Why All Las Vegas Production Shows May be Doomed
Posted on: March 2, 2023, 10:24h.
Last updated on: March 5, 2023, 01:00h.
The audience for entertainment in Las Vegas has bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, casinos and independent producers keep reporting in their press releases. However, they’re not telling us everything.
Demand is back up for tickets to superstar music residencies and one-off tour concerts, whose numbers are increasing every year. And now, thanks to the opening of Allegiant Stadium, the Strip has the added draw of NFL games and Taylor Swift-sized indoor concerts.
But the Broadway-style productions that, along with Cirque du Soleil, defined Las Vegas entertainment from about 2006 — when “Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular” opened at the Venetian — don’t seem to be feeling the post-pandemic comeback. In fact, they appear to still be struggling.
How We Know
Casinos don’t release sales figures for their shows, so reporters and other industry observers must look for other indicators of success or trouble.
Closing prematurely is a pretty big indicator. In the last quarter of 2022, five Las Vegas Strip shows failed to cross the threshold into 2023. “Bat Out of Hell — The Musical” at Paris Las Vegas, Criss Angel’s “Amystika” at Planet Hollywood, “Extravaganza” at Horseshoe, “Legends in Concert” at the Tropicana, and Xavier Mortimer’s magic show at The Strat all took an involuntary final curtain call.
Even the musical genius of “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda couldn’t keep “Freestyle Love Supreme” at the Venetian for longer than two months.
A new potential red flag is a monthly payment plan being offered only to ticket buyers of Vegas production shows. Offered for “Awakening” at Wynn Las Vegas, for Cirque shows, and other smaller production shows, it presents different payment options for different lengths of time. Ticketmaster offers four, six, or 12-month payment options for all ticket price points. Vegas.com offers options from $14 a month.
Casino.org searched more than a dozen music residencies and sporting events and could find no similar payment plans offered.
“Awakening” is the biggest of four recent production shows testing the new marketplace. It replaced “Le Rêve” at the Wynn, which helped finance its $120M production cost. Yet it went dark for two weeks — less than three months after its November 7 premiere — so its producers could retool the show.
Now, according to ticket seating charts, it’s playing to mostly half-full houses, despite mostly positive reviews.
“‘Awakening’ made a really basic mistake,” Mike Weatherford, former theater reporter and critic for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, told Casino.org. “It’s really easy to raise your prices. It’s really hard to lower them, and so, when you open at $200 and then you lower your price, it has kind of this embarrassment and the stink of failure about it. So they’re going to be real reticent to do that. They’re going to try to do it through some kind of discounting instead or this layaway thing.”
Exiting Stage Left
Has the Vegas production show become obsolete? Is it the new showgirl show?
The problem for such shows, according to Weatherford, is impossibly stronger competition. From 2000 to around 2013, superstar music residencies meant a choice between whomever was playing Caesars Palace (usually either Cher, Elton John, Rod Stewart, or Celine Dion), Carlos Santana at the Hard Rock, or Barry Manilow at the Las Vegas Hilton. Now, residencies performed by more contemporary artists are a regular feature, not only at Caesars (Adele) but at Resorts World (Katy Perry, Luke Bryan), Park MGM (Usher, Bruno Mars, Jonas Brothers), and Planet Hollywood (Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban).
“And Allegiant Stadium is doing more shows than I thought possible,” Weatherford said. “At first, I thought, who’s still out there except for the Rolling Stones and a few other geezers that can fill stadiums? And then BTS, the K-pop group, sells out four nights there.”
For a recent article in KNPR’s Desert Companion magazine, Weatherford looked at Friday, March 3 through Sunday, March 12, which brings both NASCAR and the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament to Vegas. Even discounting Adele’s residency — since those tickets are impossible to score — Weatherford easily added up more than 100K non-production show seats available during that period.
And the opening of the MSG Sphere in September by U2 will add another 17.5K superstar residency tickets to that count several times a week.
“It’s a question of priorities and how much money people have left over to spend now on these general-interest shows,” said Weatherford, who headlined his piece: “Is the Evolution of Vegas Entertainment Leaving Big Productions Behind?”
“If you’re coming to town to see basketball or NASCAR, you already paid a premium for both your tickets and your room rate,” Weatherford said. “If you have any money left over, and you can find the tickets, then Usher, Keith Urban, Katy Perry, and Adele are playing residencies, and you have two nights of Jimmy Buffett.
“Are you really going to see ‘Awakening’?”
Goodbye Ticket Booths
In addition, coming to Vegas without an itinerary used to be a common strategy. By the mid-2000s, over a dozen ticket booths crowded the Strip, selling thousands of half-price tickets for same-day shows. Today, there are only four.
“The primary market for buying tickets is now online,” Weatherford said. “More and more, people are coming to town already knowing what they’re going to do. I doubt that many choose to see a production show at the last minute anymore – especially one that’s a lot of money, even if it is offered on layaway.”
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