In about 30 minutes, the Backstreet Boys will descend from the ceiling inside The Axis theater at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, tucked into individual lighted squares as the crisp sounds of “Larger Than Life” boom through the room.
But in the lead-up to the arrival of the well-preserved boy banders – Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson, Howie Dorough, AJ McLean and Georgia mainstay Brian Littrell – the 4,600-capacity venue is vibrating with gleeful nostalgia.
Yes, the majority of this Friday night audience is stocked with exactly the demographic one would expect – attractive 30-something females, many decked out in shimmery cocktail dresses, who wallowed in teenage longing when the Backstreet Boys commandeered radio in the late-‘90s and early-‘00s.
But a glance around the venue also uncovers some surprising outliers – some near-twentysomethings, plenty of men and couples who perhaps parented these now-adult fans and retain a soft spot for the group’s music, having heard “I Want it That Way” blaring through the minivan speakers 6,837 times.
The quintet is the latest residency gamble on the Las Vegas Strip, a notion that launched with Celine Dion in 2003 and has consistently lured a parade of top names in the ensuing years – Elton John, Bette Midler, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Lionel Richie and Mariah Carey among them.
Some, such as Dion, continue to pack audiences in the same house (The Colosseum at Caesars Palace) – after all, there is always a new herd of tourists to entertain – while Cher returned earlier this year with a loving retrospective dubbed “Classic Cher” at the pristine new Park Theater at Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, which has also enlisted Bruno Mars and Ricky Martin for new residencies.
Meanwhile, Spears will wrap her successful “Piece of Me” run on New Year’s Eve and John will say goodbye to this yellow brick road in March – all the more reason to welcome new recruits, such as the Backstreet Boys, whose early dates proved so successful, they’ve added a new round later this year and into 2018.
Their nearly two-hour show alternates between a caffeinated sensory assault of flashing blue lights and cascades of lasers and slow jam moments when the guys – who present impressive coordinated dance moves – don sequined dinner jackets for “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” and engage in Temptations-esque spin-clap moves for the prom swayer “I’ll Never Break Your Heart” like a pack of sparkly Jersey Boys.
They are appropriately humble (“I can’t believe all of you guys would come here just to see us,” Littrell said) and relate easily to the crowd, which unleashes squeals every time a favorite member addresses them (Carter, amiably goofy and still jock-handsome with frosted tips, remains the frontrunner).
They also don’t neglect their history: A 10-minute BSB video montage rolls before the show even begins, and midway through, another collage of floppy haircuts and horrific jean jacket fashions from their formative years is presented.
It’s no coincidence that the video prefaces the group’s return to the stage in sleek, sexy black and red outfits for their sharp rumination on fidelity (“The Call”) and their 1995 debut club banger, “We’ve Got it Goin’ On,” a juxtaposition that succeeds in making us realize, “Wow, these guys have aged really well!”
The Backstreet Boys have crafted a fun, frothy production that taps every essential — dance-along tracks (“The One,” “Everybody [Backstreet’s Back]”), swoony ballads (“Shape of My Heart,” “I Want it That Way”) and innocuous, polite personalities, all wrapped in an enjoyably slick package.
For those whose musical memories stretch back a bit further, Cher is defying gravity with a series of shows at Monte Carlo’s Park Theater, the 5,200-capacity beauty that opened in December.
Sandwiched between the also-relatively-new T-Mobile Arena and the dining and entertainment district dubbed The Park, the venue has filled in its residency gaps with shows from acts such as Kenny Rogers, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie and comedian Ali Wong.
But while Cher fans await the arrival of her life story on Broadway , they can revel in her undiminished wicked sense of humor — “I love standing 40 feet in the air with only a piece of dental floss to keep me from plunging to my death,” she cracked after landing onstage for the opening “Woman’s World.” “And what is YOUR grandmother doing tonight?”
It’s a question worth pondering — and a reality worth celebrating upon realizing that yes, Cher is 71.
Her “Classic Cher” might borrow liberally from past tours – the animatronic elephant she glides onto the stage for “All or Nothing,” the floor-length headdress (and little else) she dons for “Half Breed,” the sweet video duets with Sonny Bono, the beautifully lighted mirrors and scalloped frames that serve as the “Welcome to Burlesque” backdrop are all immediately familiar to those who have witnessed her in concert before – but there is no denying her tenacity.
Even a momentary scary slip on this night as she emerged from backstage to croon her appealing raspy version of Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” couldn’t throw this lifelong pro off her game. And for some, it’s worth the price of admission alone to witness the ageless performer pace the stage in the black fishnets, leotard and massive wig that all look strikingly similar to her ‘80s video heyday for “If I Could Turn Back Time.”
A Cher show is always equal parts Broadway, cabaret and glitter-ball fabulousness, and by the time she Auto-Tunes her way through the show-closing neon-and-lasers infested “Believe,” you’ll cheer her ability to seamlessly marry vintage Vegas with current flourishes in the Cher-iest way possible.
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