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As We See It

Cool vs. cash: In Vegas, sometimes the unsustainable is worth doing anyway

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Vegas Nocturne” at Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at the Cosmopolitan.

"Vegas Nocturne is a hit,” producer Ross Mollison reportedly said Saturday night, toasting the show’s 100th performance and saying nothing about the next canto being its last inside Rose. Rabbit. Lie. I hope he winked.

Sunday morning the Cosmopolitan made it official, with an announcement that Nocturne was closed but that its host clubstaurant/theater’s “grand social experiment” would go on.

I was gutted. That show is one of the best I’ve seen in Vegas, more like a mutating organism than a rote production, with a menagerie of talent ranging from the aerial gymnastics of wet-jeans-wearing “Bathtub Guy” to the acidic comedy of a magic dragon named Piff. It was willfully cryptic in some ways, like the unpredictable canto format and a concept that must have been a marketing conundrum (anyone care for a Norwegian contortionist with a side of caviar tacos?). To me, it was thrilling and beautiful. And the mysteriousness meant the experience would stay fresh.

So why did it close? Nocturne had enthusiastic buzz, from Forbes to the Instagram feed of Perez Hilton, plus locals like me telling friends to buy tickets. They topped out at $135, but the cost of engineering an immersive fantasy—with a rotating cast of more than 30 and a live band—was more than the show could make. So says the Las Vegas Sun’s John Katsilometes, who was in the crowd that final night and reported Mollison wearing a sharp tuxedo and a grin, perhaps suggesting the curtain would rise on Spiegelworld’s Vegas-exclusive creation elsewhere on the Strip.

If it does, Nocturne may have to simplify to survive a saturated entertainment market dependent on tourists who want a no-brainer bang for their buck. Maybe if audiences knew exactly what they were in for; if the music were canned; if pricier acts were cut; if the scope were less daring. Maybe then it would be as profitable as it is popular.

Sound familiar? The Cosmopolitan has also been talked about this way. The coolest kid on the Strip is “unprofitable,” per reports of its sale from Deutsche Bank to Blackstone Group in May. It just doesn’t pencil to offer free shows by Fitz and the Tantrums, or to favor nuanced atmosphere over smacking guests in the face with slots. Las Vegas is no longer about loss leaders. And yet, our readers voted the Cosmopolitan Best Strip Casino in our 2014 Best of Vegas Awards for the second year in a row.

Nocturne is in there, too, honored as the top non-Cirque production. Perhaps Mollison and his Spiegelworld posse reached a bit too high, like a TV show with critical acclaim and disappointing ratings because it’s over America’s head. Sometimes legitimately cool things aren’t sustainable. Sometimes they’re worth doing anyway.

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Erin Ryan

Erin got her first newspaper job in 2002 thanks to a campfire story about Bigfoot. In her award-winning work for ...

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