'Jersey Boys' hits plush Palazzo in Las Vegas

By Chad Jones
Correspondent
May 18, 2008
The Oakland Tribune

Italian-themed canal boat ride and slavishly re-created St. Mark's Square at the center of its Grand Canal Shoppes mall, the Palazzo is different.

For one thing, it's not themed. It has an Italian name, but the feel inside is one of spacious elegance. There's no cheesy waterway or attempt to fool people into thinking they're in Europe. From the hotel lobby, with its towering fountain sculpture and palm trees, you head into the 105,000-square-foot casino, which is strangely quiet. Even full of gamblers and revelers, the large casino floor is calm and civilized. That sense of calm continues in the suite rooms, which have remote-controlled Roman window shades and drapes, three flat-screen TVs (one in the sunken living room, one in the bedroom and one in the bathroom) and pillow-bedecked beds that actually feel as good as they look.

On the concierge level, you get even more for about $100 more per night than an average room. You can order just the right pillow from a pillow menu. You also can engage the services of a "bath butler" to create the perfect experience, whether it's the "rubber ducky bath" complete with cookies, or the "Phantom bath," with its romantic rose petals paying tribute to the Vegas version of the musical "The Phantom of the Opera" next door at the Venetian.

Like so many other modern Vegas hotels — from Caesar's Palace to the Bellagio — the Palazzo has its share of fancy shops. But in its quest to be a cut above and different from the rest, the Palazzo boasts an entire department store: an 85,000-square-foot Barneys New York. Mixed in with the standard luxury shops such Burberry, Coach and Christian Louboutin, you'll find another Vegas rarity: a bookstore.

Bauman Rare Books is as much museum as it is shop (though the price tags — thousands of dollars for a first-edition Babar children's book — are definitely more shop than museum), and it's a sweet relief to look at beautiful bindings and great works of literature rather than craps tables and roulette wheels.

In terms of entertainment, the Palazzo is entering a crowded field. There's no shortage of shows to see in Vegas, but most of them come with hefty $100-plus price tags, so visitors are discerning.

If the name Cirque du Soleil is attached, the show will do well, but that's just about the only guarantee for fickle Vegas audiences, who have turned their noses up at other entertainment, such as the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical hits "Hairspray," "Chicago," "Avenue Q" and "The Producers," all of which came and went in Vegas. Even Monty Python's "Spamalot," which has name recognition, dirty jokes and big laughs, will close at the Wynn in July. Only "Mamma Mia!" the musical incorporating songs by the pop group ABBA, has shown any staying power (the show recently celebrated its fifth anniversary at the Mandalay Bay resort).

As its first, and so far only, show, the Palazzo went for one of Broadway's biggest hits: "Jersey Boys," the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Bay Area audiences embraced the musical when it opened at San Francisco's Curran Theatre in December 2006 and ran, with a break of several months, through December of last year.

The final San Francisco cast was rumored to be the one heading for Vegas, and that turned out partly to be true. If you saw any of the three casts that came to San Francisco, you'll probably recognize someone onstage.

One of those familiar faces belongs to Jeff Leibow, a former Pleasanton resident who has performed with the Willows Theatre Company in Concord, TheatreWorks in Mountain View and the Pleasanton Playhouse in Pleasanton. Leibow is playing Nick Massi, the quietest of the Four Seasons.

Getting cast in "Jersey Boys" was Leibow's big break. He and his wife, Melody, moved from their most recent Bay Area home in East Palo Alto to the suburbs of Las Vegas. And now Leibow finds himself performing in a brand-new, state-of-the-art 1,700-seat theater at the Palazzo.

"This is the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me," Leibow says. "I made the leap into a Broadway show from the Bay Area. I've only seen a handful of people do that."

Leibow and his fellow cast members are aware of the fact that other Broadway musicals haven't fared so well in Vegas, but they say they're confident "Jersey Boys" will please the desert audience.

"This is different than any show here," Leibow says. "First of all, Frankie Valli is known in Vegas, and this isn't just a jukebox musical. It's more like a play with songs."

Other Broadway transfers have bowed to Vegas pressure and shortened the show to fit the standard Vegas one-act, 90-minute format. "Jersey Boys" keeps its two-act structure but adds an eight-minute "pause" between acts that barely gives people time to run to the bathroom.

The show keeps all of its musical numbers, but scenes and songs have been artfully shaved to preserve the show's integrity and to keep the running time close to two hours. Fans — and there are a lot of them — will be happy to know that centerpiece songs such as "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man" and the show-stopping "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" are exactly as we saw them in the Bay Area.

So far, the fact that "Jersey Boys" is a little different from other Vegas fare has proved to be an asset. Audiences are going nuts in all the right places.

"We hope to be here a good long time," Leibow says. "But this is Vegas. You never know. Things seem to change here pretty fast."

Reach Chad Jones at chiatovich@gmail.com.

If you go

WHERE TO STAY:

The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas (877-883-6423 or 866.263.3001; www.palazzolasvegas.com. The all-suite hotel prices range from $199 to $459 per night.

"JERSEY BOYS":

Performs at the Palazzo at 7 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays; 7 and 10 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays. Ticket are $65-$135. (866-641-7469 or www.palazzolasvegas.com.

BEST BETS:

Other top picks in Las Vegas for theatergoers:

1. Cirque du Soleil's "0" at the Bellagio -- Still the best and most beautiful of the Cirque shows. This water-based spectacle is as fresh today as it was more than 10 years ago when it first splashed down. $93.50-$150; 888-488-7111; www.bellagio.com/o-cirque-du-soleil.

2. "Mamma Mia!" at Mandalay Bay -- Guilty pleasure or just plain pleasure? There's no denying the out-and-out fun of ABBA and the clever way its pop songs are woven into a silly story about lost fathers and a Greek isle wedding. Pure fun (and a great way to prep for the upcoming movie version). $49.50-$110; 702-632-7580; www.mamma-mia.com/lasvegas.

3. "Stomp Out Loud" at Planet Hollywood -- Bay Area audiences embraced "Stomp" in its various incarnations at San Francisco's Marines Memorial Theatre. The Vegas version is bigger, better and just plain romp-stompier. The energy of the cast is contagious. $59-$99; 702-785-5055; hollywoodresort.com

4. Donn Arden's "Jubilee!" at Bally's -- The only old-school Vegas floor show left in town, and it's a glorious throwback to the world of rhinestones, feathers, topless showgirls, Bob Mackie costumes and cheesiest music you can imagine. $48-$110; 800-237-7469; www.ticketmaster.com

5. Cirque du Soleil's "Love" at the Mirage -- The newest of the Cirque shows remixes Beatles hits live every night, so it's the closest you can get to an actual Beatles performance. Throw in all the usual Cirque stunts and spectacle and you've got an unbeatable mix of music and merry mayhem. $102.85-$165; 800-963-9634; www.mirage.com

-- Chad Jones