Las Vegas Sun

February 21, 2018

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The Strip:

Sixty years of the Riviera: Making a ‘Splash’ with Las Vegas’ first water show

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“Splash” at the Riviera in Las Vegas.

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Producer and choreographer Jeff Kutash talks about creating the MTV-styled “Splash” at the Riviera in 1985 during “ENTSpeaks” at Inspire Theater on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014, in downtown Las Vegas.

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“Splash” at the Riviera in Las Vegas.

Click to enlarge photo

“Splash” at the Riviera in Las Vegas.

The Riviera moves closer and closer to its final days. The doors shut to the public on Monday, May 4. To date, we have looked at Liberace, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Dolly Parton and Pia Zadora’s connection with the hotel as it ends its 60-year run as a legendary Las Vegas icon.

Time now to turn the spotlight on producer Jeff Kutash as we continue our look back at some of the highlights, fun facts, celebrity sightings and rarely seen photographs that helped build the Strip’s first high-rise hotel and casino.

Week five of RivFacts honors the long-running aquatic show “Splash.” Premiering June 22, 1985, “Splash” was billed as an “aquacade” of music and dance.

Featuring a troupe of gorgeous showgirls, glamorous costumes, dynamic dancers and a 20,000-gallon water tank, the show lasted 21 years until its final water acrobatic dance there in 2006.

“The hotel executives started out wanting just a large champagne glass for one girl to swim in,” Jeff told me. “I convinced them to go big with the largest glass tank in the world. Esther Williams was there with friend Jane Russell on opening night, and they loved it.

“It was the first American show to have pyrotechnics, laser beams and water. I changed out the routines every year, but with the music it was MTV live. Other than Lake Mead, we were the first show to have water in the desert.

“Sometimes there’d be four dancers swimming in the tank — usually two — but we were Cirque du Soleil long before ‘O.’ Our second ‘Splash’ show up in Reno at the Hilton was an even more ambitious production.

“Steve Wynn came to see both and loved the productions. He was so impressed that I introduced him to the water experts at WET Industries, and they built the Bellagio Fountains for him.”

Jeff has another coincidence with Steve’s creations.

“I conceived a production called ‘Show Stoppers’ for Desert Inn 20 years ago. I didn’t just limit it to Broadway musicals but also included Hollywood musicals. The D.I. is, of course, where the Wynn hotel stands today with his version of ‘Showstoppers’ as an attraction there.”

Today Jeff is preparing the May 18 premiere of the new Pia Zadora show “Pia Reloaded” at the venue Catalina Jazz in Los Angeles (we featured “Pia Reloaded” in last week’s Riviera look back). He also is wrapping up the release of her new book and has created his newest show, “Soul Brothers,” for an eventual Las Vegas run.

With less than one month to go now before the Riviera becomes history, Vegas DeLuxe will continue this eight-part series next week with another look at yesteryear Riviera.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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