The other day I was asked, “What’s missing in Las Vegas entertainment?” How about a bonfire of all equipment used for lip-syncing? We could use one of those. But we have arrived at the point where audio augmentation is fairly widespread. Even shows that appear to be live, starring some great entertainers, are boosted by recorded tracks. It is the epitome of “the suckage,” as Lon Bronson would say, but it is reality. We’ll live with it, if it helps keep shows onstage and performers employed.
That’s one takeaway from 2015. But what is missing, seriously, in Las Vegas? How about more groovy, for-real, late-night music clubs? I’m feeling that genre is percolating more than ever around town, with such new hangs as the Golden Tiki in Chinatown putting on occasional performances featuring some top names on the local burlesque scene and the Dispensary Lounge on East Tropicana showcasing great jazz every weekend. The great music lineup at Tuscany Suites is another example.
What we’ve seen in Las Vegas in the recent past is conducive to small-scale, intimate forms of entertainment in cozy venues. A quick, two-step list of what is vanishing from our landscape:
• The grandeur of such singularly Las Vegas production shows as Jubilee, closing in February as the last showgirl spectacle on the Strip. The advancement of Cirque du Soleil productions, generous for their stagecraft and technology and populated with dozens of highly trained artists, seems done, too. Zarkana and its theater are being overtaken by a $154 million convention-space expansion at Aria. Cirque is moving forward with upgrades to Believe at Luxor and The Beatles Love at Mirage, but don’t expect a resident Cirque show to replace Zarkana (joining Viva Elvis, in that same Aria theater, as the only Cirque show to close on the Strip) anywhere in Las Vegas. Conceivably, a touring show could be brought in to the new Monte Carlo theater, the 5,000-seat venue opening about a year from now, but with seven shows already in the neighborhood, why bother?
• The appeal of Vegas institutions, in general. In the past year Elvis and Sinatra struggled to sell tickets in Las Vegas, even as both legends were boosted by significant financial support. The Elvis tribute show, titled The Elvis Experience, ran for a few weeks in the spring at Westgate Las Vegas and remarkably underperformed. This was a note-for-note, almost documentary-styled resurrection of an Elvis show at the old International/Las Vegas Hilton showroom. But the idea of lines around the corner to see actor Martin Fontaine churn out Presley-performed classics quickly dissipated.
Sadly, the same pattern unfolded for another laboriously detailed production, Frank: The Man, The Music at Palazzo Theatre. This show was backed by 32 musicians (24 were onstage for that Elvis tribute at Westgate) and the star of Frank, Bob Anderson, spent two hours before every show being made up as Sinatra. But despite a highly fulfilling production by Anderson and the Vince Falcone-led orchestra, the show never hit its numbers, and the hotel closed the production two weeks before Sinatra’s 100th birthday on December 12.
As for the next big trend, look for smaller shows—or “entertainment experiences”—in reconfigured rooms. The Palazzo Theatre is being redesigned, reportedly, and reduced in capacity to allow for a more integrated production that will seep from the stage through the audience. There have been reports that show is the next adaptation of For the Record: Baz, which closed in August at Light, but neither the hotel nor the production company has formally confirmed this happening. Nonetheless, the concept for the theater would be to cut the two-level space down to just the floor, and allow enough room between aisles for artists to meander past. That venue’s capacity would be more than halved, to about 500 to 600 seats, for its next show (about full capacity for the Baz show at Light). I’m expecting at least one other large theater to undergo a similar downsizing in 2016.
Also, an oft-discussed venue known as Liberty Loft at New York-New York is under construction, with a possible capacity of 300 to 400. Several producers and performers with show concepts have toured that space atop Tom’s Urban in the old ESPN Zone arcade area. Officials with MGM Resorts, which owns the hotel and the space, have said it’s not to be specifically for entertainment, but rather a hybrid performance and convention venue. Still, the widespread interest in even the possibility of a new venue of that size (and, not insignificantly, location) has piqued a lot of interest around the scene.
What else to look for? How about an anchor headliner at the Monte Carlo theater, that venue’s answer to Celine at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace and Britney Spears at Axis at Planet Hollywood. There was a bubble of speculation about Justin Timberlake being courted, but nothing has materialized. That theater needs a Timberlake-scale artist the same way Las Vegas Arena needs an NHL team as an anchor tenant. Such a dependable box-office draw over a high volume of dates solves a huge booking challenge.
But before any of that happens, some cool Vegas hangs would be a groovy way to spice up the Strip—and elsewhere—in ’16. Dial up the band, and save me a seat.