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Celine Dion Signs Deal to Perform in Las Vegas

Entertainment: The singer's three-year contract with Caesars Palace starts in 2003.

May 18, 2001|JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Certain entertainers embody Las Vegas' glitz: Elvis Presley. Frank Sinatra. And now, Celine Dion.

The Canadian singer has signed a contract to perform five nights a week at Caesars Palace hotel-casino for three years beginning in 2003. It's unprecedented for a pop superstar to agree to be anchored to one venue for such a length of time.

The deal, which sources say will pay the 33-year-old entertainer an estimated $45 million over the term of the contract, rivals the sum she could earn from a 40-date world tour before expenses. But it allows her, instead, to stay at home to care for her new child, born in January.

Analysts said the Caesars deal could spark interest in other unconventional live-concert deals at a time when record sales are essentially flat and record conglomerates are under fire for squeezing artists' royalties.

"Going forward, the value in music is probably going to come more from playing in live venues than from selling albums," said Michael Nathanson, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. "Harkening back to the Grateful Dead, they had a pretty cool model. They said, 'We don't have to sell a ton of records. We can tour like crazy, build a fan base and make money a different way.' I think it's intriguing."

But few musicians have the mega-wattage star power needed to draw a large enough audience to turn a profit on such a deal. Concerts West, a concert promotion firm owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, is counting on Dion's global sales and Las Vegas' international tourism business to deliver constant sell-outs.

Caesars expects to spend $65 million to erect a 4,000-seat theater to house the production. Plans call for the promoter to price the tickets from $85 to $150, hauling in ticket sales of as much as $300 million over the contract. Dion will be prohibited from performing in any other concerts during the period.

"This is a new genre of live entertainment for an artist," said Concerts West co-Chairman John Meglen. "Everybody loves to go to Las Vegas. They can book their vacation around this thing."

The Caesars deal also marks an unusual experiment in marketing: Dion plans to release her next album on Sony's Epic label one year before her appearances at the casino, but she probably won't mount a major tour to promote it. Instead, the songs will be incorporated into the theatrical production supervised by Cirque du Soleil Director Franco Dragone.

Representatives of the singer, who has sold more than 37 million albums in the United States alone, said they doubt that would handicap record sales. "The Beatles haven't toured that much [lately] but they're still selling records," said Dion's husband and business partner, Rene Angelil.

Angelil said the singer would perform in a theatrical production in the style of such Las Vegas shows as "O" and "Mystere." He said Sony Music Chairman Thomas D. Mottola approved Dion's Las Vegas deal after seeing "O."

The deal also comes at a time when signing headliners is back in fashion among casino executives. Singer Wayne Newton signed a reported $250-million deal two years ago to perform exclusively at the Stardust Hotel and Casino for 10 years.

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