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Celine Dion, Leaving Las Vegas

Las Vegas lore is littered with many end-of-an-era instances. The dissolution of the Rat Pack. The razing of the Sands Hotel. The annulment of Britney Spears and Jason Alexander’s 57-hour quickie marriage. And on December 15, 2007, Sin City bid yet another bittersweet goodbye: to Celine Dion, who ended her historic five-year, 717-show, $400 million-grossing run at Caesar’s Palace. Yes, apparently not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, as Celine has finally decided to move on after five years. (After all, she does have a new pop album, Taking Chances, to promote.) But it seems like only yesterday that–in a bold move seemingly ripped straight from the pages of circa-Julius Caesar Roman folklore–the Colosseum Theater was erected to honor a bona fide goddess. (See, the $95 million, 4,000-seat venue was built in 2002 specifically for Celine’s “A New Day” residency.) And although worthy successors like Bette Midler and Elton John will soon grace the Colosseum stage in early ’08, Celine Dion will likely always be the great Caesar’s ghost that haunts the Palace.

Of course, any of the previous 716 nights that Celine hit the Colosseum stage, accompanied by her 50 dancers/backup musicians and Fremont Street-eclipsing lightshow, was in and of itself a big event…but her December 15th grand finale was the grandest of all, attended by everyone from mindfreak Criss Angel to Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous emcee Robin Leach (who sauntered in carrying a flute of champagne, natch) to genius So You Think Can Dance choreographer Mia Michaels (who, by the way, also masterminded the moves for Celine’s show).

And then, there were the megafans–the lady who’d seen the show more than 100 times, the couple who’d paid $15,000 for their front-row seats, the man who’d actually moved to Vegas from Uzbekistan just to be closer to his idol–all scooping up every last bit of Celine merchandise and posing for photos next to the uncannily lifelike Celine wax mannequin inside the lobby. Celine obviously owes a huge debt to these devotees; to loosely quote one of her many five-hanky power ballads, she’s everything she is because they love her.

Anyway, the show-of-shows began about 45 minutes late, though her packed house of ardent admirers didn’t seem to mind–Celine later joked onstage that she simply wanted to “elongate” her final Vegas evening. But first the audience was shown a behind-the-scenes documentary short, A New Day: The Secrets, about Celine’s revue. (Incidentally, Celine’s manager/husband, Renee Angelil, prominently entered the theater and walked to his seat amid thunderous applause just as his interview segment ran on the movie screen, which made for one synergistically surreal moment.)

Yes, Renee’s entrance alone solicited a standing ovation. But that certainly wouldn’t be the only time that audience members rose to their feet this evening.

No, Celine got her first of 11 (ELEVEN!) standing ovations before her first song was even over, pretty much for just showing up. And when she tried to speak between songs, her choked-up anecdotes were often drowned out by audience cries of “Don’t go!,” “Five more years!,” and the ever-popular, “I love you!” But eventually everyone shut up and listened to Celine, who quite refreshingly hadn’t rehearsed some tired old goodbye speech. No, it was clear that she was speaking from the heart, because she rambled rather aimlessly, babbling about being a mom, confessing that when her Vegas residency first started she had worried it would be like “the Titanic sinking again,” etc. Not all of it made sense–English is her second language, after all–and just like her heart will go on, her speech went on and on and on. And on.

But bless her, at least she was being sincere. Like when she marveled, “It’s amazing what believing in music and love and passion can do.” Or when she said, “These people onstage are giving their soul every night.” Or when she reflected on all the sacrifice over the past five years and summed it up with: “I assure you, it was worth it.”

Another downright cute, from-the-heart moment was when she showed off one of her surprisingly non-blingy accessories–a loop of string around her wrist–explaining that it came from a “seven-feet-tall” congratulatory card that her son, Renee Charles, had given her the night before. Waving to the boy, who was sitting in the audience with her husband, mother, and sisters, she cried out, “Renee Charles, YOU are the new day!” Aw…

And with that, she was off and running, belting out crowd-pleasing hit after hit after hit: “Power Of Love,” “It’s All Coming Back To Me,” “Because You Loved Me,” “I Drove All Night,” “Taking Chances,” and covers like “River Deep Mountain High” and Frank Sinatra’s “When Somebody Loves You” (the latter performed as a digital duet with archival Ol’ Blue Eyes footage on the big screen behind her, bringing to mind her beyond-the-grave Elvis duet on American Idol earlier this year).

And of course, there was her Vegas jackpot song: “My Heart Will Go On,” a fitting final number if there ever was one, performed as real rose-petal confetti rained from the theater’s vaulted ceiling. By the end of that weepy number, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Even Celine buried her face in her hands and covered her own watery peepers with her dainty cupped palms as soon as she warbled that signature song’s last note.

“If that wasn’t a Kodak moment, I don’t know what is,” declared one moist-eyed, petal-strewn fan in the crowd.

But then, just when everyone thought it was all over, Celine announced: “Since it is the last show, I figure I can do whatever I want!” And what she wanted to do was sing another song! A holiday song! Yes, it was a Christmas miracle. And the mood in the Colosseum was festive indeed as Celine signed off with “The Christmas Song” (aka that chestnuts-roasting-on-an-open-fire carol), then “elongated” the evening another good 15 minutes or so as she took multiple bows, hugged seemingly all 50 dancers and crew members, hugged her son and husband when they hopped onstage…and then returned from the wings several times to take more bows and dole out yet more hugs. It seemed like she didn’t want the night to end any more than did her fans.

But of course, it was the Celineheads whose hearts truly went on, as they lingered long after Celine had vanished–chatting for nearly a half-hour with Mia Michaels and the dancers, not to mention scooping up fistfuls of rose petals which they no doubt lovingly pressed in their Celine scrapbooks at the end of this titanically terrific night.

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