Las Vegas: The New Broadway?


I was sitting in the Eugene O'Neill Theatre last month, watching the Broadway production of Good Vibrations, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I was somewhere else. No, the music of the Beach Boys did not transport me to Southern California. The entire production made me think I was in Las Vegas. Let me explain.

Good Vibrations has the bare bones of a script, a catalog of instantly recognizable songs, and a collection of buff young performers in beachwear. Cut it down by half an hour and it would be a perfect addition to the influx of live entertainment invading the Vegas Strip. This is not a knock on the production, merely an observation noted during a rather long night at the theatre. Book this one into the Hard Rock now and watch it take off.

Look, I'm not the first to float the idea that Vegas may soon rival Broadway in attracting the big shows; it suggests not only a cultural shift as to where people go for live entertainment but also a shift in what they're looking for. Face it — you're never going to see a production of Peer Gynt at the Lance Burton Theatre (the odds of seeing it on Broadway in this climate are pretty long too, but that's another story). But you can see We Will Rock You, Blue Man Group, Mamma Mia!, and soon Avenue Q and an all new production of The Phantom of the Opera. My guess is you'll be seeing more and more shows that use Broadway as a springboard for Vegas in the short term, hence my Good Vibrations reverie.

Seen much Broadway coverage in ED lately? That's right: we're covering less on Broadway because there's less to cover. The quantity has dropped, and, I dare say, so has the quality. (Anybody else see Good Vibrations? What about Dracula?) Indeed, the trend for the last several years has been one big mega-show that can draw the crowds and then hit the road (think The Lion King, The Producers, Wicked), and let the rest fall where they may. Look for that to repeat itself this year with Spamalot, which may be the only Broadway production we put on the cover all year.

That's the bad news. The good news is there's great design work being done in a lot more areas these days than that little strip of real estate in Manhattan. London's West End seems to be having a good year creatively, what with Woman In White and Mary Poppins. One-off events like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and the various awards shows get more creative every year. Regional theatre continues to attract both innovative young designers and talented veterans; our roundup of DC area productions, beginning on page 18, was based in part on the impressive lineup of design talent that had descended upon the Beltway early this year.

Which brings me back to Vegas. It may shock some people to read this — I think it shocks me to write it — but I see no reason why some of the types of shows you've come to expect on Broadway couldn't soon begin life in Las Vegas. If Cirque du Soleil can continue to produce new shows in a Vegas climate every year, what's stopping other producers from doing the same? True, you may not get that initial stamp of approval of being a Broadway production, but does that really matter anymore in the age of jukebox musicals and mute men in blue paint banging drums? The people want what they want, and all designers can do is try and create the best work they can, be it a Peer Gynt or a We Will Rock You. There was an architecture book years ago called Learning to Love Las Vegas. Maybe it's time theatre did the same.