Robin Leach's Vegas DeLuxe
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Although Celine Dion and her husband and manager Rene Angelil agreed to plan a new show for her return to Caesars Palace the day after she departed The Colosseum three years ago, Grammy Award-winning director Ken Ehrlich has only worked on it with them the past 15 months.
I talked with Ken, before Celine’s return to Caesars Palace on Wednesday, about what audiences can expect.
Robin Leach: Celine’s new show comes in here with the reputation from doing blockbuster business from A New Day and her world tour. How do you do something different that’s going to knock people off their seats and say this is the best she’s ever done in her life?
Ken Ehrlich: You know it’s less about what we do and more about what she does. She’s Celine. And I think people have obviously, they have a high expectation level in terms of who she is and what she represents. But this show is an extremely musical show. The production values are different, but they’re equal to what A New Day was, but just in a different way. It’s gorgeous.
RL: From everything we hear, it’s more sophisticated and less theatrical -- it’s purer.
KE: I think it is -- it’s definitely more musical. There’s a 31-piece orchestra, and that’s an orchestra. That isn’t a band, that’s an orchestra. And then there is a band. I think they are the original nine or 10 pieces, most of them have been with her for 20 years. But then you add a horn section and full string section and those arrangements, even the hits sound different because for people who have seen her on tour, because now you’re seeing them fleshed out with string arrangements, with horn arrangements, and they have that same power.
RL: Like being in a recording studio with them?
KE: Kind of in a way there’s definitely some of that. But the live dynamic just adds an incredible, you know, we just started rehearsing with the strings here, but in Florida, we had the band and the horns, and even just that layer took some of the hits you’ve been used to hearing for years and added a whole new layer to them. I don’t even count the songs she’s going to do.
For me, it’s not a number. What I really love is the quality of the material in addition to the hits that everybody is coming to hear. I think Celine wants to be a little more challenged this time out. And so there’s a mix of songs she’s always wanted to sing, and then some new songs that she probably didn’t know about a year ago or two years ago. And I think it’s that combination that’s going to provide the freshness to the show.
RL: She’s singing “Smile” on the Oscars, but is it in the show?
KE: I don’t know-- it wasn’t the other day. The Billy Joel “Lullaby” is! I’ll tell you about that. She sang that on Oprah. I brought that song to her, I’ve always loved that song, and we have yet to get through it without tearing up. All of us collectively. It’s just one of these songs that on its own is extremely emotional, and when she sings it, you know she’s singing it to her kids. It’s really something.
RL: If you were to use one word to describe this show, which is untitled, what would that word be?
KE: That’s a tough question ’cause I don’t think we really know yet until, for me anyway. … But it’s gonna be untitled. I know what it is right now, you know, in our heads from hearing her sing some of the songs, but it’s just gonna take on a life of its own when we get inside. I’d like to say that it’s this: One word doesn’t work for me, I’m afraid. I think there’s an intimacy about it because it’s without some of the production that accompanied the first show, but at the same time, there’s size to it because of the set design, the lighting.
Yves Aucoin, who did the last show and who did Love and who’s been with Celine for years and years and years, has done a remarkable job of painting the stage. I think sophistication might be too pricey a word because on the one hand, there’s no question that classy is the five-cent word for sophistication. And there’s no question when asked that’s what Celine is, but I’m not sure sophistication does full service to it.
I’ve worked with her for 15 years, and I’m afraid sophistication implies a little bit of a distance between an artist and an audience, and the thing that I’ve seen about any time I’ve ever worked with Celine is whether you’re in the front row or whether you’re up on the balcony, you really believe that Celine is singing to you. She’s performing, she entertains you. I think, I’m not sure that it contradicts sophistication, but I think that the difference is that she just has this …. maybe it’s two words. Intimate sophistication?
To me that’s her greatest quality. And the reason that she ran for five years here was say what you will about 40 dancers and flying around and the world’s biggest LED screen, it’s really about this one woman every night going out there with a great instrument saying to you I want you to walk out of here and think that you’ve had a great evening. I don’t know that every artist, I’ve worked with a lot of artists, I don’t know that every artist that I’ve worked with have that same intensity.
RL: Is it just a tribute to Hollywood musical themes or Hollywood movie romance themes? Or is that just part of it in various sections of the show?
KE: Yeah. Is it a romantic show? You don’t have a Celine Dion show without having a real sense of romance, but we started out making it with a very definite kind of a Hollywood theme. But as the show began to take on a life of its own, we realized that to some extent that was limiting. That we could still incorporate some great songs of Hollywood, but we didn’t have to plaster it on a marquee. “Celine goes Hollywood,” you know.
I think the show is bigger than that and not that someday she shouldn’t do a show that’s just about movie themes and about movies, but I think that this show has a broader reach than that. And I think we found that as the process unfolded.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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