The Team That Brought Britney Back
by cindy pearlman
They’ve unboxed Britney, but Melien and Gastwirth are keeping their future gifts to Vegas under wraps.
Baby, one more time. That’s the modus operandi these days at Planet Hollywood, where Britney Spears is rehearsing for her Las Vegas residency, which kicks off on December 27. Don’t expect any diva reports. “She’s a total professional,” says Kurt Melien, half of the power duo that brings superstars here for much more than one night only. Adds partner Jason Gastwirth, “She was touched by how we announced her show with the big reveal in the middle of the Mojave Desert.”
Gastwirth is Caesars Entertainment’s senior VP of marketing and entertainment and heads programming strategy and operations for its venues nationwide. Melien is the company’s vice president of entertainment and oversees its locations across North America. Together they fill a lot of stages. But in Vegas it’s all about which stars will do a residency, like Celine or Elton or Rod. “The rule of thumb,” says Gastwirth, “is that anyone who could just go by one name would probably do a great residency in Vegas.”
Britney coming to the desert was their idea—and hers. “She thought it would be a way to do a unique, party-driven show that she can build from the ground up,” says Melien of the production at the fully reconstructed 4,600-seat theater at Planet Hollywood. And while moving Spears into her new two-year home took a trail of paperwork that could stretch back to the Mojave, says Gastwirth, “It’s mostly about the creative elements when you build a permanent show.” With more than 150,000 hotel rooms, “Vegas is the ideal city for a headlining residency, as fans will travel here specifically to see a show.” Don’t forget that they book acts at all 39 of Caesars’ North American properties—a logistical feat all its own.
Gastwirth, who earned an MBA from Stanford University, was previously chief marketing officer of the Palms Casino Resort; he has also worked at the Sands, Venetian, and Palazzo. Prior to his role with Caesars, Melien, whose MBA is from Cornell, was an executive at Six Flags.
Both are mum when asked about possible residencies by other stars. You can throw out some names: Bruce! Prince! You’ll get nada. “We’re always looking at who could be next,” says Melien diplomatically.
They will, however, take one night off from that search. “We will be at Britney on opening night,” he promises. “We’re getting a ton of celebrity calls for tickets. Everybody wants to be at that show.”
photography by eric ita; photo illustration by Jeff Spitery
We go behind the scenes with our cover star.