Erik Kabik / ErikKabik.com
Sunday, July 17, 2016 | 4:30 p.m.
The future of one of the Strip’s most successful and celebrated productions has spun into uncertainty.
“Absinthe,” which routinely sells out the Spiegeltent at Caesars Palace’s Roman Plaza and this spring celebrated its fifth anniversary, plans to leave the property at the end of October and subsequently move into a new venue on the Strip.
The full “Absinthe” company was notified of this development during a meeting at the tent last Sunday, with Spiegelworld co-producer David Foster delivering the news. He said the show would be closing at Roman Plaza on Oct. 21, then added that the production would be moving to a new, unspecified property.
This news bubbled over during a particularly distressing weekend for Vegas production shows. Announced Saturday was the closing of “Raiding the Rock Vault” at Tropicana on July 21. Saturday night, the company of “Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers” at Encore Theater were told that show would shut down Sept. 30.
But unlike those shows, which were expensive to run and — especially in the case of “Rock Vault” — operating at a loss, “Absinthe” is an unqualified hit. The show moves 5,000 tickets per week, and three weeks ago the production enjoyed its biggest-selling week ever in Vegas.
So why would a show with such a box-office power, and also has earned strong reviews since opening in March 2011, be moving? Business, as always, is the answer.
The relationship between Spiegelworld and production partner Base Entertainment has been complicated for the past couple of years, stemming from a legal dispute centering on a disagreement over ticket-revenue sharing. Further, the show’s lease at Roman Plaza is set to expire Oct. 21, and all three partners in the production must sign what would be a two-year extension for the show to continue to be performed at Caesars Palace: Base, Caesars Entertainment and Spiegelworld.
With its decision to leave Caesars, it is evident at least one of those parties — Spiegelworld — isn’t up for signing.
That said, no formal public announcement has yet been issued about the show’s future. No closing date has been specified; no future home identified. No clarity has yet been offered by Spiegelworld founder Ross Mollison, offered no comment about the show’s future when reached on the phone this morning from New York. Mollison is in the city to attend the relaunch of the latest version of “Vegas Nocturne” at House of Yes in Brooklyn.
Employing his characteristic mirth, Mollison first pretended the call was breaking up before repeating “no comment” to a series of questions about “Absinthe.” He did offer, in text: “Gaz was playing poker with Guy Laliberte last night and is rumored to have lost the show. I have been unable to locate The Gaz to see if I still have a gig.”
Laliberte is the legendary co-founder of Cirque du Soleil and “Gaz” is Gazillionaire, the fictional overlord of the Spiegelworld empire. The reference to that character, as usual, is funny — but that finding-a-gig reference will hit home to members of the “Absinthe” cast.
The show is loaded with international acrobatic performers, most of whom are living in the U.S. after being issued work visas. These artists have made dazzling use of the aged circus tent that is so crucial to the show’s aesthetic appeal. Many performers in “Absinthe’s” aerial segments were recruited expressly to perform in that tent, developing acts that might not be a fit for wherever “Absinthe” might land.
Where might that be? “Absinthe” offers impressive brand equity and creative success, but creative challenges onstage. There is not a bounty of outdoor spaces available at the moment to stage a tented, adult circus spectacular on the Strip. Something customized for the show would need to be built, and the Spiegeltent itself is not a mobile facility (the venue is taking on all structural stress of the early-1900s tent for which it is fashioned).
Indoors, what about this thought: The Rose. Rabbit. Lie. showroom at the Cosmopolitan, once home of “Vegas Nocturne.” That is a conceivable venue for a new version of “Absinthe” — the hotel’s ownership company, which today is The Blackstone Group, has changed since the property and Spiegelworld famously butted heads in court after the closing of “VN” in June 2014. That dispute was long ago resolved, as the new owners moved in to replace Deutsche Bank and the execs who originally signed “VN” to the Cosmopolitan.
Mollison actually once joked about a return to the Cosmo, telling the crowd gathered at the Gossy Room at Caesars Palace during the show’s fourth anniversary in March 2015: “Absinthe is moving to the Cosmopolitan!” Again, funny stuff from the Improssario. It seemed a preposterous idea at the time, but if we have learned anything about Las Vegas entertainment recently, it’s that anything is possible.