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music, technology & life in pasadena, california

Steve Wynn's Spam Filter

This week it was announced that Steve Wynn, owner of the new Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, has contracted to present the Tony Award-winning musical, Monty Python’s Spamalot, for the next 7 to 10 years. He’s planning to build a theatre at the casino specifically to house the production. The Broadway show, Avenue Q, is currently showing at the Wynn along with a Cirque du Soleil clone called Le Reve. And Wynn said this week that he isn’t done yet…

Let’s take a closer look at what this means for theatre fans and theatre workers.

For starters, the show will be cut to 90 minutes without an intermission as opposed to its original Broadway running time of 2 hours-plus with an intermission. So this means that the Vegas theatergoers will see an abridged version, not the original as seen on Broadway. Spam-a-Lite with fewer calories.

Secondly, the contract does not allow for a touring company in California, Arizona or Nevada. Steve Wynn effectively is censoring the producers of Spamalot by precluding them presenting their show within a roughly 250 to 350-mile radius from Las Vegas. The ultimate spam filter. Why has he done this?

“Do not play” clauses are common tour contract items but a 350 mile radius is ridiculous and in a way intimates that Wynn doesn’t feel that Vegas (and his resort in particular) is enough of a draw without acting as a censor for the touring theatre industry. Touring shows play all the time in Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington DC and other nearby eastern cities, concurrently with their respective original NYC productions and Broadway doesn’t prevent shows from reaching those towns. So why have the producers agreed to this? Wynn must’ve paid a huge sum for them to agree to this. But it’s not all his fault; the Pythons are thumbing their noses at their own fans as well.

Wynn said that Spamalot will now be closer for left coasters than having to travel all the way to NYC…sure, but how about if it was right in your own city? That’s a lot closer, don’t you think, Steve? These shows all regularly travel to Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego…and he’s locking them out.

So now, if you want to see the show, you’ll have to pay for travel, hotel and meals before you even get the chance to fork over $100 or more for each ticket. By upping the ante with the above items it’s quite possible that this will lock out many of the biggest fans the theatre has, namely actors, students and elderly patrons. And what about folks who can only afford to shell out $25 to $35 for the last few rows in the nosebleed section? They’ll have to kiss Spamalot goodbye and who knows how many other Tony winners in the future if this trend continues.

Los Angeles, although a big entertainment city, is a small live theatre town. It has only two major theatres that regularly present large first-run Broadway productions. There aren’t many shows that have the potential to do long-term business here. In the past few years, only The Lion King and The Producers have run longer than a few months. (The Lion King ran for over 2 years and The Producers for about 8 months.) Spamalot is a big show with the possibility of running at least a year if it were booked here. The future loss of work for theatre employees, actors, crew members and musicians is really a shame. But the fans are the ones who’ll lose out…and they can thank Steve Wynn (and the Pythons) for that.

July 29, 2005 | Link to this entry

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Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

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