Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014 | 6:22 p.m.
Steve Wynn asks for a recording to be played on the gleaming entertainment center in his office at the hotel that bears his surname. “Turn it up,” he says, and from this state-of-the-art, sound-and-video system booms a show tune from yesteryear.
The music fills this room — and Steve Wynn’s heart.
“Them GOPs and Democrats, each hates the other oooone! They’s always criticizing how the country should be ruuuun!” the singer warbles, clear as a cowbell. “But neither tells the public what the other’s gone and done! As long as no one knows where no one stands, the country’s in the very best of hands!”
Wynn is standing and performs something akin to a jig, kicking his heels and pointing his elbows out to his sides. He sings along, in low and laughing voice. He happily beams like a kid on a farm, gazing off in the distance, across that office and even across all time. This song is his message, as definitive as a pitchfork in the butt, the show-stopping “The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands” from the musical “Li’l Abner.”
The soundtrack from that production was issued in 1956, but as Wynn says, “It could have been written today. Johnny Mercer (the lyricist) was a smart son of a bitch.”
That song in the Al Capp satire is indeed Wynn’s showstopper, capping the highly anticipated and oft-discussed new production “Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers,” moving into Encore Theater for a run that Wynn hopes never ends. Previews begin Dec. 16, with the gala opening set for Dec. 20. Tickets are on sale beginning at 6 a.m. Thursday (or, today if you are reading this Thursday morning) at $90 (absent fees) and can be purchased through the Wynn ticket office, by calling (702) 770-9966 or visiting WynnLasVegas.com.
“Showstoppers” is to play eight shows a week: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays; 7:30 and 10 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; dark Sundays and Mondays (all ticket holds must be ages 5 or older; children younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult).
As anyone who knows Wynn would expect, this is no meager or demure project. As he says, “It’s full-tilt Wynn.”
The undercarriage of what we’ll see and how it came to be:
‘We’re going full-blown’
“Showstoppers” is aptly named, no question, as it is a series of some of the greatest numbers ever performed in musical theater. They are all favorites of Wynn, ranging from “One,” the finale of “A Chorus Line,” to “Razzle Dazzle” from Chicago to “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” from “Guys and Dolls” to “You’re the Top” from “Anything Goes.”
As Wynn describes, what is staged will be “new conceptions of these numbers, completely in a Las Vegas context.” Expect full-costumed production numbers backed by live music and pure singing.
To execute these numbers, Wynn hired director Philip Wm. McKinley, the director of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” the Broadway show originally targeted for Encore Theater until it was announced this summer that it would embark on a U.S. tour.
Three-time Emmy Award winner Marguerite Derricks, who worked on the original version of “Zumanity” at New York-New York, is the choreographer. Suzy Benzinger (“Blue Jasmine,” “Whatever Works,” “Celebrity” and “Ghostbusters”) is the costume designer. Dave Loeb, the mastermind behind the highly acclaimed and richly rewarded UNLV Jazz Studies program, is the music director.
The male leads are Randal Keith and David Burnham. Keith is familiar with Las Vegas audiences for his run in “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular” (where he played all three major roles) at the Venetian and also as a member of the cast of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” in the very Encore Theater that is home to “Showstoppers.” Keith also is a part of the vocal ensemble The Phat Pack, its cast a collection of former “Phantom” cast members from the Venetian show.
Burnham won a Best Actor award from the Helen Hayes Awards for his portrayal of Fabrizio in the national tour of “The Light in the Piazza” and most recently played the role of Fiyero in “Wicked” on Broadway. The third male lead is Andrew Ragone, also known to Las Vegas audiences as the heartthrob Raoul from “Phantom” at the Venetian.
“From the men, I needed a maturity and also a hot singer who could do Skye Masterson,” Wynn says. “I needed a mature performer and also a younger singer.”
Among the female leads is Kerry O’Malley (“Annabelle,” “Earth to Echo,” “Terminator: Genesis” on film and “Those Who Kill,” “Shameless” and “Boardwalk Empire” on TV), who played the Rosemary Clooney role in “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.” Lauren Molina, who played Johanna in “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway, also is at the front of the company. The third female lead is Lindsay Roginski, who starred as Roxie Hart in “Chicago” on Broadway and as Lola in “Damn Yankees.”
The vocal actors will be presented in a series of newly conceived numbers, each running in quick succession, and backed by 28 dancers and a full-scale orchestra. “When ‘A Chorus Line’ started on Broadway, they had 18 people in the cast.
How many musicians? Twelve? Fourteen? No. We’re going full-blown, with 30 musicians.”
The 28 dancers were taken from a nationwide field of 600 auditions overseen by McKinley and Derricks. As Wynn says, “Marguerite told me, ‘In my 25 years on Broadway and in Hollywood, I’ve never, ever seen 28 people at this level. They can do anything. They all sing.’ And I’ll tell you, all of the hot dancers came out and said, ‘I’ll quit my other job. I’m all yours.’ Every major hoofer in the country was saying, ‘When’s there an opening?’ ”
Wynn has spent $10 million just in pre-production costs to put on a show he describes with great delight as “nirvana” for the performers.
“Imagine ‘One’ from ‘A Chorus Line’ on top of ‘This’ on top of ‘It’s Today’ on top of ‘Sunday Clothes’ on top of ‘Wilkommen’ from ‘Cabaret’ on top of ‘Razzle Dazzle’ and ‘All That Jazz’ on top of ‘You’re Rocking the Boat,’ ” Wynn says, slamming an open hand on his desk as he recites each number. “The pace of this show will be incredible. And, if we need to, we can change the show in 90 days because for every showstopper we have now, there’s another 20 we can put in.”
‘I am onstage with these kids, improvising ‘One,’ and it was so magical’
The inspiration for the idea of “Showstoppers” came from the famous 50th birthday party Wynn held in March for his wife, Andrea, which starred Hugh Jackman and Rachel York as the singers backed by 36 dancers and a 32-piece orchestra. The guests that night included Quincy Jones, Steven Spielberg, Garth Brooks, Neil Diamond and the Adelsons (Sheldon and Miriam). The cost, out of Wynn’s own pocket, touched $5 million.
“If you’re married to Andrea Wynn, she’s worth it,” Wynn says, grinning. “I’m the luckiest guy alive. I’ve had six years of ecstasy. I have such fun with her, and 50 is such an important birthday, but I told her, ‘When you turn 60, I’m not doing this again.” At that, he laughs.
McKinley was the director of the birthday show, too. During the company’s rehearsal at Encore Theater, Wynn showed up on the stage, which had been converted into a makeshift rehearsal hall, complete with full-length mirrors so the performers would feel as if they were in a dance studio. Wynn leaned on the piano and the company started singing “One! Singular sensation …” and Wynn joined in.
“I am onstage with these kids, improvising ‘One,’ and it was so magical,” Wynn says, now walking around the desk as if performing his own role as entertainment visionary. “That’s where I got the idea. That’s when I said to the kids, ‘This is too good! We’ve gotta keep doing this! And they went, ‘Yeah!’ And right up on the stage, I said to Phil McKinley, ‘We’ve got to keep going with this. It’s too good. And he said, ‘Count me in.’ ”
Given all of the energy, enthusiasm and sheer volume of talent assembled, is Wynn certain this show will have an audience on the Strip?
“We’ll find out,” he says swiftly. “If I sell 500 seats a night, we make money. But we’re going to extreme measures to make sure it has every chance. We’re going to invite all 2,000 cabdrivers, every concierge, every manicurist, every hairstylist, every bell captain in the effing town... to see this show.”
He pauses and asks, seemingly to an unseen audience, “Can I go any further than that? No. Every light is on with this.”
‘We have Cirqued ourselves to death’
Wynn’s inherent passion for entertainment is peerless among his fellow resort moguls. He has had his share of hits and misses, to be sure, over the past four decades. He made the Siegfried & Roy show the centerpiece of entertainment at the Mirage for more than 10 years, and they regularly played to sold-out audiences. He was the first to book Cirque du Soleil, as “Mystere” at Treasure Island sparked eight shows on the Strip.
He also had “Avenue Q” and “Monty Python’s Spamalot” at Encore Theater, neither of which was a long-term hit. Danny Gans moved into Encore Theater from the Mirage and sold pretty well until his death in 2009; Brooks, also at Encore, was boffo at the box office and proved to be one of the best-executed stage shows in the city’s history.
Upon Brooks’ departure, Wynn test-drove the concept of circus variety with “Funhouse,” a grandiose concept filled with talent similar to “Showstoppers,” which never gelled.
“ ‘Funhouse’ was an idea that we could not execute. We tried, with the idea that nothing would end up being what it first appeared to be,” Wynn says now. “There were about two or three more things, illusionary things, we could do to change it, but not enough to make a show out of it.”
“Funhouse” was a memory when Wynn dialed up the birthday party that led to “Showstoppers.” As the December opening approaches, he says figuring out the city’s fickle entertainment environment has never been easy or simple.
“The toughest thing for me to figure out, in 40-odd years of doing this, has been entertainment,” he says. “It’s the most daunting. Not human resources, not marketing, not design. Entertainment.”
But Wynn does know that his own passion, and this show, which he stamped with his own name, “is the most personal project I’ve worked on in my whole life.”
He knows that he is competing with some of the very shows he created.
“Look, we have Cirqued ourselves to death,” he says, exhaling in exasperation. “Yeah, I brought ’em here. Yeah, I love it. But enough already with the equipment and the hydraulics. There’s still nothing as magical as a great piece of musical composition and virtuoso performers or dancers who spent their lives learning their trade, doing it without any equipment, with no help, naked with the talent.”
And the purity and power of those performances, says Steve Wynn, “is still the strongest thing on Earth.”
This is where someone says to cue the orchestra. It’s about time for a showstopper.
With world-class dining, shopping, spas, golf and entertainment, there's no shortage of things to do at Wynn. The resort’s aquatic acrobatic show, “Le Reve—The Dream,” a creation by Cirque Du Soleil veteran Franco Dragone and Steve Wynn, will leave guests wanting more with its breathtaking performances that conjure an imaginary world. The Wynn Esplanade offers a unique shopping experience with stores including Chanel, Manolo Blahnik, Christian Dior, Oscar de la Renta and many more. Tryst is its signature nightclub, offering a secluded lagoon inside the club and spacious dance floor. Blush, the Wynn’s ultra lounge, draws swanky party-goers. Tryst, Wynn’s signature nightclub, is situated along a private lagoon under a 90-foot waterfall and plays host to some of the world’s most renown DJs.