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October 22, 2019

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Elvis exhibits in need of a makeover

Ribbon Cutting for Graceland Elvis Exhibit at Westgate

L.E. Baskow

A classic Elvis Presley photo hangs above a line of opening-day visitors for Gracelands first-ever permanent exhibition outside of Memphis and in the Westgate Resorts on Thursday, April 23, 2015.

Elvis Exhibit Opens at Westgate

Westgate Resorts CEO David Siegel, Priscilla Presley and Graceland Holdings Managing Partner Joel Weinshanker attend the grand opening of “Graceland Presents Elvis: The Exhibition, The Show, The Experience” on Thursday, April 23, 2015, at Westgate Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

We begin this Sunday in The Sunday by embracing the sacrilegious: Elvis is waning in Las Vegas.

I don’t know how else to gauge the recent closing of “Graceland Presents: Elvis the Exhibition” at Westgate Las Vegas. The attraction of Elvis memorabilia, authorized and licensed by Elvis Presley Enterprises and the Presley family (including his ex-wife, Priscilla, and daughter, Lisa Maria), was shut down Feb. 26, reportedly because the entity renting the space, which is licensed to do so by Graceland itself, was falling behind on payments to the hotel.

As a result, the hotel cut off the business and effectively seized all of the assets in the exhibit, including such highly personal Elvis items as the American Eagle jumpsuit he wore onstage at the Las Vegas Hilton in 1972, the tunic he wore on an opening night in July 1969, a telegram he sent to Barbra Streisand on opening night at the International, the jumpsuit he wore in the film “Viva Las Vegas” and all of the original Sun records Presley recorded with Sam Phillips.

The Graceland exhibit took up nearly 30,000 square feet in the section of the hotel where “Star Trek: The Experience” did business for a decade before closing in 2008. Westgate Las Vegas owner David Siegel is a serious Presley fan, and officials from his company and from Elvis Presley Enterprises were so confident of Graceland’s success, they practically laughed at the idea of market-testing the the project before opening the exhibit. The attitude was, “It’s Elvis in Vegas. What possibly could go wrong?”

The reason for the kink in the payments to Westgate is not yet verified (I suspect the attraction is underperforming), but what is certain is this is the second Elvis attraction to pull out of Westgate in the past 10 months. The stage show, “The Elvis Experience” starring Martin Fontaine, opened in April 2015 and closed two months later. The explanation was the show had run its scheduled course.

But since then, no Elvis show has returned to the International Theater, where Elvis himself once performed, or to the smaller Westgate Cabaret, where Elvis tribute artist Trent Carlini once headlined.

In fact, the only Elvis presence at his former Las Vegas home is a bronzed statue at the entrance of the hotel that errantly lists his record number of consecutive sellout shows at 837; it’s actually 636.

In a larger sense, the closing of the Graceland attraction, which opened in April last year, is a case of Elvis fatigue here. In August 2012, “Viva Elvis,” the aggressively-hyped Cirque du Soleil production based on Elvis and backed by Elvis Presley Enterprises and Presley’s family, became the first Cirque show to close on the Strip.

With the closing of Graceland at Westgate, there is no sanctioned Elvis attraction in the city, and the only stage show in production that uses his image is “All Shook Up,” a David Saxe Productions vehicle being rolled out at V Theater at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.

Elvis Presley Enterprises and Priscilla Presley have long bemoaned the unauthorized depiction of the King at such locations as the Strip in front of the Bellagio fountains and on Fremont Street. As Priscilla told me last year, referring to Elvis tribute artists in general, “How can I say this? As much as I appreciate them, what they do, they seem to take on a whole other personality. They seem to lose themselves in all this, um, portrayal of Elvis.”

What are the avenues to revive the great appeal of Elvis? I offer this without knowing how the Presleys would feel about such a venture, but a multimedia show hosted by Priscilla, maybe co-hosted by Lisa Marie, would be a way to focus on the Elvis legacy authentically, with the use of home movies and film clips and his best television appearances, including his 1968 “Comeback Special” on NBC. We have seen success with such biographical productions in Las Vegas, expressly Mike Tyson’s “Undisputed Truth,” which returned to the MGM Grand at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club.

Elvis needs a return engagement, another “Comeback Special.” We’ve seen his jump-suited image taken out of context and used as a kind of comedic costume, inspiring $20 plastic sunglasses with fake sideburns at Fremont Street kiosks. But those who knew Elvis can best put his style, his music and even his oft-derided film career, in proper perspective.

The first step, of course, it to clean up the mess at Elvis’ old Las Vegas home.

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