony awards. Yet another surefire blockbuster is Monty Python's "SPAMALOT," opening at the special Grail Theater in the Wynn on March 8, and freshened up by a star turn from John O'Hurley and legendary director Mike Nichols. Looking even farther ahead, a production of "Jersey Boys" is supposed to open in spring 2008, and more will likely test their Vegas staying power in the seasons ahead.

Choosing between the six different Cirque du Soleil shows may be one of the hardest decisions you'll make in Vegas -- second to whether you should make yet another trip to the casino ATM. Older shows like "O!" "Mystere," and "Zumanity" paved the way for daring new shows like "KA" and "Love." Cirque du Soleil Company Manager, Calum Pearson, says that the preeminence of Cirque du Soleil on the Strip is because "the history of Las Vegas has always turned toward the spectacular and exclusive form of entertainment." And that perfectly describes all six of their productions.

Testing the boundaries of entertainment, director Robert Lepage's "KA" blends Cirque acrobatics with amazing scenes of martial arts combat as it follows the "imperial twins" on their journey. Pearson explains why "KA" stands out: "For the first time we use the acts and visuals to express a linear storyline, yet still without the spoken word. It has a more operatic and theatrical style than our other productions." Vegas insiders consistently report that tickets to this show are the hardest to get.

A curious combination of the world's most popular band and the world's most unique entertainment company, "Love" was actually born out of a friendship between The Beatles' George Harrison and Cirque du Soleil founder, Guy Laliberté. The show celebrates The Beatles' era by telling the story behind the lyrics of hit songs like "Eleanor Rigby" and using the staging, props and costumes to echo the '60s vibe. Everlasting Beatlemania and the outstanding quality of Cirque performances have made this production one of the most talked-about in Vegas since it opened in June.

For decades, Vegas shows were defined by one-man acts like magicians, dazzling dancers and, well, Wayne Newton. But now that "Danke Schoen" has ended its run, crowds are increasingly turning to Broadway shows. But one performer, comedian Danny Gans, upholds the Vegas tradition, wowing his audience with hundreds of spot-on pop star impressions, from Billy Joel to Stevie Wonder. The Chief Concierge at the Bellagio, Tammi Furce , gives Gans her stamp of approval. She says, "this 'Entertainer of the Year' truly offers an incredible show filled with singing, impressions and laugh-out-loud comedy."

With her feather headdress and skimpy outfit, the Vegas showgirl epitomizes the Strip's gaudy charm. And Donn Arden's "Jubilee!" is a perfect example of the classic song and dance revue sans brassieres. If Bob Mackie means anything to you, the glitz and glamour of these topless showgirls kicking their way across the Bally's stage screams Vegas. Perhaps that's why "Jubilee!" is the longest-running show of it's kind and still the most popular.

To their credit, the new girls on the scene have had a hit song on the pop charts and a slew of illustrious guest performers like Denise Richards and Paris Hilton. The Pussycat Dolls began performing in Hollywood, but the show moved to a custom-built lounge inside Pure nightclub at Caesars Palace. It's called burlesque but we imagine that's just a fragment of what these singing, dancing, stripping ladies do when they hit the stage -- think swings and bubble-filled tubs.

Because of the enormous popularity of the top shows, it's often necessary to plan a few months ahead if you want to get good seats for a Celine Dion concert or one of Cirque's new shows. Although there are many online clearinghouses for tickets, Erika Pope from the Convention and Visitors Authority says that "the most universally reliable way to purchase tickets is to visit the host hotel's web site or call their toll-free box offices." So when you decide which of the 10 hottest Vegas shows to go to, make sure that you secure your tickets well in advance, or you might be left out in the cold.

Photos: Welcome to Vegas

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  1. Welcome to Las Vegas

    The Bellagio's fountain show entertains visitors nightly. In the background is Bally's Las Vegas, left, and Paris Las Vegas, which has a 50-story Eiffel Tower replica in front. Over 37.5 million people visit Las Vegas each year. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Fremont Street Experience

    Located in downtown Las Vegas, this exciting pedestrian promenade is home to approximately 16 million lights, making it one of the largest LED screens in the world. (Brian Jones / Las Vegas News Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Looking for Lady Luck

    Casion visitors play slot machines at the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Dunking Elvis

    An Elvis impersonator performs a slam dunk during the 2007 NBA All-Star Game on February 18, 2007, at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. (Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAEGetty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Grand casinos

    Lights from passing vehicles are seen in front of the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Poker face

    Jamie Gold, right, of California and Paul Wasicka of Colorado go head-to-head on the final table of the World Series of Poker no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event at the Rio Hotel & Casino on Aug. 11, 2006, in Las Vegas. Gold outlasted more than 8,700 other poker players to win the top prize of $12 million. Wasicka won just over $6.1 million for finishing second. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Glitz and glamour

    A Canon display is seen inside the Las Vegas Convention Center at the Consumer Electronics Show. Las Vegas is the nation's top business travel destination, with easy airline access, numerous hotel rooms, low rates, plentiful convention facilities and a wide range of dining and entertainment options. (Karl Polverino / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Over-the-top entertainment

    Performers ride a Volkswagen Beetle across the stage during a preview of "The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil" at the Mirage Hotel & Casino on June 27, 2006, in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A New York minute

    The New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas recreates the Manhattan skyline, complete with replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge. (Courtesy of MGM MIRAGE) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Entertainment mecca

    Kenny Chesney performs "Out Last Night" at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas on April 5, 2009. (Mark J. Terrill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tying the knot

    From left, Elvis Presley impersonator Norm Jones plays guitar as Bruce Barnett of Virginia Beach, Va., escorts his daughter Gayle to her wedding ceremony at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Graceland is the oldest wedding chapel in Las Vegas and offers ceremonies with or without Elvis impersonators. (David Mcnew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Explosive attraction

    The $25 million, newly redesigned volcano display in front of the Mirage Hotel & Casino features 150 choreographed FireShooters sending fireballs more than 12 feet in the air and a custom soundtrack created by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images for MGM Mirage) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A night on the Strip

    Hotels and casinos line the Las Vegas Strip. From thrilling roller coasters to erupting volcanos to art museums, Las Vegas' many attractions appeal to people of all ages and interests. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Fight night

    David Diaz and Manny Pacquiao fight during the fourth round of the WBC Lightweight Championship at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on June 28, 2008, in Las Vegas. Pacquiao won in a ninth-round knockout. (Harry How / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Day at the races

    Rookie driver Shawn Langdon earned his first No. 1 qualifying position of his career at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on April 4, 2009, in Las Vegas. (Richard Wong / NHRA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Fabulous shopping

    The Juicy Couture retail store at The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace is seen before the grand opening February 5, 2009, in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images for Juicy Couture) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Stunning shows

    Buyi Zama as “Rafiki” in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING Las Vegas. (Joan Marcus / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A slice of Italy

    Visitors take a gondola ride at The Venetian in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Get into the groove

    Dina Buell, left, and Carla Giordano, both from California, dance at the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino during Rehab, the resort's weekly pool party, in 2005 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Let’s get this party started

    Party goers gather for the grand opening of LAX Nightclub Las Vegas in 2007. (Chris Weeks / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Big laughs

    Comedian Ellen DeGeneres performs at a taping of ''Ellen's Even Bigger Really Big Show'' during The Comedy Festival at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in 2008 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A kingly stay

    The Excalibur Hotel and Casino features a castle motif with newly refurbished hotel rooms. (Courtesy of MGM MIRAGE) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A dancing fountain

    Visitors are silhouetted against the backdrop of The Bellagio's fountain show on the Las Vegas Strip. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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