Ve­gas to get piece of Spears when pop star hits Sin City

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Pa­trick Ryan

SHE con­quered the charts and tra­versed the globe, and now it’s viva Las Ve­gas for Brit­ney Spears as she read­ies to stake out her spot on the Strip with a twoyear res­i­dency ex­trav­a­ganza, Brit­ney: Piece of Me, which launched Fri­day. But with ane­mic sales of her new al­bum Brit­ney Jean (just 107,000 copies sold in its first week — her low­est de­but yet, ac­cord­ing to Nielsen SoundS­can), and very lit­tle pro­mo­tion (save her just-pre­miered E! doc­u­men­tary, I Am Brit­ney Jean), does Brit-Brit have what it takes to get be­hinds in seats? “I’m skep­ti­cal that she’ll draw huge crowds,” says pop critic Jody Rosen of New York mag­a­zine, cit­ing suc­cess­ful Ve­gas head­lin­ers such as Ce­line Dion and El­ton John. Those stars “have an older au­di­ence that is more likely to travel to Ve­gas in gen­eral and will travel there ex­pressly to see a con­cert... It’s no ac­ci­dent that (artists) that gen­er­ally do (res­i­den­cies) are older. It’s like a quasi-re­tire­ment move.” Dion launched her first tri­umphant Sin City res­i­dency A New Day... in 2003 (which has since been re­placed by Ce­line, sched­uled to run through 2019) and inspired count­less vet­eran artists such as Sha­nia Twain, Rod Ste­wart and Cher to fol­low suit, find­ing sim­i­lar lev­els of suc­cess. But as col­lege kids and young pro­fes­sion­als have in­vaded the Strip in re­cent years — pack­ing night­clubs and bring­ing the elec­tronic dance-mu­sic craze along with them — re­sorts and casi­nos are look­ing to ac­com­mo­date this new wave of plea­sure seek­ers with bolder en­ter­tain­ment. “The goal of this res­i­dency is to launch the first con­tem­po­rary pop res­i­dence for a younger gen­er­a­tion,” says Kurt Melien, vice pres­i­dent of en­ter­tain­ment at Cae­sars En­ter­tain­ment. “We wanted to take ad­van­tage of that pop­u­la­tion base of folks who don’t want to sim­ply watch a DJ spin. They also want to go see a ma­jor Ve­gas-style con­cert event, a big the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion with lots of spec­ta­cle. This is about a shift­ing demo in Ve­gas, and Brit­ney be­ing the first pop res­i­dency shows that Ve­gas is re­ally be­com­ing a younger city.” Since the show was an­nounced in Septem­ber, de­tails have grad­u­ally trick­led out about what fans can ex­pect: a set list fea­tur­ing 24 of her big­gest hits; a night­club-style venue (the newly ren­o­vated Axis theater at the Planet Hol­ly­wood Re­sort & Casino, which holds 7,000), com­plete with a dance floor and bot­tle ser­vice; and tick­ets rang­ing from $59 to $179 a pop. Add in prom­ises from Spears and her team of lip sync-free per­for­mances and rig­or­ous chore­og­ra­phy, and even the most ca­sual fans are won­der­ing what else the pop star has up her sleeve. “Brit­ney has a great op­por­tu­nity here,” says Bill­board ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor Bill Werde. “If she shows up on open­ing night and brings it — re­ally daz­zles peo­ple with the Brit­ney of old, who could out­dance and out­per­form al­most any­one — this is go­ing to be a re­ally mean­ing­ful thing for her ca­reer. It might bring some life back into ( Brit­ney Jean), and will cer­tainly si­lence the chat­ter that goes on when any pop star doesn’t quite per­form up to pre­vi­ous lev­els of suc­cess.”

“The largest chal­lenge is, if it flops, there’s a nar­ra­tive of, ‘She’s flop­ping again. Her al­bum flopped and then this Ve­gas (show) was a dis­as­ter,’ and then that makes her look even more out of it than she al­ready does,” says Rosen. Dur­ing her two-year stint, Spears will be liv­ing in a suite at the Planet Hol­ly­wood Re­sort in Ve­gas, but will fly back to her home in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia when she’s not per­form­ing, says Melien. As for a Ce­line-length run on the Strip? Don’t count on it, says celebrity-brand­ing ex­pert Nick Nan­ton. “Ve­gas is typ­i­cally where you go to do a great­est hits (show), and although she’s had a long-stand­ing ca­reer, she still has a lot more ahead of her. She might ex­tend a year or so, but (she’ll) feel the ne­ces­sity to get back on the road and con­nect with fans around the coun­try, and then maybe go back to Ve­gas to do another res­i­dency,” Nan­ton says. Although hard num­bers aren’t yet available, in­ter­est in Piece of Me ap­pears to be strong. Ve­gas.com’s Bryan Al­li­son says Google searches for the pop star’s Ve­gas en­gage­ment have held up well since the show was an­nounced early this fall — dou­bling those of other Sin City head­lin­ers — and she’s been the site’s fifth most-searched term. Tabloids have spec­u­lated about low ticket sales, though her man­ager Larry Ru­dolph in­sisted oth­er­wise to Bill­board. “For the younger au­di­ence, it was re­ally im­por­tant for us to de­liver a price point that was af­ford­able. We un­der­stand that the Brit­ney fan comes from all walks of life,” says Melien.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Spears per­forms at the MTS Cen­tre in 2011.

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