Are you up? That’s how the new Britney Spears show is to be measured. Standing? If you are it’s a good night. Everything about the new Piece of Me production at Planet Hollywood is geared toward goading audience members to stand and groove.
The strategy works. Spears is great fun to watch, dressed in shimmering costumes and illuminated by flashing lights angling in from all around the theater. She’s backed by a thundering band and a robust, 14-member dance team. Throughout we stand, as Spears leads the effort to turn Axis into a 4,600-capacity nightclub.
Most theaters are not furnished with a vape station inside the venue. Axis has that. It also offers bottle service at the VIP tables at the very front of the seated section—“seated” being a suggestion.
By luring Spears into a long-term residency at Axis, Caesars Entertainment has drawn a distinction between that venue and the company’s other 4,000-seat theater, the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. If the Colosseum is the more regal establishment, presided over primarily by Celine Dion, Axis is the party pit. It has two, in fact, a pair of open areas at the lip of the stage where fans have no choice but to stand and dance. Spears’ walkway from the stage circles that segment of the audience; when you’re standing there the energy of the production is inescapable.
Piece of Me has just been given a tune-up and is about 40 percent upgraded. Holdover hits like “Womanizer,” “Hit Me Baby One More Time” and “Oops! … I Did It Again” now share a show with “I Love Rock ’n Roll,” vibe-ing off the Joan Jett rocker from 1982, “‘If You Seek Amy,” “Breathe on Me” and “Touch of My Hand.”
“I Love Rock ’n Roll” presents the most lavish of the new numbers added to the show, an actual revival of a giant guitar Spears used years ago on her Femme Fatale Tour. She hops on the oversized six-string, given new life and purpose in this show. Everyone is physically fit in this production, especially the star, who scrambles up a spiral staircase for the title track and stomps through “Work Bitch” throwing a top hat into the crowd as a moment of apparent defiance.
It is in these moments that you realize the vocal balances are unwavering, and why it has long been apparent that Spears’ vocals are at least partially tracked. But in this presentation of advanced choreography and theatric innovation, uniformly live vocals aren’t necessary.
Rather, Spears’ is a technologically and physically driven performance for everyone, as her dancers carry her across the stage, pyramid style, in “Break the Ice” and tie her up with a strand of red material for “Oops!” In what has become something of a signature stage effect—the oversized gown—Spears hangs from high above the stage in an angel outfit for “Everytime.” Fake snow salts the stage in this scene, which brings to mind the long gown worn by a similarly suspended J.Lo in her All I Have production, a costume that doubles as a video screen.
In yet another richly appointed production in Axis, lasers pierce the venue, glitter cascades from the ceiling and video panels show Spears throughout her already lengthy career, surpassing 20 years since she was a member of The All New Mickey Mouse Club TV series cast with Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera. We never do see Spears’ face up close, live, during performance, to see her smile and sweat through the show. Too bad, as one of the early voids in Spears’ run at Axis was that she didn’t appear to be “present” in the room, not feeling the audience’s response. She now chats up the crowd throughout, much to its delight, dropping the occasional F-bomb as evidence of her comfort in a nightclub-fashioned show.
Such verbal interaction is welcome. Spears, after all, is an artist who has come of age in full view of the public, and not so long ago she was seen as a somewhat tragic figure not particularly energized by her own stage show. Her rejuvenation coincides with the return of Larry Rudolph as her manager, who has steadied her career for more than two decades.
It was Rudolph who first recognized that Las Vegas was ripe for a party experience like the one Spears delivers. It was merely a matter of the right deal and the right venue. The Axis has been given a shot of energy, in the form of a dance show starring Britney Spears, still young enough to have fun and wise enough to show how it’s done.
Britney Spears: Piece of Me Wednesday, Friday & Saturday, 9 p.m., $59-$500. Axis at Planet Hollywood, 702-777-2782.