Shines like neon, stings like defeat

Las Vegas Review-Journal
By Mike Weatherford
July 26, 2014

There's no such thing as a sure thing in Vegas.

Well, there is that rule about always splitting eights and aces.

And if you lose at roulette, double your bet on the next spin and you’ll win it back.

What about bringing back “Mamma Mia!” which is still playing on Broadway as one of the top-grossing musicals in history?

How about building an exclusive comeback showcase for Shania Twain, the biggest-selling female country singer of all time?

Lady Vegas, you are a cold one.

“Mamma Mia!” turns out to be a jaw-dropping disaster. It will run just one more week at the Tropicana Las Vegas before it closes Aug. 3, putting a three-month wrap to what was supposed to be an open-ended run.

And Twain will close shop at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in December, after returning for 16 more shows.

You can’t equate it to the “Mamma Mia!” debacle, since Twain will chalk up 110 shows in the Strip’s premier headliner venue. But, just like Bette Midler in a similar scenario a few years ago, you can sense the disappointment. Both sides put in too much effort not to keep rolling beyond the original two-year commitment.

At least those gambling rules are backed by some degree of mathematical logic.

Entertainment makes us wrestle with more intangibles, such as the fact that no one I ran into seemed excited about “Mamma Mia!” coming back. No one, that is, but my daughter, who wasn’t old enough to see it during its six years at Mandalay Bay. And on Broadway, new teens coming of age help explain the show’s longevity.

But in Las Vegas, oversaturation is at the top of the list for concrete explanations. The show never stopped touring after it left Las Vegas in early 2009. Las Vegas trades in repeat visitors, and even new ones here for a couple of nights have to make tough choices.

We also know the Trop reached out to the show’s producers, not the other way around. So perhaps the invitation came with no request for royalty reductions that might otherwise seem reasonable for a show that’s circled the world so many times.

The Trop is also a stand-alone casino, without physically connected sister properties or a wider database for marketing, as the musical enjoyed during its Mandalay Bay years.

And there’s just something about that place lately. It has a way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory time and again.

With Shania, we are also in the realm of the intangible: The feeling that this comeback simply wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

A DVD called “The Discovery of Eilleen Twain” has been sitting on my desk a long time.

After Monday’s news that Twain would call it quits after two years, I finally watched it.

It’s a cheap little effort. About a half-hour of documentary wrapped around footage of a very young Twain performing in “Viva Vegas,” a revue at the Deerhurst Inn Resort in Ontario in the late 1980s. The gig enabled her to make the jump from her hardscrabble youth to Nashville, Tenn., where she changed her name to Shania, hooked up with producer “Mutt” Lange and went on to make history.

The DVD’s irony comes in the resort show’s Las Vegas ambitions. It was probably no worse than anything actually onstage in Vegas in the ’80s — not the city’s best decade by anyone’s count.

Still it’s quite comical to watch today, with Twain singing in her poufed-out ’80s hair and low-cut sequined gown alongside some guy who looks like Bill Murray’s lounge lizard character. For her solo spot, she belts “Somewhere Out There” to a tinkly electric piano. Then the word “Somewhere” triggers a key change and bam! It’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Cut to this weekend, where any destiny foreshadowed by “Viva Vegas” was fulfilled by Twain cavorting on a Wild West saloon set with dancing cowboys and cowgirls on the Colosseum stage. And like the ’80s show, it seems anachronistic and contrived.

“Viva Vegas” may have foreshadowed Twain’s destiny, but she skipped right over the years she really should have been here. The ones following her last album in 2002. The years that ushered in Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, etc., were the ones when Twain was sidelined with vocal and personal issues.

But the singers who followed Twain’s break from the format restrictions of “country” also became more “pop” in their timeliness and shelf life.

Twain came back with live horses and motorcycles that would make “Viva Vegas” jealous. But like “Mamma Mia!” she just didn’t seem to come back with enough new reasons to make enough people care.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at or 702-383-0288.