Relationships happen fast in Vegas. Less than five minutes after being introduced to CeeLo Green, he asks, “Oh, do you know Paco?”
Paco, in this instance, is Brian “Paco” Alvarez, and CeeLo’s question is not at all random. We have been talking of the Liberace Museum, and Alvarez is the chairman of the board of the Liberace Foundation. The night before this sit-down interview in a suite at Planet Hollywood, Green has toured a section of the otherwise closed Liberace Museum at Tropicana Avenue and Spencer Street.
CeeLo is becoming a Las Vegas kinda guy, at least during his run in “CeeLo Green Is Loberace” at Planet Hollywood’s 1,400-seat Chi Showroom (also home of "Peepshow"). The production opens Wednesday.
As the show’s title reminds, no contemporary artist has more energetically embraced the style and legacy of Liberace than CeeLo. He asked for a quick look-see at some of the costumes, jewelry, pianos, vehicles and personal artifacts still stored in the collection, pieces of which are scheduled to move to Neonopolis within the year.
“Paco and I are talking about me supporting the museum downtown, yes,” says CeeLo, wearing a coal-black T-shirt and matching pants and a diamond-studded cross necklace and matching wristwatch. “The foundation has been very gracious in allowing us to associate ourselves with the brand. Of course, I would do everything in my power to represent the legacy respectfully and also do some other additional things to support the museum.”
The nature of those things is to be sorted out, but it is right to expect that Alvarez and his fellow foundation officials would be thrilled to partner with CeeLo in any way that would help promote the exhibit’s new home. But those plans will not be specified until CeeLo gets “Loberace” off the ground.
For a guy who was, in fact, off the ground in an aerial, piano-spinning performance at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena, CeeLo is firmly grounded in his objectives for Vegas. The show has previously been described as wildly over-the-top, but as CeeLo has had a chance to review the most lavish productions on the Strip, he sounds unexpectedly reserved about how his show compares.
As the jewel-bedazzled artist speaks, it is clear this seven-week stint is just the beginning of a more grandiose plan.
“I was comparing what we’re doing to Cirque du Soleil, to “O” and to “Love,” and quite frankly, there is no comparison. So … in our tax bracket (laughs), I think we have the best show,” he says. “I want to spare people the details about logistics and limitations because I hate to have a conversation about what we can’t do. Seven weeks is a short trial period, to make an impression here in Vegas. I think we will succeed, and I think we will be asked to extend our stay.
“Who knows? May be after a successful run, some brave individual — an investor or impresario — will say, ‘You know what? I like that show, but what you need is this and this and that and that.”
And pony up additional resources to make it happen?
“That’s right,” CeeLo says, smiling.
Even as he has starred on NBC’s “The Voice,” reaching millions of TV viewers each week as a coach, mentor and judge with cast mates Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera, CeeLo says he has always favored live performance.
“Music is my passion. I’m not a television celebrity,” says the man who, with Danger Mouse, founded Gnarls Barkley. “I’m an artist. I’m avant-garde. That is what I am invested in.”
For CeeLo, that investment covers nearly 20 years of live performing, from his original hip-hop group Goodie Mob to Gnarls Barkley to his late-blooming solo career. The artist outlined his feelings about the Vegas gig with animated alliteration.
“For the sake of professionalism and progress and pro-activity, this is a training ground for me,” he said. “I believe that the treads were wearing thin for me, touring as much as I have for the last 19 years that I have been doing this professionally. A lot of people aren’t aware of my entire career and just have known me over the last few years. I would like to strike right at the heart in terms of colors and choreography, these things that provide an instant gratification.”
The new show is to incorporate live elements and technology, with a lot of CeeLo in the middle performing his own hits and covering an array of artists ranging from Prince to Rod Stewart and (on something of a different artistic plane) Blue Magic.
“We’ll have dancers and live musicians, and taking a page out of the Old Vegas playbook, we’ll have a lot of dialogue and interaction,” he said. “We’re modernizing that with graphics and a lighting spectacle and great choreography. These things, they are timeless.”
The same could be said of CeeLo and “Loberace.” But if he’ll be timeless in Vegas can only be answered with … time.