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November 27, 2014

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Q+A: AEG chief John Meglen talks Shania, Elton, Celine and Strip entertainment scene

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Denise Truscello / WireImage / DeniseTruscello.net

Elton John’s “The Million Dollar Piano” at the Colosseum on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, in Caesars Palace.

Shania Twain: ‘Still the One’ Opening Night

Opening night of Shania Twain's Launch slideshow »

Superstar Shania Twain returns to her Colosseum stage at Caesars Palace tonight after a summer hiatus of songwriting to resume another 22 concerts of her Strip residency through December. She’ll take a short break in the middle of November.

When she ends the run on Dec. 14 before Celine Dion’s Dec. 30 return there, it will mark the end of the first year of Shania’s two-year contract. Tickets for 15 performances of “Shania: Still the One” from Jan. 22 through Feb. 15 go on sale Friday.

My interview with Shania was posted last week, just before she flew into Las Vegas.

Star status at the Colosseum falls under the constant vigilance of AEG chief John Meglen. He looks after a group of VIP celebrities there, including Shania, Celine, Sir Elton John, Rod Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld and numerous one-nighters.

I wanted to catch up with him on the current state of the Strip entertainment scene and how he’ll soon have to face contract-renewal negotiations.

Obviously, you’re excited to welcome Shania back; she’s been away a little while.

I can’t wait because the first couple of runs just blew it out. These next couple of runs, and by purpose, is somewhat surrounding PBR and NFR events, so they’ll even be bigger runs. She is as happy as could be, having a great time. She’s doing the things that all the other artists end up doing, which is they start tweaking, playing with things.

There are two things that I think are so key for an artist, and that is 1) for them to enjoy it and 2) for them to keep tweaking it. When they keep tweaking it, it keeps it fresh for them. I’m always for, “You want to change out a song, you want to change out this bit or that bit, then go ahead." It’s sort of the way Celine does between Stevie Wonder and Andrea Bocelli, right? Sometimes during the holidays, we’ll put the Bocelli piece with “The Prayer.” In other times, more festive; other times we will put in Stevie. It keeps it fresh for the artist.

Shania is so beautiful. I just think it’s worth the price of admission for a guy to pay and just stare at her for 90 minutes.

She’s got her first anniversary coming up in December. It’s obviously been a great first year; she’s committed to a second year under the initial contract. So we may see her longer because she loves being here?

You know, I would love it. We haven’t gotten there yet. I’d like to get through a first full year and kind of re-evaluate everything. Everything in this first year is going tremendous; it’s exceeding our expectations. She and her team, whether it be Fred her husband, Jason her manager, her sister Carrie, her staff and management; they’re all the greatest people to work with.

It’s very important because you live in a close, intimate situation with these people during that time period that they’re there. It’s very, very important that everybody gets along and everybody can work together. She’s been right at the top on that; she really has. She’s so natural. What’s so great about her is that she is truly natural. Yes, she’s an iconic diva, but she might as well be the girl next door, too. I think that’s why people love her so much.

She’s one gorgeous lady, and that’s all I can say about her. I love working with her. The only conflicts that have erupted since she has begun have been very little and usually some type of technical glitch that we all have to work out. The smoke may not be moving around the stage the right way or the campfire isn’t quite working.

Remember, we went four-dimensional in her show. It’s the first show that we added smell. You’ve got the campfire smell, you’ve got the horses, you have the trees and the fragrances; that was a very special, innovated concept that she came up with. No one else has ever done that before.

Elton John's The Million Dollar Piano at Caesars Palace

Elton John's The Million Dollar Piano at Caesars Palace on Sept. 28, 2011. Launch slideshow »

John, we joked about your plate being full, and I look at everybody who’s renewed at the Colosseum. You literally don’t have openings for anybody anymore for at least another couple of years, right?

Yeah, I know! We’ll maybe start opening up some in 2015. They’re all doing so well right now. We did have a little lull at the beginning of the summer across the board. Audiences were off a little, but the problem with a lull is that you don’t know it’s a lull until it’s over. Everything is firing so strong right now, the ticket sales are tremendous, and we’re just blessed to be in that building and working with these artists.

And the stars themselves love being in the Colosseum?

Yes, every single one. Elton we know loves it. Celine we know loves it. Rod Stewart is my best spokesman. He tells the entire world how much he loves it. And Shania loves it. I’ll be honest with you, I even at one point talked to her manager and said, “She hasn’t gone out and done a tour. Do you want to go out and do a tour after the first couple of years?” And he came back to me and said, “Man, she’s really loving this, and we don’t necessarily want to talk about changing right now.”

At this point, and I realize it’s delicate with continuing negotiations, but Sir Elton is committed until when?

I will just say the following: Elton’s current contract for the number of dates could play out in the first half of 2014, but I don’t think Elton wants to leave. Those conversations are happening — nothing’s definite, but by all means, I think Elton, right next to Celine, is the most recognizable artist attached to the Colosseum.

Shania and Rod have become Colosseum boosters, too, and the last time we talked, I told you Rene (Angelil, Celine’s husband and manger) had told me that he was renewing Celine with you until 2019. Has that moved along in any way officially?

Mmmm, don’t make me comment on it. I like keeping certain things secret so we can have a freshness to it all.

Can I answer it this way? As long as I’m involved, I don’t ever want Celine to leave. She keeps selling tickets like nobody else, and I’ve been in the business for 35 years. I’ve never seen anyone sell tickets like this in my life, and she continues to do it. I have no reason for her to leave.

She sold the house in Florida; she’s selling the house in Montreal. Her only home is Las Vegas, and she’s going to build a new, bigger one here.

I know she loves it here! I had a talk with her about it not long ago and she’s just … it works perfectly for the family, too. Always with Celine, we put her family needs first and then figure the work out after that. The only thing upsetting me is that her son Rene-Charles keeps kicking my butt on the golf course. He is good. Not only can he hit a drive, he knows how to play his irons, he knows how to play out of the sand, he knows how to read greens and putt. You know what else he knows how to do? He knows how to bet!

Wonder if he learned that from his dad?

It’s great, man. He’s a smart kid and a great little athlete. He’s made a few dollars off me!

3/15/11: Celine Dion at The Colosseum

Celine Dion's opening night at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on March 15, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Let’s talk about Veronic DiCaire’s show at Bally’s that you co-produce with Celine and Rene. She’s here until Christmas. I’m guessing from a location viewpoint and arriving, although a huge French-Canadian star, a little American unknown quantity, the marketing has been a little bit of a struggle?

We’re looking into a new location to move to; we’re not going to give up on her. She’s so tremendously talented, and we just know that it takes a while to get something like that established. Every single person who goes to see that show walks out of there stunned. She’s got that work attitude; maybe she learned it from Celine and Rene.

Again, I will go back to every single one of these artists, and what they have is a tremendous work ethic. Veronic has that; with the passing of Danny Gans, I think she can go grab that, I really do. She can take over that mantle for Danny Gans. I’ve told Rene I’m not giving up. We’re going to make this lady a big, big deal.

I guess we now get into wish lists. Do you have people in mind?

Always! I heard about the David Bowie rumors. I went chasing that but found out it wasn’t real. I will tell you something that has opened up more opportunities overall for us — doing these rock residencies in the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel has opened up a whole new group of people who are saying, “Hey, look how well Def Leppard did, look how well Guns ’N’ Roses did, look how well Motley Crue is doing.” That brings other mainstream artists into play not only for the Hard Rock but also for the Colosseum.

So let’s sum this up with an analysis and overview of the current entertainment scene in Las Vegas from your producing eyes and your corporate eyes.

I still think that the residency shows are a different audience than the one for nightlife entertainment. The resident shows are still based on Middle America tourism. I hope Britney Spears does fantastic because she is potentially a bridge of the nightlife-entertainment crowd and the ticket crowd.

That nightlife crowd has become six to a car from the Southwestern cities sharing one hotel room, hanging out at the pool all day, and then they take their turns in the showers, then go to the clubs. They don’t buy tickets; they don’t gamble. You don’t want six in a room for your occupancy; you want six rooms.

Maybe they do a little bit of spa and shopping, but they don’t eat at the fine-dining restaurants. Britney is so big, she could be the one to start changing that model, where that crowd evolves to a ticket-buying crowd.

11/6/10: Rod Stewart at The Colosseum

Rod Stewart at The Colosseum in Caesars Palace on Nov. 6, 2010. Launch slideshow »

The Caesars Entertainment guys are really genuinely pleased with the fast rate of her ticket sales — in fact, they are slightly in disbelief because it’s way more than initially expected.

You have to remember the key is longevity. The key is longevity. Britney will come out of the box really strong. She’s got Baz Halpin directing her show. He’s one of my favorites; I love him to death. He does Cher, he does Taylor Swift. He is a perfect guy to do this show for Britney. He’ll put on an arena show inside her theater.

Looking forward, how is the Las Vegas entertainment scene right now?

The good thing for all of us is that ticket sales through to the end of the year are strong and solid again. It was a little soft on and off the Strip at the very start of the summer, but as the summer went on, sales got stronger. And then August and September became very solid, and looking out they remain that way to next year.

We have a very good feeling about the ongoing success of our Las Vegas shows, and it keeps growing.

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.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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