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December 18, 2014

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Caesars exec Jason Gastwirth: ‘We’ve built a great show and a great business with Britney’

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Denise Truscello/WireImage/DeniseTruscello.net

Britney Spears celebrates her official arrival at Planet Hollywood on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013.

‘Britney: Piece of Me’ Opening Night

Opening night of Britney Spears’ “Britney: Piece of Me” on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, at The Axis in Planet Hollywood.



Launch slideshow »

Britney Spears Arrives in Las Vegas

Britney Spears celebrates her official arrival at Planet Hollywood on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. Launch slideshow »

When they booked Britney Spears to play just a shade less than 100 shows in two years in Axis Theater at Planet Hollywood, Caesars Entertainment officials reviewed her strong sales during her most recent world tours.

And they sure liked what they saw.

Those numbers showed that Spears’ fans flocked to arenas by the thousands all over the world. Her “Circus” tour was No. 5 on the Billboard list of top concert tours of 2009, selling out every show in North America. The first leg of that tour averaged 20,500 tickets sold per show. Two years later, her “Femme Fatale” spree was No. 11 in the Billboard list and drew an average of 8,700 per night.

So when Spears signed on for 96 shows at the 4,500-seat theater renovated specifically for this club-like production, Caesars and Live Nation reps pointed at those world tours and said, “She can do this.”

The results have been inarguable: Spears is a hot ticket in Las Vegas. At this point, “Britney: Piece of Me” has delivered sold-out audiences every night since it opened Dec. 27.

“It’s been a huge success,” says Jason Gastwirth, Caesars Entertainment senior vice president of marketing and entertainment. “The demand is amazing. Not only have all of her shows sold out, but many of them have sold out far in advance. The show delivers every night.”

Spears’ performance at the box office has outpaced her critical response. Britney’s shows have been picked apart for some sluggish dancing on the part of the headliner (especially early in the run), and the fact that her vocals are pretty obviously tracked (Blake Shelton even chided Spears’ lip synching during his stint as host of the Academy of Country Music Awards last month at MGM Grand Garden Arena).

But the Spears production itself is wondrous, filled with generous effects and staging. The backing dancers are as good as you’ll find anywhere. The show does work on that artistic level.

Just as important, the Spears show has achieved the sort of nightlife vibe you’ll find at massive clubs on the Strip, which is a crucial achievement. If you are grooving to dance music at, say, Hakkasan at MGM Grand (which drew 4,800 partygoers on Easter Sunday night, eclipsing any of Spears’ shows), vocal balances are not terrifically important.

I asked Gastwirth if Spears’ show was, in effect, critic proof, if her fans simply ignore any criticism of the production.

“Going further than even reviews, everyone going to the show loves it,” the exec says. “And I think the large majority of the reviews have been positive. The people who see the show absolutely love it, they have a great time, and they appreciate what we have set up in that theater, which is a taste of nightlife entertainment.”

Spears herself is reportedly setting into the show and her role as a Strip headliner.

“She is comfortable in the theater, and that gives us confidence to add more dates to her existing schedule,” Gastwirth says. He also noted that there are slots in the current two-year timeframe to add event more dates without extending into 2016.

Reports of a $12 million payment to Spears for adding those 30 or so dates are “inaccurate,” Gastwirth says, though the company does not disclose specific financial figures among its resident artists.

“The bottom line is we’ve built a great show and a great business with Britney in this theater,” Gastwirth says. “This is the only place you can see her perform in North America, and it has become the show to see in Las Vegas. We are beyond satisfied.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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