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Behind The Music Mania in Las Vegas

See how pop stars like Celine, Elton and Gwen came to rule the strip

Celine. Elton. Britney. And now Gwen. Gwen Stefani’s new Las Vegas residency at Zappos Theater is thanks in part to Jason Gastwirth, president of entertainment at Caesars Entertainment. When Gastwirth began in Las Vegas about a dozen years ago, production shows were a different animal entirely. Broadway-style musicals were the star, and he had a hand in bringing the highly successful run of Jersey Boys to the Strip at the Palazzo. These days, it’s less Broadway spectacular and more arena-headliner extravaganza.

When he came onboard with Caesars, the company was riding high with Celine Dion and Elton John emblazoned on the marquee of The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. By the time 2013 rolled around, and visitors began skewing younger, he asked, “What if we were to introduce the first pop residency in Las Vegas?” Soon, he had his sights set on their next big act: Britney Spears. “Like when they were first bringing Celine to the market, there was some skepticism: would it work?” he admits. Competing with traditional nightclubs for younger crowds would be a gamble, so he had to find a star who could draw them in. “Britney was a really exciting choice for that.”

Gastwirth with Mariah Carey and H. C. Rowe, vice president and general manager of The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. (Photo by David Becker)

Her blockbuster four-year run proved him right. Then came J. Lo, Backstreet Boys and Mariah, among others, each with their own brands of high-energy performances. And being able to rattle off most of these resident headliners without mentioning full names is totally by design. “The first screen is ‘can they go by one name?’” he says, laughing. Combine that with a vast catalog of hits and a global fan base, and you’ve got a pretty short list of candidates whom Gastwirth and Caesars would like to showcase in the future.

Yet musical acts aren’t the only cards he is ready to play. Banking on younger audiences who are looking for more than just the same-old Vegas experience, his team recently announced a residency for Nitro Circus, an extreme sports production slated to open early 2019 at Bally’s. Headed up by daredevil Travis Pastrana, who this summer recreated Evel Knievel’s famous jump over the Caesars Palace fountains, the BMX and motocross show sets up shop in the same theater that once housed another iconic Vegas show, Jubilee, that ran there for more than 30 years. “Our focus is on shows that might be a bit more immersive and interactive versus a traditional Broadway show,” Gastwirth says. “We’re making history here.”

Main image: Celine Dion during a benefit concert at OMNIA Nightclub Inside Caesars Palace. (Denise Truscello/Getty Images)