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September 21, 2014

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What a trip: New show in Las Vegas melds entertainment with tourism promo

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Viva Veracruz

Viva Veracruz, a music and dance show debuting Aug. 11, 2014, at Planet Hollywood, is an exploration of the culture and folklore of Veracruz, a state on Mexico’s Gulf Coast. The show was funded by the state government of Veracruz.

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Viva Veracruz, a music and dance show debuting Aug. 11, 2014, at Planet Hollywood, is an exploration of the culture and folklore of Veracruz, a state on Mexico's Gulf Coast. The show was funded by the state government of Veracruz as an attempt to draw more tourists and spread knowledge of the state.

The idea is innovative if only for its simplicity.

Why send people around the globe to promote tourism when you can just sit in one spot and let the tourists come to you?

That’s what Alex Esqueda, a Las Vegas producer, pitched to the tourism board of Veracruz, a state in Mexico straddling the Gulf Coast.

The result: "Viva Veracruz! The Show," a dance-and-musical production that introduces audiences to the culture and folklore of Veracruz.

The show, which starts a four-month run at Planet Hollywood this week, is backed by the Veracruz tourism board and is an experiment in alternative marketing. Instead of spending on television commercials and glossy brochures, Veracruz is hoping a taste of its art and culture will entice world travelers to their state.

“I think we are making history here,” said Esqueda, who originally came to Las Vegas from Mexico in 1975 to work as a performer at Circus Circus.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in Las Vegas in terms of promotion of Mexican culture and a show of this scale,” he said. “There are events around Mexican Independence Day in September, but in terms of a production of this size doing a run over several months, I think it hasn’t really been tried before.”

For the show, Esqueda worked with Luis De Llano-Stevens, a well-known producer in Mexico. Early in 2013, Esqueda, while on a trip to Mexico, heard the Veracruz government was thinking of sponsoring a traveling music-and-dance show to promote the state’s culture. Esqueda pitched them on producing a show specifically for Las Vegas, and then targeting all of the tourists who visit the Strip.

“We get millions of tourists from all over the world every year, and you can catch a broad audience, that obviously travels, right here,” Esqueda said.

According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, a show sponsored by a foreign tourism board — much less from a single state in a foreign country — is rare if not unique. However, along with shows such as the Palazzo's "Panda!," which uses performers from the China National Acrobatic Troupe to depict Chinese folklore, "Viva Veracruz" fits in with the variety of cultures and performances available on the Strip.

When many foreign tourists think of Mexico, they picture the bustling metropolis of Mexico City or the white sand beaches of the Mayan Riviera. Those who see the show, however, may think of whitewater rafting on Veracruz’s Rio Antigua, catching the museums and cuisine of the state’s capital city of Xalapa or attending Carnival festivities in the port city of Veracruz.

Esqueda and Llano-Stevens were given preliminary approval and developed the show over one year. In spring 2014, they previewed the production for officials from Veracruz and got the green light to take it to Las Vegas.

"Viva Veracruz" is geared toward a general audience — the same people who would buy tickets to see Shania Twain in residency or one of the Cirque du Soleil shows.

“One of the ideas was to try to use some songs that the English-speaking audiences are more familiar with,” Esqueda said. “There is no dialogue, and anybody who does not speak Spanish will enjoy the show. There is a lot of dancing, singing and acrobatics — it’s exciting and explosive.”

The show has 28 cast members, many of them from Veracruz. It consists of 12 dance numbers and a series of vignettes introducing different themes and historical icons. The music is a combination of original compositions and traditional favorites such as “La Bamba,” which originated as a folk song from Veracruz. Some of the themes include Day of the Dead, artist Frida Kahlo and the indigenous history of the region.

Esqueda said if the show was a success, the producers would look to continue the run at a different theater in Las Vegas after its four-month Planet Hollywood stint. He took the success of "Panda!" as a good sign.

“We’ve done our job, and we’ll see what happens,” Esqueda said. “The audience will let you know what works."

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