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Las Vegas producer Saxe: ‘I feel we’re going to be sold out’ in reopening

Updated June 14, 2020 - 6:54 am

David Saxe was born to be in showbiz, having been on a Las Vegas stage even before he was born. As such, he unrelentingly says the show must go on.

And that covers the COVID-19 shutdown.

In a chat last week in his vast Las Vegas headquarters, Saxe ruminates over question about his shows being sidelined. Instinctively, does he believe people will want to file into his theaters and watch live entertainment?

“You know, my logic tells me no. This is going to take a long time to recuperate,” Saxe says during an interview on “PodKats!’ posted Monday morning. “But for some reason, and I’ve been doing this a long time, people are so resilient and they don’t care. I have a feeling we’re going to be sold out and it’s going to be packed and people are going to be lined up.”

Saxe certainly speaks from experience. A fabled tale in Vegas entertainment history is that his mother, Bonnie, was a dancer in “Folies Bergere” at Tropicana while pregnant with David. He jokes, “That’s why I’m all messed up, she was doing kicks while I was in the womb.”

No question, Saxe has lived a classic showbiz life, the son of sax great Richard Saxe, who headed up bands on the Strip who backed the Rat Pack, “Folies” and “Lido de Paris” at Stardust.

Saxe grew up at the feet of entertainers, literally crawling under blackjack tables at the original MGM Grand when he was a toddler. The dealers knew he was family. While a student at Clark High School, Saxe ran the staging for his star sister, Melinda the First Lady of Magic, at Bourbon Street hotel-casino. His sister Suzy danced in that production.

“I was the maitre d’, I ran lights, the sound, I controlled the curtains,” Saxe says. “We had pyro, which you’re not supposed to do. … I would like set off little bombs onstage … it was terrible.”

Saxe has since grown his own fiefdom at V Theater and Saxe Theater at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. David Saxe Productions presents 13 shows in its five theaters. Saxe himself produces five of those shows, led by “Vegas! The Show,” “V The Ultimate Variety Show” and “Zombie Burlesque.”

All of these productions hint to vintage stagecraft, filled with an array of side acts, tightly choreographed dance numbers and — as a nod to Saxe’s father — live music.

As anyone who knows him would expect, Saxe was the last producer onstage before the state-ordered COVID-19 shutdown, running “Zombie” and “Vegas!” the night of March 17. He wants to be the first to return, too.

“We’ll be back as soon as we’re legally allowed to be back,” Saxe says. “If the demand is there, I think we’ll go seven days a week. If it’s not there, we’ll go less than that.”

In the days leading to the shutdown, Saxe had added safety protocols to the very staging of his shows. In “Zombie,” a character squirted sanitizer into the hands of guests called up for the game-show spoof “The Couples Game.” Seating was spaced, somewhat according to social-distancing protocols.

But Saxe says such venue prep robs shows of their atmospheric appeal.

“I looked at the seating chart I have to do with all the separation, the spacing that I’m anticipating they’re going to announce, and in my soul I said, ‘Uh-oh, I can feel it for the performers,’” Saxe says. “Then I rearranged it again, ‘Wait! I can put a party of two here, front and center,’ but you have gaps everywhere. I go, ‘Oh, those poor guys have to look out to that audience.’”

Aesthetics aside, the drawdown in room capacity — about 420 in Saxe Theater and around 200 in the V Theater rooms — undercuts Saxe’s profits. As it is, he nearly needs to sell out “Vegas!” for its full cast, including an 11-piece band.

Most of the DSP shows need to fill 80 percent of capacity to break even.

“If you do 6 feet apart between parties, it’s down to 28 percent seating, which is very difficult,” Saxe says. “You can’t make it on 28 percent.”

Saxe views the COVID-19 challenges through a classic showbiz prism.

“Something I haven’t heard anybody say yet is, we’re consenting adults. If you go sky diving, you have to sign your life away,” Saxe says, inviting the comparison between leaping from a plane and running shows on the Strip. “So, why not say, ‘Hey, you know that coming into this theater, if you want to sit next to other people without masks — that risk is on you, sign yes or no.”

Whether such a release form could be required at a single theater complex in a massive retail center, connected to a major resort, is open to debate. But the producer’s wheels are forever turning. Saxe seems to be thinking aloud, coming up with a concept, ready to put it to the test. It’s how he rolls.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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