Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 | 2:04 p.m.
The holidays are here, and it’s beginning to look a lot like … the official, 50-day Winter in Venice celebration kicks off tonight at the Venetian and Palazzo complete with a Strip skating rink and the premiere of the six-week run of “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas.”
Three celebrities will flip the switch on the holiday lights and the majestic 65-foot Christmas tree starting at 5 p.m. today. That will trigger the nightly parade of masquerade characters and musicians led by Queen Aldabella and the 3D tech marvel “Lights of Venice” show that will transform the Venetian clock tower.
Travel and Leisure magazine named the synthetic recyclable polymer rink one of the most scenic places in the world to skate. It’s environmentally friendly; it requires no refrigeration or electricity.
Tonight’s festivities also will preview the new monthlong Culinary Clash master-chef contest where one resort chef will become a legend and be crowned winner of the first head-to-head competition among sous chefs and chefs de cuisine from the three dozen restaurants at the two properties. They will be challenged to create recipes using ingredients in a mystery basket.
Expect to see chefs Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Sammy DeMarco judge the competitions, which I’ll MC from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Dec. 7 and 14, with the finals and the winner announced Dec. 21.
New this year is the six-week run of the award-winning holiday production by Grammy Award-winning composer and musician Chip Davis. His renowned Mannheim Steamroller production of Christmas classics is at the Palazzo theater through Dec. 30.
Chip has expanded his first Las Vegas residency with choreography, aerial displays and other elements. Contributing photographer Tom Donoghue was invited to Monday’s final rehearsals and captured an extraordinary gallery.
I talked with Chip as he was packing at his farm in Nebraska for the trip here. I asked him if every day was Christmas for him.
“No, I actually do other things than Christmas!” he quipped. “But when it gets to Christmastime, things get pretty serious. I do a new album every two to three years; otherwise, I just live a normal life on a 150-acre farm in Nebraska, and I spend part of the summers in Wyoming. … When it comes time for a new record, I go down into my studio on the farm, buckle down, and off we go.
“The studio here at the farm is where I actually do the compositional stuff and then the mixing, and the industrial show stuff that we do for the big Las Vegas show we do 10 minutes away in Omaha, where we have a big complex.
“I’m pretty much a country boy. I grew up in a small farm town in Ohio but settled here in Omaha about 25 years ago. With musical technology the way it is today, you don’t have to live in a big city to be able to have studio access; you can kind of do your own thing.”
I wanted to know from Chip what would be new and different for his first Las Vegas residency: “Of course we have my Christmas music with an orchestra, many of whom are Las Vegas musicians, plus, the players of Mannheim Steamroller; some of them will be locals, too. That part is the normal concert show, but we’ll bump it up several notches for Las Vegas with dancers and aerialists. We have a number of different elements to make it more of a spectacle.
“There are things going on over your head, there are things going on in front of you, there are multi-tiered layers, almost 3D, that you will be looking at. I have hired some tremendous talent because it’s not only a multimedia show, but there is a lot of physical activity going on with it. … Everything relates to Christmas in one way or another. We even have custom-made Plexiglas violins with blue LEDs that they are playing upside down as they fly over your head.
“This is pretty much the longest Mannheim Steamroller will have stayed in one place. I have to fly out immediately after the Las Vegas premiere to do the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the third year, and then I am going straight to Universal Studios in Orlando to conduct ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ with a large orchestra for the entire month of December. I also have two touring companies doing 94 cities, so in all there will be four Mannheims out there all at once this Christmas, with the newest one being the Las Vegas company.
I had to ask Chip how he got so hooked on Christmas and wound up owning the season single-handedly.
“I am from a family of musicians, and my mother told me that before I could talk, I could hum the melody to ‘Silent Night.’ I seemed to have an affinity for it then, and I think another key thing that really hooked me into Christmas music was Christmas and the candlelight church service. It was so mystical and magical. I think the whole notion of Santa Claus and all of the trappings of Christmas are so alluring that I got drawn into it completely. … I love Christmas; it is the best holiday of the year.
“When I started with Christmas music, I was told by every retailer in the country back then not to do a Christmas record. They said it would never work and artists only did a Christmas record to fulfill the last record of a contract to get out and get onto a new label. I really liked Christmas music, and I really wanted to do a record. I had to really push my way in, but it very quickly became, ‘When are you doing another one?’
“We’ve played Las Vegas before for one night here and there during the holidays, but never a six-week residency. The Las Vegas reaction has always been huge. They have all been sellouts. The sales just screamed. The audiences were up on their feet, and it was such a positive experience that it didn’t make it too scary to come back there and try a longer run.
“I think it’s because there is such a hunger for good music and for the message that is conveyed in what we play. … If pieces of music can touch the heart, as well as the intellect, and you can get the whole being involved, then I think you have really made a statement.
“I think what I am doing, from what my crowds say, is reaching inside and touching them. One of the ways that they show that is that they bring their kids, and they come with their parents. I will see three generations sitting together at these shows.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.
Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
With top accommodations, first-rate entertainment, high-end shopping and a slew of acclaimed chefs, the Palazzo has positioned itself as one of the most luxurious resorts on the Strip.
More than 3,000 all-suite rooms start at 740 square feet and are decorated in a modern, yet classic, Italian style. Each room features a sleeping area, with a king or two queens, and a sunken living room area with floor to ceiling windows.
A cathedral ceiling tops the Palazzo casino, while a second 80-foot dome brings natural light to the property's lobby. The 105,000 square foot casino features more than 2,000 slots and 80 table games but lacks the stale smell of cigarettes, as the property is LEED certified with smoking off limits in most of the Palazzo — including 50 percent of the casino floor.
Dining at the Palazzo is among the best of the Strip, starting with Wolfgang Puck's CUT. Chef Simon To serves up authentic Chinese cuisine at Zine, while Sushisamba combines Brazilian and Peruvian flavors with Japanese techniques. At LAVO, club-goers can dine on Mediterranean dishes before heading upstairs to the bath house-inspired nightclub.
In the spirit of Venice, The Venetian is a little piece of romantic Italy right here in Las Vegas. The Venetian is an "all-suite" hotel, with rooms accented with plush linens and Italian marble. The 4,027 suites are divided into two towers: The 36-story Venetian Tower that offers guests a taste of luxurious Las Vegas and the Venezia suites, which guarantee 12 floors of high-end elegance. The top five floors are the hotel's highest level of luxury with its private access, concierge lounge, upgraded features and even a dedicated staff.
The flagship of Venetian nightlife is TAO, an ultra-hip nightclub located inside of TAO Asian Bistro. V Bar is The Venetian's super smooth ultra lounge, made by the owners of New York City's club Lotus and Los Angeles' super swank Sunset Room.
The Venetian features 19 restaurants including Thomas Keller's award-winning French restaurant Bouchon, Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante, Aquaknox for fresh seafood and the 42,000 square foot TAO Asian Bistro. There's also the food court inside the Canal Shoppes for those looking for a quick bite.
Guests can float along The Grand Canal Shops in an authentic Italian gondola ride and pass stores like Burberry and Kenneth Cole along the way. And if you haven't caught a real celeb, on the street in Vegas, you can head over to Madame Tussauds to check out a wax version.