Live entertainment in Las Vegas has long consisted of pretty women in skimpy clothing performing intricate—and often exotic—dance routines.
In recent years, however, traditional book musicals have found their way to Vegas stages, offering an alternative to showgirls and spectacles. Often trimmed from their original running length (many run only 90 minutes so that there can be two shows per night), these productions provide an experience somewhere in between Broadway musical and Vegas revue. Not all shows make it in Vegas: Hairspray, Avenue Q and The Producers all won the Best Musical Tony Award for their New York runs, but shuttered quickly in the casinos.
Other productions, however, find the right match for the Vegas crowd, balancing spectacle with story and striking gold in the process. The following shows have all enjoyed runs of more than 500 performances in Las Vegas, sometimes in theaters built specifically for the productions.
Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular is a 95-minute distillation of the longest-running musical in Broadway history, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. Starring Tony-award winner Anthony Crivello since its 2006 premiere at The Venetian, the production boasts all the glitz and glamour one would expect from Vegas, and even offers dedicated fans of the original version some new perks. The $40 million theater was custom-built (under the guidance of designer David Rockwell) to look like the Paris Opera House, and features updated special effects that were unavailable when the original opened in London in 1986. Among these are increased pyrotechnics and a two-story-high chandelier that moves much faster than its Broadway counterpart. Visit www.phantomlasvegas.com.
For those who like their classic music a little less classic, two so-called "jukebox musicals" have found success in Vegas, sitting firmly on the border between traditional book musical and rock revue. The least "jukebox"-y of the two is Jersey Boys at The Palazzo, which tells the surprisingly dark story of the Four Seasons' rise to musical stardom in the '50s and '60s against a backdrop of their hit songs. Through such pop standards as "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," the audience follows the 40-year friendship of four kids from Newark who become Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. (As the production warns, however, "Jersey Boys contains smoke, gun shots, strobe lights, 'authentic Jersey language' and is not recommended for children under the age of 12.") The production runs slightly over two hours, trimmed from its Broadwayrunning time. Visit www.jerseyboysvegas.com.
On the lighter side of the "jukebox" spectrum is Mamma Mia!, which has racked up more than 2,300 performances at the Mandalay Bay Theatre and has been extended (again) through to 2009. The musical uses such popular ABBA songs as "Dancing Queen," "Gimme Gimme" and (of course) "Mamma Mia" to tell the story of a young bride's reunion with her three possible fathers. This show is identical to its Broadway counterpart, running a full 2½ hours and maintaining its intermission. Visit www.mamma-mia.com/lasvegas/lasvegas.asp.
Way Off Broadway
Several of the hit shows in Las Vegas are based on long-running off-Broadway shows, offering the kind of variety one usually can only find in New York.
Like Phantom, Blue Man Group also got a theater at The Venetian built exclusively for its show when it moved from the Luxor. The Group has been wowing theatergoers with its unique blend of music, comedy and props for almost three years since. Visit www.blueman.com. Stomp Out Loud, an extended variation on off-Broadway's Stomp!, celebrated 500 performances at the Showroom at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in August. The production includes sequences created exclusively for the Vegas engagement. Visit www.stompoutloudvegas.com.
Of course, it wouldn't be Vegas without spectacle. Cirque du Soleil has been a Vegas presence since Mystère opened at Treasure Island in 1993. Today, there are no fewer than five Cirque du Soleil shows running throughout the city: Mystère at Treasure Island; O at the Bellagio; Zumanity (the company's first adults-only show) at New York, New York; KÀ at the MGM Grand; and LOVE, the troupe's tribute to the Beatles, at the Mirage Hotel and Casino. A new collaboration with illusionist Criss Angel, entitled Believe, is scheduled to open this month at the Luxor. Visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.