Wave of show closings a blow to the Las Vegas entertainment community
Performers have to assess their future in the wake of losing “false sense of security” with casino shows.
July 31, 2016 - 5:10 pm
Everyone knows the Las Vegas entertainment landscape has peaks and valleys.
But this summer? “I feel like this is the abyss,” says Travis Cloer.
In his eight years of playing Franki Valli in “Jersey Boys,” Cloer doesn’t recall such “a mass closing of live musical performances.”
He’s not just talking about the Broadway hit bowing out of Paris Las Vegas on Sept. 18, putting 25 actors and musicians “back in the talent pool,” as Cloer puts it. “ShowStoppers” at Wynn Las Vegas also closes Sept. 30, dropping the curtain on 34 singers and dancers and a 30-piece orchestra.
The Jubilee Theatre at adjacent Bally’s is marking time with “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” tapings in lieu of a replacement for the theater’s namesake “Jubilee!”
Smaller-scale shows affect fewer performers, but aren’t exempt. Singer Frankie Moreno closed at Planet Hollywood and Matt Goss leaves Caesars Palace Sept. 24.
“Raiding the Rock Vault” planned to go out in style at the Tropicana on Saturday night, filming the show for a prospective PBS special. Producer Harry Cowell wants to reopen elsewhere in the fall, and it looks like he could have several rooms to choose from — perhaps even the Westgate Las Vegas where it once played, now dormant after the closing of “Twisted Vegas.”
But the “Rock Vault” budget depended on sharing the Tropicana’s stagehand costs with a roommate production, and there hasn’t been one since magician Jan Rouven was arrested for alleged possession of child pornography in March.
The Tropicana promised a new show by May, Cowell says, but “Cherry Boom Boom Live” isn’t due until fall. Management has turned over as well. “Over the last year we’ve lost all our friends there,” Cowell says. “It’s time to move on.”
Granted, shows come and go all the time. The summer has seen three new ones open at The Venetian/Palazzo alone: Clint Holmes, “Baz” and “Puppet Up!”
But the Las Vegas Musicians Union is down to just two ongoing shows: “Million Dollar Quartet” and Donny & Marie Osmond. The latter renew their Flamingo contract one year at a time, and always seem to hem and haw before they sign up again. Throw in the Circus Circus midway, and that’s only about 16 union jobs on the Strip unless Celine Dion is in town.
Steady casino-show employment comes with fringe benefits, such as the monthly Composer’s Showcase helmed by “Jersey Boys” bandleader Keith Thompson. Or the Mondays Dark benefits, in which cast members of various shows stage a variety show for a different charity each month.
“I’ve had a lot of people express their anxiety about it: ‘Please don’t leave,’” Thompson says of the Composer’s Showcase.
“The fact the community has embraced it in such a beautiful way, I’ll do everything I can to stay here and to continue that,” he adds, “but I do have to eat and pay my mortgage. … In the same way Vegas became ‘what’s next’ for me, maybe something else will become ‘what’s next’ for me at some point.”
Cloer, however, plans on sticking around. He and his show-business spouse Jen have children ready for preschool. A cabaret show Cloer staged at South Point last week was initially just to “stretch my creative wings a little bit,” but now may be something he has to get serious about.
“I think we’ve maybe been lulled into a false sense of security,” Thompson says. “But the reality in our business is it’s volatile and anything can happen, your show can close tomorrow. It’s always that way. It’s not for the weak of heart, if you will.” …
We all know the sequel is almost never as good. Brett Daniels, the Milwaukee-based magician who challenged Criss Angel to a charity MMA cage match, posted a second YouTube video taunting the Luxor headliner.
This one’s six-and-a-half minutes and lacks the laugh-out-loud shock value of the first one. But it still shows you how magicians go medieval: “You wouldn’t win a junior competition at the Houdini Magic Club kids contest,” Daniels declares at one point.
Less visceral, but more important on the Strip, are the bragging rights as to which Las Vegas magician makes the most money and a (cage-free) face-off between two business publications, Forbes and Bloomberg.
David Copperfield scored the No. 20 spot on the annual Forbes Celebrity 100 list, with annual earnings calculated at $64 million. The only other Las Vegas-dwelling entertainers to make the list were fellow magicians Penn & Teller, at No. 94, with $31.5 million.
(Several headliners who aren’t Las Vegas residents also made the list: Elton John, No. 61 with $42 million; Jennifer Lopez, No. 68 with $39.5 million; Tiesto, No. 70 at $38 million; and Britney Spears, No. 99 at $30.5 million.)
Angel was profiled in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek feature headlined ‘Criss Angel’s Magical $70 million-a-year profit machine.” (The feature explains the total “comprises millions of dollars from television, including foreign rights; road show versions of his act; magic kits and other merchandise; and sponsorships.”)
But $70 million should have put Angel on the Forbes list, right up there by Garth Brooks at No. 15, with the same $70 million figure. Instead, Angel is not on the Forbes list at all.
Can Forbes vs. Bloomberg be the Angel-Daniels undercard?
Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him @Mikeweatherford.