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August 30, 2014

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David Saxe finally takes over the theater ‘built for him’ at Miracle Mile Shops

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David Saxe.

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Kendra Wilkinson teaches Stripper 101 at the V Theater in Planet Hollywood's Miracle Mile Shops.

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Shoppers pass by the closed Steve Wyrick Theatre in the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood last month. Wyrick's $34 million theater that seats 500 people opened in early 2007 -- right before the recession reduced visitation to Las Vegas.

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“Fab Four Mania”

Err and refer to the showroom as Wyrick Theatre, and David Saxe stops you and says, "I think I just threw up in my mouth a little."

The theater in question is now called Saxe Theater, and it is to open June 1 with a new show called "Vegas! The Show." The Wyrick in question is illusionist Steve Wyrick, the man whose greatest feat of magic might have been to entice investors to finance a $34 million theater build-out at what was at the time Desert Passage Mall at the Aladdin. But Wyrick's far-flung venture to assemble an empire of productions, with his own as the centerpiece, cratered in December when he vacated the 435-seat theater he leased from Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.

It was a characteristically ignominious outcome for Wyrick, who never has forged long-term success in Las Vegas despite his seemingly ceaseless stream of revenue. Making money to build a theater hasn't made him many friends, that much is certain. Entertainers up and down the Strip have for years complained of doing business with the over-the-top illusionist.

In December, through a PR agency, Wyrick said he planned on re-opening his eponymous theater in January, a suspicious claim at the time given Wyrick's long history of sleight-of-mouth, failed shows, and fractured relationships with those who held his lease. According to court documents, he wound up owing more than $200,000 in past-due rent to Miracle Mile, which filed suit against Wyrick and his company, Wyrick Magical Productions, in January. One production, an assemblage of the Platters, Cornell Gunter's Coasters and the Marvelettes, also sued Wyrick, the members claiming they had not been paid for work.

Highly regarded personalities such as vocalist Martin Nievera, Elvis impressionist Trent Carlini and ventriloquist Ronn Lucas came and went; none enjoyed success but all suffered agitation at Wyrick Theatre.

The theater has not been opened for business at all in 2010. Eventually, the lease for the space, which included the beautiful theater and a stylish nightclub called Triq, kicked back to Miracle Mile. Awaiting the fallout just down the corridor was someone who does know how to put a show in a room — 10 times over, in fact — and make it work. That would be Saxe, whose 10 small-scale productions draw lines of fans each day to V Theater. The venue sits just across from Blondie's sports bar and near the entrance to the property's parking garage.

As Wyrick's agreement with Miracle Mile unwound, his onetime competitor Saxe worked with mall officials to take over a perfectly suitable showroom for the Vegas production show he is now writing. Fittingly, given the often comical way the deal practically fell into his lap, Saxe signed the papers securing the lease on April Fool's Day. He was reminded recently of a tour he took of the Wyrick space in 2005, as he walked the complex with comic Russ Merlin at his side.

It was evident even then that the theater itself would be something special. As Merlin later reminded Saxe, the producer said, "They're really building a nice theater for me."

It might sound cocky, but the comment was in fact more calculating than arrogant. Saxe has been around Vegas entertainment all of his life. He knows the landscape like a farmer knows the lay of his own land. His father, Richard, was a bandleader for the Rat Pack back in "The Day" we hear so much about in Vegas. David Saxe remembers hanging around casino lounges untethered as a young child, "in the days before we were concerned about pedophiles."

His mom, Bonnie, was a dancer in "Folies Bergere" at the Tropicana, performing even as she was pregnant with David in 1969. "So I was onstage with the 'Folies,' " he jokes, not inaccurately. His sister enjoyed a lengthy career as Melinda First Lady of Magic before retiring to start a family eight years ago.

At V Theater, Saxe has succeeded in the face of one of the city's worst economic downturns. He has staged such affordably entertaining acts as Fab Four Live (a Beatles tribute act), "Tony N' Tina's Wedding" (the long-running interactive dinner show), Gregory Popovich's "Comedy Pet Theater," "Hitzville — The Show" (a Motown revue), the male strip show "American Storm," and "Kendra Wilkinson's Stripper 101 Class," which is as it sounds — an instruction from recurring tutor Kendra Wilkinson for women who want to learn how to dance on a stripper pole.

Saxe's next production is not nearly so quirky, and by far his most ambitious. He plans to convey the history of Las Vegas entertainment, including "Folies" and "Jubilee"-styled showgirl numbers, and odes to the Rat Pack, Elvis and Tom Jones. He plans to weave this show together in the rapid-fire storytelling style of "Jersey Boys" at Palazzo. He's even enlisted onetime cast member Erich Bergen, who has moved to L.A. since he was released from that production last year, asking the sharp young entertainer for input about the production.

Saxe also plans to reach out to such Vegas entertainment legends as Jerry Lewis and Shecky Greene (putting these two onstage at the same time in and of itself would be great entertainment), and even Wayne Newton. Saxe long has felt this type of variety show, fronted by Newton, would have legs on the Strip. The triq (er, trick) is convincing Newton of this. Mr. Las Vegas has mused of retirement from Strip residency after his own "Once Before I Go" closes this weekend at the Trop, but conceivably could take on this type of low-stress, emcee role.

Even today, Saxe was auditioning performers for "Vegas! The Show," his soft-leather briefcase stuffed with notes about the production. His ambition abounds: Fourteen shows per week, images such as Sassy Sally and Vegas Vic brought to life, a cast of 30 top-tier entertainers. Everything but a tribute to Cirque du Soleil, which Saxe says has its place in Vegas, but not on his stage.

"Nothing against Cirque, but I don't think that's Vegas entertainment," he says. "When you think of the history of entertainment in this town, it's Elvis, showgirls, the Rat Pack, Tom Jones. It's not French-Canadian acrobats."

The show will cost $99 and $79 (absent fees) and needs to fill the theater for every performance. Saxe can help keep the show afloat with profits from V Theater, if needed.

Is it all too ambitious, perhaps? Saxe grins at the question.

"Maybe it's not the smartest idea I've ever had," he says, looking out at his own darkened theater, "but it's crazy enough to work."

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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