Nightlife in Las Vegas: the shows

by Julia Buckley

Which Vegas shows are worth seeing of the plethora on offer?

Of course, you think of Vegas and you think of shows. There are dozens – if not hundreds – of shows on the Strip alone, and they vary from seriously dodgy cover bands in casino bars to the high octane spectacle that is Cirque.

It’s well worth seeing at least one performance even if you’re not a “show” person, as it really is an essential Vegas experience. Don’t think you have to spend shedloads of money, either – the budget shows, if you pick them right, can be just as entertaining as the usual suspects. I always tell visitors that until you’ve watched a magician fumble their way through a performance in front of 15 people, or been the only member of the audience for a lounge act’s set, you haven’t done Vegas properly.

When it comes to tickets, as I said in my Las Vegas insider tips post, paying for a full price ticket at the box office should be a rare occurrence. Instead, ask at the box office - as well as the concierge desk at the hotel where the show is based - whether they have any promotions. Many less popular shows (although never Cirque) will be discounted at the Tix4Tonight booths across town, and the Facebook and Twitter pages for the individual shows will often run promotions as well. So although you can by all means check out the shows' websites that I've listed below, I'd steer away from booking directly through them.

If you really can't get a discount, it's better to buy the ticket at the box office itself. Buying through external sites such as Ticketmaster will impose extra fees that can add up to 30 per cent onto the ticket price. Shows rarely sell out here (unless they're one off gigs), so you don't need to worry about booking before you get here.

Cirque du Soleil

Yes, Cirque is so ubiquitous in Vegas that it deserves a whole section to itself. There are seven shows here, and they’re all very different. You can find information about all of them on the Cirque website:

Ka (at MGM Grand Hotel) and Mystere (at Treasure Island) are what you’d think of as ‘traditional’ Cirque, with lots of spectacular acrobatics (I’m a big fan of Ka, less so of Mystere, which is a bit too family-orientated for my liking). Then there’s the adults-only Zumanity (at New York New York Hotel & Casino), showcasing the “sensual side of Cirque” as they bill it (don’t go if you blush easily), Criss Angel’s magic-slanted Believe (at Luxor) and the musical ones, the Beatles-themed LOVE (at The Mirage) and Viva Elvis (at Aria Resort & Casino). Stay away from both Viva Elvis, which is very weak, and Believe, which is without a doubt the most universally-panned show on the Strip.

O at the Bellagio is possibly the flagship Cirque show – it’s done on water, and it’s spectacular. A very similar production is Le Reve at Wynn Las Vegas, which isn’t actually produced by Cirque, but you’d never know it to look at it.


Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas – possibly the only place in the world where magic is still fashionable. There’s the whole gamut here – from traditional magicians doing tricks with rings and doves and cheesy acts with tigers to Derren Brown-style mentalists, street magic that’s done one on one in the back of a casino tattoo parlour.

I’m a huge fan of the magic scene here and I have two favourite shows. For sheer extravagance and a full on Vegas experience, you can’t do better than David Copperfield at MGM Grand Hotel. He’s not a permanent resident, but he does runs of several weeks at a time, and it works out that he’s in Vegas about six weeks out of every eight. Check his dates on the hotel website ( or the listings at or

His show intersperses typical tricks – cards, rings, animals (he uses a duck rather than a dove) with big budget, special effects tricks – he makes a car appear out of thin air at one point – and a few flashbacks on video screens of his career highs (remember when he walked through the Great Wall of China. I’ve heard some criticism that Copperfield seems bored during the show, but I actually found him very funny, self-aware and sarcastic, which was a pleasant surprise. I would say, though, that this is one show where it’s worth forking out for a good seat - although there are cameras and big screens over the stage so that you can see the intricate card tricks even from the back of the room, you really appreciate the magic more the nearer you are to the stage. I was lucky enough to get a front row table when I went and it was a fantastic experience.

The other must-see magic experience is, astonishingly for Vegas, absolutely free. Paul Vigil performs street magic every Friday and Saturday nights on the terrace at King Ink tattoo parlour in The Mirage. He really is extraordinarily good – it’s the kind of up close kind of work that David Blaine got famous doing – and it’s very personal, because he works the terrace, doing tricks for you individually. He also does a more formal show at 7pm every Wednesday – technically, there’s a two drink minimum to attend, but I’ve had friends who’ve gone without buying a single drink.


I’m not a big fan of musicals, but if you are, there’s plenty to get your teeth into here. The Phantom of the Opera, at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino (, is a spectacular version of the Lloyd Webber musical. It’s been cut – it runs at exactly 90 minutes with no interval – but unless you’re a die hard fan, you won’t miss the original version. The no expense spared set is nothing short of spectacular, and the singing is strong. I’m not too hot on musicals, but I really enjoyed it.

The other musical must see is Jersey Boys at the Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino ( I’ll be honest – I’ve not seen it myself (yet) but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. Apparently it’s a very slick production and I can believe that – I’ve seen some of the cast and musicians in other shows, and they’re all top notch.

Live music

Live music is huge in Vegas – this year alone I’ve seen performers from Lionel Richie and Donny Osmond to Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. The two main arenas – one at MGM Grand Hotel (listings at, the other at Mandalay Bay Resort And Casino ( – attract the top touring artists (even Justin Bieber played here this summer), and megastars routinely play the small venues, too (Mariah Carey and Beyonce have both played intimate gigs at The Palms casino in the last year or so). Always check who’s coming to town on your dates, as there’ll generally be someone worth seeing - either on the hotels' websites themselves, or or, both of which are good for listings. Tickets are normally pretty reasonable – about US$50 and up.

Not to worry if there isn’t anyone who takes your fancy passing through, though, because Vegas has a fantastic permanent live music scene. Of course, Celine Dion is returning to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace next March, but before she arrives, Cher, Diana Ross, Leonard Cohen and Rod Stewart are taking up temporary residence (see for details and dates).

Across the Strip, Donny and Marie Osmond are the resident performers at the Flamingo Las Vegas (see for details). You may laugh, but their show will surprise you. It’s lots of fun, and the pair really blast out the songs – tickets are expensive (starting at US$100) but I highly recommend it.

And if you want to combine a high octane show with some top notch singing and dancing, then one of my favourite choices at the moment is Vegas! The Show ( at the Miracle Mile shopping mall in Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. It’s a musical précis of Sin City history with excellent dancing and singing, covering everything from Sinatra to Elton John. It also has probably my favourite Vegas performer in the leading role – Mancunian Tom Lowe, who actually used to be in UK 1990s' boyband North and South.

You can also read advice on Nightlife in Las Vegas: the club scene or visit Nightlife in Las Vegas: where to drink.

Where to stay

You can see my full list of recommendations here – Las Vegas Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Las Vegas.

Julia Buckley

I edit VegasChatter, Conde Nast’s Vegas blog, and work as a freelance journalist for newspapers such as the Sunday Times, Mail on Sunday, Guardian, News of the World and various websites and magazines.

Ironically, I’d never had any interest in going to Vegas but when I took a road trip across America last summer, I thought I may as well pop by for three days. Ten days later, I forced myself back on the road, obsessed about Vegas all the way across America, and was over the moon when, somewhere in Mississippi, I found out that the newspaper that I worked for was to be closed down. Instead of looking for another job in London, I came home, packed up my stuff, and caught a plane back to Vegas to start life as a freelance.

My Vegas

Where I always grab a coffee: On the terrace at Serendipity 3. The service is great, the views of the Strip are spectacular, and if I’m tempted to grab some food, too, I have a two foot high menu to choose from.

My favourite stroll: The Moenkopi loop at Red Rock Canyon. It’s a short two mile trail from the Visitor Centre and back, across desert land and up onto a limestone bluff that was once a seabed millions of years ago. There’s hardly anyone there, the views are extraordinary, and you feel completely disconnected from the craziness of Vegas. When it’s not too hot, I’m there every day.

Fiction for inspiration: There are many, of course, but my favourite is probably Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S Thompson – it really encapsulates the spirit of the city and the freedom it unleashes in people (you don’t have to be on a shedload of drugs to relate to this!). I’m also really fond of Divas Las Vegas, by Belinda Jones – it’s a fun chicklit book, and although I’m not usually into that genre at all, I have yet to find a better introduction to the city - she used to live here and her love for the place is really infectious.

Where to be seen: Encore Beach Club – the private pool at the Encore hotel (even guests have to pay to get in) was the biggest opening this summer, and it’s still the place to be seen. If you’d rather go out at night, rather than lounge by a pool, you’ll be pleased to know that at nighttime they open up an adjacent room and turn it into a poolside nightclub called Surrender. It’s definitely where all the cool kids are going this year.

The most breathtaking view: On the way back from the Hoover Dam (or the Grand Canyon) on the 515 highway from Boulder City, there’s a point, as you swing round past Henderson (a suburb of Vegas) where the Strip, with the mountains behind it, suddenly comes into view. It makes my eyes prickle every time – and as you get closer, switching onto the 215 west, the views only get better.

The best spot for peace and quiet: The gardens at the Flamingo Las Vegas – and no, you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy them, as you can walk straight in. Lots of grass, plenty of nooks, and bright pink flamingos stalking by.

Shopaolics beware: I spend far too much time at Nordstrom Rack, the cut price outlet version of the posh department store, Nordstrom. It’s a 20 minute drive from the Strip in the suburb of Henderson, but if you buy a few things, it’s worth the taxi ride or the cost of the car hire. I’m also addicted to America’s Primark, Century 21 – the new flagship store in Fashion Show Mall is like a second home to me, and prices are so low that my credit card barely registers my presence there.

City soundtrack: So many options! To remind me of Vegas as I like it (laid back but elegant), anything by Frank Sinatra. And if you want to experience the thriving rock music scene here, you can’t do better than The Killers.

Don’t leave without… Going into the desert, and seeing a show. It doesn’t matter if you’re not sporty, or you don’t like musicals – the desert will floor you, and the shows are so infectious you can’t not love them. My favourite at the moment is Vegas! The Show at the Miracle Mile mall.