Elton John’s Million Dollar Piano

Elton JohnHitting the jackpot in Las Vegas may be dicey, but you can count on Elton John’s Million Dollar Piano show, which debuted in 2011, for a first-class entertainment experience there that blends visual and musical wizardry.

Sir Elton’s show at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace includes 20 top tunes in two hours. Joining him is a superb backup band including drummer Nigel Olsson, percussionist Ray Cooper and guitarist Davey Johnstone, each of whom has played with Sir Elton for over four decades. They know each other—and the material— so well that the groove is stirring and strong.

Sir Elton, who turns 69 in March, is celebrating a 50-year collaboration with lyricist Bernie Taupin. His piano playing remains rollicking and his voice is still strong (for a limited time, you can hear a BBC interview with him here). The Colosseum has excellent sight lines and sound that brings the audience right into the mix. At the end of the show, some in the front rows go onstage to sing around the piano with Sir Elton.

It took Yamaha five years to design and engineer the piano expressly for the space and show. Co-producer and lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe explained, “I always thought that the piano would be an extraordinary thing, (but) I wasn’t sure how we would integrate it into the show. It wasn’t until she (the piano is named Blossom) was plugged in, turned on and tuned up that I suddenly felt like she had come home.”

The piano is an “electronic paintbox,” which augments and enhances each tune and includes photographic images and colorful effects. For example, when Sir Elton sings “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” a photo montage appears showing him in his outlandish outfits at various stages in his performing career. For “Crocodile Rock,” the piano edges and backdrop are green glowing scales. According to the show’s website, the 19 animated films and videos that the piano is keyed to were completed in less than four months and involved 175 people working 24/7 in London. The “canvas” is a tennis-court-sized screen behind the band.

Co-producer Mark Fisher had free rein to imagine the set design. “What I was imagining was the creation of an over-the-top world that presented Elton as I saw him, dancing on the knife-edge that separates high art from low camp,” adding “I was looking to balance the huge size of the Colosseum stage with the human scale of one man at the piano.” Huge hanging keyboards, rockets and Sun King images, along with tall guard dogs whose gaze is focused on Sir Elton, add visual interest to the vast expanse.

Sir Elton is in Japan and Australia on tour now, but he and the Million Dollar Piano return to Caesar’s from April 16-30, 2016. It’s a sure bet for an evening of great entertainment. For more information, go to Caesar’s website.

This review is by Tucson-based guest reviewer Jodi Goalstone, who writes the highly entertaining blog Going Yard, Offbeat Baseball Musings.