“It’s a great time to be in the entertainment business in Vegas,” Ross Mollison says.
But Mollison is one of the few guys who would say it. The producer’s first Las Vegas venture, “Absinthe,” celebrates its third anniversary at Caesars Palace on Wednesday. And his second, “Vegas Nocturne” at Rose.Rabbit.Lie, is breaking new ground at The Cosmopolitan.
It’s not like he’s living on dividends of the boom years. “Absinthe” opened in 2011, “coming out of the hardest possible time I expect,” Mollison says.
The Australian producer was to be part of the Fontainebleu, but he had to go into scramble mode when the casino project went belly up in 2009. A custom theater in a new casino became, “OK, we’re going to put our Spiegeltent up (on the grounds in front of Caesars Palace). Something that was going to cost 15 or 16 million to something under a million dollars.”
So when Mollison says, “These are really exciting times,” he’s allowed to, because he is partly responsible for creating them. He is not trying to launch a ninth Cirque du Soleil, or carve a stand-up comedy club out of a restaurant’s banquet room.
No, Mollison delivered good ideas at a time when we weren’t seeing many.
Granted, a circus tent isn’t exactly a new concept. And Mollison’s shows do mix and match things that are already here (burlesque, circus acts). They are novel more by their context. But right now, a change of venue seems to be just the ticket for building bridges between the otherwise divided industries of dining, clubbing and shows.
“Absinthe” was first staged in 2007 on a New York pier under the Brooklyn Bridge. “We were sort of used to that idea of a venue transposed into something else,” Mollison says.
Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner “went to bat for us” in support of plopping the ornate tent (later replaced by a more durable pavilion) right in front of the casino. “At one of the first executive meetings, one of the people said, ‘I don’t think we should do it, I think it’s wrong for our brand. But I was sitting around the table when we said we shouldn’t do Cirque du Soleil.’
“That was one of the more interesting comments of my career.” (It’s true. Caesars passed on Cirque before Steve Wynn grabbed it.)
And Cosmopolitan President John Unwin’s idea for a retro supper club was a perfect match for Mollison wanting to re-create the work of Roderico “Rodney” Neyra, who constantly changed the floor shows at the Tropicana in 1950s Havana.
“The producer in me says, ‘What was I thinking?’ ” Mollison says of the three nightly editions of “Nocturne.” But blurring the lines between ticketed show and environmental entertainment “gives the entire space just an energy, and the cast an energy you would not otherwise get.”
“It’s an obvious thing to say, but a lot of this market is not coming for the gambling, they’re coming for all the other reasons,” Mollison. “That is what’s driving investment and interest.”
Landing in the right place at the wrong time? Sometimes it works out.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at email@example.com or 702-383-0288.