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Wynn giving ‘Le Reve’ a lift

Steve Wynn figures he could postpone this battle, maybe sit it out altogether. But he just can’t bring himself to do it.

Nightclubs are the Strip’s new cash cow; some of the big ones ring up $70 million a year, he notes. Ticketed shows, on the other hand, might clear $15 million after paying about 150 performers and stagehands.

“Why even bother?” he asks.

Of course the question is rhetorical. Otherwise, Wynn wouldn’t be sitting at a “family and friends” rehearsal of “Le Reve” on Dec. 21, instead of getting an early start on his holiday vacation.

The aquatic spectacle is now the rare casino show directly owned by Wynn Resorts. Wynn bought out Franco Dragone, the show’s creator, for nearly $16 million in 2006. “Le Reve” is now unique in having its creative content supervised by the head of the entire corporation.

Wynn has spent another $25 million to pump up the show. “We’re not done yet,” he says. But, he adds, “changing it is tricky.”

When “Le Reve” opened in 2005, the show’s strengths were perceived as lifts from “O” and Dragone’s other work with Cirque du Soleil. And its darker, occasionally disturbing departures were seen as negatives.

“We were in denial for a year,” Wynn says. But gradual changes in content come in tandem with technical improvements. New lighting better focuses the action and keeps the audience in-the-round from seeing fellow patrons on the other side of the theater.

“It’s very hard to take the Cirque references out,” Wynn says of additions such as ballroom dancing choreographed by Maksim Chmerkovskiy of “Dancing with the Stars.” As he watches the ballroom sequence, Wynn points out that he and his wife, Elaine, love dance and support local arts groups such as Nevada Ballet Theatre.

This ties back to the larger issue of why he bothers. “We have to keep reaching so we don’t become caricatures of ourselves,” he says. “The test for Las Vegas performing arts is for all of us to deal to our strengths.”

But, Wynn adds, he has offered the keys to the candy store to Oscar-winning film directors and major choreographers. He asks them what they would do with the casino industry’s ability to create custom, turnkey venues.

Their answer? Wynn puts his index finger to his lips and makes the “P-p-p-p-puh” sound. “They’re frightened of live performing,” he says.

That, he says, is why the city is “a little over-Cirqued at the moment. … I don’t think a week goes by that I’m not looking for something else.” He puts his hand out in the air and then closes it to an empty fist to illustrate that elusive something that’s out there, but so far not grasped.

But he’s not giving up. “The fact that it’s hard to find makes it more fun to look for.”

Mike Weatherford’s entertainment column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 383-0288 or e-mail him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com.

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