Jason Hanson’s new “Spy Escape & Evasion” show opened at the Stratosphere last week. Can it escape the fate of the 15 or more Vegas titles that folded last year?
Do a little snooping beyond the big-ticket shows in town, and you’ll see Hanson could be on the right track.
A former CIA operative doing a Las Vegas show seems like a fine excuse to spotlight some other Las Vegas performers, who have racked up thousands of performances and impressive tenure on the Strip yet still work somewhat under the radar. Here’s a dossier on their trade craft.
1. LONE WOLVES
Movie spies tend to be loners, and a lean-and-mean payroll is a common trait among our stealthier stars.
“It’s me plus three,”Anthony Cools says of his hypnosis show, which this month marks 12 years at Paris Las Vegas (with one interruption). He has one onstage assistant and two ushers and figures he only has to sell about eight tickets for each show to break even.
Gerry McCambridge is “The Mentalist” with just one technician in the V Theater at Planet Hollywood Resort. In December, he celebrated 3,000 Las Vegas shows. And yet, he says, “I figured out where my show sits in the grand scheme of things.”
“A lot of times (people) want to see an ‘A show,’ an Elton or a Rod Stewart or a Cirque. But I don’t think people see those A shows every night. If they stay three or four days, they need ‘B shows’ to see.”
2. THIN THE COMPETITION
Hanson may have an edge when it comes to being the only Las Vegas show teaching you how to break out of duct tape and foil would-be abductors. There are two hypnotists (Cools and Mark Savard) and even two mentalists (McCambridge and Frederic Da Silva’s “Paranormal” at nearby Bally’s).
But McCambridge views it this way. “If you take the amount of people my show can hold (about 180) and times it by 310 or however many I do in a year? If I sold out every night I wouldn’t hit point zero-zero of the tourists (in town on a given weekend).”
Cools just signed on for another three years next door. But he says it’s getting harder for the “R-rated” hypnosis show where the crowd used to look like Lake Havasu on spring break.
“There’s been so many changes,” he says. “Vegas has just morphed, and not necessarily in a great way for entertainment. It’s shifting from the entertainment capital of the world to the nightclub capital of the world. I think the average age of people going to shows is over 35 now.”
Which may explain Cools branching out into the ax-throwing business as a partner in the new Axe Monkeys indoor range.
3. MAKE THEM TALK
The thing our under-the-radar operatives value the most is the one thing a real spy dreads: loose lips.
When Cools asks at each performance how many people were referred by friends, “over half my audience puts their hand up in the air.”
Jin Jin Reeves agrees: “Word of mouth counts for a whole bunch, if not everything. It’s half the battle won.”
Reeves is the star of “Hitzville,” the Motown tribute that’s been in town since 2005. And with a dozen musicians and singers onstage at the V Theater each night, it’s an exception to our lone wolves.
“It hasn’t been easy. It was a challenge,” she says of keeping this larger cast working. “When you ask God for something, he gives it to you. But he never really gives you a timeline for how long it’s going to last. You’re always blown away when it lasts longer than you expect.”
“Hitzville” has billboards and rolling trucks, too. But more likely, most people walk in not knowing who Reeves is. But when it’s over? She’s hugging new friends and signing DVDs in the lobby.
Even Elvis needs people to talk him up. Despite all those rhinestones, Elvis impersonators also fly under the radar nowadays. Contrary to the popular perception, Steve Connolly at the Four Queens and Travis Allen at the V Theater are your only full-show Elvi beyond “weddings and walk-arounds,” as Allen’s “All Shook Up” co-producer Kurt Brown puts it.
But internet word of mouth puts “All Shook Up” high on Trip Advisor’s “Concert & Shows” list. Talk about hiding in plain sight, for three years and more than 1,000 shows.
It helps to know your emergence tactics. “Being a 6 p.m. show, we’re in front of the big shows,” Brown says. “I don’t think we would be doing nearly as well if we were up against Cirque shows and everything like that.”