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Venetian’s ‘Phantom’ closing in September

Weighed down by initial costs as heavy as a certain chandelier, "Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular" will close Sept. 2 at The Venetian.

The cast of the Broadway musical was given official notice Tuesday, though word had spread since at least October that the show’s days would be numbered after two years of union cuts and waivers expired.

"Phantom" debuted at The Venetian in June 2006, with production costs of $35 million on top of the $42 million The Venetian spent to build the theater.

Though its weekly revenues are often in the black, the show remains about $20 million short of that original investment, sources close to the production say.

The musical has run about 2,700 performances. "After New York, it’s the longest-running ‘Phantom’ in the United States. We’re extremely proud," co-producer Scott Zeiger said Wednesday. "We’ve kept 150 people gainfully employed for 6½ years. We’ve worked really hard."

"Phantom" completes the turnover of all three resident productions at The Venetian and adjacent Palazzo. "Jersey Boys" closed at the end of the year and is preparing to reopen at Paris Las Vegas in March. The Blue Man group plans to move to the Monte Carlo by year’s end.

The Broadway musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" is a rumored replacement for "Phantom," perhaps because the theater design is a good fit for the technical specifications of the superhero musical. But speaking for his Base Entertainment, "Phantom" producer Zeiger said his show’s exit "doesn’t have anything to do with ‘There’s another giant show waiting in the wings,’ unless The Venetian’s doing it (with another producer)."

Fireworks and a 15-foot chandelier are among the production elements that "supersized" the Las Vegas "Phantom" in hopes of creating new interest in the aging Broadway perennial. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "Phantom of the Opera" cost about $10 million to produce in the 1980s, which would have been about $18 million in 2006 dollars.

But the Las Vegas budget ballooned to $35 million with extras such as a custom theater design and original Broadway director Hal Prince returning to oversee trims to a 95-minute running time.

When the recession caught up to the production a year in, Base Entertainment negotiated royalty cuts and unprecedented concessions from three labor unions.

"We worked very hard to roll up our sleeves and figure out how to manage the economics of an enormous production," Zeiger said Wednesday. "Everybody has been so helpful over the course of our run," he said of waivers from unions, vendors and royalty recipients.

The concessions were extended a second year, but hesitancy to extend them again is said to have forced the producer’s hand.

"If you forecast one too many losing weeks versus one too few winning weeks, then I’m losing money or doing the show for practice," Zeiger said. "The better part of valor" is a countdown campaign with promotions to "fill the house and go out with a bang. … We’re going to work very hard to exploit our endgame.

"We have a different business paradigm than Cirque du Soleil," he added. "We have a new business relationship with The Venetian now, but for the first five years of the production we weren’t partners, we were tenants."

"Phantom" also runs on a year-round contract, instead of being able to strategically pick slow times of the year for breaks. Heavy discounting of tickets also played a role.

"It comes to a point where the economy is slowly elevating, but the community has gotten used to discount tickets. You can never go back," Zeiger said.

Lloyd Webber’s company licensed the Las Vegas production instead of being an active investor, but the composer released a statement with the closing announcement: "The Las Vegas production of Phantom took all of the classic elements of the show and added unique aspects that created a whole new experience.

"It enjoyed remarkable success in Las Vegas, was enjoyed by millions of fans and proved that a timeless love story told in a fantastic theater will always be in vogue."

Two other Broadway titles are rumored for the larger property: "Rock of Ages" as a Blue Man replacement and "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" as at least a short-term successor to "Jersey Boys."

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

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