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Variety is the space of life, at least in broadening downtown

If the phrase “downtown arena” seems more of a fantasy after a new one broke ground on the Strip, downtown nonetheless has two ambitious entertainment projects going in with the slightly-less-sexy descriptive “Event Center.”

The Viva Las Vegas Event Center, adjacent to the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel at 1201 Las Vegas Blvd. South, is already up and running for performers such as Toscha Comeaux, formerly the gospel belter of “Viva Elvis,” who sings there on Saturday.

The 6,000-square-foot special events facility is under the helm of veteran show singer Ron Decar, who once fronted shows such as “Folies Bergere.” For years he worked to acquire the dilapidated restaurant next door to the chapel he has operated since 1999, and last year began refashioning it into a vintage nightclub with a real stage and dance floor.

“It’s basically bringing back the elegant feel of the old supper club,” Decar says of the room that seats upward of 250 people. “Every time I’m there I’m wearing a tux.”

In its soft-opening months, the center has hosted “America’s Got Talent” winner Michael Grimm and has made a monthly house band of the veteran big band players known for their informal sessions in “the Garage,” a Quanset hut on private property.

“We’re testing the waters to see who’s going to fit with us and who’s going to bring a crowd,” Decar says.

“It has that nice vintage-style setting,” agrees Comeaux, who says she will try to pull focus from the dance floor for her Saturday set of standards and modern jazz and R&B tunes. “It’s my living room, but keep in mind that I am the hostess,” she says with a laugh.

An even bigger project is under construction by the owners of the D Las Vegas on the site of the old Clark County Courthouse at 200 S. Third St., bordered by Carson Street and Bridger Avenue.

The Downtown Las Vegas Events Center aims to be in business as an outdoor venue for sporting and concert events with a capacity as high as 18,000.

Derek Stevens, CEO of the D Las Vegas, was the only bidder for the old courthouse that closed in 2005. After paying $10 million for the 2.76-acre site kitty-corner to the D, he demolished the courthouse without fanfare.

The D is moving fast on construction of what the concert industry calls a “shed” venue. The goal is to have it up and running before summer’s end, but definitely before the hotel’s second anniversary in late September. Last year’s celebration featured Stone Temple Pilots and Kid Rock, but caused some confusion when it closed off the usually free stage at the Fremont Street Experience next to the D. …

Riviera magician Jan Rouven is likely to appreciate working indoors after performing four Harry Houdini stunts in various outdoor locations last week. The public television channel ZDF came to Las Vegas to film their fellow German for an October documentary about Houdini.

Rouven did escapes at the Neon Museum and outside the Showcase mall, was buried alive in a gold mine near Searchlight, and did the “water torture cell” escape at the Valley of Fire.

No word on whether the special will be aired here, but it sounds as if it will make for great preshow video clips. …

With “Mamma Mia!” returning to the Strip for a sit-down at the Tropicana today, what could be the next Broadway, or New York title to make it to the resort corridor (versus the Smith Center as a tour stop)?

Spider-Man hanging on the side of The Venetian last week was a promotion for the new movie and for Madame Tussauds, but hope springs eternal about the Broadway Spidey showing up either there or at Wynn Las Vegas.

I would give fair odds to “Motown the Musical,” a jukebox musical stuffed with Motown favorites, mentioned in a conversation about entertainment at SLS Las Vegas (the former Sahara).

But I wouldn’t double down on “La Soiree,” even though its producers could be gazing longingly at the Strip after the show closes Sunday at Union Square Theater, where it has run in New York since November.

Las Vegas already has two hybrids of burlesque and circus, “Absinthe” and “Vegas Nocturne,” from producer Ross Mollison. “Soiree” has different producers but sounds so similar, some of the performers worked in the New York version of “Absinthe” before it came to town.

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

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