By Caroline Fontein (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Who is David Saxe? You probably don’t recognize his name, but many visitors who come to Vegas know his shows. He’s a producer and currently works with 12 shows on the Las Vegas Strip that range in genre from hypnosis and comedy to magic, a variety show and his newest venture, a full-scale production based on iconic entertainers from the city’s past.
He might not be the face on every billboard in Vegas, but he’s the man behind more shows in the city than the most recognizable production company on the Strip, Cirque du Soleil. Finding a niche in the Entertainment
Capital of the World is no easy feat, but to Saxe it was part of growing up.
“It was just what we did,” says Saxe.
Coming from a show business family, he was on stage even before he was born. His mom was a dancer in “Folies Bergere” at the Tropicana and performed while she was pregnant with Saxe in 1969. His dad was a band leader who played for various headliners including the Rat Pack. His parents also did entertainment for conventions where his dad organized the band while his mom was in charge of the dancers and other performers. Saxe helped by doing some of the technical stuff like setting up lights, the sound system and band stands.
“Back in high school or even back in junior high school I was always putting peoples’ shows together and doing the technical parts. Then when my sister was in the Siegfried and Roy show she realized ‘I can do this and I can dance,’ so she wanted to put a whole show around it. Kind of like Our Gang, Little Rascals, let’s just put a show together,” says Saxe.
When he was 17, Saxe became the youngest producer in Vegas when he launched his sister’s show, “Melinda – The First Lady of Magic.” He went on to produce the show for 16 years.
“[Tickets] started off at like $7.99 and that included a prime rib dinner and two drinks. That was at the Bourbon Street Hotel. Then we went to Landmark, which was a 750-seat showroom, and it just blossomed from there. We found our niche putting shows together,” says Saxe.
Along with learning the ins and outs of what goes into producing a show, growing up in Vegas with parents who were performers gave Saxe the opportunity to see some of the iconic entertainers who helped brand the city as the Entertainment Capital of the World. When Saxe was young he watched his father rehearse with well-known entertainers including Frank Sinatra.
“I just kind of grew up around all this and watching all these performers. I was just used to that amazing personality from these stars, they would fill the room,” says Saxe.
Being witness to some of the greatest entertainers in the world at such a young age helped shape Saxe’s view of what it takes to have a successful show. He’s also learned how to read the audience and how to let their reactions shape his next move.
“For so long I’ve always watched the audience and what pleases them and I just got in tune with what Vegas audiences want. Vegas audiences have been families and middle American, and I kind of just got in tune with that. I fell into that niche as opposed spending $2 million on a show,” says Saxe.
It’s not that he couldn’t put on a multimillion dollar production like Cirque du Soleil, but he doesn’t think that’s Vegas.
“To me that’s just not what people come to Vegas for. They come to have a great time, to hoot and holler and my shows connect with the audience I think. Maybe it’s a niche too. We all can’t be Cirque so you just have to find your niche and go for it,” says Saxe.
During the past 20 years he has produced more than 100 shows. His current shows perform in his venues the Saxe Theater (formerly the Wyrick Theater) and V-Theater, both located at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. His understanding of what audiences want along with knowing how to put on a show, give him a unique advantage over other producers in Vegas.
“He has an insight to how Vegas works, how the tickets are sold, what people like on stage, how to make the show exciting on stage, he’s got the best of both worlds,” says Wally Eastwood who hosts and performs in one of Saxe’s shows “V-the Ultimate Variety Show” at V Theater.
An incredible juggler and fifth-generation circus performer, Eastwood worked in numerous shows in Vegas and with various producers before he started working with Saxe.
“I know a lot of producers who can put together a great show, and I know a lot of producers who can sell tickets and sell the show, but I don’t know many producers who can do both. He’s one of the few that can, and it takes both. You have to master both,” says Eastwood.
Knowing what people want to see in Vegas is something that Saxe learned from experience, yet he admits that not all of his shows have been successful. His hits and misses as a producer have all been part of a learning process that started when he was 18 and decided to take on more productions aside from his sister’s show.
“I launched a male strip show and a girlie show and they pretty much sucked. I lost all my money. I learned, which was pretty hard, but I didn’t want to stop so I kept trying new things. I’m pretty sure I’ve done more shows than anybody in the history of Las Vegas,” says Saxe.
Working in a fickle industry like entertainment has its fair share of ups and downs, but that’s what Saxe enjoys most about his work.
“I refuse to just sell out and just do something that I think will make money but is not challenging. I don’t do this for the money. I really do this for the challenge of what’s going to sell,” says Saxe. “I like creating things and seeing it all the way through from (an idea) just out of my head written on a napkin to an entity that runs itself. That’s the satisfaction of seeing something go up.”
That ambition is what propelled the creation of his newest production “VEGAS! The Show,” which opened in June at the Saxe Theater. He got the idea for his new show when he realized that Vegas was missing Vegas.
“Maybe because it’s what I grew up in, but I kept sitting there going, man there’s nothing like the old days. When people think of Vegas they think of the Rat Pack, they think of Elvis, they think of showgirls and we’re just getting so far away from it,” says Saxe.
Since the idea for “VEGAS! The Show” was an original concept, Saxe worked more on this show than any of his other productions. The show features original music and choreography by Tiger Martina. Saxe played a part in every aspect of creating the show, from pounding out chords on the piano composing original songs to directing.
“This is really my baby. I’ve done more on this show than any other show I’ve ever done,” says Saxe.
He explained that with a cast of 70 the show is an expensive endeavor, but he’s hoping that his timing is right and that opening the show in a down economy will put him in a better position when things turn around.
“I’m well aware statistically how things shouldn’t work – especially in this business. So in one aspect I’m very stupid, like I’m too stubborn to stop at expanding. I’ve got a game plan, and I’m not letting the damn economy get in my way. I’ll just figure out a different way to market or something,” says Saxe.
Born and raised in Vegas it’s no surprise that just like the pioneers who built the city, Saxe is willing to take a gamble on something that he believes will pay off in the long run. So far the odds have been in his favor.
“I can’t stop coming up with concepts, and then I’m not satisfied until I do them. So even if it might not make business sense or timing sense, if I really believe it in my bones, then I just have to do it. I guess I have just been very fortunate that most of them have paid off,” says Saxe.