When Billy Idol plays Reno’s Grand Sierra Theater on Friday night, his performance will be more than just his first appearance in the venue since 2008, although that is not without its significance. This time he’s the headliner for the first show in the totally renovated theater.
The $10 million remodel is the first major change since the resort opened on May 3, 1978, then called the MGM Grand.
On that night, invited guests flowed into the new structure, many from 13 flights added to Reno International Airport. They danced to Harry James and his orchestra in the ballroom, took in jai alai games and bowled in the 50-lane alley.
The showroom, then known as the Ziegfeld Room, opened the next week with Dean Martin, who opened all the showrooms at resorts owned by Kirk Kerkorian. The next week, the theater hosted Mac Davis and Joan Rivers and then went dark to allow final installation of “Hello, Hollywood, Hello,” at the time the world’s biggest production show. The Donn-Arden spectacular with 135 performers was to run on the world’s biggest stage for 13 years, followed by other productions and headliners, including Sinatra, as the hotel became Bally’s, then the Reno Hilton, and finally the Grand Sierra.
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No matter how great the show, viewing was always awkward for most of the audience, seated at tables originally designed for dinner shows, necks often craned and sprained at sharp angles to see the show while facing away from the action. The 1,550 people in the audience were jammed in.
All of that has changed. Tables (except for a few VIP booths) have made way for wide seats on tiers that allow full view from anywhere in the room. The updated theater accommodates more than 2,700.
The physical makeover is not the only change in the effort to make the venue one of the top in the West. The Grand Sierra has entered into partnership with Live Nation, the country’s largest concert promoter. Idol’s show sold out quickly. He tops a roster of that includes Jason Isbell with Dawes on Sunday, Diana Krall (Aug. 15), Colbie Caillat and Christina Perri (Aug. 22), Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo (Aug. 26), Vince Gill (Aug. 29), Primus & The Chocolate Factory (Sept. 7), Ricky Martin’s One World Tour (Sept. 16), Luis Miguel (Sept. 19), Duran Duran: Paper Gods on Tour (Sept. 25), Death Cab for Cutie with Best Coast (Sept. 28), and Hozier (Oct. 22). Tickets are at grandsierraresort.com.
One more thing has changed since Martin performed in 1978. He played for $20, including dinner. A ticket to Idol’s show was going for more than three times that price.