Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015 | 3:52 p.m.
The great casino showed its cards right from the top. That’s how confident Caesars Palace was that it would win this hand and this night, New Year’s Eve, at the Colosseum.
Flashing across the giant indoor LED screen that seems as big as the great outdoors were legends of yesterday and today. These were superstars who who have played the Colosseum or the famous showroom that stood for decades in the same spot, Circus Maximus. Lola Falana. Diana Ross. Celine Dion.
And the next name, and the next star, to be ushered to the stage was Jennifer Lopez.
This was a one-night-only production that was not built for one night. It’s very title, “The Best Is Yet to Come,” is practically an announcement that J.Lo is in the plans for 2015 — and perhaps beyond — at Caesars Entertainment. The “where” of it all is still a lively topic. Lopez showed in this full-fledged production that she can bring the party, a thumping dancefest that seems more in line with what the Britney Spears show has executed across the street at Axis at Planet Hollywood.
The Colosseum is a beautiful place, but it is more a refined and comfortable venue compared to Axis, which was long ago the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts. Similar to the Spears show, Lopez fires up the crowd and brings it to its feet — frequently with such demands as, “Get up on your feet!” — and drives the performance with tight choreography, flash costume changes and aggressive use of the big screen at the back of the stage.
But the show does not lean so heavily on its supporting cast and stage effects. Lopez commands attention, frequently turning her back to the audience and shaking her famous derriere. She is in terrific dancing condition, and needs to be, strutting across the 120-foot-wide stage without stopping to tell the audience how hard she’s working. At age 45, the onetime Fly Girl on “In Living Color” is obviously a seasoned stage performer, and even more important, is emotionally invested in the show.
She’s present, smiling and calling out those seated up front with, “Is this the high roller section? We need you people up!” It took her all of 10 minutes to throw out the call-back line, “What happens in Vegas …!” At one point, she strode into the audience, several rows deep, to goad the invitation-heavy audience to sing with her on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
The results were mixed, as the crowd converged on the singer to take selfies, but it was a real moment.
Throughout the 90-minute show, J.Lo’s lineup was impressive and the stage presentation fluid. She was backed by any number of 16 dancers and a six-piece backing band. Among her costumes were a one-piece dance outfit that seemed to be dipped in Swarovski crystals. During “Get It Right,” the big screen flashed with still cameras, cloudy skies and a series of images of Lopez herself. For “Waiting for Tonight,” she slipped into a red-sequined number, performed a striptease on a crimson couch (reminding of one of the signature scenes in the old “Crazy Horse Paris” show at MGM Grand) and was enveloped by a parade of red boa-bearing “Jubilee” dancers.
And, in this interlocked world of Las Vegas stage shows, J.Lo’s choreographer is onetime “Jubilee” artistic director Frank Gatson Jr., who received permission to use those dancers in Lopez’s production.
For “Jenny from the Block,” Jenny from the block sported a white fur jacket and matching boots while grooving to the music ostensibly pouring from an oversized boombox at the steps in front of the stage. Behind her, video beamed footage of her strutting around craggy Bronx streets and hustling onto subway cars. Her Big Wow costume was a white gown roughly the size of the “Absinthe” tent at Roman Plaza, topped by a crystal headpiece, as she covered Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart.” There are moments when it seems Lopez is singing to tracks, especially during her heavy dance numbers, but this was not one of them. The camera closed tight on her face, and it was evident that she was singing in her own voice.
Lopez charged into midnight by performing an homage to James Brown under the signage Jennifer Lopez Soul & Funk Live. She performed the bit where she is just too exhausted to continue, as backing dancers tailed her around the stage trying to return her fur cape to her shoulders. Then she blasted into “Hold It, Don’t Drop It": She followed with a production number in Club Babalu, playing a single conga drum, while wearing a black suit topped with a fedora. She was so immersed that she fell behind on the NYE countdown but caught up in time to turn the calendar under a blizzard of confetti.
No, this was no ordinary concert show. It was a performance to make a point, maybe work out some kinks and give a Strip audience a sample of how Jenny plans to perform on this block. There is definitely some Falana in this woman, and even some Tina Turner dynamism. J.Lo owns a confidence shared by all those stars that have played Caesars before, and now we know how her show will look and feel. All we need now is the when and where.
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.