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Q+A: President and COO Chuck Bowling talks new offerings at Mandalay Bay


Darrin Bush/Las Vegas News Bureau

Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil; Chuck Bowling, president and COO of Mandalay Bay; Jackie Jackson, brother of Michael Jackson; John Branca, co-executor of The Michael Jackson Estate; and Jamie King, writer and director of Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour, at Mandalay Bay on April 27, 2011.

Michael Jackson One at Mandalay Bay

Mandalay Bay President Chuck Bowling is gambling big in the midst of a multimillion-dollar makeover of the casino resort. He’s juggling the arrival of restaurants, nightclubs, a dayclub pool concept and a changeover of The Hotel at Mandalay Bay into the swanky and chic The Delano from South Beach.

The biggest and most ambitious piece of his puzzle falls into place May 23 when Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson One” opens for preview performances. The premiere is set for June 29.

When Cirque’s creative directors and executives showcased a sneak peek, Chuck said: “This is an extraordinary moment for Mandalay Bay. We are in the midst of a major transformation introducing a new set of experiences for our guests. ‘Michael Jackson One’ is truly the crown jewel of that transformation, and we cannot wait to share this very special production with the world.”

It’s a huge bet that already looks as if it will pay off. Club member ticket sales eclipsed $500,000 on the first day last Friday, and the pace has increased this week. Sales to the public begin March 7, and already Cirque and MGM Resorts officials are saying that the numbers are fantastic.

Check out our interviews with “One” director Jamie King posted Monday and Cirque President and CEO Daniel Lamarre on Wednesday. I talked with Chuck to get secrets of his plans for the new-look Mandalay Bay:

Robin Leach: This is all a monstrous investment for Mandalay Bay and MGM. You ripped out “The Lion King,” and you built a theater for “One.” That’s a big act of faith?

Chuck Bowling: It is a big show, but we are talking about the greatest entertainer of all time. The opportunity to partner with the greatest entertainer of all time, his music, his charisma, his excitement and with Cirque du Soleil is a big risk. It is a big investment.

The point is that Michael did everything big, so to have the opportunity in The Entertainment Capital of the World, which we are so proud to call home, and not have Michael Jackson is a missing piece.

This is exciting for Mandalay Bay, but more exciting for the city of Las Vegas. People will come from around the world to Las Vegas specifically to see this show. That is important for our community.

Click to enlarge photo

Michael Lang, Dan Aykroyd, Carlos Santana, Chuck Bowling and Jose "Pepe" Hermosillo arrive at Santana's mud ceremony and the band's grand opening night at House of Blues in Mandalay Bay on Friday, May 4, 2012.

R.L.: We saw a taste of the show today with the dancers. You have been to Montreal to check on its progress. You have a huge vested interest in this, so what have you seen that gives you the feeling that you’ve got a big hit on your hands and the investment will pay off?

C.B.: We know that the ‘Immortal’ tour has been enormously successful. We know that the focus and attention are on the hits of Michael Jackson. That is what people want, so for 90 minutes, it is the hits of Michael Jackson. What we have seen and heard so far, we know that we have done that.

Secondly, what you can do inside that theater for a full production show, different than a traveling show, is going to be a part of that. We also have been able to do new acrobatic acts that haven’t been seen on the Las Vegas Strip that will be exclusive to this show.

We have 1,800 seats, about the same size as it was before, but we have come in and completely redone the chairs, the music, the sound. The technology will be over the top.

R.L.: How much of a multimillion-dollar overhaul was that?

C.B.: We will know right after the premiere what the exact number is -- it’s big, but it is always big when you do these kinds of shows. You are not going to dip your toe in the water on this; you are going to go big, and we are very proud. We are confident about it, and we are already hearing the buzz and the energy.

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Rick Harrison, Dan Aykroyd and Chuck Bowling attend Carlos Santana's mud ceremony and the band's grand opening night at House of Blues in Mandalay Bay on Friday, May 4, 2012.

R.L.: The show starts in May and then June comes the premiere. Are you getting bookings in the hotel now going beyond those dates? You must have some feedback.

C.B.: We have a lot of interest. We are fortunate to host a lot of major conventions in addition to entertaining customers. We have had a lot of interest for meetings, conventions who are already planning their visits far out into the summer and the fall. They’ve already told us they come every year for their conventions and that they want to do something new for their best customers -- they want to buy seats to ‘One.’

R.L.: “One,” however, is only one part of your transformation?

C.B.: You and I have had some fun conversations over the last year, so, again, this is the crown jewel of this transformation. When you take a look at what we are doing with Light and the new restaurants, our linked Four Seasons, the future with The Delano and the renovation of our public space and casino, this is an exciting time.

R.L.: Why the big overhaul?

Click to enlarge photo

Mandalay Bay President Chuck Bowling, Monday Jan. 14, 2013.

C.B.: I think it really is focused on who we are and one of things we heard loud and clear is we are one of the only true destination resorts on The Strip. It has a lot to do with our 120 acres and our wave pool and our beach and three properties -- Mandalay, The Hotel and The Four Seasons.

We asked what are the things that people really want? It is time to reinvest and create new restaurant and nightclub offerings. It is just the commitment of MGM Resorts to maintain the best properties on The Strip.

Light opens April 26, “One” opens May 23, and then the renovation of The Delano will begin this fall floor-by-floor, with the grand opening in 2014.

R.L.: What’s new with the giant pool that will fill the parking lot?

C.B.: Next Thursday (March 7), we will reveal the name of the new dayclub. The Light Group operates it, so they will announce the specifics.

It’s a very exciting time. I am very excited -- and also confident that we will have the best entertainment with the best day and nightlife on The Strip.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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