Liberace's legacy lives on ... but his museum, which has been a tourist drawcard for Las Vegas for the past 31 years, has unfortunately closed its doors because of the economic downturn and fewer visitors.
Looking forward to visiting the legendary and flamboyant entertainer's museum - founded in 1979 by "Mr Showmanship" himself - I was disappointed to be informed by an over-enthusiastic taxi driver that he'd shut up shop.
As part of my Vegas trip in early 2006 I paid a momentous visit to the museum that houses rare antiques, dazzling jewellery and an unsurpassed wardrobe of the most glittering and over-the-top costumes owned by this unique pianist, who, in 1987 at 68 years of age, succumbed to complications arising from AIDS. A non-profit organisation, the Liberace Foundation, will continue to fund scholarships as it has done since 1976 but for the meantime, the doors of the museum remain closed until decisions are made. Housed in two buildings, the museum's demise is lamentable.
On my previous visit I was in awe of an impressive collection of pianos that were not only owned by Liberace, but some of which once belonged to George Gershwin, Brahms, List and Schubert.
Now behind closed and locked doors is Liberace's personal collection of cars that include a Rolls Royce covered entirely in rhinestones and a Bentley covered in tiny mirror tiles. There's a stunning collection of rings including a gigantic amethyst given to him by Queen Elizabeth II and an oversized piano-shaped beauty encrusted with diamonds. But as they say, you can't take it with you.
What you can take with you from Las Vegas, however, are pocketfuls of visual memories in the shape of such entertainment spectacles as Phantom of The Opera which is showing at the purpose-built Phantom theatre at The Venetian resort on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Phantom of the Opera is a macabre tale of love and obsession. When Andrew Lloyd Webber scored the music and opened it in the West End of London in 1986 with Michael Crawford taking on the role of the Phantom, he probably had no idea how successful it was going to be. Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, the Really Useful Theatre Company has taken the guts of this epic musical and produced a 95-minute version specifically for the Venetian under the direction of Harold Prince. Every song from the musical is included in the performance.
As the story unfolds amid rehearsals for the opera Hannibal, we meet the young Christine (Kristen Hertzenberg) who has fallen hopelessly in love with her dashing childhood sweetheart Raoul (Andrew Ragone). Seated in the boxes to each side of the audience are members (albeit well-dressed mannequins) of the Parisian hierarchy with whom the audience immediately feel at one. As rehearsals progress, the Phantom (Anthony Crivello) makes himself known and falls hopelessly in love with Christine. The triangle is born and a tug of love begins. As we are taken through The Music of the Night, Think of Me, All I Ask of You, Masquerade and of course The Phantom of the Opera, we are truly spoiled by the delightful voice of Hertzenberg and the polished vocal performances of award-winning Crivello, Ragone and awesome chorus. The Venetian has pulled out all the stops in their US$40 million ($51.67 million) Vegas production, now in its fourth year and no doubt set to run for many more to come.
Although I've seen the West End version, I have to say the glitz and glam one demands from Vegas shows ... the Venetian wins hands-down on production with an unbelievable set, state of the art lighting and a custom-built theatre. Phantom is the third show I've been able to take in on my entertainment tour of this town, and it's certainly one that should be seriously considered if you find yourself in Vegas.