Vegas has edge over Broadway

You saw it on “Saturday Night Live,” so it must be true. If you think the shows here have it bad, Broadway has it worse.

Last weekend’s sketch with the Phantom, Blue Men and other New York theater icons meeting at Sardi’s to hash out their crisis, provided a rare laugh in a rough January.

While “Stomp Out Loud” and “Mamma Mia!” bowed out here on New Year’s weekend, Broadway will have said goodbye to more than a dozen titles by the end of the month. The casualties include such crowd-pleasers as “Hairspray,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

Suddenly, casinos don’t seem like such a bad place.

“There’s nobody like a casino on Broadway to help underwrite the losses,” says Michael Gill, who managed “Phantom of the Opera” in New York before moving here to run several local productions. “On Broadway, if you don’t turn a profit, you close.”

At Cirque du Soleil, the dominant player on the Strip, “the bottom line feeds a bigger bottom line” for a company with a global presence, Gill points out.

And in Las Vegas, the Cirque titles cross-promote one another. On Broadway, only Disney Theatrical Productions has that synergy. The three Disney titles in New York recently offered a “kids go free” promotion that generated more than $2 million in sales.

“There are all kinds of leg-ups here you just don’t have in New York City,” Gill says. “Ninety-five percent of Broadway shows are on their own (as) stand-alone companies. Las Vegas has an edge. There are other entities to help.”

It’s true that Las Vegas casinos gradually ended the practice of producing entertainment directly in-house. Almost always, an outside producer serves as middle-man. Some performers contract directly with the casino to rent their space.

But even the purest “four-wall” arrangements can bend. At the Flamingo Las Vegas, comedian George Wallace and magician Nathan Burton both offer promotions that package show tickets with the casino’s buffet.

“Even though they four-wall, we treat them as part of our team,” says Flamingo president Don Marrandino. “They’re partners, and usually they all turn into friends,” he says. “We want to make sure they’re healthy. I don’t want them to fail.”

Local fans of musical theater never much liked casinos pressuring Broadway producers to chop the titles to 90 minutes for the Strip. But hey — the Vegas venues at least let you take your drinks in so you don’t have to chug them during intermission.

Now I wonder if they will be easing that rule in New York as well, and if they’re jealous of the shows out here.

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

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