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The Red Piano
Feb. 18-22; March 23-31, 7:30 p.m.
The Colosseum at Caesars Palace
3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South
$100-$250; 474-4000

Thursday, February 19, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

Stage: Rock it, man

By Barbara Scherzer

Eschewing feathers and elaborate costumes, singer/composer Elton John donned a black suit and rose-colored glasses for the premiere of his new production show The Red Piano at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. Created and directed by fashion photographer David LaChapelle, this 80-minute artful homage showcases John's glorious voice and superb piano playing, while giving us an affecting trip back in time through his diverse pop musical career.

John's show is best summed up with two words: very Vegas. For the show opener "Benny and the Jets," enormous neon letters spell out the name Elton and hang down in the back of the stage. By the second song, "Philadelphia Freedom," the massive LED screen reveals multiple images of the Chrysler building taking flight before morphing into a kaleidoscope of '60s scenes featuring John, retired tennis star Billy Jean King and a diversity of couples kissing.

The stage is filled with musicians and their instruments. John's red piano, where he sits for the entire show, is placed stage right. More eye candy is found in the neon signs, which flank the musicians and intermittently flash their message depending on the tune. These advertise rooms for rent at hourly rates, the letters XXX, or, depending on your vantage point, depict a horizontal couple actively, er, coupling.

An over-the-top production--it could easily be called overblown as well--begins with the third song when inflatable props begin to pop up or float around the stage as John delivers his hits. Some of these pop-ups are beautiful. Red roses bloom onstage during the song "Believe" and echo the black-and-white roses that are blooming on the video screen. Other pop-ups are overtly sexual in nature: a pair of gigantic jugs and an immense banana that slowly rises between two overly ripe cherries replete with stems.

For your video viewing pleasure, I recommend Pamela Anderson. While John vocalizes "The Bitch Is Back," Anderson joyfully dances around a stripper pole clad only in pasties and a rhinestone-studded G-string. In the companion video piece for "Rocket Man," singer Justin Timberlake plays to the camera as an amazingly transformed youthful John. If you blink, you will miss Paul Reubens, best known as Pee Wee Herman, as John's manager.

But not all imagery is upbeat. The video ballet that accompanies "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" appears to depict a domestic dispute, and horrific pictures of men at war back "Daniel."

Joined by his longtime band of superb musicians, John is a seasoned showman. He introduces most of his songs with a humorous story explaining their significance and he eagerly plays off the crowd. To my mind, John is most affecting when he performs his tunes "Candle in the Wind," "I Want Love" and his closer, "Your Song."

Although John no longer clambers to the top of his piano or wears goofy glasses, his singing and piano playing remain top-tier. A smash show for John fans or wannabes, The Red Piano simply rocks.


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