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September 20, 2014

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Cirque du Soleil ticket discounts helped shorten ‘Priscilla’s’ trek

Image

Joan Marcus

It’s fabulous being green. The costumes in Priscilla Queen of the Desert make EDC look tame.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical

The musical Launch slideshow »

'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' Costumes

Gillian Austin, wardrobe supervisor for the new Launch slideshow »

To use the Sydney-to-Alice Springs route as a reference, this bus will have made it to about Mildura.

It’ll be a shorter-than-expected road trip for the Las Vegas run of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” as the producers for the Las Vegas run at The Venetian announced Friday that the schedule would be shortened from nine weeks to five. The final show is July 21; it was originally to be Aug. 18.

This was actually the second tweak to the “Priscilla” run at The Venetian. Shortly before opening at the old Phantom Theater on June 20, the musical trimmed its original Vegas schedule from 11 weeks to nine. There was the sense then that sluggish presale ticket orders were the reason, but the adjustment in the schedule was explained thusly: The tour’s producers, Troika Entertainment, received a lucrative offer to move the show’s tour to San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater for those two weeks.

At that, Base Entertainment effectively said, “Go for it. We’re not going to stand in the way of the show making money.”

But when Base on Friday announced “Priscilla” was leaving Vegas in July, the company’s press release cited “an analysis of ticket-sale trends” as the reason.

What are those trends? One is that ticket-buyers in Las Vegas are thriftier than ever and there is an abundance of entertainment on and off the Strip.

Another variable that creates a seismic shift in the performance of shows all over town is the bargain ticketing offered by Cirque du Soleil. When such a grand and extravagant show as “Priscilla” struggles, Cirque’s ticketing strategy can’t be ignored.

The city’s predominant production company is more aggressive than ever about offering steep (in many cases, 2-for-1) discounts for most of its shows on the Strip.

Examples of Cirque’s summer promotional ticket offers: At the moment, you can buy tickets starting at $55 for “Love” and “Zarkana”; $50 for “Mystere,” “Believe” and “Zumanity.” Those are the rates listed before any handling fees or taxes are applied and is about half the regular base ticket price for those shows

A $50-per-ticket discount is offered for all price points, too, and a ticket for “O” can be had for $87.50, a 20-percent savings for what has long been Cirque’s bestselling show. The only show that Cirque is not offering those sorts of discounts is the company’s newest and hottest, “Michael Jackson One” at Mandalay Bay. But the others can be had, relatively speaking, for a song.

It’s accepted that all shows offer discount prices on occasion through varying methods — people walking by the “Absinthe” tent around showtime have been offered $20-off tickets by hawkers at the entrance of the venue. Independent brokers make a living at securing high volumes of tickets and making their own cut-rate offers.

But when Cirque bungees down to a lower ticket price, potential customers enjoy an appealing set of choices they wouldn’t typically consider. Is it “Love” for $55 or, say, George Wallace for $66? Is it “O” for $90 or “Million Dollar Quartet” (which has just tightened its own schedule at Harrah’s by going dark on Saturdays) for $75? Is it “Zumanity” for $50 or “Priscilla” for $75?

As you might expect, Cirque often wins such standoffs. When producers and performers, even such long-running stars as Wallace and Carrot Top, talk of the difficulty of selling tickets and today's Vegas, the first example cited is typically Cirque's reduced prices.

To broaden the challenges facing “Priscilla” in Vegas, it is a show very hard-focused on its demographic. It is a very, um, flamboyant production. This is the show “Jubilee!” looks at and says, “Wow, you’re flamboyant.” And if flamboyance isn’t your thing, you’re not going to appreciate “Priscilla” very much.

Yes, this is a very smartly written, beautiful, well-performed and expertly staged show. No argument there. The orchestra roars through songs everyone in the audience recognizes. The sequined-splashed costumes and lavishly appointed set — especially the LED-outfitted bus — are terrific. But previous shows that also fit that model, among them “Avenue Q,” “Hairspray” and even “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” were not universally adored by Vegas tourists and closed too soon.

The writing in “Priscilla” is particularly sharp, the “I’m looking at a whore moan” line typical of its searing wit. But after laughing my way through the show twice (once in L.A. and again at The Venetian), I recalled renowned producer and director Hal Prince’s comments last August after “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular” closed: “This is a hard time for ‘book’ shows in Las Vegas. … The climate here is that those types of shows are a hard sell for a lot of reasons. I think the international audience has a tough time with those types of shows.”

By the end of its run, “Priscilla” will have performed 30 times in Las Vegas. It will have played more dates in Las Vegas than in any city on its current North American tour, and that is a high volume of tickets to move for a show that is worth the price.

This is not an instance where the production was anything but wonderful. It is an instance where the show met up with some stiff competition, and where even the most powerful companies will halve prices to fill seats.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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