ELVIS: The Exhibition – The Show – The Experience

Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley at Ribbon Cutting
Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley at Ribbon Cutting

On the 59th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s first Las Vegas performance, Graceland has opened the doors to a multi-faceted, authentic Elvis experience that showcases the man, the performer and the music that revolutionized popular culture around the world. “Graceland Presents ELVIS: The Exhibition – The Show – The Experience” is now open at Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, the same hotel where Elvis performed more than 600 record-breaking, sold-out shows between 1969 and 1976, when it was the International Hotel and then the Las Vegas Hilton.


Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley presided over a bevy of special events, including a formal “blue suede” ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil their personal treasures from the family archives, from rarely seen artifacts including Elvis’ personal television remote from his Graceland bedroom to Lisa Marie’s baby shoes. Priscilla served as the matron of honor for the first wedding in Elvis Presley’s Graceland Wedding Chapel, and Thursday evening, she and Lisa Marie hosted a VIP red carpet gala for the debut of the ”Elvis Experience,” a musical production that embodies the spirit of the king himself.


“Just think, it was 59 years ago today that Elvis performed his first show in Las Vegas,” Priscilla said. “Elvis loved Las Vegas and he loved his fans – he would be the first to welcome you to this great exhibition of his life. Lisa and I are so happy to share these wonderful artifacts from our family with you and are thrilled to bring the authentic Elvis back to Las Vegas for the first time in 40 years.”


A truly great experience was going through the first-ever permanent Elvis exhibition outside of Graceland during Media Day, which encompasses more than 28,000 square feet, and includes hundreds of artifacts from the Presley family’s treasured Graceland Archives. The exhibition takes visitors on an unprecedented journey through Elvis’ life and career, beginning with his early days in Tupelo, Mississippi, through his first recording session in Memphis, rise to fame, Hollywood career, life at Graceland, the Las Vegas years and more. Graceland-produced videos immerse guests in the experience, concluding with a 26-minute retrospective film featuring Elvis’ greatest performances. Select artifacts will be rotated regularly with artifacts from the Graceland Archives to ensure the exhibit is constantly evolving and remains fresh. The exhibition is open seven days a week from 10 am to 10 pm.  Tickets are priced at $22 plus taxes and fees, and are available for purchase at Graceland.com/Vegas.


There are so many highlights, but a few that we found interesting were the section devoted to his early days in Tupelo and Memphis. This collection of artifacts follows Elvis’ humble beginnings in Tupelo, Mississippi, to his family’s move to Memphis, where Elvis’ discovery of gospel blues would influence his music and drive his rock & roll sound. Then there was Graceland. At the young age of 22, Elvis purchased his first home where he would live with his mother, father and grandmother. A 17,000-square-foot property sitting on 13 acres, Graceland was a place where Elvis could relax and get away from his busy life as a singer and actor. Later in life, Priscilla and Elvis would marry and raise their daughter Lisa Marie at Graceland, a home Elvis vowed to never sell. Today, Graceland is visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year.


I first met Elvis in Hollywood, and there is a section devoted to those years, which I really found of interests. Between 1958 and 1968, Elvis left live performance touring to serve in the U.S. Army and then focus on his movie career, starring in 31 feature films – such as “Jailhouse Rock,” “King Creole,” “Viva Las Vegas” and “Blue Hawaii” – and two theatrical musical documentaries, including Golden Globe winner “Elvis on Tour.”  This exhibit features a collection of scripts, movie posters, a pair of coveralls worn in “Viva Las Vegas,” his bomber jacket from “It Happened at the World’s Fair” and much more.


For Elvis’ first stint in Las Vegas at the New Frontier in April 1956, Colonel Parker billed him as the “Atomic-Powered Singer.” This was the time that he was just gaining fame, but was able to go into other casinos without being jumped on by fans. It is also where he ran into a young entertainer from Philadelphia, Freddie Bell. Freddie and his Bell Boys had a little hit recording out and were performing at the Sands Hotel, when Elvis dropped in to watch the young Rock’ n Roll group. Bell proceeded to perform his hit song, “Hound Dog,” and Elvis came back two nights in a row to hear that particular song.  Bell told me years ago, that The King personally asked him if he would mind if he covered the song and asked for his arrangement (Freddie had changed the words somewhat from the original recording by Big Mama Thorton), which was of course given by Freddie. And the rest is recording history.


Elvis eventually became huge and signed a deal with the International Hotel in 1969, and became the reigning king of live entertainment in Las Vegas, breaking all box office records for the city. Guests exploring Elvis’ Las Vegas history can see iconic stage costumes from Elvis’ live performances, Priscilla’s dress from Elvis’ opening night at the International Hotel, the suit Elvis wore when signing his 1969 contract, and never-before-displayed advertisements placed by Parker throughout the city from bus stops to billboards. Believe me this entire tour is worth every penny. You can spend hours inside and not get bored.


Elvis Presley’s Graceland Wedding Chapel at the Westgate is the first chapel outside of Graceland to be operated by Elvis Presley Enterprises. Couples can be joined together in an atmosphere of southern hospitality unique to the Graceland experience. Winners of a nationwide contest by NBC’s Today Show, Kaycee Satava and Cameron Baker, were the first couple to be married at the Wedding Chapel the morning of April 23, with Priscilla Presley serving as matron of honor.


Elvis Experience
Elvis Experience

The newly renamed and renovated Elvis Presley Theater at the International Showroom is now featuring the critically acclaimed “Elvis Experience,” produced by LCQ Productions, on the same stage where Elvis performed for millions of guests during his record-breaking, seven-year stint. The theater has been slightly restored to have some of the look and feel it had when Elvis performed in this historic showroom. During the Elvis years, like most showroom, the front of the area nearest the stage had long tables that sat like 20 people, with at least two tiers of booths, followed by more tables. They have added a few booths, but no tables. But the stage is there and that’s what counts.


Elvis Experience is a large-scale production replicating one of Elvis’ legendary Las Vegas shows, starring actor Martin Fontaine, and featuring 24 musicians and eight choir members portraying the original musicians and artists on stage with Elvis.  The Elvis Experience performs Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are on sale now and start at $49 plus taxes and fees. Following this limited engagement that will end May 30, the property will feature other limited-run, Graceland-produced live shows in The Elvis Presley Theater.


To purchase tickets now for the exhibition and “Elvis Experience” live show, and for information about the wedding chapel packages, please visit Graceland.com/Vegas. For more information or to book accommodations at the new Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, call toll free at (800) 732-7117 or log on to www.westgatevegas.com.


I would just like to add that the new owners of this historic hotel have really gone to work upgrading the casino area and brightening it up. The front entrance area is really nice and the marble flooring walkway is wonderful. I truly believe they are on the right track to make the Westgate a true destination hotel, not one that you had to have a special reason to go there. It’s bright and looking good! Take an afternoon to see for yourself, or an evening. I think you will like what you see. Just my opinion!



Rick Michel
Rick Michel

Rick Michel will present his “Sinatra Forever” show focusing totally on the music  of Frank Sinatra on Saturday, May 9 at the Cannery Hotel and Casino at 8:00 p.m. Michel will salute and interpret “Ol’ Blue Eyes” standards with his 24-piece symphonic orchestra. Rick, who has performed and headlined in Las Vegas since 1981, and has been a Master Impressionist for more than 40 years, has been touring his “Sinatra Forever” show around the country as well as internationally with performances in Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico, and Chile to name a few. More than half the members of his orchestra at the Cannery are musicians who have performed with Sinatra, and will give the 24-song set the Sinatra sound. Michel has been called “the closest sound to Sinatra we have ever heard” by “Variety.” Tickets are $24.95 general admission and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.


Well, gang, that’s about it for this week.

I’m outa here!

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