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Las Vegas perfect for poker musical

Poker champ Phil Hellmuth calls Tim Molyneux “a creative genius,” and predicts he may be “the next Andrew Lloyd Webber.”

Hellmuth may be swayed by the fact that a character in Molyneux’s “All In: The Poker Musical” is based on him. But whatever you call him, Molyneux is one of the rare, priceless individuals who realize that someone with more dollars than sense can bring their oddball artistic visions to life in Las Vegas.

Personally, I was rooting for Molyneux to be less Lloyd Webber and more Ed Wood, the fabled bad movie director of “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” whose ambition overruled his ineptitude. Molyneux is the creator of “Bite,” the Stratosphere late show in which topless vampires cavort to strip-club rock anthems from the ’70s.

Cirque du Soleil made Las Vegas respectable and largely purged the Strip of campy stuff like “Splash,” where smirky hipsters could smoke cigars, down martinis and feel ironically self-aware. “Bite” is the closest thing we have; dull in stretches, but amazing in places, such as a just-bitten victim crooning the Styx song “Come Sail Away.”

Last weekend, Molyneux went to great expense to showcase an hourlong concert version of “All In,” which he believes someday will end up on Broadway. He introduced the show in a fedora, and returned later in a shiny suit to sing a song about “winning to lose,” which asks, “What am I worth when I’m empty inside?”

The songs were country or ’80s-rock flavored and not Ed Wood-ian awful, at least as arranged and sung by talents such as Jimmy Lockett, who stole the show in “Starlight Express” years ago. We weren’t treated to any dialogue, which may have swayed more to “Plan 9.”

The wonderful thing is that whether it’s good, bad or somewhere in between, Molyneux can open his musical in Las Vegas. He probably could not do the same on Broadway.

Many Las Vegas showrooms are now an extension of the casino itself; those who want to take a gamble can put up their money and spin the wheel. Molyneux likely could rent the Rio room where he held the showcase. If not, there’s the freestanding Krave, where porn mogul John Stagliano subsidized his dream, “Fashionistas.” The club also hosted “Tease,” an original musical about strippers.

Those titles go down in the books as failures. But down the road, they just might be remembered for pushing the door open for some genre-bending title that does move the Strip beyond magic and girlie shows.

Broadway theater owners also serve more as landlords than active investors, but wouldn’t be as likely to take Molyneux’s money. They make more from long-running hits than from turnover; a badly reviewed show that closes quickly would cost them more in the big picture. “Broadway is not that desperate for product,” says one theater professional.

So if you want to go “All In,” you’ll have to wait for it here. Have your cigars ready.

Mike Weatherford’s entertainment column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 702-383-0288.

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