(Originally posted on May 13, 2007)
I don’t think that anyone will argue that New York is the baseline for entertainment. Between the Broadway theaters, Radio City Music Hall, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall (just to name a few) it doesn’t get any better. That being said, you need to take in the big picture of getting to and affording entertainment in New York. It’s a hassle to go into the city, and expensive.
The benefit of Las Vegas is that you have more entertainment than anywhere in the world, and it’s readily available, starting at FREE. (Why is FREE such a happy looking word?) Most of the major hotels put on a daily show that costs them millions of dollars to produce, such as: Treasure Island’s “Sirens of TI” which is performed four times a night outside the hotel. The Bellagio has an incredible water show called the “Fountains of Bellagio” which is set to music and is totally mesmerizing. Finally, at the Rio, “Masquerade Show in the Sky” is performed daily and is like going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
More stars than a moonless night
Las Vegas has always been known for its headliners. Back to Frank Sinatra, the Rat Pack, Elvis and every comedian known to mankind, the Strip has hosted them all. Why? The casinos want to get you in their doors, and Los Angeles is a 45 minute flight away (where most of the stars live). Here you can see Celine Dion, Elton John, Jerry Seinfeld, Barry Manilow, Prince or Toni Braxton on almost any given night. All the top entertainers come here to perform, either for the weekend or in concert, on a weekly basis. Whether it’s Avril Lavinge, Gwen Stefani, Liza Minelli, Madonna, Sting at venues like Pearl, 3121, MGM Grand Arena (our Madison Square Garden) or the Colesseum at Caesars, you’ll never be bored. That’s just music – for comedy, every comedian makes Vegas their second home – Ray Romano, Jay Leno, Don Rickles (yep, he’s still around and very funny), Rita Rudner, Howie Mandel, to name a few.
The Great White Way’s little brother
Broadway is a New York icon, no doubt. Vegas, however, has a miniature version that gives you the culture, without the sticker shock. Right now, we’ve got “Phantom”, “Spamalot”, “The Producers” and “Mamma Mia” playing. An interesting change to these shows is that they’ve removed the intermission and reduced the time to 90 minutes. You would think it would dramatically change the show, but it has only enhanced them.
The Circus, eh?
Back in 1999, Las Vegas was invaded by Canadians. You didn’t read about it in the news? Just look at any hotel billboard and you’ll see the result. Cirque Du Soleil, the circus filled with acrobats, dancers and illusionists (but no animals), has taken over Las Vegas. Their first show, “Mystere”, opened at Treasure Island in ’99, and is still one of the hottest tickets around.
Since the success of that show, we now have “KA” at MGM,” Zumanity” at NY/NY (an over 18 show),” O” at the Bellagio and “Love” at the Mirage. They also have limited run shows that come to town either for one night (Delirium) or for one month (Cavalia). Their original creative director, Franco Dragone, left Cirque and produced two new shows, one is Celine Dion’s (which is visually incredible) and “La Reve” at Wynn. Overall, Cirque has changed the landscape of entertainment in Vegas and just announced their newest show starring magician Criss Angel at the Luxor, opening in 2008.
Time, energy and distance
No, I’m not talking about the Star Trek show at the Hilton. I’m comparing what it takes to see a show in New York versus Vegas. Unless you live in Manhattan, going to see a Broadway show involves either driving through an hour’s traffic, then paying $30 or more to park, having an expensive dinner and then getting out of the city again – a schlep – as we say.
In Vegas, no matter where you live, you’re no more than 25 minutes from the Strip, valet parking is free, garage parking is plentiful (and free), and there are more food choices than you can shake a stick at (see part 2 of NY vs. Vegas for food choices).
The Price is Right
Since the major source of employment is the hotel and casino industry, either you’ll be working for a hotel, or someone you’re friends with will be. This is your direct link to discount and/or free show tickets. When a show is previewing (before opening night), they need to fill the seats for audience reaction. Hotel employees are usually the first to receive invitations to see these shows (before they even open). I have been given free tickets many times by folks who couldn’t use them, and you will most likely be in the same place someday.
Locals usually receive offers for 2 for 1 tickets in the mail to all the biggest shows, especially in the summer when tourism is down, due to heat. For those of us who gamble, comps are the way to get free show tickets and free meals, which depending on your luck (or lack thereof), they can treat you to every show in town.
Another source of free tickets are the performers themselves. This is a small town (especially compared to New York), and you can’t help but bump into the stars. If you read our gossip column “Norm!” in the Review-Journal, he devotes a portion of his daily column to who was seen where - and the list is always long. I had the opportunity to help out Gladys Knight, and was rewarded with two tickets to her show. In fact, I’ve lost count as to how many shows I’ve seen for free, and believe me, I have no connections here. Performers donate tickets to their shows to radio stations and newspaper contests to name just two, and winning is pretty easy.
Last, but not least
Of course, no story about entertainment in Vegas would be complete without the proverbial lounge acts and the “showgirl” shows. In just about every hotel, you can enjoy free entertainment nightly from the lounge acts that perform in the middle of the casinos. These are usually solo singers or small groups, but by and large, great entertainment (and FREE).
The next step are the stars from yesteryear, who come to perform to their legions of fans from days gone by. Johnny Mathis, The Lettermen, Gino Vanelli, Taylor Dayne, Frankie Valli, Neil Sedaka – they all perform here, and tickets usually start at $20.
And finally, the showgirls! Ah, those giant headdresses, sequins and elaborate costumes (well, except for the lack of tops). These are the shows that made Old Vegas famous, and still thrive today. The two shows that still pack ‘em in are “Jubilee!” at Bally’s – celebrating 23 years and still going strong and Folies Bergere at the Tropicana. Thankfully none of the original cast is still in the show – even the Vegas plastic surgeons aren’t that good. However, you can still see the original cocktail waitresses at the Tropicana, which is startling to see 65 year olds bringing you drinks. Only in Vegas.
The wrap up
Of course, nothing will ever replace New York - the energy, the history, the culture. Living in a city of 8 million people isn’t for everyone, however. Vegas may be the Disneyland version of New York, but it makes for a very nice life. Whether you’re raising a family, love the nightlife or move here for retirement, there’s something for everyone – certainly more than penny slots and $3.95 buffets.
I hope that my comparisons of both cities can help someone decide whether Vegas is a city they can see themselves living in. I used broad strokes in painting the city, but if you need greater detail about any aspect of Vegas, I’ll happily oblige. If you have any show tickets, you can’t use – you know where to find me.