It’s a show whose acts include a man dressed in a fat suit spinning plates, a farcical ode to the Titanic disaster, a watery pirate-ship battle and a lady archer piercing an apple atop her own head.
This production has run for 1,000 shows. It has lasted more than two years in a tiring, 30-year-old off-Strip hotel under an ownership change. It has been successful enough that an off-shoot production is reportedly being planned for the long-vacant Jubilee Theater at Bally’s next spring.
To all of that, we can only say, “Wow.”
The plucky variety show of that title celebrated its 1,000th performance Tuesday night. The circular theater was nearly full, a healthy complement of adults, kids and (in the case of a woman who insisted on screaming randomly through much of the performance) adults acting as kids.
“Wow,” with its watery undercurrent and aquatic acrobats, has successfully surfed Las Vegas largely through patience. Production creator Hanoch Rosenn understood his show would need to tread water for several months before turning a profit.
Trained in the art of mime, Rosenn says word-of-mouth has helped fill seats.
“I must say it was difficult for the first six months,” Rosenn says during a pre-show celebration inside the Rio Showroom before Tuesday’s 1,000th performance. “We learned that, for us, after six months, you’re good. But it it was a struggle to get to that point, I must say. The rules in this city are very different from every other place I’ve been.”
Those rules, in part, are producers need to schlep to concierge kiosks at hotels across the city, pitching their various shows so those officials, in turn, suggest to tourists where they spend their money. They partner with online ticket brokers, paying commission fees to lure visitors to the theater, and those per-ticket commissions can cut into profits.
Also, the Vegas ticket-buyer is unlike any Rosenn has encountered, as his show ran overseas for 15 years before opening in Las Vegas.
“The tourists, your audience in Las Vegas, really has no time to really check what they want to see,” Rosenn says. “You have to find the right way to catch their attention. There are so many things going on in Las Vegas, probably more things to do than any city I’ve been to — maybe New York and London are similar, but still, in Las Vegas there are so many options.”
Rosenn actually launched his word-of-mouth campaign through a 30-second digital video pamphlet, which, when opened, showed off the production’s dazzling highlight reel. He delivered these animated cards to concierges (and even some media types) across Las Vegas.
— John Katsilometes (@johnnykats) December 11, 2019
“I wanted them to see the show in a video, to make them look at the video so they understood the show,” Rosenn said. “The digital brochure was a great tool to help us do that. My goal always was for them to look at the show, then tell people about it, and grow from there.”
An act featured in that video is the production’s signature moment: Archery star Silvia Silvia’s show-closing number, where the former “America’s Got Talent” finalist hits seven bull’s-eyes and spears an apple on her head in a single shot.
To dive into the “Wow” history, the show routinely played to sellouts at the luxury Isrotel Theatre in Eilat, Israel, prior to arriving in Las Vegas. Rosenn checked out “O” at Bellagio and “Le Reve” at Wynn Las Vegas, reasoning that a similar-themed performance at a lower price point could find a home in Vegas.
The performer-turned-producer found an opening at the Rio, premiering on Oct. 7, 2017, in a theater with some healthy heritage. Danny Gans performed there, as did Prince in 2006-07, and also the short-lived production, “Duck Commander Musical.”
For the “Duck” show, Dodgers Theatricals spent about $1 million on the overhaul of the venue for what became a five-week run ending in May 2015. Rosenn and his troupe eagerly moved in and at least doubled that investment on a rich and vast video setup and a 1,000-square-foot pool at the center of the stage.
As has been noted previously, Rosenn is to this production what Guy Laliberté was to the development Cirque du Soleil. Laliberté started Cirque when he was a street performer in Quebec City in Canada; Rosenn started his career as a mime in his hometown of Jerusalem).
Despite its stable run at Rio, “Wow” often draws a smirk among the more prestigious shows in Las Vegas. It might not boast the theatrical investment and ingenuity of Cirque du Soleil productions or “Le Reve,” and it doesn’t possess the comic edge (and trademark raunch) of Spiegelworld’s triumvirate of “Absinthe,” “Opium” and “Atomic Saloon Show.”
But “Wow” is a pretty show to watch. Yes, we have seen much of this before — plates spun on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and archery dates to the Stone Age. Nonetheless, the performances are fun and funny, and the 30-member cast consistently hits its marks. And the three primary stars — Silvia Silvia; her husband, Victor Ponce (the chef, and pirate, and sidekick in the show-closing archery segment) and daffy fisherman-emcee Alex Traici have not missed a show in 1,000 performances.
Hearing those kids laughing is evidence enough that “Wow” has found an audience.
“We can speak to different languages, all over the world, who can appreciate movement and dance,” Rosenn says. “It doesn’t lean on the language so much. It is the performances.”
As for expansion to Bally’s in 2020, Rosenn nearly turns into the mime he was trained to be.
“I can’t say much,” he says, grinning. “It is always interesting to express myself in this city. When you can touch people in Las Vegas, you can feel good about yourself. I am now trying to touch them in another way.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.