Wednesday, March 20, 2013 | 11:32 p.m.
As The Colosseum at Caesars Palace prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary on Monday, we conclude our three-part salute to the acclaimed concert theater built for superstar Celine Dion a decade ago.
Celine kicked off our series on March 5 with reminiscences of her decade at The Colosseum, and last week AEG chief John Meglen talked candidly about the $250 million entertainment bet it took for Celine to start her initial “A New Day” residency show there.
That opening night, which I attended, drew VIPs and entertainers including Siegfried & Roy, who had helped persuade Celine to become a resident. Other stars that first year included New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Prince, Barbra Streisand, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Donald Trump, Sir George Martin, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, Guy Laliberte, Barbara Walters, Dr. Phil, Larry King and Sir Elton John and Shania Twain, both of whom are now resident headliners at The Colosseum alongside Celine.
Ten years later, stars and dignitaries are still arriving in force.
Since opening, The Colosseum has won Billboard Touring Awards every year except 2008, and it won Venue of the Decade in 2010. It took 600,000 hours for the original construction and, at its peak, 700 people were onsite. The builders used 5,100 tons of steel with 7,700 erectable pieces and 68,000 pounds of steel box girders to support about one-third of the structure.
More than 8,000 yards of concrete were poured to create the sloped seating floor. The building has 142 miles of electrical wire and 100,000 feet of pipe for 10,000 gallons of water for the fire sprinklers. It has 800 tons of air conditioning to keep everybody cool, and there are 100 motorized lifts onstage. For the perfect sound, there are 156 speakers using 180,000 watts of amplification.
Celine has called it a dream home. The other headline superstars have all raved about it being the world’s best.
10 Years of The Colosseum at Caesars
A staggering 7 million guests have attended 1,750 shows and sat in seats not one of which is more than 120 feet from the stage. Eighty-eight-year-old usher Dorothy Brooks and security officer Bill Becerril were there on opening night March 25, 2003, and are still working at The Colosseum. I talked with them, along with Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner.
Gary told me: “The Colosseum is magical for two important reasons. The sheer math of having a venue that puts 4,350 into Caesars Palace every time there is a performance is a huge number of people who are here in rooms, visiting restaurants, playing in the casino, buying retail, so it is a huge traffic builder. The Colosseum opening with Celine being the first premiere act in the venue followed by so many superstars and our residents Elton, Rod [Stewart], Jerry [Seinfeld] and now Shania helped restore the brand.
“Caesars was a great, great brand, but it came on some hard times 15 years ago, and part of rebuilding the brand and the business was The Colosseum. A lot of the catalyst for the rebirth of Caesars Palace with great celebrity restaurants and renovated rooms was The Colosseum, and the decision to roll that dice was Celine Dion.
“The Colosseum changed the physical structure of entertainment in Las Vegas. There is no question about that. Prior to The Colosseum, the biggest venue other than an arena was about 2,000, and this was a doubling of that, so that was a major risk in itself. The residency program changed everything, and it allowed Las Vegas once again to offer the biggest stars in the world in an intimate venue, which is what built Las Vegas back in the days of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. That intimacy being close to the best stars in the world is what has always made this city very special.
“It’s been a magnet not just in America but around the world. I travel on behalf of this company all the time, and no matter where I go, people know that Celine Dion and Elton John are performing in The Colosseum. This has become a key marketing element for us. … It brings people from all over the world.”
Ms. Dorothy still remembers working as an usher that very first night. “Celine has always been special,” she told me. “She has celebrated my birthday for eight years. She’s given me gifts, but I treasure most the photo of her and me.
“This is a dynamic and beautiful building. Coming here every night at my age keeps me going. It keeps me young. I came from Chicago. I was coming down with arthritis, so I needed to be in a warm place. I worked at New York-New York for a few years, and then I went to the airport and worked security.
“I’m never going to retire. Not until they take me out in a bag. I don’t have a family, no children. The people at The Colosseum have become my family, and all the stars are family, too. They are all very nice, especially the guys in Elton John’s band.”
Security officer Bill added: “Everybody was nervous that very first night. We were very unsure what our duties were going to be. It was a long night. I remember seeing many celebrities, including Siegfried & Roy. I was thrilled that Celine opened the theater. I was very much a fan. I never appreciated her music as much until I saw her perform in person. I saw the movie ‘Titanic,’ and that was the first impression that I had. From there, and in the movie, ‘My Heart Will Go On’ was beautiful, but then seeing her in person was a great experience.
“It was my first time with Caesars. I started working three weeks before the opening. We were familiarizing ourselves with the building and all the systems. I’d never seen such a beautiful theater. I have seen bigger arenas, but nothing so beautiful. The stage was magnificent.
“I think it is the best job you can possibly ask for. Somebody like me, I always grew up admiring performers like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand. I listened to them, so then I got the opportunity to get paid and serve them in person. … I get to see the performances very often. I would say Celine I have seen her at least a couple hundred times, sometimes from the side on the stage left or right, but I get to see them when they are here every night. I’m still a fan.
“The stars all know us. They wave to us. … Sometimes we’re in the elevator together, and Jerry will say hello, and Rod even knows my name and says thank you and wishes me a good night. Elton is very, very nice and always thanks me for what I am doing.
“I love my job as much today as I did 10 years ago.”
Gary summed up: “Everybody said it would never work. I was a Doubting Thomas, and boy was I wrong. The Colosseum has become such a high-caliber venue that people talk about the experience all over the world. This one caught many, many people by total surprise. I think we’ll be celebrating its anniversary for many decades to come.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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Transport yourself to the opulent and excessive Roman Empire at Caesars Palace. But the ever-changing Caesars Palace is far from ancient. The hotel and casino is constantly raising the bar for what visitors can expect in a Vegas resort experience.
Caesars Palace features 3,348 rooms and suites in five towers, including the new luxury boutique Nobu Hotel and Restaurant, which opened Feb. 4, 2013, in the totally remodeled Centurian Tower. Caesars features 129,000 square feet of gaming space, including the Strip’s largest poker room and a 250-seat sports book. Other amenities include about two dozen restaurants, a four-level shopping mall, four pools, a spa, Pure and Poetry nightclubs and Pussycat Dolls.
Dining options include restaurants from world-renown chefs Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay and, on Feb. 4, 2013, Nobu Matsuhisa.
You never know what characters you’ll run into at Caesars with regular performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Elton John and maybe even the emperor himself.