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Vegas to get piece of Spears when pop star hits Sin City

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She conquered the charts and traversed the globe, and now it's viva Las Vegas for Britney Spears as she readies to stake out her spot on the Strip with a two-year residency extravaganza, Britney: Piece of Me, which launched Friday. But with anemic sales of her new album Britney Jean (just 107,000 copies sold in its first week -- her lowest debut yet, according to Nielsen SoundScan), and very little promotion (save her just-premiered E! documentary, I Am Britney Jean), does Brit-Brit have what it takes to get behinds in seats?

"I'm skeptical that she'll draw huge crowds," says pop critic Jody Rosen of New York magazine, citing successful Vegas headliners such as Celine Dion and Elton John. Those stars "have an older audience that is more likely to travel to Vegas in general and will travel there expressly to see a concert... It's no accident that (artists) that generally do (residencies) are older. It's like a quasi-retirement move."

Dion launched her first triumphant Sin City residency A New Day... in 2003 (which has since been replaced by Celine, scheduled to run through 2019) and inspired countless veteran artists such as Shania Twain, Rod Stewart and Cher to follow suit, finding similar levels of success. But as college kids and young professionals have invaded the Strip in recent years -- packing nightclubs and bringing the electronic dance-music craze along with them -- resorts and casinos are looking to accommodate this new wave of pleasure seekers with bolder entertainment.

"The goal of this residency is to launch the first contemporary pop residence for a younger generation," says Kurt Melien, vice president of entertainment at Caesars Entertainment. "We wanted to take advantage of that population base of folks who don't want to simply watch a DJ spin. They also want to go see a major Vegas-style concert event, a big theatrical production with lots of spectacle. This is about a shifting demo in Vegas, and Britney being the first pop residency shows that Vegas is really becoming a younger city."

Since the show was announced in September, details have gradually trickled out about what fans can expect: a set list featuring 24 of her biggest hits; a nightclub-style venue (the newly renovated Axis theater at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, which holds 7,000), complete with a dance floor and bottle service; and tickets ranging from $59 to $179 a pop. Add in promises from Spears and her team of lip sync-free performances and rigorous choreography, and even the most casual fans are wondering what else the pop star has up her sleeve.

"Britney has a great opportunity here," says Billboard editorial director Bill Werde. "If she shows up on opening night and brings it -- really dazzles people with the Britney of old, who could outdance and outperform almost anyone -- this is going to be a really meaningful thing for her career. It might bring some life back into (Britney Jean), and will certainly silence the chatter that goes on when any pop star doesn't quite perform up to previous levels of success."

"The largest challenge is, if it flops, there's a narrative of, 'She's flopping again. Her album flopped and then this Vegas (show) was a disaster,' and then that makes her look even more out of it than she already does," says Rosen.

During her two-year stint, Spears will be living in a suite at the Planet Hollywood Resort in Vegas, but will fly back to her home in Southern California when she's not performing, says Melien. As for a Celine-length run on the Strip? Don't count on it, says celebrity-branding expert Nick Nanton.

"Vegas is typically where you go to do a greatest hits (show), and although she's had a long-standing career, she still has a lot more ahead of her. She might extend a year or so, but (she'll) feel the necessity to get back on the road and connect with fans around the country, and then maybe go back to Vegas to do another residency," Nanton says.

Although hard numbers aren't yet available, interest in Piece of Me appears to be strong. Vegas.com's Bryan Allison says Google searches for the pop star's Vegas engagement have held up well since the show was announced early this fall -- doubling those of other Sin City headliners -- and she's been the site's fifth most-searched term.

Tabloids have speculated about low ticket sales, though her manager Larry Rudolph insisted otherwise to Billboard.

"For the younger audience, it was really important for us to deliver a price point that was affordable. We understand that the Britney fan comes from all walks of life," says Melien.

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2013 G2

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