Broadway West. That’s how Las Vegas was described more than six years ago. Avenue Q and Hairspray had just opened, and Monty Python’s Spamalot and a tricked-out version of The Phantom of the Opera were on their way. The Strip was the new 42nd Street and producers couldn’t get enough of Broadway musicals. Fast forward to today and Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular (“Spectacular Farewell”) is the only one still standing, and it, too, will soon close.
You could shake a Magic 8 Ball and get as good an answer as anyone as to why some musicals endured while others faded away. Jersey Boys, despite a move from The Palazzo to Paris Las Vegas in March, is still going strong after more than four years, and Mamma Mia!, perhaps the gold standard of Broadway-to-Vegas productions prior to Phantom, ran for nearly six at Mandalay Bay. But for every Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia! there are those that didn’t fare as well. Avenue Q, Hairspray, Spamalot, The Producers and The Lion King received 32 Tony Awards and spent a combined 28 years on Broadway, but only The Lion King made it past two years in Vegas. (By comparison, the city’s longest-running show, Bally’s Jubilee!, celebrated 31 years in July.)
So what was the secret to Phantom’s success? Beyond the universal themes of loss and unrequited love, and a musical score that’s been ingrained in the public consciousness for a quarter-century, the show’s creator, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and its director, Hal Prince, knew how to make it just “Vegas” enough to work. They built a $40 million theater (replicating Paris’ Opera Garnier, complete with a massive chandelier), cut out the intermission and trimmed the whole thing down to 95 minutes. It was something even casual theatergoers could get behind, and for the die-hards, it added a new wrinkle to their beloved show.
The music of the night will finally silence on Sept. 2, but for six strong years, it played on as a reminder of how Broadway can survive—and thrive—on the Las Vegas Strip.