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This Week on Stage: Has Broadway gone too Vegas?

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rain-connick-jr

Image Credit: Joan Marcus; Youssef Boudlal/Redferns/Getty ImagesThere’s an Elvis impersonator performing eight shows a night (in the Tony-nominated musical Million Dollar Quartet, which admittedly is about more than just Mr. Presley, thank-you-very-much). Cabaret staple Harry Connick Jr. (pictured, above right) is performing 13 concerts next month at the Neil Simon Theatre. And this week, the Nederlander organization announced that it’s booked the same theater this fall for an 11-week gig by the Beatles tribute band Rain (above left). Are we witnessing the Vegas-ification of Broadway?

The trend is not exactly new. In the 2008-09 season, Broadway was home to everything from Russian clowns (Slava’s Snowshow) to Chinese acrobats (Soul of Shaolin) to Cirque du Soleil-style spandex-clad gyrations (Cirque Dreams) — as well as Will Ferrell’s virtually one-man turn as George W. Bush in You’re Welcome America and Liza Minnelli’s exalted cabaret act at the Palace. Most of these productions would have felt right at home at another Palace — Caesars Palace. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Times Square is a tourist magnet, and it makes sense that less narrative-driven acts might hold more appeal for the masses of fanny-pack wearers swarming through midtown Manhattan, particularly those from overseas. Plus, for theater owners who struggle to keep all their houses full year-round, a limited-run concert gig or specialty show can tide them over until the next Wicked comes along.

But isn’t Broadway supposed to be different, putting the legit in legitimate theater? Yes, Broadway still hosts a couple dozen shows, both musical and straight plays, that adhere pretty closely to the traditions of theater. (This weekend’s Tony Awards will recognize the best newcomers in the field; see our predictions here.) I do wonder how long it will be before a Cher or a Celine Dion sets up shop in a Broadway theater on a semipermanent, Vegas-style basis. But what do you think, PopWatchers?