A group conversation the other night about Jennifer Lopez’s new show at Planet Hollywood’s Axis theater took an unexpected turn—down CeeLo Boulevard. We recalled CeeLo Green’s performance at the Planet Hollywood showroom, educating someone relatively new to Las Vegas who hadn’t witnessed CeeLo’s short-lived Loberace residency in the spring of 2013. As I attempted to explain, the CeeLo show was an attempt to create a nightclub atmosphere in a proper theater on the Strip. The promise at the time was to tap into CeeLo’s ample superstar equity to fill the theater for a comparably late start, 11 p.m.
Playing up Liberace’s great showmanship and penchant for garish costumes and bedazzled scenery, Green would serve as that nightclub’s superstar attraction and the party would be on. Instead of Tiësto, we’d get CeeLo.
The idea was sound and appealing, and represented an early attempt to merge theater and nightclub entertainment in Las Vegas, since attempted elsewhere with shows like For the Record: Baz at Light. But Loberace failed in one crucial requirement: funding. The show either did not or could not spend the resources to deliver what was promised.
Great expense was spent on CeeLo’s arrival on the Strip in front of Planet Hollywood, as his piano erupted in flames, but when the show rolled out, he wasn’t even given an instrument to play. The costumes didn’t fit. The music was entirely tracked. The show looked and felt cheap, a maddening outcome given CeeLo’s individual capacity to dazzle large crowds.
That noble concept of a party at PH with a superstar at the center has held, however. The scene has changed, and it’s the old Theatre for the Performing Arts, redesigned as Axis. Since the upgrades, including a drawdown of the standard capacity from 7,500 to about 4,600, the focus has been to deliver nightclub-styled productions around superstar performers. Britney Spears’ show is full of flashy dance numbers, and Pitbull’s thunders with high-powered club songs designed to pull audience members from their seats.
J.Lo’s show is the latest to infuse the theater space with a thundering nightclub experience. The difference starts with the checkbook: a little less than $10 million in production costs, including J.Lo’s eye-popping $350,000-per-show salary (a figure reported by TMZ and not disputed).
Every scene in this show could serve as a static set in a major Strip production. The innovative expenditure is evident everywhere, starting with a smoldering five-piece band and 16 backing dancers whose jewel-encrusted costumes seem pulled from the final days of Jubilee.
The multisensory experience unfolds throughout. During “Jenny From the Block,” the singer and subject of that song is flanked by a pair of giant Yankee caps. A glimmering No. 6 subway train lurches forward for “Let’s Get Loud.” She dons a towering dress that serves as both gown and projection screen for a cover of Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance,” which she dedicated to her 7-year-old twins Max and Emme in a moment that cut through the kinetic action onstage.
Her sense of technology is paraded as her backing dancers race across the stage on hoverboards during “Love Don’t Cost a Thing.” The production’s attention to detail extends to the accessories. J.Lo grips a rhinestone-studded cane for “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” (the Bye Bye Birdie production number) while dancing up a spiral staircase in the center of the stage.
Then a chaise lounge is placed in that spot, and an artist who could be forgiven for simply dancing during her many hits performs a somersault across that pink piece of furniture. At 46, Lopez remains fearless and confident, and as impressive a dancer as she was during her days as a Fly Girl on In Living Color. To borrow a club phrase (or, at least one I once overheard), she’s got a lot of it, and she knows how to move it around.
A quibble? Maybe add real horns to that band instead of using a synthesizer. And the DJ moments mixed into the show are not entirely necessary.
But taken individually, the elements of this show would be laudable enough. J.Lo is a superstar with many crossover hits. She’s a familiar celebrity who has starred on film and TV, and maintained status as a major figure in the music industry. Given all that fame, an unvarnished concert-style show starring her and her band would sell tickets. Even without a name star at the center, the massive production is dazzling enough to recommend to any live-entertainment fan.
But the combination of Lopez’s fame, work ethic and talent make the show a party befitting a superstar. The production is generous, tireless and imaginative—all qualities shared by Lopez. There are no half-measures with this woman, and at the end you feel spent, which is the intended result.
Jennifer Lopez: All I Have Nights vary, 9 p.m., $59-$416. Axis at Planet Hollywood, 702-785-5395.