The pop goddess opened her Las Vegas residency “Britney: Piece of Me” at Planet Hollywood on Friday night. TheWrap was there.
We weren’t alone.
Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Kellen Lutz, former Britney tour-mate DJ Pauly D, Adam Lambert and Spears’ former “X Factor” pal Mario Lopez filled the VIP section at the front of the 4,600 in attendance.
Lopez also took the stage to provide one of the spectacles of the show: Spears in a brown wig leading him around on a leash while he crawled on all fours during “Freakshow.” He fit the bill for Spears’ search for “a hottie” from the audience.
Friday’s New Year’s Eve weekend show was a 79-minute debut including “Toxic,” “Oops I Did It Again,” “Slave 4 U” (without a snake) and “Baby One More Time” (without a school uniform) launching Spears’ 100 show, two-year residency on the strip. Surprisingly, after “Till the World Ends” around 10:40 p.m., there was no encore.
The schedule calls mainly for Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday performances in the newly renamed “Axis Theatre.”
The theatre and show have a nightclub vibe with songs mixing in to each other, minimal banter, a dance floor, and bands of bottle service couches in the front of house. With symmetrical “fan” pits for standing room within the stage, the production echoes any number of MTV VMA or other televised awards show stages. Nightclub fixture Victor Drai is running the food and beverage. (For a credit check: Drai’s extreme after-hours club Drai’s has been a legendary last-stop in Vegas and had a hot few years in L.A. with tamer hours, topping the W Hollywood.)
Later on Friday night, Jeff Beacher’s “Beacher’s Mad House” opening, hosted by Cyrus, drew all the heat to the MGM. Dana White, Brad Garrett, and Craig Robinson joined the party there, where neon drummers on the casino floor christened the new room, which was once the site of an epic all-star poker game with a pre-fame Kim and Kourtney Kardashian, 50 Cent, Queen Latifah, and the late DJ AM during the ill-fated, never-to-be-repeated-2007 NBA All Star Game in Vegas.
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DJ Pauly D, who unexpectedly became a father on a previous trip to Las Vegas, arrives at Beacher’s.
Caesars employees and a few select insiders got a preview of Spears’ dress rehearsal on Thursday at what Planet Hollywood president David Hoenemeyer called a “lions den” performance. It wasn’t his first Spears show, as Hoenemeyer has three young daughters who grew up as fans.
Spears’ Vegas Deal: The Money and Partnership Between Two Brands
Discussions between Planet Hollywood and Spears’ camp began just before Thanksgiving 2011, when managers Larry Rudolph and Adam Leber met with Caesars’ VP of entertainment, Kurt Melien.
“We’ve been in the resident business since Celine (Dion). We know it very well, we’re experts in this business” Melien told TheWrap at a pre-show reception, where E!’s documentary played on screens and Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” blared.
Cool and calm 50 minutes before show time, Rudolph cut through the reception in a UNC tarheels hat and jeans spending time with Las Vegas gossiper Robin Leach, who sipped a white wine at the first table while eyeballing attendees sliding past giant pink “Britney” letters. Rudolph would end the night with Leber in a celeb-heavy corner table at Beacher’s.
TMZ reports that Britney is earning $310,000 per show, adding up to $15 million per year for the show. This is significantly below Celine Dion’s per-show rate.
Though she’s scheduled to perform 48 shows each in 2014 and 2015 it’s not an every day attraction. The initial burst is only four shows culminating on New Year’s Eve, another four shows run centered around Vegas’ other huge weekend of the year, Super Bowl, and then a hiatus after those eight shows until late April.
By comparison, the Beatles “Love” Cirque du Soleil show usually runs 10 shows a week, albeit with a massive cast. Britney’s show is just her, 14 dancers, and a four piece band.
Justin Bieber‘s “Believe” tour also featured wing imagery.
A “Front & Center” VIP table package gets the best table in the house touching the stage, a bottle of Moet, their own waitress service, and a personal escort into the room that holds under 5,000 seats in its Britney configuration. The bottle service table prices will vary based on the date. As a whole, the theatre can be expanded with a balcony for other artists.
Planet Hollywood struck a partnership with Live Nation that will see music acts popping up in the theatre between Britney’s runs.
When asked about selling the Spears model to Rudolph-analogs in the pop music business like Scooter Braun, Troy Carter, or Benny Medina, Melien has a message: “It’s creative license. You can do things with this show, permanently, sitting down in a theatre that you build, that you just can’t do on the road touring.”
Planet Hollywood’s relationship to the real Hollywood has been robust lately. They scored premieres for the Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck film “Runner Runner” as well as Open Road’s “Homefront,” bringing James Franco and Winona Ryder to the resort before Thanksgiving. NBC broadcast the Miss USA pageant from there in 2013, and a Flo Rida music video shot on location earlier this fall.
The Britney show arrives at an inflection point for the Spears entertainment brand. Britney herself broke up with her fiancé and manager Jason Trawick in January of this year. Sister Jamie-Lynn, who fled Hollywood after her teen pregnancy, is attempting a makeover/comeback as a country artist out of Nashville. She was amongst the guests at the pre-show reception on the second floor, rocking faux nerd glasses and sticking near her mother, Lynne Spears.
Spears’ “Britney Jean” album released earlier this month has sputtered out of the gate. TheWrap’s Tony Maglio dissected the numbers on first week sales to discover that consumers bought only 2,000 more “Britney Jean” albums than her Louisiana neighbors Duck Dynasty’s Christmas album, which had been out for over a month, and 14,000 less than her “…Baby One More Time” debut as a virtual unknown in 1999. For comparison, Beyonce’s surprise album “Beyonce” sold 576% more albums in half the time, a shortened three day opening week.
Britney’s Christmas Week Premieres
Spears’ week began with the aforementioned E! documentary special showing her preparation for the Vegas show, “I Am Britney Jean.” It scored 706,000 viewers for E! this past Sunday, December 22, revealing the set list and delivering about one-third of a typical “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” audience.
It scored higher on Nielson’s twitter ratings, getting 9th spot for the week tucked in between the WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” (USA) and Bunim-Murray’s “Bad Girls Club” (Oxygen).
For the residency, the demographic is not the shriek-zone Beliebers. Based on anecdotal conversations throughout the venue, it was those in their 30s and 40s, like married couples from Delray Beach, Florida and Texas, as well as a general counsel for a company (who came in costume) who flew in from Denver special. This crowd was far from school girl kilts in one regard, slinging out for $15-$20 cocktails, yet still making “Britney Bitch” t-shirts the top selling merchandise.