Las Vegas Entertainment--an overview

by Chuck Rounds


November 2006

The entertainment industry in Las Vegas shifts, changes, and completely re-invents itself time and time again in order to cater to the trends and needs of its audiences. Exactly what the current trend is...is often mystifying. Half of the city goes in one direction, while the other half goes in another. Part of that is trying to be all things to all people, another part has to do with how well funded the entertainment is, part of it is trying to relive the past, while another part is trying to find the truly unique. It is a bit of a conundrum. Some shows are lavish, well supported, well attended, lauded, and praised. Other shows are simple and tasteful, and some struggle and drain every resource that is poured into it. They are all, however, "Las Vegas" productions, and just because they are in "Vegas," they are often looked down upon as cheap and tawdry entertainment that is just in place to lure customers into the casinos. The strange and sad part about all of this is that it is all true. Entertainment in Las Vegas runs the gamut from the amazing and awe-inspiring to complete...well, crap.

The city of Las Vegas is an amazing place in and of itself. The name alone is pretty amazing. If you say, "Las Vegas," to just about anyone in the world, it will conjure up specific images about what are city is supposed to be like. Good or bad, it is one of the best branded cities on the planet. These images, though, almost always fall short, and usually diminish both the depth and breadth of what our city truly has to offer. There is something for everyone...you just have to know where to look.

Las Vegas has been called, "The entertainment capital of the world." This statement is really not that far from the truth, when one considers the diversity of entertainment that Las Vegas has to offer. On any one night, those who seek entertainment literally have hundreds of choices--choices of all different styles and genres; big shows, little shows; expensive or "cheap"; groups, solo artists, family shows and adult shows.

The face of the entertainment world has changed dramatically in the last several decades in Las Vegas. It used to be that the Hotels offered entertainment as an amenity. The Hotels, themselves, would produce shows and present headliners for the purpose of drawing people to the casinos. The entertainment was top notch and very inexpensive. This is still considered by many to be the "Golden Age" of Vegas entertainment when the "Rat Pack" ruled the Strip...of course, it was run by the mob which brought with it some of their own shortcomings, but many people look back and believe that gaming and entertainment was done much better when under mob rule.

As the corporate world began to take over the casinos, entertainment was seen as another source of income, and therefore, entertainment would have to make it on its own merits. Many hotels got out of the show producing business all together and became leasing agents instead. Outside shows and productions would rent the showroom and give a percentage of the profits back to the hotel. The burden of success fell upon the shows themselves, and the hotels absolved themselves of the financial burden or risk.

The result of this was to have more set productions shows that were geared to run for a long time and fewer headliners, however, finding the "right" show has been a very elusive beast. That which is popular seems to always change. The popularity of Cirque du Soleil spawned several shows that tried to imitate their style--they all failed. So Cirque brought a second show into town, and it, too, was wildly successful. Cirque’s continued success has brought a third show...and a fourth, and a fifth, and eventually there will be at least nine Cirque shows. Over time, though, a saturation point will be reached, and the pendulum will swing the other way. Early rumor and gossip predicted the complete failure of "The Blue Man Group"--which has become one of the most popular shows in town. The success of "Mamma Mia!" showed that a Broadway musical could succeed, however, no one has yet been able to match that success.

The system does seem to work, for the most part, and the "cream" does generally rise to the top. Look at the successes of Danny Gans, The Scinta's, Clint Holmes, and Gordie Brown--each proving themselves in lesser venues and moving to bigger theatres and better contracts.

There are some constants (though sometimes the success is baffling) "Folies Bergere" has been around for more than forty years--always the need for the quintessential "Vegas" show. "Crazy Girls" has been around forever, and no one really knows why, and "The Tournament of Kings" (which is really an awful production) somehow fulfills some niche in our tourism and demographic and doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon.

The entertainment in Las Vegas has become very dynamic and ever changing. For the most part, the entertainment is no longer inexpensive. A thirty-five dollar ticket is considered a bargain. Ticket prices continue to simply rise, even though the competition is fierce. There are plenty of good shows out there, and they are all competing for your entertainment dollars. One of the good outcomes of all of this, though, is that the shows do seem to all be getting better.

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