Emmy-winning set designer Andy Walmsley has designs on ‘IDAHO!’

In my annual absence away with the family in Europe I have invited some leading luminaries of Vegas to write their thoughts on a variety of subjects, but for this debut week, I invited the three main contributors to the new IDAHO! The Comedy Musical that began previews yesterday (July 6) and has its premiere on Saturday.

The Smith Center president, Myron Martin, kicked off our three-part IDAHO series with the reasons he agreed to bankroll this first-ever Vegas show to attempt a Broadway run.

Tomorrow, the show’s creator, Buddy Sheffield, will put pen to paper for a behind-the-scenes look at the production.

A show has to have great music, a great story, a fabulous cast and IDAHO certainly has all of them. It also needs an incredibly creative set designer to capture the look and the feel of the subject.

Emmy-winning set designer and producer Andy Walmsley, who is a Las Vegas resident is today’s guest columnist.

Potato moon set. (Courtesy)

He has won awards for such TV shows as “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent,” his own Las Vegas shows, other Broadway musicals and I’m certain audiences at The Smith Center will be applauding him along with the cast of IDAHO. Who else but another madcap Englishman would dare turn the moon into a potato, the symbol of the state?

— Robin Leach


There are two types of people in Vegas show business: those who are in denial and those who daren’t speak up, then there’s me and I’m going to speak up. The reason?

So far, 2016 has been the single worst year in the history of Las Vegas entertainment and we still have another six months to go.

In a few recent months, we have seen Zarkana close and its theater at Aria due for implosion to make way for more convention space, The Blue Man Groups Theater torn down and yet another concert venue built in its place.

We have seen Twisted Vegas close after a one-month run (Twisted was hands down the worst show I have ever seen) and Dirk Arthur also closed in the same Westgate venue. Jersey Boys at the Paris hotel has just announced that it will close in September and last week confirmation—after numerous leaks—that the big dollar Frankie Moreno production at Planet Hollywood is to close just a few weeks after opening (and that was a good production worthy of a much longer run).

In the coming few months we have five new shows opening; and while I always want every show to succeed because it helps the industry as a whole (and I have friends and associates in all of them), if I were a betting man, I’d bet at the very least four—if not all five—will sadly be gone by Christmas.

In most cases, the shows are of good quality; it’s rarely because the shows or performers in them don’t make the cut. The reason Vegas entertainment is dying with 2016 sounding the death bell loud and clear is complex but not brain surgery. I could indeed write another 800 words about four-wall rental deals and ticket brokers but much has been written on that subject by real journalists not this would-be writer. Instead, I’m going to focus on the number one reason most shows fail in Vegas … we simply have too many shows!

London’s West End currently has 25 shows running and Broadway has 39 a total of 64 in the two world theater capitals. Las Vegas currently has over 100 shows! Planet Hollywood alone has 19 shows currently running in that single property, while most properties average three shows.

I recently found an old copy of the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 1992 listing all the shows in town—not counting headliners. There were just 18 shows, all playing two shows per night and all were sold out. Of course Vegas has grown as has its visitor numbers but percentage wise the show-to-visitor ratio is out of control today. There are only so many people interested in seeing a show and way too many choices. It’s a simple mathematical equation that most even the “hit” shows are going to struggle.

Indulge me in a fantasy, imagine for a moment a Vegas where a crazy billionaire real estate president imposed a law whereby each casino was only allowed to operate one show per property, with 20 casinos on the Strip that would be just 20 shows in Las Vegas (around 25 if we count off Strip too). The weak would not survive because the casino would want them out and with such little competition the shows would thrive, booming ticket revenue would result in better quality production values and repeat business. It would be a win win for producers, brokers, casinos, performers and most importantly audiences.

Okay, I snapped out of my fantasy, but if we continue with 100-plus shows and impossible rent-broker deals, little casino support and not enough audience to go around, Vegas entertainment is done. My biggest fear is that casino execs are growing tired of the non-stop revolving door of flop shows and sooner or later will just reject the notion of any shows in their properties other than the touring headliners who blow through town in the now saturated arena-concert venue market. From a casino executive’s perspective it’s not hard to see little merit in hosting a show, the rental income is in the grand scheme tiny but the real estate footprint is valuable and bad PR of shows closing non-stop only hurt a casino’s brand.

The recent Riviera implosion was a very symbolic moment for Vegas entertainment: the classic casino was in its day a Mecca for entertainment but as it crashed to the ground so at least symbolically did Las Vegas show business as we know it.

— Andy Walmsley

Thank you, Andy. You may have some folks agreeing with you and others disagreeing but whatever the choice, it’s certainly thought-provoking. We have to keep Las Vegas the Entertainment Capital of the World … not the place where good shows are in jeopardy of death even before they open.

Tomorrow (Fri., July 8), IDAHO’s creator, Buddy Sheffield, will deliver his thoughts about the show and its chances of making it to Broadway.

— Robin Leach

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