Many of the Tony Awards voters who come from the regional-theater community thought that Avenue Q had betrayed them when, after it was voted Best Musical in 2004, its producers promptly signed a deal to play in Las Vegas exclusively instead of touring nationally.
As it turns out, Sin City was a bad bet, which should make the regionals happy. Avenue Q closed at the end of May. Last week, Hairspray, which opened in Vegas in February, announced it was throwing in the cards there just days before this year’s Tony ceremony. “A Broadway show on Broadway is a Broadway show,” says Avenue Q producer Kevin McCollum. “You do a book musical in Vegas, it’s a show in Vegas.” And a show in Vegas involves certain realities. Nearly every musical that comes in from New York gets cut down to an intermission-less 90 minutes to get the tourists back to the slots. “In New York, you go to the theater and that’s the highlight of the night,” McCollum points out. “Here, shows are just one activity on a long list—I’m here until I do that.”
Shows in Vegas also need more than just an ad with a quote from the Times to draw audiences. To push Avenue Q, the Wynn casino upholstered a fleet of taxis in orange Astroturf, and the Luxor promoted Hairspray by covering one side of the pyramid with a banner of a giant blue beehive hairdo that was visible for miles. “I suggested we turn it into an all-nude Hairspray to keep it running, but no one would listen,” said the movie’s auteur, John Waters, adding that “a nude ‘family’ show hasn’t been tried.” With mogul Steve Wynn intending to bring Spamalot to the Wynn next year, Avenue Q faced a very New York problem—real estate. “Steve needed another theater for Spamalot,” McCollum says.
Vegas continues to ante up: A new version of Phantom of the Opera—smaller running time, bigger chandelier—is set to open at the Venetian later this month. The Paris casino is bringing in The Producers this fall, and Marilyn Winn, president for Bally’s Paris and Rio resorts in Las Vegas, thinks this Tony winner will be a winner. “People come to Vegas to be entertained, and this is clearly one of the best shows we could ever find to entertain our guests,” she enthuses. “I think it’s going to be a smashing success.” For both producers and gamblers, hope springs eternal, or, as McCollum philosophizes, “Putting on musicals is always a crapshoot, so of course it belongs in Vegas.”