Robbie Williams performs during his "Live In Las Vegas" exclusive residency at Encore Thea
Robbie Williams performs during his "Live In Las Vegas" exclusive residency at Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas on March 6, 2019.
Selling out six dates in 30 minutes. 1,500 fans chanting, "Robbie, Robbie, Robbie." A merchandise line hundreds of people deep. These are the chaotic and exciting scenes from Robbie Williams' new "Live in Las Vegas" residency at Wynn Las Vegas' Encore Theater.
The British pop giant debuted to sell-out crowds Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, and even amid the flood of new extended-run engagements up and down the Strip, Williams has proven to be a major draw despite his own ongoing self-deprecating joke that no one in America knows who he is. In case anyone really doesn't, Williams ranks as the No. 1 selling solo artist of all time in England, has 14 number No. 1 hits and has sold 77 million albums. He owns six slots on the top 100 best-selling albums of all-time list and holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for selling the most concert tickets in one day -- 1.6 million in 2005.
"Robbie's Wynn shows are the fastest sellout of my career," says Bobby Reynolds, senior vp of AEG. "And was there a doubt? Yeah, sure there was. Everyone was blown away."
The hesitations about his viability in the States are something that Williams embraces in his two-hour sequined stage spectacle. The joke-cracking singer asks the crowd, "Are there any Americans here? Why don't you tell your fucking friends about me? I want to be famous in America. I want Jennifer Aniston to know who I am. So, I wasn't sure what set list to do this evening at all, because I didn't know whether you knew the songs. So, Europeans, I know you know the words, but I genuinely need to know what the Americans know."
"Live in Las Vegas" gives fans fair dosages of talent, persona, panache and humor. A collection of his most famous sultry photographic images and tongue-in-cheek ephemera, such as his first nappy and bottle (a Guinness with a latex nipple), greet showgoers as they enter the theater. Then, the show kicks off with the "National Anthem of Robbie," a humorous introduction to his outrageous reputation.
The 45-year-old's signature style of wit carries the show through more than a dozen covers, including "Minnie the Moocher," "My Way," "Creep" and "It Wasn't Me," but only a handful of his own huge hits: "Angels," "Feel," "Rock DJ" and "Party Like a Russian." He tells stories from his stints in rehab (he has been sober for 18 years) brings out his dad Pete for an even sweeter version of "Sweet Caroline" and pokes fun at swinging both ways while singing "Swing Both Ways" in a pink Versace suit carrying a trio of balloons.
But while the show is Las Vegas done right with feathers and showgirls galore, overall there might not be enough of Williams' own music for his fans' liking -- or his, for that matter. The set list was something he was considering during a pre-show press conference.
"The really exciting thing about the tickets selling out was that 70 percent of the tickets were bought in America. I know there is a lot of expats here, but I'm sure that a huge percentage of those tickets are going to actual Americans. The set list that I'll be doing might [change]," Williams said.
All of these things are just minor adjustments now that Williams actually has a home in Las Vegas, and it was a long time coming. The former member of Brit boy band Take That looked for years for the right residency before inking the Wynn deal.
"Robbie has wanted to perform in Las Vegas for quite some time now. The stars started to align when we began our business with Rick Gray, general manager of entertainment operations, and the team at the Wynn. I knew we had the perfect resort and the perfect theater for Robbie," Reynolds says.
The concert promoter knew the residency was a go when he saw the looks on Williams and his wife Ayda's faces as they toured the theater. "It was a magical moment. You saw them imagine the show," he says. "I just knew the deal was going to get done. I've been around enough of these deals to know when I'm wasting my time. I've been around enough deals when I've got my work cut out for me. Not long after they left, we got into negotiations. It was very important to them to not price the tickets incredibly high. It was important that we were savvy about our marketing and had a presence in the U.K. and all the other parts of Europe where Robbie is just a mega act. We did all those things. And it was important to put travel packages together and have all these activations his fans would appreciate."
What this means for a luxury resort is that 30 percent of the people who are coming to see Williams are spending on international flights and hotels, and the other 70 percent are mostly coming from major out-of-town markets with high concentrations of Europeans, such as Chicago, New York or L.A.
"In 2007, I was flying back from England on Virgin from a business trip and on the video, there was this wonderful performer who just knocked me out. And it was a guy named Robbie Williams, performing at the Royal Albert Hall, doing Sinatra covers. I was totally blown away," Gray says. "I got back and said, 'We have to hire Robbie Williams,' and it wasn't meant to be at that time. Many years later, Bobby comes to me and says, 'I have got this performer, he's a major star. I'm not sure you know who he is, but he is known all over the world. His name is Robbie Williams.' I said, 'I tried getting him in 2007, I couldn't get him.' Twelve years later, my dream is answered.
Williams and the Las Vegas stage are a natural fit, as shown in his covers of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" with the lyrics changed to "Vegas, Vegas," Dean Martin's "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" and Sammy Davis Jr.'s "Mr. Bojangles." Of the Rat Pack, it is Martin with whom Williams most identifies. "A lot of what I do is based around Dean Martin's persona.
I'm a student of the Rat Pack albums, shows, the way of life, the glamour. It was a place to escape to, being stuck on trains when I was 13 years old," he said. "I'm a student of the greats that have performed here, and I'm a student of entertainment more so than I will have ever been a rock 'n' roll singer or rapper or whatever. I came out of the womb with jazz hands, which was a shock for my mum."
This is also the unofficial two-year anniversary celebration of Wynn's partnership with AEG, which was struck thanks to a successful residency agreement with John Fogerty, in which his first run was a 95 percent sellout. The hitmaker comes back for more and more dates every year. After 200 confirmed dates from dozens of legends, Smokey Robinson just made his debut with 95 percent of seats sold, in addition to more shows added for Diana Ross with more announcements coming soon.
"We've had so much success with our business at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace that artists were calling us to do residencies there. But that number of seats just doesn't work for every night. Diana is an example of someone who we produced over at the Colosseum. We did a weekend with her. The shows were fantastic, they sold very well. But everyone knew it couldn't be the kind of business that would sustain on a regular basis," Reynolds says. "The Colosseum holds 4,300, the Wynn holds 1,500. It's a very significant difference selling 3,000 more tickets or 2,000 more tickets on a real regular basis. But a lot of artists want a resident look, and they want to get off the road."
Reynolds cites a number of factors in addition to a right-sized theater that contribute to a successful box office in the highly competitive Las Vegas market. "How long has the show been on sale? What time of year is it? Is the artist promoting something? Are they getting press coverage? That just benefits us -- because their awareness is up. It runs on so many things, but at the end of the day, I'd say combined over the two years, our business is 90 percent," he says. "It's uncommon to sell that many tickets for as long as we've been doing it with these artists. In the case of both Fogerty and Diana Ross, we've had over 70 shows in the market."
Comedy is also proving to be a boon for the AEG/Wynn partnership, with Ali Wong, Jo Koy, Sebastian Maniscalco and Chris Tucker on the roster. "It's so easy for us to produce. It's inexpensive, it's so much more efficient for a myriad of reasons," Reynolds says. "I'm open to doing more, and you can expect to see more comedians coming through here, and also more dates with the comedians we have on sale."
But this March and June and July, when he returns for an additional run, it is all eyes on Williams.
"Speaking on the tickets selling, yeah, it's an ego stroke. It feels good. But I am an entertainer. There are not a lot of people doing what I do, specifically doing what I do -- talking to the audience, telling jokes, pandering to the audience," Williams said. "People see something in me that they enjoy and they want to come and see it again. Hopefully the ticket sales aren't an anomaly and even grow from there."
From the stage, he offered a humorous but truthful plea: "I can't remember a last time that a gig meant this much to me. There is a magic in here tonight. With your kind permission, America, will you tell your fucking friends about me?"
Robbie Williams "Live in Las Vegas" dates:
Wednesday, March 13, 2019 Friday, March 15, 2019 Saturday, March 16, 2019 Wednesday, June 19, 2019 Friday, June 21, 2019 Saturday, June 22, 2019 Wednesday, June 26, 2019 Friday, June 28, 2019 Saturday, June 29, 2019 Wednesday, July 3, 2019 Friday, July 5, 2019 Saturday, July 6, 2019