"This is a big Vegas-style production show, married with a dance club environment," Kurt Melien, VP of entertainment at Caesars Entertainment, tells Billboard. "It's 21 of her greatest hits, effectively, and some of the music from her eighth studio album (scheduled for release on Dec. 3). It’s a retrospective on some of the most iconic moments of her life, combined with the more contemporary stuff that she’s doing today."
Spears' Las Vegas residency show is being directed by award-winning lighting and touring director Baz Halpin, who has also worked on tours by Katy Perry, P!nk, Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift and Swedish House Mafia, Billboard has learned exclusively. Spears is slated to perform 50 shows per year in 2014 and 2015, starting on Dec. 27. The first tickets go on sale this Sept. 20, with prices ranging from $59 to $179.
In this detailed interview, Caesars Entertainment’s Melien divulges details about the production of Spears’ nightclub-like residency show, whether or not she’s permanently moving to Las Vegas, what the pop singer is (or isn’t) being paid for the two-year stint, why you won’t see her perform outside of Vegas for the next two years, additional information about Planet Hollywood’s planetarium-like theater that’s hosting the residency, and much more.
Billboard: What’s the backstory on how the Britney Spears Las Vegas residency came together?
Kurt Melien: I’ve known [Britney Spears manager Larry Rudolph] for two or three years now. We started the conversation. It always made sense to us that she was potentially an ideal Las Vegas resident -- for a couple of reasons. One, her catalog of music at is so deep that she appeals to a broad audience and demographic. She is also traditionally known to put on a big, Vegas-style production. The idea of her sitting down and building a big theatrical production was something that appealed to us.
Can you elaborate on how you think she appeals to a wide demographic?
When we look for residents, we look for folks who can sit down for long periods of time. So a pop artist with one or two albums doesn’t have the staying power to do a multi-year residency. But she has the catalog of music, for sure. And we love the idea that she appeals to a 30- and 40-something, but also to a 20-something. There are fans who loved her in the ‘90s and 2000s, and she certainly has a large fanbase of folks who follow her contemporary music. This is an artist that casts a wide net across demographics.
TMZ has reported that Spears will be paid $310,000 per show -- or $15 million per year -- for the residency. Is that true?
We’re in a partnership with her, so we’re building this deal together from the ground up. That’s the way we think about the financials. It’s one of these things where we’re in partnership together and it’s not really transactional. A quote like that feels transactional and that’s not what this is. A comment like that doesn’t reflect the level of joint partnership between our parties.
Can you provide any other specific details about the production of the Spears residency show?
The show is being directed by Baz Halpin [who’s also worked on tour production by Katy Perry, P!nk, Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift, Swedish House Mafia]. They’re moving along quickly. The show is opening Dec. 27, so they’re deep into it now. It’s an exposé of her career. It’s 21 of her greatest hits, effectively, and some of the music from her eighth studio album [scheduled for release on Dec. 3]. It’s a retrospective on some of the most iconic moments of her life, combined with the more contemporary stuff that she’s doing today.
How long will each performance be?
The target is about 90 minutes. They’re still finalizing that. We don’t restrict it. But 90 to 100 minutes is probably likely.
It’s been speculated that Spears lip-syncs during live shows. Have there been discussions about how she’ll approach vocals during the residency performances?
We haven’t had that conversation. She certainly has been a singer and dancer her entire life, and she certainly has the chops today. There’s no doubt about it that she’s in the physical shape and vocal shape to sing the entire show. She’s working out a ton, training a ton and rehearsing a ton. She’s super pumped and really excited about this idea since it became real.
Is Spears permanently moving to Las Vegas for the two-year residency stint?
She’ll stay in a hotel when she’s here. It’s her choice if she wants to get a house or not. But as far as I know, she’s going to stay in a hotel and fly back very regularly. She’ll stay in a hotel when she has a show going on, and then she has the freedom to go back to Los Angeles frequently to spend most of her time with her kids. Technically, she can fly back that night or the next day and be in L.A. pretty quickly. That’s what’s great about this for her, because she’s definitely a mom as much as she is a performer. So she likes this idea that she can be home a lot while still performing. It’s a great thing for an artist.
Give us some more details about the 4,600-capacity Planet Hollywood theater that will house Spears’ residency.
We’re looking to build a theater and create an experience that appeals to a younger customer. There are a lot of theaters here today. The [Cirque du Soleil] theaters are all pretty similar and the Colosseum at Caesars is a traditional, elegant theater. What we don’t have is theater/nightclub. So we’re renovating this theater in a big way to create a dance club/nightclub experience. There’s going to be table service with cocktail waitresses, and there’s a dance floor you have access to at those tables. We’ve designed this theater to create a different experience that attracts a younger customer.
It’s a theater we’re renovating inside Planet Hollywood. The major renovation includes changing the layout of the seating. You can get a sense of how it lays out on the Ticketmaster seat map (below). There’s going to be a big dance floor in the front, which is part of the P1 package, and then we’re doing what we call a nightclub table. They’re mini boxes with bottle service. Half the room, more or less, is seats and the other half is dedicated to being nightclub seats and the dance floor space.
A press release says the show will feature the “largest indoor immersive stage productions in the world.” Can you expand on that?
The total amount of IMAG (image magnification) projectors is forthcoming with more details on the show. But the theater itself is massive. It’s a huge theater with a giant presidium. The walls are massive. The show is going to use projection across almost all of the walls, left and right surrounding you. So it’s going to feel almost like a planetarium. You’re going to have this massive storyline projection around you.
Will Spears contractually be allowed to perform outside of Las Vegas during her two-year Las Vegas residency?
I’m glad you asked that question. It’s full exclusivity in North America. So she’ll be exclusive to Las Vegas and Planet Hollywood for two years in North America. If you live in the United States or Canada and you want to see Britney Spears in the next couple of years, Vegas is the place to do it.
Is it generally more lucrative for an artist to do a residency versus traditional touring?
Yes, it is more lucrative. They don’t have the cost of travel, they don’t have the cost of trucking, and they don’t have the cost of building moveable sets. If you have an interest in producing a high-production show, it’s absolutely cheaper to do [a Las Vegas residency]. And you also don’t have cost of additional hotel travel and hospitality. The folks you hire tend to live in [Las Vegas] -- the band, the dancers and support staff.
Spears will perform 50 shows per year in 2014 and 2015. What’s the strategy behind which days of the week will she be performing?
Las Vegas has a pretty robust mid-week business. There will be at least one mid-week show and at least two weekend shows. We like to have at least one day in the middle of the week. There are enough conventions and business meetings, and such, that people want some unique entertainment during the week.
Outside of her residency performances, will Spears have any other contractual obligations with Caesars Entertainment?
Nothing beyond the fact that Britney is now a member of the Caesars family. She’s going to be in Las Vegas a lot. She’ll be staying in our hotel. So it’s likely you’ll see her at an event we do, et cetera.
Spears will appear at Las Vegas' upcoming iHeartRadio Music Festival. Will she be performing there?
She’s actually not performing; she’s just going to introduce somebody.
What is Caesars Entertainment’s exact role in the Spears residency?
For this specific venue and show, we’re doing it on our own. We’re doing this in house and promoting it.
Why did Caesars Entertainment decide to promote the Spears residency in-house instead of working with an outside concert promoter?
We have the capabilities to do it in house. For this particular deal, we set it up internally with the relationships we had. And for that reason it was in our best interest to do it ourselves. That doesn’t mean that one day a promoter doesn’t come in to be a part of the deal. But it was always an in-house deal.
With numerous hotel and casino options in Las Vegas, why did you choose Planet Hollywood for the Spears residency?
We think it’s a good brand fit. [Spears manager Rudolph] thought that too. Planet Hollywood has a demo that is diverse. It’s got a younger customer base and certainly has somewhat of an older demo -- older being 30s, 40s, 50s. But we liked this audience because we know Britney will be scaling to a younger customer.
Las Vegas has a wide range of other residency artists, ranging from Celine Dion to Shania Twain. What are some untapped musical genres that would work well for a Las Vegas residency?
As far as underserved genres, I think there are two: one is a little bit of younger-skewing country, what I would call contemporary country. You have Garth Brooks and Tim & Faith, but the idea that we could see a sit-down from a younger country artist is a pretty compelling idea. I think pop continues to be underserved, but Britney will certainly help fill that gap in a big way. Those are the two that we’re thinking about today.