Proposal for an illustrated book/article about Las Vegas as the Mecca of Live Performance Art

In several books and articles about performance art in America, I have often found the best examples in untraditional venues, such as rock palaces, sports arenas, and even bus terminals (e.g., the kinetic sculptures of George Rhoads). With this theme in mind, let me explain why Las Vegas has become the mecca of live performance in America. The best magicians, musicians, stand-up comedians, and even performance artists all stop there, sometimes for extended stays. So many live acts are available in Las Vegas on any single night, at such various levels of prominence and expense, that the wealth of them makes even New York City’s rich offerings seem slim.

To give a sense of this quanity, consider that in late May 1998, the first time I went there, the venues were featuring Chuck Negro from Three Dog Night, Doug Sahm & Last Real Texas Blues Band, Penn & Teller, Liza Minelli, Andrew “Dice” Clay, Reba McEntire, Jerry Vale, “Jubilee” (“the stage spectacular featuring the sinking of the Titanic”), Rosie O’Donnell/Billy Porter, The Debbie Reynolds Show, “Broadway . . . Off B’Way!” (“a salute to New York’s bigest hit shows”), Al Jarreau, King Arthur’s Phantom Blues Band, Kool & the Gang with Sister Sledge, Eric Clapton, Wayne Newton, “EFX” (“a stage extravaganza starring David Cassady and featuring more than 250 special effects”), The Neville Brothers, Lance Burton: Master Magician, Siegfried & Roy (for $89.50), Thunder from Down Under, “Showgirls of Magic,” “the Best of the Folies Bergere. . . Sexier than Ever,” “Mystere” (from the great Cirque de Soliel), among others.

What I propose to do is a comprehensive and yet selective appreciation of Las Vegas performance on all levels, with examples both familiar and unfamiliar, focusing upon the best work. I’d start with the signage on the strip, which is incomparably rich and various (making Times Square look minor league), and the street shows, such as the fake volcano that erupts every fifteen minutes in the fountains before the Mirage Hotel or the battle between masted ships every ninety minutes before the Treasure Island Hotel. Simply walking from one hotel casino to another, gawking at the extravagant interiors, is a theatrical experience. My coverage would include the venues that performers have for one another, such as the magicians’ club that meets every Wednesday. I would expect to identify emergent stars. During a recent visit, I heard often of Danny Gans, whose specialty is musical impersonations. While focusing upon acts that are usually there, I wouldn’t neglect those passing through. I would also look into performers away from the casinos, such as the Las Vegas Symphony and its modern dance troupe. The book should be “current’ for a decade.

One significance of this development is that the casino gambling corporations have become the principal patrons of the best performance art in America (exceeding the arts councils on one hand and the television networks on the other). In order to get people into the buildings that also house casinos, their proprietors must give Americans kinds of live performance unavailable on television. The best illustration is Cirque de Soleil, a truly masterful ensemble that combines the circus tradition with abstract dance, at a level that even the Medicis would have been proud to sponsor. For this Canadian troupe, the Treasure Island Hotel built a magnificent theater, seating fourteen hundred people without a single pillar, for two shows every night. The new Bellagio Hotel, also once owned by Steve Winn’s Golden Nugget Corp., included a new comparably classy theater for a different Cirque de Soleil program. (Another company tours the world, including stops in New York.)

I would collect illustrations from publicists and producers, or the publisher could commission a photographer to make fresh pictures. The text could be whatever length the publisher thinks most appropriate. Editors interested in contracting this book should contact the author. Thanks.