3667 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
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A headlining stint from pop princess Britney Spears.
In a newly revamped 4,000-seat theater at Planet Hollywood on the Center Strip.
If you are a fan of Britney or a fan of spectacle, then sure.
Because with Britney at least you know it won't be boring.
Brit is booked to play at least 50 shows per year through 2017.
A big, flashy concert that doesn't have a lot of substance.
When Britney Spears opened her much ballyhooed residency at Planet Hollywood in late 2013, much of the world was waiting for it to be a spectacular failure. People pointed to her sometimes erratic behavior, her singing ability (or perceived lack thereof), and Vegas' fickle audiences as warning signs for impending disaster.
Fast forward to now: Britney Spears has become the top grossing concert act in Las Vegas, regularly selling out concerts and bringing in huge revenue both for herself and the hotel in which she performs.
How did that happen?
Part of it is a shift in Vegas that has turned the city into a nightclub destination, he bulk of the top 20 grossing nightclubs in the country are all be in Las Vegas and cumulatively they ring up more than a billion dollars in revenue. They lure a younger crowd of mostly 20- and 30-somethings and although it's not clear where they are getting their money, they certainly have a lot of it and are willing to spend it on ways to amuse themselves in Las Vegas. This crowd fits perfectly into Britney's target demographic and while there are a lot of different nightclubs competing for that audience's attention, there are precious few shows that offer much appeal to them.
But the bigger part of it, really, is that Britney knows how to put on spectacle.
Love her, loathe her, or not care enough to have an opinion one way or another, it is impossible to deny Britney Spears' impact on the pop music scene over the last 15 years. She was the best-selling female artist between 2000 and 2009 and has moved more than 100 million albums since her career started. Her hits like "...Baby One More Time," "Oops! I Did it Again," and "Toxic" are widely considered to be among the best pure pop songs ever produced and her concert tours were usually sold-out, stadium-sized affairs worldwide.
Although certainly not the musical powerhouse she was back in the early 2000s, Britney was the top grossing female entertainer again in 2012, so not only does she have relevancy to an audience of people who were teenagers in 1999 but to young adults who are heading to nightclubs today. That those are the same people is what some would call synergy.
Spears started what was originally billed as a two-year residency at Planet Hollywood, performing at least 50 shows a year through 2017 as a North American exclusive, which means if you want to see her in concert you'll need to either come to Vegas or go to another continent. The original run of shows has been such a huge, sold-out success that more have been added and the gig is likely to be extended for another couple of years.
The shows are being held in the revamped Axis Theater, which dates all the way back to 1974 when it debuted as the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts. When that hotel was imploded, the theater was preserved and the new Aladdin was built around it. Now the theater has been updated with a couple of dance floor/pit areas built into the stage, some nightclub style VIP booths, and updated theater seating throughout the rest of the room. It's nice enough to look at but the drink servers heading up and down the aisles to handle the bottle service tables down front are frequent blockers to the on stage action for anyone sitting adjacent to the aisles they tread often.
So what about the concert? Well, it's exactly what you would expect a Britney Spears concert to be: big, spectacle sized entertainment with lots of complicated staging, special effects, and dancing. Two dozen of her songs are covered including the aforementioned mega hits like "Toxic" and "Oops" plus "Circus," "Slave 4U," "Boys," "Crazy," "Work Bitch," "Womanizer," "Scream and Shout," and more.
According to reports, there have been some changes since the show first debuted but a second viewing about a year after it opened seemed the same to me. If there were differences, they were subtle.
In some instances, that's a good thing. The visuals are impressive. Various set pieces include a video and confetti-based snowstorm; Britney flying in wearing massive angel wings; an S&M themed dungeon that included rain falling from the ceiling; and some tricky video panels that emulate mirrors. What most of them had to do with the actual songs they were backing is probably up for debate. "Toxic," for instance, took place on and around a massive tree with a jungle background and Spears flying through the air from its branches. Is this the "poison paradise" mentioned in the lyrics or just a cool thing to look at? Probably best to not look for deeper meaning here.
Instead, look at the dancers, who bust their way expertly through some of the best choreography currently being performed in Las Vegas. This is serious, world-class stuff here and the troop is executing it with precision and passion. Britney acquits herself well in the middle of all of it, doing simplified versions of what the dancers around her are doing but with enough attitude and performance style that it makes up for the fact that she isn't 18 anymore.
What you don't get is much in the way of singing, although anyone who goes to a Britney Spears concert and expects to hear her actually sing has probably not been paying attention for the last 15 years. According to the press material she is "singing to track," meaning she is not lip-syncing per se, but rather singing live over a recording. Feel free to split that particular hair any old way you want to.
You also don't get much in the way of spontaneity. It's all slick and well-produced, with every moment rehearsed down to the microsecond. There is no gratuitous chatting with the audience; in fact she didn't say much at all in between songs and what she did sounded like it was part of the script. For me that created a huge disconnect, making it impossible to get drawn in on anything more than a toe-tapping level.
I was also a little disappointed in some of the arrangements. The crisp syncopation of songs like "Slave 4U" and "Me Against the Music" was smoothed out by the live band backing, making it feel almost lounge-ready instead of calling you to the club. And the first half of "Toxic" was done as a dreamy, ethereal ballad before busting loose into the uptempo swing. Considering the fact that the song is only three minutes long, that seems like a strange choice.
In the end, though, it is not a Cirque-level substance or a Celine-style musicality that is important here, it is the spectacle that matters most. This is live entertainment for the nightclub set, all flash and sound and fury that dissipates the moment you step off the dance floor. On that level the show is a success.
And obviously it's a success in other ways as well. I, for one, hope she is sitting in her home reading those predictions of doom and gloom and laughing her ass off while she sits on a giant pile of money.