"If I build it, they will come." Okay, Las Vegas entrepreneur Steve Wynn didn’t utter those words to Jeffrey Seller or any of the other producers of Avenue Q. But the billionaire businessman’s offer to build a venue for Avenue Q and his absolute confidence that the show would find an audience in Las Vegas are the reasons a second company of the 2004 Tony Award-winning musical will be settling in at Wynn’s yet-to-be-built $40 million theatre a year from now, rather than touring the country.
“There was no downside to this offer,” says Seller. “The producer of any new musical is looking at two things: How do I serve the play, and how do I maximize profits for my investors? What could be more perfect than sitting down on an extended basis in a 1,200-seat theatre that will serve the artistic needs of the play while also maximizing profits for the investors?” But Las Vegas has never been a theatre town. So it seems to be a leap of faith to assume that visitors drawn to Las Vegas by glitz and gambling will take time out to see an intimate and innovative show. Or that those for whom the ultimate vacation is taking in ten shows in seven days will travel to Las Vegas for the purpose of seeing one musical. But everyone associated with the venture appears to have unwavering faith that Avenue Q will be as strong a draw in Las Vegas as it is in New York.
“This is a unique show,” says Seller, “and Steve Wynn has ratified the quality and the value of our show by saying, ‘This is the show I want in my $2.4 billion resort.’ I can’t imagine a stronger affirmation of the quality and values and marketability of our show. Steve’s theory is that the people who come to Las Vegas are the people who come to New York.”
When it was announced in June that Avenue Q would forego the road, presenters around the country voiced their displeasure over the decision. But their dismay was far from unanimous. “I immediately got a half-a-dozen disappointed and angry e-mails from presenters,” says Seller. “But within 48 hours I had received an equal number of supportive e-mails. It was a tempest in a teapot. The feedback from the New York producing community has been unanimously congratulatory. The hard part about this decision is that I love the road, and I am concerned for the vitality of the road, and I didn’t like disappointing anyone. But sometimes you wind up in a 4,000-seat theatre on the road, and doing a musical with seven actors on a small set in a 4,000 seat theatre was a concern of ours.” Seller does not believe that the road detour made by Avenue Q will negatively impact the future of national tours. “In the last ten years Cincinnati and Cleveland have gone from one-week subscriptions to two-week subscriptions,” he says. “St. Louis, with 4,000 seats, has gone from one week to two weeks. The truth is that the road is in tremendous health, better than it’s ever been.”
And what does Seller want to say to disappointed theatergoers? “I would say book your ticket to go to Wynn Las Vegas and make the trip a great event,” he says. “Enjoy Avenue Q. Play 18 holes of golf on the golf course in the backyard. What could be better? If you can afford a subscription to a Broadway theatre series or a ticket to a Broadway show, you can probably afford a weekend in Vegas or New York.”