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Broadway trend down but not out

The recent announcement of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” soon leaving town calls more attention to the 2,000th performance of “Mamma Mia!” on Sunday.

The news comes in one of those news releases that arrive all the time, and they mean more to show producers than they do to civilians. What’s more significant is that if “Mamma Mia!” closes at Mandalay Bay as planned in January — barring this summer’s movie with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan giving it a whole new life, rather than a mere bump — only two Broadway musicals will still be around in 2009.

“Phantom” already has proven itself the 880-pound theatrical gorilla of 20 years standing. “Jersey Boys” is a comparatively young title that also should be good on the Strip for a year or two, until touring productions saturate the smaller cities.

And there are continuing rumors that a certain “Wicked” witch may fly in to the Fontainebleu when the new property opens in late 2009.

But before we stick a fork in the Broadway trend and consider it as done as a Hasselhoff hamburger, let’s keep two things in mind:

• The continued presence of more modest titles; I’d call them off-Broadway, though not all had that designation: “Defending the Caveman,” “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding,” “Menopause The Musical” and “Hats!” If you want, you can throw in two interactive affairs, “Marriage Can Be Murder” and “The Soprano’s Last Supper.”

Collectively, they challenge the perceived lack of interest in English-language theater. But all of them are leaner and meaner than the big-budget musicals, setting the bar of expectations lower.

“I can’t imagine having to sell 1,500 seats a day,” says “Tony ‘n’ Tina” co-producer Jeff Gitlin, who instead has about 265 to worry about.

• Would an 18-month run of “Spamalot,” or a year of “The Producers” have been considered a stiff in another city, such as Chicago or Los Angeles?

Absolutely not, says Michael Gill, whose Gill Theatrical Management operates “Phantom” and “Jersey Boys.” Because Cirque du Soleil titles stick around so long, “Vegas has adapted the attitude that if a show doesn’t run forever, it was a failure.”

A bigger difference, he explains, is “the productions that run in Chicago or Los Angeles are still considered ‘tours.’ If they close in that city they pick up and move.” But a Las Vegas deal is an exclusive license, and “you can’t go anywhere after Vegas because you haven’t been legally granted the rights.”

What if it was done the other way? Would a finite run give locals the hurry-up? Enable producers to strike better deals about how long to freeze out feeder markets such as Phoenix? Just asking …

Clint Holmes will find out the true nature of his friends on Sunday, when he receives the Louis Prima Award from The Showbiz Society in a lunch at the Suncoast.

Entertainer Tony Sacca says Holmes’ show business pals are toying with the idea of a roast format like the old Dean Martin specials. Regardless, it’s bound to be fun with a guest list that includes Frank Scinta, Gordie Brown, Jimmy Hopper and Earl Turner.

Lena Prima, daughter of the late lounge legend Louis Prima, will present the award at the noon lunch Sunday. Tickets are $50 for Society members and $75 for nonmembers. Call 877-2278 for more information.

The Showbiz Society spun off a previous entity know as The Cast, Inc. in a controversial January change that generated resignations and lingering ill will. Sacca says the new group’s mission is still to help entertainers in need.

It’s hard to say if Holmes’ participation will help restore credibility to the group, and still early for the new entity to have earned that trust. A group of former Cast members moved very efficiently on their own recently, raising more than $17,000 in a benefit for lounge pioneer Norman Kaye.

But if you forget how much Holmes does on the charity circuit by himself, he is double-booked for two benefits on May 17. He plans to open the Make A Wish Foundation ball at Planet Hollywood, then skip over to The Venetian to host the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Hope Gala. …

“Mega Bubble Show” at Steve Wyrick’s theater in the Miracle Mile shops at Planet Hollywood is changing its name back to the way it’s known in New York, “Gazillion Bubble Show.” Why did anyone think it was a good idea to make the show sound like a knock-off?

New show times also make the most of weekends until school lets out, with bubble-meister Fan Yang pushing into David Copperfield territory for the number of shows performed in one day: three on Saturdays, two on Sundays and one on Thursdays and Fridays.

Mike Weatherford’s entertainment column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 702-383-0288 or e-mail him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com.

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