Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A night to remember

(Originally posted on January 23rd, 2008)

The Palazzo has arrived

Finally, after watching construction 24/7 for the last 2 years on the corner of Spring Mountain and the Strip, the Venetian's sister hotel/casino/mega-mall, The Palazzo, opened during a weekend of celebration and festivities.

This addition makes the Venetian/Palazzo/Sands Convention Center the largest hotel and convention center in the US, with over 7,000 rooms and more than 2 million square feet of convention space.

Although there have been plenty of opportunities to watch the casinos get imploded, attending a grand opening is a rare occasion. So when "The Palazzo Grand Opening Celebration" offered tickets to the public, I couldn't resist.

High expectations

The evening was billed as "Luminaries and Legends" with host Wayne Brady, performances by "The Jersey Boys," Andy Garcia and the Cineson All-Stars, Seal and Diana Ross. I was also told by the box office agent on the phone that there would be food from Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse and Charlie Trotter. Well, for $129 a ticket, this seems like a pretty good deal.

The masses converge

On a regular Saturday night, the Las Vegas Strip is busy, even in January. Add a grand opening in the mix, and you've got a jam sandwich. Surprisingly, the traffic getting into the hotel was light, although we had to park on the bottom floor (easy in, not so easy out.)

There were thousands of people here to see the show, and it was held in the Convention Center, rather than one of the theaters in the hotel. This is where things started to unravel.

Holding a show in a cavernous room makes it difficult for good acoustics. How do you overcome this? Blast the music. Considering we were going to hear top-rate talent, the volume shouldn't have mattered. What we weren't counting on was the Venetian lounge act that played to fill time throughout the evening.

Something for almost everyone

In an arena this large, it's going to be hard to cater to everyone's taste. The house band played a funky, screechy selection of instumentals that was best summed up by all the folks holding their ears from the pain. Literally - too loud and too, uh, loud. A better choice would have been some pre-recorded music from any decade that had more mass appeal and an easier tone.

The 8pm show started not so promptly at 8:35 and Wayne Brady opened the show with highlights from his show, then plugged his show, then left for his 9pm show, never to return - not really a host.

It took almost a half hour in between acts, as they changed the stage accordingly. It felt much longer. A video montage plugged "The Jersey Boys," who were introduced by Jamie Lynn Sigler (Meadow Soprano) on "The Sopranos." The "boys" were terrific and the show will certainly be a tremendous hit here in Vegas.

Then actor/singer/musician Andy Garcia performed with his band. They played Cuban songs, which were pleasing and I guess it was cool to see Andy Garcia in person, playing the bongos, rather than in Ocean's 11, 12 or 13. Oh yeah, he was introduced by Miss America 2007.

High-definition performances

The invited guests (free ticketed VIPs) were in the first 62 rows. We were in the first row of paying seats after that, and then there were 100 more rows behind us. Since this room was so huge, the performers looked like tiny ants on the stage. As in any large venue, there are giant TV screens hanging so that you can see these folks close up.

These TV screens were gorgeous. You could see every freckle up close, which was fantastic. Seal, the Grammy award-winning singer, was up next. He performed five songs and knocked it out of the ball park. Crystal clear voice and great stage presence. Your eyes went back and forth from stage to screen, because he's so interesting to see really close up.

Seal wasn't off the stage but two minutes, and the announcer introduced Diana Ross. She came out in a sequin-covered gown that really played off the lights. All eyes went up to the TV screens, and all we saw was the promotional photo of Diana Ross. I guess she saw everyone else's close-ups and at 63, said, "No way."

Rules are made to be broken

Although she sang as good as ever, we really couldn't see her. Instantly, my wife said, "Let's go up to the stage!" What? I said, "Uh, you go. Security is never going to let you up there, it's VIPs only!"

Never underestimate the power of someone who wants to see an icon up close. My wife grabbed my hand, and before I knew it, we were 10 feet away from this legend. I'll tell you what, she looked fantastic. She should have let the cameras stay on to let everyone get a good look.

Most surprisingly, she wasn't lip-synching. When everyone from Britney to Ashlee to Cher do it, I would expect her to as well. Nope, it was all her, talking and singing, making the audience sing parts of the songs. A truly fun, exciting experience.

Would I do it again?

The show ended, there was no encore and it took about a half hour to get to our car. Then it took 45 minutes of inching out of the garage, finally getting on the street at 11:45pm.

Oh yeah, the food. There was no food -- just miscommunication from the ticket agent about what the night was supposed to be, to what it became.

Only because the performances by Seal and Diana Ross were so good and ended on such a positive note, did we ultimately enjoy ourselves. All in all, at these prices, there are many other places we could have had a better time for a lot less. But that's Vegas, baby!

P.S. The hotel is everything you would imagine it to be. Very classy, understated and very high ceilings which give it a great upscale feel. Don't miss the opportunity to stroll through the lobby, the fountains and the stores. Barney's New York is quite an eyeful.

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