Question of the Day June 30, 2016
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Q:I recently read in David McKee's blog that Jersey Boys is closing at Paris after eight years. That got me to thinking about what shows were big 20 years ago, when I first started visiting Las Vegas, like Siegfried & Roy. My question is: How many shows actually last for more that 10 years? And what are the longest-running shows in Las Vegas?
A:We've covered this subject from a couple of different angles in the past, so allow us to delve into the QoD Archives for some background, which we'll then bring up-to-date with more recent developments.
- As for long-running acts of yore, of course Elvis is on the list, having performed 837 consecutive sellouts from 1969 through 1976 at the International/Las Vegas Hilton.
- It was in 1944 that Las Vegas first got to see in-person the phenomenon that was Wladziu Valentino Liberace. By 1955 he was making $50,000 per week from his residency at the Riviera, but around that time he took a hiatus from Sin City to tour Europe, and then was side-swiped by a serious assault perpetrated on his mother and, in 1963, by his own renal failure. Following his recovery, the increasingly flamboyant entertainer returned to the Strip, billing himself as "Mr Showmanship," and Liberace's shows were still big crowd-pullers at the Las Vegas Hilton in the early '80s. His final stage performance was at New York's Radio City Music Hall on November 2, 1986, before succumbing to the affects of AIDS the following year.
- It was in 1958, when he was still in high school, that a Las Vegas booking agent saw Wayne Newton and his brother performing on a local TV show. What started out as a two-week booking at downtown's Fremont Hotel quickly morphed into a five-year, six-show-a-day, six-days-a-week residency that would lead to the Wayner eventually clocking up in excess of 30,000 Vegas performances. He's graced many-a-showroom since, in Strip showrooms including the Flamingo, Stardust, Desert Inn, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas Hilton, MGM Grand, Tropicana, and Bally's, where he's now back performing a one-man show.
- Although, collectively, the Rat Pack clocked up only a half-decade performing together in the Sands' Copa Room during the early-to-mid '60s, individually Frank, Deano, Sammy, and the others also performed seasons and one-off gigs in many Strip showrooms for decades to come.
- While her name may not be familiar to many today, singer/dancer/actress Lola Falana was introduced to Sin City by Sammy Davis Jr. and in the 1970s and early ’80s was considered the "queen of Vegas," regularly selling out the Copa Room, with additional runs at the Riviera and MGM Grand. In the late-’70s, Falana was offered a contract by the Aladdin to appear 20 weeks a year for $100,000 a week which made her, at the time, the highest-paid female performer in Vegas history. Sadly, her career was curtailed when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, from which she suffered a major relapse in the late '80s and rarely performed thereafter.
- It was "Chairman of the Board" himself, Frank Sinatra, who helped launch comedian Don Rickles' career in Las Vegas. It commenced back in 1959 in the Sahara Lounge, where he would go on to rotate in the headlining spot for years with Louis Prima, performing three sets a night commencing at 2 a.m. Despite such a grueling early schedule, Rickles is still going strong today, at the grand old age of 90, and while he doesn't have an ongoing Vegas residency, he still performs here regularly.
- Billed as "The Man of Many Voices," former pro-baseball player turned impressionist Danny Gans began his Las Vegas career at the Stratosphere, back in 1996. He went on to become a resident performer at The Mirage, where the Danny Gans Theatre was built for him. In February 2009, he left the Mirage to follow Steve Wynn to the latter's new Encore resort, where Gans was performing four nights a week in the 1,500-seat theater at the time of his untimely death, at his Henderson home, on May 1 of that same year.
- It was after a 13-year run at The Mirage, during which they clocked up some 5,000 performances, that Siegfried & Roy's magic show went dark, permanently and overnight, following the infamous on-stage tiger injury from which Roy Horn continues to recuperate more than a decade later.
- When comedian George Wallace somewhat unceremoniously ended his long-running engagement at the Flamingo a couple of years back, following a lawsuit that landed him a $1.3 million settlement, it was the end of a 10-year run in the same Strip showroom.
- When it closed in March 2009, Folies Bergere had been performing at the Tropicana for a staggering half-century and helped launch the career of magician Lance Burton, whose first headlining show debuted at the Hacienda in 1991 and performed there for five years. In 1994, Burton signed a 13-year contract with the Monte Carlo -- then the longest-ever in Strip-entertainer history -- to perform in a custom-built theater. In 1996, the show opened and not only stayed the course for the original 13 years, but was then later extended to run until 2015. The full extension was not realized, however, due to an injury (at least, that was the official version), and Lance performed his final show in 2010, concluding a 19-year run on the Strip.
- Speaking of magicians, David Copperfield is in his 16th year performing at MGM Grand, which renamed its Hollywood Theater in honor of his tenth anniversary performing there.
- Family-friendly comedy magician Mac King has been part of the entertainment scene since he moved to Vegas back in 1997 and has been resident at Harrah's since 2000, when he commenced what began as a two-year engagement.
- Carrot Top started out on the Strip with a two-week run at MGM Grand back in 1997. In 2005, he moved into the more spacious Atrium Theater at the Luxor, where he continues to headline.
- Penn & Teller are now into a 15-year run at the Rio.
- Female impersonator Frank Marino claims to be the longest-running headliner on the Strip, an accolade we feel is justified. Marino has been playing Joan Rivers in Las Vegas drag shows since 1985 and, according to his 2005 appearance on the Discovery Health Channel series "Plastic Surgery: Before and After," once held the unofficial record for the longest continuous-performance run at a single casino when he played Rivers in La Cage for more than 20 years at the Riviera. In 2010, Marino moved his show to the Imperial Palace, renaming it Frank Marino's Divas Las Vegas, which today performs at The LINQ.
- Former stable-mates the Crazy Girls had been resident at the Riv for an epic 28 years before moving to Planet Hollywood, while Luxor's topless revue, Fantasy, is into its 16th year on the Strip.
- Legends in Concert long held the title of longest-running tribute show, going strong on the Strip for 38 years, but since Jubilee! ended its 35-year run at Bally's, it's now the longest-running show, period.
- A few months back it was rumored that Splash, the Strip's first "aquatic" spectacular, would be making a comeback; we're not holding our breath, but the show did manage a 21-year run at the Riviera, prior to closing in 2006.
- Blue Man Group has now clocked up an impressive 16-year Vegas-residency record, recently returning to the Luxor, where it all started.
- Celine Dion's first Caesars' residency, A New Day, ran from March 2003 until December 2007, during which she performed a staggering 700+ shows. Returning to the Colosseum in March 2011, she performed until the summer of 2014, when the show went on hiatus following her husband's diagnosis with cancer. She returned in August 2015 and has continued to perform, on and off, ever since.
- Cirque-wise, in terms of longevity Mystere opened at Treasure Island in 1993; O followed at Bellagio in '98; Zumanity has been resident at New York-New York since 2003; KA opened at MGM Grand in 2005, and LOVE celebrates its 10th anniversary performing at the Mirage this year.