Scott Zeiger: On fifth anniversary, ‘Phantom’ on solid footing; don’t rule out extended run for ‘Absinthe’

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Scott Zeiger, co-CEO of BASE Entertainment, which produces “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular” at The Venetian, said his various Las Vegas shows offer variety and uniqueness. Zeiger is pictured in The Venetian theater on June 22, 2011.
Photo: Mona Shield Payne

It seems that each year, when Phantom -- Las Vegas Spectacular celebrates an anniversary, we ask, “Will it be around for another year?”

The show keeps answering that question itself -- it celebrates its fifth anniversary at the Venetian on Thursday. This year, we again posed the question to Scott Zeiger, co-CEO of BASE Entertainment, which produces Phantom.

“We can be confident of that,” Zeiger said during a phone interview Monday afternoon from his office in New York.

Phantom's 2,000th Show at The Venetian

Why, exactly?

“First and foremost, from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Hal Prince all the way to the associate choreographer and dance captain, the show is in great shape. The quality is still at a pinnacle. Any concierge or ticket broker in Las Vegas can recommend this show and be confident that whoever they are recommending it to is going to be highly entertained.”

More from our conversation:

Last year, you quoted a number, 1,200, for the average audience in the 1,800-seat theater. That still about the average?

Scott Zeiger: It is, and my God, nothing sells out regularly in Las Vegas anymore. You can get a ticket today for a show tonight. Even in New York, on Broadway, you can get a ticket for anything tonight, except Book of Mormon.

Has “Broadway in Vegas” become an archaic term?

Broadway means something different today than it used to. Spider-Man is not really a Broadway show; it’s an unabashed spectacle. Book of Mormon is a musical comedy from the creators of South Park. Is that a Broadway show? They won all those Tonys, and they deserved every one of them. It’s terrific, great entertainment that belongs in Las Vegas or Los Angeles or anywhere. ... Now, Broadway plays don’t belong in Vegas. You might have A Bronx Tale or a show like Defending the Caveman that work in Las Vegas, but those are few and far between.

We don’t even promote (Phantom) as a Broadway show in Las Vegas. If you look at Phantom or Jersey Boys (the BASE show at Palazzo) ads, there is no reference to “Tony” or “Broadway” because being a Tony Award-winning show doesn’t mean that much to a Vegas audience. Being a great spectacle does mean something.

What about the effect of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on your shows in Las Vegas? It opens in March with Wicked, which does bring a Broadway title to Las Vegas.

I don’t believe the Smith Center is going to have any impact on tourists at all, nor do I think it is marketing to tourists. I don’t think tourists staying at Aria, Planet Hollywood or Palazzo are going to go see The Million Dollar Quartet at the Smith Center. Don’t get me wrong, I have toured it, and it is a beautiful facility. I have 60 full-time employees, plus cast and crews, who live in Vegas, and I am thrilled for them because the cultural landscape in Vegas needs a good kick in the ass, and this will do that.

Las Vegas needs to develop a performing arts community. I’ll tell you, when the city fathers of any metropolitan area are seducing people to move into an area, performing arts are always in the Top Five reasons they give. You can look at the Chamber of Commerce of any metropolitan area and see a photo of ballet or some form of art. The Smith Center will bring much more of that fabric to the community than the Strip does, and maybe if people see Wicked, they will think to come down and see more great Broadway-style shows on the Strip. That very well could happen.

Let’s talk about another BASE show, Absinthe. Is there any way it will be extended past its announced September end date at Caesars Palace?

Angel Porrino Debuts in Absinthe

We are exploring options with Absinthe, and we’re rebuilding the campus -- the Beer Garden -- right now, with new umbrellas and misters and making it more in concert with its surroundings. But what we have is a temporary certificate of occupancy, which expires in six month that is up in September. The county can give us a three- or six-month extension. But since we’ve opened, business has been going up every week, and we’re just getting to the point where our word-of-mouth is rock solid. We want to see some return for that effort, absolutely.

Now we are having dialogues with the county and Caesars to see about an extension. But again, the decision is not ours. The county could simply say no, or Caesars could say no, but I think they really like the show. We have a lot of issues -- the tent is actually rented from a company in Belgium, and they might have plans for that tent after September. The actors and artists are signed just through the term of the show.

But from what you are saying, this show could last beyond the end of the summer?

We’ll know in the next several weeks, and we’re in no position to announce anything yet, but there is a glimmer of hope.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow Kats With the Dish at twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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