Since the Broadway boom began in Las Vegas a dozen years ago, the Strip stages have been an important proving ground for a list of talented young stars who have gone on to much bigger success since their Nevada days. And now here comes another name to memorize: Michael James Scott.
Scott was an ensemble player in the original production of Jersey Boys when it opened at the Venetian in 2008. Now, as the Minstrel, he’s performing in the hottest new musical on Broadway, the 10-time Tony nominee Something Rotten! When the cast appears on the Tony Awards on June 7, it will be difficult to miss his deep, booming tenor and larger-than-life stage presence.
Something Rotten! is a raucous comedy set in Elizabethan England, in which two brothers, frustrated by all the attention and success that some playwright named Shakespeare is enjoying, invent the musical. It opened on April 22 with an impressive pedigree in its director, Casey Nicholaw, of the Tony-winning The Book of Mormon—a show that also featured Scott. Scott also appeared in two other Nicholaw productions, Elf and Aladdin.
Scott’s Vegas tenure was brief—about seven months—in part because he needed to return to New York to appear in the revival of Hair, which also won a fistful of Tonys. Yet his impressive post-Vegas résumé is a testament, he says, to what he learned not just on the stages of the Venetian but also in one-man shows he staged around town.
“Vegas was a lovely time for me,” he told me by phone from an alley outside New York’s St. James Theater during a three-hour gap between matinee and evening performances of Something Rotten! All those one-man performances—including fundraisers at the Liberace Museum—were an opportunity unique to Vegas compared with New York, where it’s “harder to get a venue. It’s a very, very tough thing to do. There’s a lot more hoops to jump through, whereas in Vegas, the town is built for that. … I was just able to see what I could do as a performer, what I can bring. I learned that I could just go for it.”
Scott seemed to find it strange that I asked whether there’s a stigma among Broadway performers about performing in Las Vegas. Yet the very fact that he rejected the premise was telling; many actors in the early days of the Broadway-in-Vegas trend from shows like The Producers, Mamma Mia! and Avenue Q told me they suffered sidelong glances and even outright hostility from Broadway snobs who saw appearing in a Vegas production as somehow debasing.
“I don’t think it’s looked down upon anymore,” Scott said. “I know a lot of people loved that I did Jersey Boys in Vegas, and they were really excited about it.”
Of course, by now Scott is just one in a parade of talented musical-theater entertainers to go on to bigger prominence. Sierra Boggess, the first Christine Daae of the long-running, now-gone Phantom—the Las Vegas Spectacular, went on to open several shows on Broadway and in the West End, including The Little Mermaid and the Phantom sequel. Erich Bergen, a Jersey Boys alum, reprised the role of Bob Gaudio in the 2014 film and now appears weekly on the hit CBS drama Madam Secretary. Ty Taylor, a star of the short-lived Queen musical We Will Rock You, is now frontman for the rock band Vintage Trouble, which performed on Leno and Letterman and tours this summer with AC/DC.
Scott thinks the challenge of performing in Vegas helps hone talent because the audience is sometimes harder to win over. “When you’re coming to a Broadway show, you’re coming in for a story, but sometimes in Vegas it seems like people aren’t necessarily coming for a story; they just want to sit down and not have to think and just be entertained,” he said. “When they gave over to the fact that there was a story that was really happening, it worked. But sometimes it was tougher because Vegas is Fun City, so you have a group of people coming to have a good time, have drinks and what-not, rather than just coming for a story.”
Scott still has some friends in Vegas—namely in the Jersey Boys cast along with that of Mamma Mia!, which he was part of in the original Broadway production back in 2001. They’ll surely be rooting for Something Rotten! come Tony time.
“They really took great care of us in Vegas, but I always knew I wouldn’t be there longer than six to nine months,” he said. “While Vegas has great things going for it, for me it’s not New York City. It’s tough being away from my own city. It was a great time for me, though, while it lasted.”