Chicago kicks some serious brass in Tropicana Theater’s blowout weekend

The newly refurbished Tropicana Theater.

One quick thought about Chicago (the band) after it opened the newly redesigned Tropicana Theater over the weekend: The founding members can still bring the heat.

Trombonist Jimmy Pankow (who is 65), in particular, still possesses an obvious zeal for performing that belies his age. He is the rocking-est trombonist I have seen (apologies to all the trombonists I know around VegasVille, but this guy is a machine). He was joined by founding members Walt Parazaider, keyboardist Robert Lamm and trumpet player Lee Loughnan, who performed thrice over the weekend and also took part in a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony at the theater's entrance Friday afternoon.

The new theater can handle a larger audience than the old place, that's clear as you first enter. It seats a little more than 1,000 fans, about 400 more than the capacity at Tiffany Theater.

The space is bedecked in cherry-red hues with swirling gold patterns on each wall. It can serve as a proper theater for large-scale shows -- and Chicago’s was that -- or as a showroom for smaller performances. Booths and round-top tables are set at the front, so you still have the possibility of a Classic Las Vegas showroom vibe.

The sound was lush, although I felt the power of the horns was somewhat lost in the mix, and this might be because my ears were still ringing from Saturday’s UNLV-San Diego State game at the Thomas & Mack Center. There was no use of video technology, aside from the band's famous cursive logo and an American flag near the end of the show, but when you are hearing an unbroken stream of classic songs from one of the great American bands, video gymnastics are not missed.

Aesthetics aside, the more pressing issue coming out of that first weekend is how the new Tropicana Theater is to be filled. By luring Chicago into the hotel, it’s clear the Trop will be competing for acts with other like-sized venues -- especially LVH Theater, where Chicago most recently performed here. The Tropicana Theater has the feel of that famous LVH Theater and also such venues as Orleans Showroom and even Terry Fator Theater at Mirage.

There has been no formal confirmation of “Dancing With the Stars -- Live in Las Vegas” returning to the Trop, but that has been expected (originally by the end of March), and that sort of sit-down show would suit the theater ideally. Word is that “DWTS” producers pressed for a renovation of the theater as a condition for the show’s return to the hotel. They should like what they see, which is a full-scale renovation of a very well-known showroom. Now we just need some dates set, and that process is like assembling a big “DWTS” puzzle.

Cast members from the TV and stages shows are committed to a half-dozen performances on Holland America cruise lines through January 2014. At the moment, Lacey Schwimmer and Mark Ballas are performing on an Eastern Caribbean cruise. Two performers are performing on select cruises through the summer and again next January.

Getting a solid cast to commit to a run in Vegas will take some tango-like choreography, but performing fancy footwork is a “DWTS” hallmark.

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