Katy Perry’s Vegas Residency ‘Play’ Is A Wild Ride Through The Mind Of A Pop Star Turned Mom

The ruling princess of pop, Katy Perry, has switched gears over the last few years. During the last decade, the sometimes whimsical, sometimes raunchy Katy of One Of The Boys and Teenage Dream gave way to more pristine, classic sounds of Prism, and after the flop that was Witness, her most recent album, Smile, flew a bit under the radar. Instead of pushing onward following up two lackluster records, Perry morphed, focusing instead on her personal life, a solid relationship with actor Orlando Bloom, and announced she was pregnant with her first child days before the pandemic hit in 2020. Her timing couldn’t have been better. Perry gave birth while the world was in lockdown, took the necessary break that having a newborn requires, and pivoted to putting on a show that lets her stay in one place — a Vegas residency.

Even with the battery of hits she has in her repertoire, when early looks of the residency hit the internet late last year, the reaction was outsized, incredulous even. Katy had gone full-blown mom mode, orchestrating a kid-friendly show with giant, talking toilets, an entire act supported by anthropomorphic trash, and an acid trippy section that starred a host of dancing mushrooms (who looked decidedly phallic, no less). From what these snippets seemed to reveal, Play was Katy In Wonderland, a bizarro world that turned the more traditional idea of a glitzy, glam Vegas show on its head.

In truth, the Pixar moments in Katy’s Vegas show are only half the story. Yes, Play seems more influenced by the birth of Daisy — Perry and her partner Bloom’s 18-month-old daughter — than the sex kitten years that defined Katy’s Teenage Dream reign. But in practice, the show offers a well-balanced mix of high-brow, pop diva glam right alongside all the potty humor. The impact of Toy Story on Play is another element that social media clips don’t quite convey; it’s a look back on childhood moments from the perspective of our heroine as “Katy Doll,” a viewpoint that portrays both the horror and beauty of answering to a child’s every whim.

Expertly combining hits from every era of her career — sometimes even into superpowered medleys — and even taking a moment to joke about the way some of her songs have aged with regards to “internet comment sections,” (See: “You’re So Gay,” “I Kissed A Girl” etc) the other outstanding element of Perry’s residency is her live vocals. While plenty of pop stars rely on backing tracks or lip-syncing to carry them through the physical demands of a live show, Katy sang every note, and all of it was powered by a state-of-the-art sound system in the property’s brand new, 5,000 seat theater. Since plenty of the entertainment industry’s most iconic venues have been on the market for decades now, it’s actually quite rare to experience a show performed in a theater built in the last year or so.

Resorts World’s debut on the Vegas strip was already highly anticipated, as the first new hotel to open on the strip itself in over a decade, and they spared no expense in making their theater a destination. The venue is decked out with over 250 L-Acoustics speakers, which offer a different kind of sound mixing than traditional stereo. They’ve dubbed their mix “L-ISA,” and it’s definitely a noticeable upgrade for sound to be this clear in such a big space. Smaller, background players like Katy’s band, or the actual harmonies from her backup singers, come through right in tune with her main vocal; there’s less full-tilt loud sound and more nuanced, focused moments with greater modulation between the high and low moments.

Even if you’re not a huge gearhead, L-Acoustics are the speaker of choice for Coachella, meaning Resort’s World is falling in step with the top-billed festival in America. Clearly, their emphasis on live entertainment is not an afterthought, and if you want a chance to see if the setup really makes a difference, just book two Vegas shows back to back and compare notes. As for Katy’s show, there were actually a few moments where the ability to hear live instruments and additional vocalists made a huge difference; “Waking Up In Vegas” was retooled as a show tune, her newest single, “When I’m Gone” pulsed pure EDM oontz, and “Teenage Dream” became a set-closing ensemble piece.

The show’s closer, “Firework,” shone too; this one, as a standalone performance by Katy on her own, framed against a gigantic, pink-hued keyhole, with a cascading staircase of rainbow gauze at her feet. And in that final spotlight, belting out the kind of comforting song a mother would sing to a child, Katy looked like a star again.

Set List:

Act 1 – Henry the Horror
“Chained To The Rhythm”
“Dark Horse”
“Not The End Of The World”

Act 2 – Flushed
“California Gurls”
“Hot N Cold” / “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”
“Waking Up In Vegas”

Act 3 – Eat Me
“Bon Appétit”
“I Kissed A Girl”

Act 4 – Trashun
“Lost” / “Part Of Me” / “Wide Awake”
“Never Really Over”
“Swish Swish”
“When I’m Gone” / “Walking On Air”

Act 5 – Perry Playland
“Teenage Dream”
“Smile” / “Roar”
(Encore) “Greatest Love Of All” / “Firework”