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Vegas show producers craft multiple plans while staying prepared to return

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Mystère
Photo: Erik Kabik / Courtesy

When you think of the Las Vegas Strip casino resorts that pack the biggest entertainment punch, Treasure Island might not be at the top of your list. But TI, as it’s sometimes been called since the property began to de-emphasize its pirate theme back in 2003, remains essential as the home of Mystère, the first Cirque du Soleil resident production show on the Strip.

Absinthe

Five days after TI reopened, Vice President of Hotel Sales & Marketing Don Voss said casino officials were confident that when larger-scale live entertainment options were allowed to perform, Mystère would be “one of the first to come back.”

“We don’t know if it will be a part of Phase 3, but we will be ready for that comeback,” Voss said. “It’s the original. It uses a custom-built stage and has been running for years like clockwork, and it’s such an efficient show.” He also noted other Cirque productions use larger, more complicated stages and theaters and that Mystère’s ticket price is more affordable.

Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas office would not confirm which shows it might open first. “There are a number of factors to take into consideration when looking at reopening,” Vice President of Marketing and Sales Lou D’Angeli said in an emailed statement. “Health and safety of our artists as well as our guests is our No. 1 priority. We also have to look at capacities and social distancing guidelines that are not determined by us.

“As we await more information from Governor Sisolak, we continue to work internally and with our hotel partners to ensure the best experience possible upon our return.”

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Clark County and Sisolak reportedly considering “enhanced” face mask policies, the state’s movement into Phase 3—whatever that entails—is uncertain at best. That’s bad news for the entertainment companies, producers and performers who power the Strip show scene, but they continue to plan and prepare for every possible scenario in order to be ready for whatever circumstances allow the lights to come back on and the curtains to be pulled back once again.

Spiegelworld produces three comedy variety shows at three different casino properties. Recent rumors and reports suggest the popular Absinthe, performed in the 600-seat tent structure between the main entrance to Caesars Palace and the Strip-side Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen restaurant, would be the first of those shows to resume.

“It may or may not be. We have a full-time mitigation person making plans for all three of our shows, and we’re preparing for everything,” Spiegelworld founder Ross Mollison said. “If the governor says we can open with 150 people, maybe we’ll open Atomic Saloon Show [at Venetian]. If he says 250, we can make Absinthe work and will probably open that first.”

Mollison said he returned to Las Vegas on June 4 and has been walking the Strip, visiting reopened casinos, eating at restaurants and catching whatever live entertainment options are available, including Bellagio’s Mayfair Supper Club. A restaurant with carefully choreographed live music and dance, Mayfair reopened with the resort but closed briefly last week after a kitchen worker tested positive for COVID.

For Absinthe, which has the advantage of an outdoor “lobby” at the Caesars courtyard, Mollison said the company has created a staged entry and exit plan to cut down on lines and crowds, and the venue’s rows of seats have been replaced by distanced cabaret tables. The tent’s air conditioning unit is now hospital-grade, and Mollison said he’s working on a system that would allow guests to order and pay for drinks on their phones from their seats. The mask issue will be determined by what’s mandated by the state and the casino.

“An enormous advantage we have is we run our own venues soup to nuts and can change the seating plans easily,” Mollison said. “I think shows have an enormous service to offer. We all work hand-in-hand. I take care of our guests for two hours, if they come early for a drink, then hand them off to a restaurant or to the gaming floor. If I’m taking care of 250 people in a safe way for two hours, it’s a good thing for all the other operators and restaurants and gaming.”

There’s no question shows like Mystère and Absinthe make up an important and irreplaceable part of the Vegas experience. And while the timing of their return is tough to predict, it’s clear this aspect of the live entertainment industry is well-suited to handle whatever health and safety protocols are put in place.

It’s less clear how long any show can survive with fewer performances and smaller audiences. Mollison said he’s been looking closely at restaurants and how that type of business is adjusting its model, and he anticipates that larger entertainment venues like T-Mobile Arena will watch smaller rooms to similarly learn what works and what doesn’t.

But as he points out, there’s another bottom line when it comes to show business: “If we don’t make it fun, what’s the point?”

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An award-winning writer who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for more than 20 years, Brock Radke covers entertainment ...

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