A sure thing?
Las Vegas was built on gamblers who thought they couldn’t lose. But when it’s the casino’s turn to gamble on entertainment, the sucker bets are usually made with other people’s money.
So if you’re the Tropicana Las Vegas, do you go looking for a new show that will rival the customer satisfaction of the Broadway blockbuster “Mamma Mia!”?
Or do you pick up the phone and see if the producers of “Mamma Mia!” are interested in coming back?
Fred Harmon, who oversees marketing and entertainment at the Tropicana, says he and some collaborators were brainstorming about what to put in a showroom that has been sitting there, beautifully remodeled and quite empty, since February.
“What we all agreed on was it needed to be a show where people walked out of there in a really good mood,” Harmon recalls. Someone else said, “Yeah, like ‘Mamma Mia!’”
Then someone else said, “What about ‘Mamma Mia!’?”
“Once we found out there was interest on both sides, that became our main goal,” he says. “It’s that idealism of then, why wouldn’t we get ‘Mamma Mia!’ Tell me a reason why we wouldn’t?”
And so, come May, the Abba jukebox musical comes back to the Strip. It will be a full-length, open-ended production assembled just for Las Vegas, supervised by the original creative team.
(Specifics, including the opening date, ticket prices and their on-sale date, won’t be announced until after the show plays The Smith Center in January.)
But coming up with that good reason? Depends on how you look at it.
“Mamma Mia!” played six years at Mandalay Bay before it closed in early 2009. Would you say it had its day? That it played out?
Or would you say the musical still has plenty of life in it? It’s still on Broadway, still on tour, and still in the hands of its original producers.
“Judy (Craymer) had always hoped that there was a chance to return to Las Vegas, but the fit had to be right and the timing had to be right,” says Amy Jacobs, the show’s North American general manager.
This production may be setting some kind of record. I can’t think of another Las Vegas title that returned after a 5½-year absence.
But this title has defied a lot of comparisons.
“It’s such a gift,” Jacobs says. “We’re celebrating our 5,000th performance on Broadway next month.”
Like a few other Broadway perennials, “Mamma Mia!” can wait for new generations of tweeners to come of age.
“It’s a story about two generations. It’s a story about a mother and a daughter, so you have that appeal that goes across two generations,” Jacobs says.
Still, you wonder what else was out there. Is there such a paucity of ideas that no one pitched a better one? I guess you can’t be too hard on Las Vegas for not being more creative than Broadway or Hollywood, which are more into mining old TV shows and comic books.
The Tropicana was looking at a musical based on the life and songs of Gloria Estefan.
“You look at that go, “Wow, that would be a great show,’ but it’s still a risk because it’s not proven,” Harmon says. “Vegas is just such a different market.”
And the hotel’s live version of “Dancing With the Stars” was “awesome,” Harmon says, “but it was difficult to cast the celebrities. It wasn’t something they were going to be able to do as a permanent show.”
“Mamma Mia!” on the other hand, has so far resisted a name above the title. Producers say the Abba music is the star, and they haven’t had to rethink that yet.
“It is a known quantity and I think that’s a good thing,” Jacobs says. “We get tons of repeat business.”
Harmon was one of those repeat customers.
“It was always the one I wanted to take people to,” he says. “Everybody liked it. It was really an easy choice.”
And so it was for the Tropicana.
“That was our gamble, holding out. And hoping it was going to come to fruition.”
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.