Las Vegas shows invading New York

In 2005, I visited New York to write about the once-promising Broadway-to-Vegas show trend. Now, for a summer – or at least a couple of weeks – it’s Las Vegas invading Times Square.

Walk the theater district and you are reminded Las Vegas casinos haven’t given up completely on Broadway musicals, though many of them (“Memphis,” “Mary Poppins”) now visit us at The Smith Center.

“Rock of Ages,” headed to The Venetian in December, seems better matched to our town’s low-brow reputation anyway. It has “poop jokes and Whitesnake songs” as the narrator points out, asides to the audience (“Is it the end of Act One already?”) and cocktail servers in the aisles (Hey, that used to be us! A tradition that faded with “respectability.” Or cost-cutting).

Still, for two weeks, Mike Tyson reverses the city-to-city polarity with his Vegas-born career memoir. And Radio City Music Hall hosts Cirque du Soleil’s “Zarkana” through Sept. 2, before it moves into Aria for keeps.

Vicki Shenk, a Las Vegan who travels with Cirque as assistant company manager, is aware of the backstage differences as she walks me through Radio City. “Wherever you can find a nook in this space, you take it,” she says.

Cirque created its familiar environment, complete with training room and massage tables. But Shenk notes that even the bulletin boards aren’t permanently attached to the historic walls. “We are the guests in every space.”

“Zarkana” also played Radio City last summer, when MGM Mirage officials decided to replace “Viva Elvis.” It has been described as “rock opera.” But this year, the running time shortened to a Vegas-like 90 minutes and the lyrics reverted from English to Cirque’s trademark gibberish.

On the Strip, that will increase the show’s international appeal. In New York, it reinforces this is not Cirque doing Broadway. “We’re neighbors to Broadway, (but) we wanted to draw a clear line between,” says director Francois Girard. “It was a conscious decision to make this Cirque du Soleil show more (circus) than any Cirque du Soleil.”

“The characters are (circus) characters,” inspired by a vintage photo of an American “clown congress,” Girard adds.

Las Vegans are used to seeing Cirque’s grandest titles with our locals discounts. But staffers here point out that for most customers, “Zarkana” is their first Cirque not staged in a traveling big top.

If they want more, you know where they will soon have to go.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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