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September 2, 2014

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Expiration Dates: Productions don’t live long at The Venetian Showroom

The Venetian Showroom has become an entertainment battlefield since opening in the fall of 1999. Its small stage is littered with the corpses of failed productions.

"Signed, Sealed, Delivered," considered by some observers to have been one of the best shows to occupy the room, is the latest casualty. It bows out Saturday, six weeks after the opening curtain.

"Nebulae: The LifeForce," which drew uniformly bad reviews, was the first. It closed in August 2000, also lasting about six weeks.

In between, there have been Robert Goulet, impressionist Andre-Philippe Gagnon, Charo and the Frank Sinatra tribute show "The Main Event."

Except for Gagnon's, all shows at the Showroom have been four-walled meaning the space is subleased by producers.

A common complaint from entertainers is that shows receive no support from The Venetian or from H&H of Nevada, whose majority partner is Richard Heftel. H&H has a 30-year lease on the showroom space.

Telephone calls to The Venetian spokesmen to comment on this story were not returned. However, Heftel denies that there are problems with the venue or its management.

"I can't think of a show we didn't make concessions for," Heftel said. "We are flexible and have tried to work things out. Invariably, the rent is not the largest factor. Their running costs and their advertising are significantly higher than the rent. I do not believe it is the venue at all."

He points to "Melinda, First Lady of Magic" as an example of a successful show at the venue. It has been there for two years.

Goulet lasted four weeks.

"We've had some short-term engagements that have been successful, and we have had some that expected to be there longer term," Heftel said. "It's a beautiful venue, in a beautiful hotel. I think, if you've heard negative things from (producers and entertainers), they want to blame something other than not having good marketing knowledge. And they won't blame their own shows."

True, entertainers are singing the blues.

Goulet signed a deal with H&H in July 2001. Shortly before the show was to open, his financial backers dropped out and he had to fund the production himself. Claiming he was losing $200,000 a week, Goulet canceled his show midway through a nine-week contract.

Although losing his investors may have been a major factor in the show's demise, Goulet also publicly blamed the hotel and the Showroom.

"The hotel didn't help us, and the owners (of the Showroom) didn't help us in promotions," Goulet said the day after his show closed.

Singing impressionist Bob Anderson also expressed his disappointment after "The Main Event" closed three weeks ago following an eight-week run.

"We would have liked the hotel to have gotten behind us," said Anderson, who was the star of the production.

Charo moved her "Bravo" production to the Sahara in May, after headlining for almost six months at The Venetian. Although she managed to succeed in a venue where others failed, the experience upset her.

"I didn't know about the situation between the Showroom and The Venetian," said Charo, who co-produces her show with On Stage Entertainment.

She said she saw the Showroom as a challenge. Other productions were victims of bad luck, but she would change the luck.

"Little by little, we understood," Charo said. "There is a bad marriage between The Venetian and the Showroom. They don't get along well."

She said her production struggled in the first few weeks.

"By Christmas, we turned it around and established good business," she said. "Everybody there was making money."

Then, she said, H&H changed her show time.

"They decided to move the time of the show from 9 to 10 o'clock and to leave it dark on Saturday, the day we make a better business and more money," she said.

So Charo took her show to the Sahara, where it has been drawing large crowds.

Magic moments

Even Melinda Evansvolde, aka Melinda, First Lady of Magic, and the resident magician at The Venetian's showroom since July 27, 2000, is not happy with her arrangement.

"When they stack shows here, it is very difficult," Melinda said. "There is no time for rehearsal."

And, she added, the hotel doesn't advertise her show.

"It's hard to get support in house," she said. "They won't put up any ads, not even on The Venetian website."

Her contract with The Venetian was negotiated by her brother, David Saxe, the show's producer.

"When I first entered into the contract, I had a totally different impression of the way things would be," she said. "I thought they were going to do more for my show. I thought I was going to have lot of publicity all over the place and they would spend more on the show and it would be more spectacular.

"I've had to delete so much of my show because there's no storage space."

Melinda said she has sometimes been sick from the stress.

"I'm limited here," she said. "At this point in my life I'm at a crossroads. I feel so kicked and pushed down. Why am I doing it? It's not for the money, it's for the passion and drive and the love of giving a positive message to people and to make them feel good. That's what I feel my destiny in life is.

"But at this point of my career, I've been in limbo. It's a struggle."

Rumors and response

Rumors have been circulating that Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson is trying to take over the $28-million venue built by H&H.

"There have been rumors since the day it opened," Heftel said.

Heftel says as far as he knows, H&H will continue to hold the lease on the property, unless someone wants to buy him out.

"If the offer was right, I would sell the lease," Heftel said.

The Showroom, initially called C2K, is an 85,000-square-foot, multipurpose facility that houses a showroom, convention space, television production studio and nightclub (which still bears the C2K name).

When the venue opened, H&H sublet the nightclub to a third party -- Silver Hammer of Nevada -- but bought out the sublease after allegations surfaced that the facility was a haven for drug transactions and other unseemly activity. A lawsuit is still pending over the death of a 21-year-old Henderson woman whose parents claim she died after taking illegal drugs at the club.

While C2K no longer generates the publicity it once did, the Showroom has stepped into the limelight.

Along with "Melinda," Heftel says "Main Event" was a success, although it didn't run as long as the producers of the show might have hoped.

Heftel says a lack of funding is the main reason for the failure of some shows at The Venetian.

"People need to be very familiar with the market place," he said. "It takes time to build an audience. (Producers) need to be prepared for the normal growth pattern (in audiences). They need to be financially prepared."

Heftel says many observers may not understand the relationship between the hotel and the Showroom.

"It's a unique property," he said. "It is a different environment. We are a separate entity from the hotel in which we sit."

But Heftel says he works closely with the hotel when choosing productions.

"The hotel and H&H are trying to get our goals in sync and to work toward similar goals," he said.

Heftel says he wants shows to succeed.

"I can't think of a show we didn't make concessions for," he said. "We are flexible and have tried to work things out. Invariably, the rent is not the largest factor. Their running costs and their advertising are significantly higher than the rent. I do not believe (the problem) is the venue at all.

"Look at David Saxe or On Stage Entertainment. They are in the market and know what they are doing."

A good showroom

Saxe, who negotiated Melinda's deal with H&H, says that, unlike Melinda, he is happy with the arrangement.

"I'm their biggest supporter," he said. "I understand what they are doing. They have a lot of expenses and (the Showroom doesn't) have gaming revenue."

Saxe said the four-wall agreement has worked well for him.

"A lot of people in the industry don't understand or respect what they are doing," he said. "They've gotten a bad rap. People can criticize it, but they need to get over that. We've succeeded."

The key to that success, he said, is good marketing. And he doesn't rely on the hotel or H&H for advertising.

Jeff Victor, with On Stage Entertainment, also was satisfied with the business arrangement with H&H, even though his client Charo was less than thrilled.

"They're just trying to cover their payments," said Victor. "There was no real conflict.

"When we went in, we had an agreement with the Showroom. We would like to have gotten help (from the hotel), but our relationship was with the Showroom."

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