Mexican officials say ‘Viva’ Las Vegas

If it’s true that everybody wants to be in show business, you can include Mexican tourism officials.

“Viva Veracruz” opens at Planet Hollywood Resort for a four-month run on Aug. 11, showcasing the music, dance and folklore of Mexico’s state of Veracruz.

You can bet it will, because it’s funded in large part by the state’s budget to promote tourism. Talk about “cultural ambassadors.”

“We thought it was very creative,” says co-producer Alex Esqueda, who steered the show to Las Vegas. “I’ve been in Vegas for many years and I know there’s never been a show from Latin America or from Mexico of that caliber, of that level. I think we’re going to be making history.”

Mexican producer Luis De Llano-Stevens drew from his background in television and live events to assemble the revue. University officials made sure a historical accuracy underlines the dance and acrobatic segments, which pull themes from the Aztecs, the Day of the Dead and artist Frida Kahlo, among other inspirations.

What you won’t hear is Spanish. Just as Cirque du Soleil eliminated any language barrier to audiences, Esqueda says, De Llano-Stevens “made it very theatrical. No dialogue. You don’t have to speak Spanish to enjoy it.”

In fact, Esqueda doesn’t want to position the show as something for a niche or ethnic audience. “Our hope is the American public (and) Europeans can see something a little different in our marketing and become interested,” he says.

“We want to promote it to a general audience” while at the same time “flooding the market with the Latino audience,” especially Spanish-speaking Las Vegas locals.

If all this sounds familiar, it’s not without precedent. “Panda!” at the Palazzo is a similar wordless celebration of Chinese folklore. The main difference is that it’s a private venture by Chinese investors without explicit ties to the Chinese government.

But “Panda!” has had a seven-month head start in trying to figure out whether Chinese visitors will support the show as a matter of national pride or skip it because they can see that stuff at home and want to explore more uniquely Vegas offerings.

Like Cirque.

A few weeks ago, Cirque sent performers to a travel and tourism event at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing as part of its partnership with Brand USA, the marketing arm of the U.S. government.

“Our Chinese tourism has really picked up significantly in the city,” says Jerry Nadal, who heads Cirque’s resident shows division in Las Vegas. “We’re really trying to go after that.”

When China relaxed the visa requirements for mainland citizens to travel outside the country and visit the U.S., “we saw a big uptick here last year,” Nadal says. “And I think as their middle class grows, it’s just going to get bigger and bigger.”

What if Mexicans went to check out “Panda!” and Chinese took in “Viva Veracruz”? It would be Las Vegas’ own version of the “It’s A Small World” ride. But it sounds like both shows will be happy if those nationals don’t go to “O” instead.

Catching up on other show happenings:

■ An R-J colleague recently visited The Cosmopolitan’s Rose.Rabbit.Lie. after it cut ties with “Vegas Nocturne” as a ticketed show that also provided environmental entertainers for the restaurant side.

She said the dining area didn’t seem much changed, thanks to a band, singer and bar-top tap dancers.

However, diners do pay for the “show” in a sense, thanks to Nevada’s live-entertainment tax, which added $30 to a (gasp!) $300 tab for four people. Still probably more bang for your tax dollar than the $10 added to a recent visit to the Ri Ra pub at Mandalay Bay for the services of a solo guitarist.

■ How solo can you go? Two one-man shows are coming to town, even though Patrick &Matilda are billed as a duo. That’s because Matilda is the ventriloquist dummy to Patrick Murray in “Ja-Makin’-Me-Laugh,” the afternoon show that opens Aug. 19 at the D Las Vegas.

And comedian Matt Kazam will offer long-form stand-up in the vein of “Defending the Caveman” with “40 Is Not the New 20,” starting Aug. 25 at the Riviera.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at or 702-383-0288.

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