Not everyone can spend their entire vacation at the poker table, so when you're not in one of , 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."
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.