Question of the Day July 28, 2014
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Q:Your recent QOD (7/14/14), about longest-running contemporary Strip headliner, mentioned Lance Burton and the fact that his show ended in 2010. It made me think about ALL the former long-running headliners, like Elvis, Siegfried & Roy, Liberace, Wayne Newton, etc. Is there a list of long-running residencies? If there isn’t already a standard definition, I would consider long-running as 10 years or more, and a residency as doing at least 5 shows per week for at least 40 weeks per year. (Hmmm... Would the above examples qualify under my definition?)
A:First, with regard to your definition of long-running, a schedule of at least five shows per week, for at least 40 weeks out of every 12 months, is a tall order, even for the most popular and dedicated headliner, and would likely exclude many who by rights deserve to be included on a longest-running list. Still, there's a happy medium and we confess to being somewhat baffled by the current trend for referring to an extremely limited engagement by an artist or group as a "residency" or even "mini-residency," simply because they perform a handful of gigs in the same showroom.
For example, witness what's being billed as the upcoming KISS Rocks Vegas mini-residency in The Joint at the Hard Rock, which features a total of nine shows, scheduled between Nov. 5. and Nov. 23. At the end of last year, the rumor was that Bruno Mars was to commence a residency at Cosmopolitan's new Chelsea Theater: The "residency" in reality comprised New Year's concerts on Dec. 29 and 31, with additional performances Feb. 15 and 16, May 23 and 24, and Aug. 22 and 23. In other words, not the kind of ongoing consistent presence that you could count on when booking a vacation and hoping to catch a favorite artist.
The same applies even more to the phenomenon of "resident DJs," with huge names on the EDM scene (Paul Oakenfold, Tiesto, Calvin Harris, et al) earning six-figure paychecks for exclusive* engagements by major Strip nightclubs where, in reality, they sometimes actually perform in-person for a mere handful of nights per year. (*Note that the exclusivity often appears to apply only to nighttime; by day, the same DJs may be caught plying their wares poolside at some entirely different property on the "daylife" circuit.)
Even when it comes to an artist like Celine Dion, who has been a fixture on the Las Vegas entertainment scene since March 2003, when she debuted A New Day at Caesars' Colosseum for an initial three-year contract, later extended to run through December, 2007. During that period, the Canadian chanteuse performed more than 700 shows, but even at around 140/year, that's significantly less than would be required to qualify under your strict criteria. Her new show, Celine, which opened in March 2011, has been extended to run through 2019. However, as far as remaining dates for this calendar year are concerned, the schedule has significant hiatuses. Announced performance dates include: July 29, 30; Aug. 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23, 26, 27, 30, 31; Dec. 30, 31.
However, having shown dedication to this city with a 16-year blockbuster gig on the Strip, during which she's already performed to almost 4 million audience members, we do believe that Celine, without doubt, deserves to be considered a resident headliner.
What follows below is a list, in no particular order and compiled by QoD from various sources (we did not come across an existing comprehensive version) that includes the major names from the past that sprang to mind and who we deemed worthy of the "long-running resident" accolade. It could be argued that some stars -- Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gormé, Johnny Carson, Charo, to name but three -- are notable for their absence, but we had to draw the line somewhere.
- Elvis: Having performed 837 consecutive sellouts from 1969, when he opened at the then-International (four years after starring in Viva Las Vegas), through 1976, after the hotel was renamed the Hilton, "The King" is unquestionably as synonymous with Las Vegas entertainment as is the near-extinct be-feathered showgirl. You do the math: No, he didn't perform five nights weekly for 80% of the year, but he was resident enough to call his suite at the hotel where he performed the closest thing then to "home."
- 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, including at times two in one night (when headlining himself at the Frontier, Newton regularly filled in later at the Sands if Sammy Davis called in sick, which was a not-infrequent occurrence). Other headlining gigs have included the showrooms of the Flamingo, Stardust, Desert Inn, Bally’s, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas Hilton, MGM Grand and, Tropicana, while he was, for awhile, a part-owner of the Aladdin. In 2006, Wayne Newton was inducted into the Nevada Entertainer/Artist Hall of Fame and seems more than worthy of his "Mr Las Vegas" moniker.
- 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, and their lasting legacy is felt to this day, not least in the multitude of tribute acts that continue to follow in their wake.
- 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, just like her mentor, with additional runs at the Riviera and MGM Grand. In the late-’70s, she was offered a contract by the Aladdin to appear 20 weeks a year for $100,000 a week. That made her, at the time, the highest-paid female performer in Vegas history (and second only to Wayne Newton). Falana's career suffered a huge setback 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 88, and while he doesn't have an ongoing Vegas residency, he still performs here regularly, with his next gigs slated for this Aug. 16-17 at The Orleans.
- Welsh singer and sex symbol Tom Jones made his Las Vegas debut at the Flamingo in 1969, but it was The Hollywood Theater at the MGM Grand that became his Strip home-from-home, where from 2005 to 2010 the Vegas-based founder of his US fansite estimated Jones performed about 10 weeks per year, or about 140 shows every 12 months. His last gig there was in August 2010, delivering a 14-night stint that sold out on most nights.
- 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 his arch fan 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 and followed close behind Danny Gans as being among the first shows on the Strip to command a $100+-ticket price, 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. It was a sudden end, like that of fellow former-Mirage headliner Danny Gans, to one of the most successful shows in Las Vegas' history.
If classic Las Vegas entertainment, in all its colorful glory, is your thing, then be sure to check out R-J columnist Mike Weatherford's one-of-a-kind tribute to the great, the quirky, the fabulous, and the scandalous, in Cult Vegas: The Weirdest! The Wildest! The Swingin'est Town on Earth!, wherein you'll find reference to all of the above-mentioned stars, and many other performers besides.
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