Shows that happen in Vegas, stay in Vegas. And vice versa.

If you’ve been following my recent road trip on twitter, then you know that I’ve gone from Columbus to Nashville to Las Vegas, baby, where there could be more live entertainment in one concentrated district than anywhere in the entire world.

As I was scootin’ around Sin City in my rental car, I saw a sign advertising the earlier-than-expected closing of Spamalot.

Another one bites the desert.

Vegas has been binging on Broadway the last few years, eating up Tony winners like Avenue Q, The Producers and Spamalot and puking them right back up like they were bad tomatoes.

The closing of these shows seems to be a very hard thing for a lot of very smart folks in charge of Vegas entertainment dollars to understand, including the Wizard of Oz-Vegas himself.  No matter how many millions are lost and how many times they swear they’ll never touch a Broadway show again, back the Vegans come (yes, I’m hijacking that word), much to the delight of Broadway producers and authors who earn some nice up front advances and/or fees.

And believe me, I’ve wanted to sell my shows to Vegas for years.  It just sounds sexy, right?

It may sound sexy, but more often than not, it ain’t successful.  And success beats down sexy every time.

Why don’t most Broadway shows work in Vegas?  Here’s an easy way to think of it.  Reverse the flow.

Would a Liberace Impersonator work here?  How about Dirk Arthur’s Extreme Magic?  Or a topless revue that features the sinking of the Titantic and destruction of the temple of Sampson and Delilah?

If those shows wouldn’t work here . . . why in the world do we think that our shows would automatically work there.

“But Ken!   Mamma Mia has done ok!  Phantom seems to be doing fine!  And so is Jersey Boys!”

True that.  But those aren’t Broadway.  Those are brands.  (And it’s interesting to note that while they are all doing fine, these shows haven’t replicated the enormous success they have in other markets).

So what do I think it takes for a show to work in Vegas and keep people from the slot machines?

  • Brands are beautiful.
    • In a town where tourists turn over ever 48 hours, word of mouth is hard to come by, so pre-existing knowledge of what you’ve got to offer is essential.  They’ve got to come in knowing you.
  • Who needs English?
    • Vegas is a global destination and having a show that crosses language barriers gives you a showgirl-size leg up on the comp. so you won’t have to comp.
  • Spectacles are spectacular.
    • The city of Las Vegas is a spectacle by itself, so it makes sense that people want what brought them there in the first place.  Get synced up with the city.

One thing that doesn’t matter?  Price.  I threw down $168-and-change to see the Beatles-infused Cirque du Soleil experience, Love.

What did I think?  Well, I’ll just say this . . . jukebox musicals are hard, even if produced by a company that grosses $630 million/year.


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.