Smaller fish finding more wiggle room on Strip

Show producers get it, but they don't have to like it. The Strip seems full if you crowd around the new Mirage volcano show. But the ticketed shows seem half empty ... if they're lucky.

"Half empty better be half full if you're gonna make it," says one producer who prefers anonymity to a public confession of not doing turn-away business every night. "You have to be able to live off a half-full room."

That might explain why, counterintuitive as it might seem, this year has seen more stand-up comedy and dirty hypnotists move in, when you might have predicted the opposite: All that "B" and "C" level stuff drying up in the wake of Cirque du Soleil and other big shows discounting.

But the solo comedians, or little shows that can break even on $20,000 or less each week? They might wiggle through easier than the big guys with weekly payrolls in the hundreds of thousands.

"Peepshow" co-producer Scott Zeiger doesn't have the luxury of anonymity in explaining his public cost-cutting: dropping the band, a few dancers and one of its marquee stars. Once Aubrey O'Day moves on in December, Holly Madison will be the only billed lead.

"In the bargain-hungry environment that is Las Vegas," Zeiger says, "our ticket price can't be materially more than a room cost in a hotel."

Zeiger comes from the Broadway world and so had to adjust to reversing the usual ratio of advance to walk-up ticket sales.

Las Vegas has become even more of a walk-up market now, he says. Those who aren't just coming to throw themselves pizza parties in greatly reduced hotel rooms are savvy about not buying full-priced show tickets in advance.

In this environment, it's not surprising to see Las Vegas parallel the changes in television, where cheap-and-greasy reality shows replaced expensive sitcoms.

A couple of years ago, you might have scoffed at "The Las Rock and Roll Gameshow" which launches Wednesday at the Four Queens, "starring YOU!"

Now you wonder if Matt Phillips and Stevenson Brooks aren't on to something with a YouTube promotional video of the two of them that makes "Wayne's World" look like "Transformers."

"This is all very shoestring," Phillips says of the show that's launching with a budget south of $500. Instead of buying $10,000 billboards, "everything we're doing is very viral, which is cheap."

Phillips is bypassing full-price brokers, going straight to discount venders. "Everybody wants a discount right now," he says. "And I ain't too proud to beg."

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at or 702-383-0288.


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