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Sphere stands out amid new developments in Las Vegas Strip venues

People take pictures during the opening night of the Sphere, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in Las Vegas.
John Locher
People take pictures during the opening night of the Sphere, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas entertainment industry had a pretty normal 2023 — until late September. That’s when the Sphere opened. It struck such a chord internationally, it made the cover of Time Magazine.

But the Sphere isn’t the only performance venue debuting this season. Last weekend saw the opening of Voltaire cabaret room at the Venetian.

And in December, the opening of the Fontainebleau will give the Strip another large theater for concerts — plus a new nightclub and dayclub.

Vegas already has a plethora of live-performance theaters. Does adding more make it better — or will the competition start to squeeze some of them out? And with the hefty cost of producing shows at the Sphere, will one-off shows and tour spots be able to find a home there?

Las Vegas Review-Journal entertainment columnist John Katsilometes shared his thoughts on these developments and others in the Strip concert industry.

On whether the success of the Sphere has begun to recalibrate the standard of live entertainment, as journalists have suggested: "I don't know about that. ... From a customer standpoint, look at it this way: I went to the Sphere to see U2 on opening night. The next night, I saw Morris Day and the Time with Billy Gibbons at the Strat Theater. The night after that, I went to the Italian-American Club to see a big band show. Now, I had a good time everywhere. The Sphere did not rob me of the ability to appreciate small-scale entertainment, or entertainment since then at other theaters. I've seen Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, Usher. ... So I don't think it's going to tilt anybody's view of entertainment so much [that] it'll ruin it for other venues.

That said, with attention on Sphere and the big residency shows, other live shows have been impacted: "I think it's clear that the top level of entertainment, the headlining entertainment in Las Vegas, has had a negative impact on what I refer to as down-ballot shows. And we're talking not only about one-offs at various smaller showrooms, but production shows. I had somebody with a production company [tell] me a couple of weeks ago that the production show is on its way out in Las Vegas — at least a large-scale production show — because of what's happening with the headliners."

On non-residency shows being a no-go at the Sphere: "This is not a place where you stop on a tour. It's not in its current blueprint. They've ... made it clear that this is a place where you can't see this show anywhere else, first of all. And it's not going to be a single night; it doesn't make any sense to build a specific show for the Sphere and make all that effort in production in sight and sound for one show ... so you need to do a series to make it worthwhile [and] to make money."

On the entrance of Miami's Liv nightclub opening with the Fontainebleau and the overall health of the Vegas club scene: "This has been in the plans for a long time, to bring the Miami version of [Liv] here. My assessment of the club culture in Las Vegas is it has kind of plateaued, but it's plateaued at a high level. You're still seeing superstars populating these clubs. ... Tiesto is going to move over to Fontainebleau. We have Illenium, a huge draw coming into Zouk at Resorts World next year, that's a big move. ... The Drai's family in Las Vegas, they've just expanded to Dallas now with with their Drai's After Dark concept. So [local club companies are] moving, they're advancing, they're all either flourishing or growing in some way."

On what the next residency announcements may be...and a Celine Dion prediction: "[One] I'm really watching carefully is P!nk. She is a uniquely capable performer, she is an acrobat ... huge draw, huge appeal. She went off and did an interview with 60 Minutes where she talked at the end about this residency idea for Las Vegas. It came kind of out of nowhere in the context of that interview, but if you've been following her, it makes sense because I've been hearing about P!nk coming here for at least 10 years. ... I think Lady Gaga is coming back with [her current Dolby Live show] Jazz and Piano, I'd wager on that, it's only a matter of time before she gets dates together. The Jazz and Piano show is amazing. It might be the best-ever residency we've had in the city, musically. And Celine Dion was at the Katy Perry show the other night. And this is the second time within a week that she made a public appearance at a major event. But Katy Perry from the stage said... "you know, I'm not Celine Dion. But she's here and she's going to be the next one to come in here." I'm looking at the spring of next year, if everything holds together and I'm reading this right, for her to come back [for] over a period of years in the Resorts World [Theatre]. ... Talk about an emotional time. I will be there when that happens."

Guest: John Katsilometes, entertainment columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal

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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.
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