Celine Dion Returns To Recession-Hit Vegas With New Show

Celine Dion has returned to the Las Vegas stage in a parade of sparkly dresses with thigh-hit slits, a stage full of trumpeters, violinists and drummers, and a special appearance by Stevie Wonder.

The French-Canadian crooner sang the romantic opuses that made her an international star, including “My Heart Will Go On” and “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” in her encore performance Tuesday night at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. She also shared a pre-recorded duet with Wonder to his “Overjoyed.”

“Was that neat or what?” Dion told the concert hall of more than 4,000 people as a hologram of Wonder faded from the stage.

A lot is riding on this sequel performance. 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 the embrace of a brutal recession.

The new three-year production pays tribute to Old Hollywood, with a 31-person orchestra dressing the stage, including an entourage of guitarists, back-up singers, drummers and a pianist, all clad in black tuxedos and gowns.

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.

“From Michael Jackson to James Bond to ‘Mr. Paganini,’ it’s so different, and it’s so classy, and it’s fun,” Dion told The Associated Press before the show. “Different flavor. Different colors of music.”

She performed songs made famous by Jackson, Billy Joel and Ella Fitzgerald. There was also a mod homage to James Bond and a “Smooth Criminal” jam session.

A chandelier twinkled above the stage during a performance of “Because You Loved Me,” smoke licked at Dion’s heels during “All by Myself,” and in a haunting mid-concert rendition of Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” Dion tearfully contemplated the loss of a lover in her native French.

The concert hall swelled at the emotion. Women cried, cheered on their feet and wiped their eyes dry.

Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner said executives initially questioned reopening the show amid Nevada’s 14.2 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.

In comparison, the unemployment rate in Nevada was 5.2 percent in 2003, when Dion’s first stint, “A New Day,” opened in Las Vegas.

Despite the recession since, “people still want to see the big stars get on the stage and sing their hits,” Selesner said.

For the opening performance, Dion wore a bedazzled white strapless gown and belted out Journey’s “Open Arms” on a stage dressed in sheer curtains. As she approaching the booming chorus, the curtains dropped to reveal rows of musicians across the stage.

Later in the show, a video showed images of her oldest son blowing out his birthday candles, of the twins being baptized at a Las Vegas church, and performances by a young Dion at the dawn of her career.

She donned seven outfits, most covered in glittery details, during the nearly two-hour journey through her greatest hits.

Dion also performed “Man in the Mirror” in a memorial to the belated Jackson, a longtime musical influence. She said he attended a performance of “A New Day,” then probed her about the experience.

“He was probably interested in coming here and performing here,” Dion said. “I really wanted to kind of sing a few of his songs to tell people how big of a loss that is for him to not be here any longer.”

Dion was originally expected to start her new show at Caesars in June 2010, but five failed in-vitro fertilization attempts delayed those plans. She delivered twin sons Nelson and Eddy in October, and began rehearsing in January as she continued to breastfeed the babies and care for her 10-year-old son with the help of her mother, sister and a nanny.

In that time, Dion also squeezed in a performance at the 83rd Academy Awards last month.

“I didn’t think I would be ready after this pregnancy, but everything is smoother than I thought,” said Dion, who is living with her brood at Caesars while a nursery is added to her lakeside home outside Las Vegas.

Before she left Caesars to launch a world tour in 2008, “A New Day” grossed more than $400 million over five years.

Caesars spent $95 million to build the Colosseum for Dion in 2003, complete with a humidifier to protect her voice. The show opened to bad reviews, but was a commercial triumph.

The new show is poised to become another hit, Selesner said. Ticket purchases have so far exceeded the pace of sales for “A New Day,” and executives expect Dion to drive convention business, room rentals, travel to Las Vegas, room rates and restaurant sales.

Dion said she tries not to dwell on the tall expectations.

“I want people to come and not feel disappointed. That’s my most important job,” said Dion. “I personally don’t think I have anything to do with theeconomy.”

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