Celine Dion returns to recession-hit Vegas

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Celine Dion returns to recession-hit Vegas

LAS VEGAS - On the stage that French-Canadian power ballads built, Celine Dion rolls her body, drops her hips and shimmies in a gold sparkly minidress that looks like it was swiped from Beyonce’s closet.

This is Dion as Tina Turner, her robust voice stretching into a soulful cover of “River Deep, Mountain High” as a row of back-up singers groove behind her during a sound check in the near-empty Colosseum at Caesars Palace. Or at least this is as Tina Turner as the “Beauty and the Beast” crooner is going to get in her Las Vegas sequel.

Dion’s new show, which opened Tuesday on the Las Vegas Strip, is a stripped-down tribute to Old Hollywood comprised of a 31-person orchestra, a trio of back-up singers and an entourage of guitarists, drummers and a pianist, all clad in black tuxedos and cocktail dresses. Gone are the Cirque du Soleil-style dancers and theatrics that saw Dion harnessed to a cable and flown in the air during her previous, five-year stint at the Colosseum that ended in 2007.

A lot is riding on the encore show. Dion, who gave birth to twin boys nearly five months ago, is tending to an expanded family while trying to mirror or surpass her previous success in a city that has yet to pry itself free from a brutal recession.

Along with her Tina Turner tribute, Dion performed songs made famous by Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and Ella Fitzgerald hours before a preview performance. There was also a mod homage to James Bond and a “Smooth Criminal” jam session.

“From Michael Jackson to James Bond to ‘Mr. Paganini,’ it’s so different, and it’s so classy, and it’s fun,” Dion said of the show.

Las Vegas executives herald Dion as the successor to legendary Sin City headliners like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, while praying she’ll once more sell out nightly concerts despite the state’s record unemployment rates and a sluggish tourist market.

Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner said the three-year production is a gamble. Executives questioned reopening the show amid Nevada’s 13 percent unemployment, the highest in the nation. Caesars lost $831.1 million last year, or roughly $3.5 million more than its net income in 2009. Nearby, stretches of the Las Vegas Strip are replete with abandoned casino projects. When “A New Day” opened in Las Vegas in 2003, the unemployment rate in Nevada was 5.2 percent.

If anyone can speed up Las Vegas’ recovery, however, it is Dion, Selesner said. Ticket purchases have so far exceeded the pace of sales for “A New Day,” and executives expect the French-Canadian singer to drive convention business, room rentals, travel to Las Vegas and gambling.

“Certainly, Sinatra was one era. Elvis was another era. I like to think Celine is the next era,” Selesner said. “People still want to see the big stars get on the stage and see their hits, and Celine has got some big hits.”

Dion said she tries not to dwell on the tall expectations. “There are a lot of people talking to me about that. I am just a singer,” she said Saturday in between tending to her newborns and show rehearsals.

Under her new contract, Celine will perform 70 shows a year starting Tuesday. The show will include the romantic opuses that made Dion an international star.

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