Lance Burton, Frank Caliendo and Zowie Bowie would seem not to have many common characteristics. But they do share in this reality: Over the years, all headlined at the Monte Carlo theater. In Burton’s case, the venue was named for him when it opened in 1996.
More recently, the classically appointed, 1,200-seat theater has been home to Blue Man Group, which moved into the space in 2012 from the Venetian. The Blue Men will be the theater’s final headliners when they close October 11, when MGM Resorts shuts down Monte Carlo’s long-standing entertainment venue in a widespread hotel overhaul that will almost certainly be topped by a new name for the resort.
That process kicked off in earnest with the announcement on July 15 that the resort company plans to build a 5,000-seat theater connected to the Monte Carlo on the south side of the hotel, adjacent to the new 20,000-seat Las Vegas Arena. That venue should be easy to identify and locate, readily accessible by pedestrians and motorists coming off the Strip along Rue de Monte Carlo, which will be a one-way street once renovations are finished. The theater sits along the Park, the 8-acre entertainment and retail promenade leading to the new arena, and will stage its first show at the end of 2016.
MGM Resorts' blueprint for the development of facilities on Las Vegas Boulevard carry a distinct L.A. feel. The comparison is unmistakable between the Strip-side entertainment fortress and the L.A. Live complex, home to the Staples Center, Microsoft Theater (formerly Nokia Theater) and a similar complex of restaurants, theaters and the Grammy Museum between those two venues. MGM Resorts President Bill Hornbuckle says of L.A. Live, also an AEG development, “The adjacency of the plaza, theater and arena as an epic entertainment district was compelling.”
The new theater’s design is unique for its external access points; existing theaters at MGM properties are built inside their respective hotels. Not this one. “It sets itself up for an amazing red-carpet environment, by design, and just screams at you ‘entertainment, theater activity’ when you’re walking up and down Las Vegas Boulevard,” says Hornbuckle.
For MGM Resorts, the new theater adds versatility and volume to its entertainment options. The resort company already operates MGM Grand Garden Arena, Mandalay Bay Events Center, MGM Resorts Village across from Luxor and Mandalay Bay, and MGM Resorts Festival Grounds on the southwest corner of Sahara Avenue and the Strip. Las Vegas Arena opens next spring, too.
The strategy for the new theater is to invite star performers to play single shows or short-run residencies, the way Kiss, Journey, Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses have filled dates at the Joint. The new theater’s size will put it in obvious competition with the Colosseum at Caesars and Axis at Planet Hollywood, both of which seat about 4,000. Other venues within range of the new theater are the Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan, House of Blues, Brooklyn Bowl and the Joint.
As Hornbuckle led the planning for the Monte Carlo theater, he looked at the performances at the Colosseum (where Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire have just been added to that theater’s robust lineup) and Axis (where Jennifer Lopez will join Britney Spears in superstar headlining-duties in January). “We clearly saw what happened with Caesars. We saw the activity was productive. We’ve seen, even, to a lesser degree, what’s going on at Axis at Planet Hollywood, which has been somewhat productive.”
The challenge: filling all these venues. Even if Las Vegas Arena winds up home to an NHL expansion team and locks up 44 dates per year with that team’s home schedule, MGM Resorts still needs 100 additional events to satisfy all its needs, but Hornbuckle doesn’t sound concerned with finding artists and acts who can fill the room. “With our Rolodex and our outreach, we can find anybody and everybody. There is no venue need that we can’t accommodate.” An acoustic performance by a touring arena act—Taylor Swift being one example—would fit well into the theater.
MGM Resorts obviously feels it’s the city’s predominant entertainment company, but there was a hole in its game. A 5,000-seat hole. “If you step back for a moment, at 40,000 feet strategically, first and foremost the whole arena and theater business was about not losing our position as the dominant entertainment company in Las Vegas,” Hornbuckle said. “It’s really our brand, it’s who and what we are, and when we looked across the portfolio we didn’t have a venue like this.”
All that is left is all the work. Someone might want to ask Taylor if she’s interested in unplugging, even for a night.