Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009 | 3:17 p.m.
Maybe those of us in Las Vegas remember where they were when Monte Carlo’s roof caught fire, the images of flames and smoke billowing out of the hotel and charring much of its familiar rooftop sign. But the hotel’s newest headliner Frank Caliendo does not recall that day much at all.
“I really couldn’t tell you,” the comic impressionist said last night after the gala premiere of his new show at the Lance Burton Theater. Not that Caliendo was uncaring or even willfully ignorant. It’s just that the fire on Jan. 25, 2008, was before he’d entered into any serious discussions with any resort about playing Vegas. But over time, he’d talked to a few friends in the industry -- especially fellow impressionist Dana Carvey -- about moving from Phoenix to Vegas. He had trepidation, mostly because of the economy, but Carvey told him to dive in anyway.
“You might as well take your shot,” Caliendo said after Friday’s rapid-fire performance for an audience filled with VIPs and local media reps. So now Caliendo has one of these 10-year contracts conditional on certain conditions, including tickets sold to his show each night. He is carrying quite a responsibility in that big showroom as the latest example in a more than yearlong effort to “refresh” Monte Carlo’s stagnant image.
Since opening in 1996, the Monte Carlo has always been pretty nice, stately, the type of property you’d want to shoot a movie or TV scene if you wanted a classic casino backdrop (“The X-Files” recorded such footage about 10 years ago). But as Monte Carlo President Anton Nikodemus noted on “Our Metropolis” this week, the hotel needed to be refurbished. It needed to generate buzz, and it also needed better access, which has been achieved with a new parking garage and an entrance/exit at Frank Sinatra Drive.
Monte Carlo also required a new, shall we say, educational outreach campaign. Recent market research in areas like Northern and Southern California showed that tourists mistakenly expected Monte Carlo was one of the city’s highest-end hotels, in direct competition with The Venetian, Palazzo and Bellagio. Though it has added a beautiful boutique hotel on the floor affected by the fire -- Hotel 32, it’s conveniently labeled -- Monte Carlo has been reminding visitors it is not ultra-expensive or too fancy for normal folks. Entertainment at the new Pub are fan-friendly hip-hop act Zowie Bowie. Lance Burton, with his crafty, middle-of-the-fairway magic act, has been signed through 2015.
There’s more: The Street of Dreams is filled with “shoppable” affordable stores awaiting traffic from Aria at CityCenter, across the 52-foot walkway connecting the stores. Over the past several months, Brand, Diablo’s Cantina and d’vino Italian Food & Wine Bar have opened.
This is what Caliendo walked into at the Monte Carlo. On Friday night, the question most asked, including from Nikodemus, was, “How’d you like the show?” Caliendo trots out dozens of impressions, spot-on mimicry of such newsmakers as John Madden (naturally), Casey Casem-as-Robin from “The Super Friends,” Scooby- and Scrappy-Doo, Charles Barkley, Al Pacino, Dr. Phil, the cast of “Seinfeld” and our past three presidents. His is a wide-variety, sample-plate performance, which at today’s Monte Carlo is about the best fit they could find.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.