Las Vegas is defined by its flashy nightlife and cash-flowing casinos, but it is also known for presenting memorable shows by legendary performers, such as Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. And while Vegas mainstays have evolved over time, with Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez joining the long list of residency acts, there’s something sweet about sticking with the classics.
This month, icons Cher, Elton John and Diana Ross hit stages along the Las Vegas Strip for their own separate spectacles.
Cher, who made her mark with multiple appearances at Caesars’ Circus Maximus starting in 1979, recently opened the “Classic Cher” show exclusively at the Park Theater inside the Monte Carlo hotel. John returned to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace for his critically acclaimed show “The Million Dollar Piano.” (Ross recently wrapped up a nine-concert engagement at the Venetian Theatre.) These shows are sure to be filled with glitz and glam from start to finish, thanks to each legend’s eye-catching costumes and visuals, along with their hit songs that have spanned several decades.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what audiences can expect at the Cher and Elton John shows.
Before Madonna and Lady Gaga, there was the costume-wearing, genre-hopping Cher, who helped pave the way for adventurous singers in the male-dominated music industry.
Cher has accomplished plenty throughout her career, starting with hit singles in the 1960s with then-husband Sonny Bono, followed by their TV variety series “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” and her solo success with such songs as “Dark Lady,” “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” and “If I Could Turn Back Time.” (As an actress, she won an Academy Award for her role in “Moonstruck.”)
Not only did her talent set Cher apart, but it was her over-the-top fashion statements that skyrocketed her to notoriety in the ’60s and ’70s.
“The thing about Cher is she can be [any ethnicity],” said costume designer Bob Mackie. “Everybody looked like they were Swedish with a turned-up nose, blonde hair and blue eyes. There where millions of women out there who saw Cher and thought, ‘She’s like me.’ ”
Think of Cher’s 1974 bodysuit with feather-and-crystal embroidery or her 1986 Oscars ensemble featuring a Mohawk headdress — that’s all Mackie.
The costume designer was responsible for those revealing looks on the series with Bono and Cher’s own TV show that not only captured the audience’s attention, but also that of the CBS Standards Department.
Said Mackie, “It never occurred to me that the costumes would become iconic. I worked week to week, and it was always like trying to top myself, especially with her. Her costumes became part the entertainment value of the show. People would tune in to see what she would wear and what bit of skin she would show next.” Mackie also created the costumes for her 2008-11 Vegas residency at Caesars Palace.
Referencing her performance look for the 1973 hit “Half-Breed,” he said, “I remember the first time she wore her Indian head dress and the loincloth. Everybody was shocked, horrified and delighted all at once. Nobody looked like that on prime-time all-American television those days.”
And the ensemble still stands today — well, a version of it.
Mackie created new costumes for the Classic Cher residency, which are all updated looks of what she wore when she originally sang “Half-Breed,” “Dark Lady” and “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves.” Mackie describes a costume for the 2013 track “Woman’s World” as the “most outrageous” outfit.
With 11 changes in the show, Cher will be covered in wigs, wild head-pieces, colors and embellishments that will be paired with custom-made Christian Louboutin shoes, black leather boots, sandals and other footwear styles.
“It’s very nostalgic, especially when she plays her hits,” said Mackie. “She wants the [show and her getups] to have the same spirit as it did before.”
Through May 20, Cher will perform at least 18 concerts at Park Theater and the Theater at MGM National Harbor in Maryland.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is back in Las Vegas presenting “The Million Dollar Piano” show. John kicked off the long-running residency in 2011, after taking a brief hiatus following the 2004-09 Red Piano Tour, also held at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
The show, with his piano made up of more than 68 LED Yamaha video screens at the center, features hits and classic album tracks from his five-decade career.
John’s look has evolved since his 1970s heyday, when he regularly wore platform shoes, oversized glasses and his elaborate onstage ensembles, according to his tour tailor Richard James.
“Elton has always had a flamboyant onstage style that has become a little more refined with elegantly cut tailored looks,” he said. “We designed bespoke looks that fit beautifully with Swarovski crystals, which still had Elton’s onstage drama.”
There are at least three changes during the show, and his black-base suits featuring a sea of Swarovski crystals bring a dramatic effect to the evening. Shoe designer Patrick Cox gets credit for the standout metallic brogues seen during his latest concerts.
Cox said the entertainer was quite involved in the custom-making of his footwear — nearly 40 pairs of shoes were made for the tour, including doubles and triples of the same shoes — because he wanted the leather soles to be metallic, too.
Said Cox, “We didn’t want just a regular sole, so we ended up sending them to an auto-body shop, and they sprayed and baked them. You can see the metallic from every angle.” Also included on the colored shoes are studded skulls.
To create a pair of stage shoes compared to an everyday shoe for someone like John is not different at all, said Cox: “He’s quite theatrical, so there’s no problem whatsoever. Some entertainers may have a stage persona, but Elton’s Elton.”
John will be performing in Las Vegas this month, as well as in April and May.