Wednesday, June 22, 2016 | 2 a.m.
When prolific producer David Saxe decided to risk everything on his project “Vegas! The Show,” even he thought that he was insane. He had to sell out every single show every day and still could lose money. Now six years later, he’s celebrating its anniversary all month long.
His cast is huge for a 422-seat theater. David has 11 singers in his show; 27 dancers; 33 musicians; and even Candy Girls who have thrown out 655,000 pieces of taffy to audiences in the Miracle Mile Shops of Planet Hollywood.
His production is the only show still standing here that features the iconic Las Vegas showgirl as it pays homage to the legends that helped Las Vegas shine as the Entertainment Capital of the World.
Broadway World called it “the best show in Las Vegas,” and it certainly proves that some things never go out of style as the exciting musical story tells of the legends that graced the stages of our top Strip hotels through the years.
Here is our Q+A with David:
In a city where shows come and go, sometimes within the first 30 days, six years is an extraordinary accomplishment.
Absolutely, especially a big project like this, for an independent production company like this, with zero support from any hotel. It’s been a huge task. When I started it, I remember doing the math. There are only 422 seats, and I’m going, “I have to sell out every single show, every day, and I might still lose money. I don’t know why I would do this.”
But the point was I couldn’t take it anymore at the time. All the big shows that I grew up around and that my parents were in were all closing, and I just had had it.
(Editor’s Note: David’s mother, Bonnie, was a “Folies Bergere” showgirl at Tropicana, and his father, Richard, was a bandleader playing for “Folies” and “Lido de Paris” at the Stardust. David produced his sister Melinda Saxe’s show “First Lady of Magic” for 16 years.)
I was like, “This is it. I’ve got to put a show together to let people know what the real Las Vegas is. I kept hearing somebody talk about Cirque shows or similar, and I’m like, “Man, they have no idea what the real Las Vegas is all about.”
Do you think this success came because of your determination or because you were the only show in town that spoke to what Las Vegas was and should be?
I don’t even advertise. It’s just all word of mouth. I think it was just so damn good, and there are enough people who go, “Yeah, yeah, I get it. That’s what Las Vegas is all about. I love that.” I think that it was just good and kept a little underground word of mouth going on in the industry that made it successful.
All those old type of shows had closed. I kind of understood a little bit because they were dated. It is what Las Vegas is about, but I wanted to do something new with a twist.
What is new with a twist in your show that “Jubilee” didn’t have, that “Folies” at the Tropicana didn’t have, both of which you’ve seen shut down during your six-year run?
It’s hard to explain it, but there’s a style. Like the song choices, there’s a style. There’s a storyline that’s very loose so that it doesn't impede the flow of the show. It’s hard to explain because like Elvis, for instance, we do an Elvis song a lot of people have never heard of, “If I Can Dream.”
It’s got the most emotion in it, and it just builds. He’s dressed like Elvis, but he’s not an Elvis impersonator, and the style of that not being cheesy and coming out doing a legend type show.
A lot of people — even a ton of industry people — told me, “Yeah, it’s great, but Elvis, I don’t understand, why doesn’t he look like Elvis doing the typical stuff?” I think that was the style choice and not just to pander.
I think of the show having an almost “Ed Sullivan” quality to it, in which there is an act for everybody.
That’s certainly true at the “V” show I produce. “Vegas! The Show” has three specialty acts and the cast, so, yes, that’s my style. Because I have ADD, I presume that everybody else does and gets bored quickly. I have a lot of content switching constantly, just in case.
No doubt you told yourself you were stupid and flying against the wind, and probably everybody else said the same thing. What was the determination behind this to succeed, and how long did you give it if it hadn’t taken off?
When I came up with the idea, it really was one of those things that I just felt that I had to do before I died. I didn’t even total it up. I started doing budgets at one point, and I go, “Man, this makes no sense, this is stupid, a full, real orchestra, you know, all the dancers, all the singers, all the acts, plus what a lot of people don’t realize in the industry.
It’s the venue, all those ancillary people, the ushers and the security and porters and cleaning crews, and all those things are always taken care of by the hotel, even in four-wall rental agreements.
I have those costs plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost for the venue. It’s almost mission impossible any profit that would be in the show. I have to take care of the theater, so it just didn’t make any sense any way you looked at it. I just go, “I don’t care, I don’t care,” I just had this feeling like I’ll just do it.
If it makes sense and if we make enough to cover everything, great. If not — so I kind of went into it stupid and not really analyzing it, and it miraculously did it. It sold out and kicked butt.
Is it still selling out six years after the fact?
Basically yes. There are slow times in Las Vegas here and there, but for the most part it’s sold out. We go seven days a week, two shows a day. We have enough cast members and band and everything that we can rotate. It really has been consistently great from word of mouth.
Just as extraordinary is that you’re in a shopping center and not in a hotel showroom.
Customers don’t know the difference because it’s all intertwined. It’s Planet Hollywood as far as they’re concerned and — but that one detail of not having support from the hotel and being part of their family and getting traffic sent to us. Malls and stores rely on the traffic that the mall brings in, and we don’t. We bring ’em in.
Even though we’re in a mall and paying huge premiums for the ability to grab those customers, we don’t grab any of those customers. Business-wise, it all kind of doesn’t make sense, but, for some reason, I just had that feeling like I have to do it and it will work. So, I just did it. It does work.
How has the show changed and evolved since the beginning? What’s new about it in its sixth year that keeps it fresh?
We change content and direction. You know, small things, a lot, which make a huge difference. The style and feel and some of the costume stuff. The main thing is that the people are always new. That’s what’s great about Las Vegas; they’re always rotating. So it’s always new to the audiences.
What keeps it fresh for us is I brought in LED video. Originally, I didn’t want to have any LED video walls or anything cause it would take us out of the time frame. I was trying to be true to the time frames of everything you saw onstage. But I dropped that, so now we have video and other things.
But just to accentuate the era. You wouldn’t find in the ’60s an LED video wall, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t think it matters literally; everything’s onstage. I was initially wrong on that. Adding the high-tech elements make it pretty cool. Just like that, technology and content.
This particular show has discovered some unique talent that has moved onto other shows. Does that get frustrating for you, or do you take pleasure in seeing the birds leave the nest?
Both. I discovered Sean and John Scott, the twin boys, tap dancing on a promenade in L.A. as street performers. I wanted to bring them here. I found them on YouTube performing on the street for tips and pursued them and brought them to Las Vegas, put them in a house, got them a car, just set them up. We became really good buddies, they were great, and our town fell in love with them. Another show offered them twice the money I was paying them, and I was paying great money. They were stolen away from me. (Editor’s Note: First at Rose.Rabbit.Lie. and now at “Absinthe.”)
They came to me and said, “We love you and want to be with you, but this is an unbelievable offer. That do you think we should do?” And I said, “You know what, guys? I love you so much, take it, take the money and run.” It was bittersweet, but I’m happy for them.
That’s happened a couple of times, right?
Oh yeah, oh yeah. I like discovering talent, but, unfortunately, or fortunately, with the shows, people don’t buy a show based on names as a lot of the acts don’t have a name and don’t sell the ticket. People buy it based on the concept of the whole show.
If they can get a ton of money, it doesn’t make sense financially for me cause they won’t sell any more tickets for me. It’s just quality wise. I got to find amazing talent, and within a good budget, but if someone wants to offer them unbelievable money and can pay it, then I’m happy for them to go.
Your star mates, have either Britney or J.Lo come to see the show since they moved in to Planet Hollywood? Pitbull just got booked again for September.
I don’t think J.Lo, but I know Britney or Britney’s people or sister, or some of her entourage and choreographers did. They are such fans and have seen a lot of my shows, “Zombie Burlesque” and “Vegas,” and they’re fans. I’m not positive that she came in with them.
Does it help having them just steps away?
I don’t know. Every show is in theory competition. But I think it’s good to bring notoriety to the property. I like it, I like having them there. It’s funny, though, because when Britney started, a lot of people would call our box office and ask about Britney, and we’re like, “No, wrong theater.” A lot of people just think we’re all intermingled, and we’re all the same, think we’re the same property, so — I think it’s good for us.
You’ve weathered the storms with this one, but how many other shows do you have running at the moment?
I wrote, created and produced probably eight, and there are all the third-party shows that are in my venues that I help and market. I’m somewhat responsible for about 15 in total.
With 15 shows under your belt, do you rest at all now, or do you still have things left to achieve?
No, never, I can’t help it, it’s in my DNA. I’m driven by it. I can’t stop, I can’t stop writing and marketing. I don’t think that I could ever retire because I would just wake up, probably go to Starbucks and write another show or another thing, or TV show. I just can’t stop.
What next do you have in the pipeline?
Well, I’ve been working in my office here for three years, a 60,000-square-foot facility with studios and TV studios, everything, so I can finally get organized. Start teaching more stuff again. I used to have shows all over the world and just sort of stopped and concentrated only on Las Vegas.
I think once I open my new place — it’s kind of like the Google workplace environment with slides, lunch and everything, so, I’m going to launch, and then I will start opening more production divisions, get a little more organized, start doing more of these projects, that I’ve been turning down for years.
So the plan is that what you’ve set in Las Vegas, you’ll now send out across the country and maybe across the world?
I’ve got some great shows that could be duplicated and put elsewhere. I’ve got “Vegas! The Show” is actually on Norwegian cruise lines right now. I have a spin off of that out there. I think “Zombie Burlesque” would be great in some other places. I love that show.
“Zombie Burlesque” is the show you wrote on a napkin while killing time on a flight?
I love that, but wait till you see “Spoofical the Musical.” In another month, it’ll really be ready. I’ve just been rewriting and tweaking it. It’s pretty funny. I haven’t done anything advertising wise with it yet. I didn’t want a lot of people coming cause it was half the content is good, half is from the others. They are time fillers while I develop more stuff. There’s enough bad stuff in there to give it a bad reputation, so I didn’t want anybody to see it yet.
But I’ve been paying for the cast for four months to perform it, just losing money every week while I write new stuff. It’s all original songs, everything, I wrote all the songs in it. Comedy is hard to write, and stuff that makes me laugh, or watch the audience, I’ve done some stuff that I thought was funny, and I’ve had people yell, “That’s bullsh*t!” They get offended easily.
Let’s finish this with analysis of the current headline and show spectacular scene in Las Vegas. Where you fear or think it might be going?
J.Lo is making a killing. Moneywise, it’s incredible. I think names and not has-beens, I think current pop names with longer residencies since she’s made it work, I think more things like that will happen,. Britney, as well. I don’t know who else is really out there. But big names doing residencies will get even better, bigger and cooler.
It’s a struggle all the time for everybody, but if you look at the LVCVA numbers on where all the money is going every year, the clubs go up and up and up every year, and shows go down and down and down every year, so it kind of sucks being in an industry that the arrow is pointing down for the whole industry.
But it’s all I know and what I love. I can’t help it, so I want to, even if the pie is smaller, I’ll just have to keep giving a bigger piece of the pie to sustain what I got going on here. But I firmly believe in live entertainment.
I think a lot of this has got to turn at some point. I don’t understand this entitled generation of people who just want to watch a man sitting behind two computers of a DJ booth instead of seeing the big city and relaxing and watching a show to have fun. Being entertained live is better to me than standing in a packed nightclub listening to the same music every time. I can’t take it. I don’t get it.
Are you the knight on the white horse to rescue show biz in Las Vegas?
I’ve been trying, I’ve been trying my hardest to bring it all back. When I hired all the musicians, I keep bringing live bands back and putting them in — “Zombie Burlesque” has a seven-piece, and even the musicians look at me and go, “Sir, you just doing this to open the show, and then you’re going to go to tracks, right?”
“No,” and they said, “Yeah, but that’s all the gigs we ever get is to be used to get recorded, then we’re dumped.” And I’m like, “No. I get the economics of it, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have big bands, but I love live entertainment.”
And that’s what I grew up with, you know, with my dad and his band. I love it, so I’ve been a huge advocate of live entertainment and employing all these people.
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” fame 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 Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
Catering to the young and modern crowd, Planet Hollywood is a one-stop shop for entertainment with its massive shopping mall, slew of restaurants, spacious casino and clubs.
The ambiance of the casino is retro-chic meets high-tech with black granite floors throughout and colorful LED lights throughout the space. The theme carries into the 100,000 square-foot casino with 250 flat screens topping off slot machines. The casino is also home to 87 tables, a sports book and a poker room.
There's also the Miracle Mile Shops, one Vegas' largest malls, with 140 stores including BCBG Max Azaria, bebe, Urban Outfitters and The Discovery Channel Store.
Following an afternoon of shopping, guests can satisfy their appetites at one of the gourmet restaurants in Planet Hollywood, like the non-traditional approach to steakhouses at Strip House or check out the exotic Far East motif at KOI restaurant and lounge. And if guests are still looking for more, they can spend the after hours at Privé, Triq or Krave nightclubs.
Perhaps one of the resorts biggest attractions came in March with the addition of "Peepshow." The naughty twist on the story of Little Bo Peep is modern-day spin on the run-of-the-mill Vegas topless review. The "Peepshow" stage has seen visiting celebs like Scary Spice Mel B, "Dancing with the Stars" Kelly Monaco and Playboy's Holly Madison.