Lines between ‘club’ and ‘show’ keep blurring, perhaps with growing pains

I’ve always said Vegas didn’t think small enough, so it was good to hear Holly Madison back me up last week.

Back when the Suncoast and Station Casinos were building cozy-but-cool show venues out in the suburbs, I would ask why every show venture on the Strip had to be on a swing-for-the-fences, everything-or-nothing scale.

Madison was in “Peepshow,” a perfect 20/20-hindsight example. The burlesque-gone-Broadway revue opened in a 1,500-seat theater that had already proved too big to host “Stomp Out Loud.” That one would have been fine in a room half that size.

“Peepshow,” too, as it turned out. After a year, the production downsized to break even with the 300 or so people it was drawing each night.

So, lesson learned, sort of. I still love “O” and “Ka” and the era of Vegas they represent. I still hope we get the “Spider-Man” musical.

But those empty seats for most ticketed shows are a sign of something else missing in the bigger entertainment picture. Madison senses it.

“I was interested in creating something that really had a sense of place about it,” she says of her new venture, 1923 Bourbon & Burlesque.

The new club opening April 17 plans to offer burlesque acts but not a traditionally ticketed show (there may be a drink minimum instead).

Madison and her partners (including M5 Management, which runs Minus 5 Ice Bar) are now diving into the new hybrid club-show territory also being explored by “Vegas Nocturne” and Beacher’s Madhouse at the MGM Grand.

Both Madison and Wayne Harrison, director of “Nocturne” at Rose.Rabbit.Lie. cited inspiration in “Sleep No More,” an immersive take on “Macbeth” that’s now expanding its New York “hotel” setting into a 1920s-themed bar-and-dining component.

Madison also cites the original Crazy Horse Paris and the Pussycat Dolls in the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood.

“There wasn’t really one defining factor they had in common other than … you felt like you kind of exited your everyday reality for a while,” she says. “Those productions have done that without these humongous budgets.”

These new hybrids are off to a promising start but will need to define themselves in a marketplace that so far keeps the infrastructure of show ticketing separate from the nightclub industry.

“Vegas Nocturne” is separately ticketed but uses the same performers who entertain Rose.Rabbit.Lie. diners. Confusing, but so far it seems to be working. Beacher’s Madhouse has gone the other direction. A $75 general admission fee gives you access to a room inhabited by oddball variety acts but not a show with a beginning, middle and end.

Jeff Beacher, the club’s namesake impressario, says his 3-month-old venture is still in previews and will increase to more than three nights a week by June, adding early shows that are more traditional and “defined.”

Everything seems to be on the right, if twisty, road to new choices.

“What I love about Vegas and what I hope we can preserve in this city, is having things that are unique and different,” Madison says. “I hate to see (someone) take away the pirate ship to put up a Walgreens.”

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

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