Further thoughts on the decline of Liberace-ism

Laura Jackson is entering her second year as conductor of the Reno Philharmonic. This year, the Phil is reaching out to a wider audience in addition to season subscribers.

Laura Jackson is entering her second year as conductor of the Reno Philharmonic. This year, the Phil is reaching out to a wider audience in addition to season subscribers.

Liberace was unique, a phenomenon, not part of musical or entertainment genre – he was simply Liberace; but he was part of a national entertainment trend of mega-stars.  The mega-stars of that era paraded their talents all over the country, in the movies, on television and of course on the Las Vegas Strip; Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were some of Liberace’s contemporaries.  A very few individual performers dominated the entertainment world.  The could also draw a crowd, sell a product or raise a little money for their favorite charities. They also changed the economics of casino management with their ever increasing salary demands; eventually they were just too expensive.  If Liberace got $50, 000 a week, then Elvis wanted $60,000, if Elvis got $60,000 Frank wanted $70,000 until no casino could really afford them for those one, two or even three week engagements that started people calling Las Vegas the entertainment capital of the world.  Production shows started to dominate the Strip along with lesser known personalities and novelty acts (magicians for example) – they did not completely replace the big names, but the big names were used differently, more sparingly.  Four walling, that is renting the space to the entertainer and allowing him to charge for the show was one way it could still work.  Celine made a career of living in Vegas and performing nightly in a room built for and named for her.  The changes in entertainment in Vegas will continue, just as they do nationally.

Sometimes it is driven by money – stars have a way of pricing themselves out of a popular market; and sometimes by the change is tastes of the general public, mostly it is changing tastes as one generation replaces another as the prime audience.  Sports is also entertainment and increasingly appears to be taking part of the entertainment niche and a significant amount of its of dollars.  Dollars that might have gone to concerts or stage shows and the highest paid entertainers now are sports figures; do you know any movie star or singer who makes as much as Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan?

The economics is important, but the truth about all forms of entertainment now and for the last few hundred years is people’s tastes simply change – you could say evolve if you don’t use the term in a pejorative way that implies improvement – in music, in theater, in movies, in sports in everything.  Liberace is not the only one whose popularity fades and over time is forgotten to be replaced by someone or something very different.  A group of hip-hop dancers from reality television are replacing the magician Lance Burton the MGM – Burton has been there for 15 years and performed before 5 million people; my guess is his replacement will not last as long and MGM will soon be on the hunt for the next big draw.

Here is a more classical example – pun intended – The Reno Philharmonic is broadening its marketing, trying to broaden its customer base.  It is a daunting task; but let the head of the organization speak for himself, he summary very succinctly what I have been saying in this post.

“It’s definitely more difficult because it’s much less a part of people’s lives,” Tim Young, president and CEO of the Reno Philharmonic said. “It (classical music) is just not a part of people’s upbringing in the way that it used to be. It doesn’t have as important a place in the culture. So our goal, of course, is to move the orchestra closer to the center of civic life.




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