Vegas bets big on Wynn wonder

New hotel just a sneak peek at what's to come

LAS VEGAS — Steve Wynn has returned to Las Vegas’ center stage — and he has to be a little nervous.

“There’s always an awkward moment when you change from a construction site to a living, breathing hotel,” Wynn said late Saturday night at the inaugural bash of La Bete, the nightclub of the Wynn Las Vegas, the hotel impresario’s latest, long-awaited addition to the Strip since the Bellagio went up in 1998 and Wynn’s Mirage Resorts was bought out by Kirk Kerkorian two years later.

Wynn was referring to all the kinks that need to be worked out when a 2,716 room hotel is suddenly open for business. He was also referring to the anticipatory hype surrounding anything with the Wynn name on it (in this case, quite literally); people want to know what he’s doing this time.

In answer to that, at least as far as La Bete was concerned, Wynn continued, “That’s why I asked Brett Ratner to help put this party together.” The “Rush Hour” director, Wynn said, represented “the energy that this hotel symbolizes.”

Indeed, the Bete bash was rather Ratneresque. The helmer was there, along with producer Peter Guber and film mega-financier Steve Bing, all boogying down to a live performance by Mary J. Blige, followed by a Wallflowers set.

Outside, a three-tiered waterfall spilled down the hotel’s signature creation — a 140-foot man-made mountain that adds to the Strip a dose of Aspen and ostensibly shields the casino from the rest of Vegas.

Wynn, 63 and nearly blind due to an eye disease, sat grinning, surrounded by handlers in dark suits. His wife Elaine, in a white gown and weighty jewel earrings, stood behind him.

New look

The evening characterized what Wynn is doing on a larger scale, which is looking to draw a younger, hipper crowd than he sought with his earlier hotels, beginning with the Mirage in 1989 and followed by Treasure Island, in 1993, and the Bellagio, in 1998.

With those resorts he transformed the $5 buffet Strip into a combination of family-friendly attractions (amusement parks) and more adult expectations (high-end shops, pricey rooms).

That has remained the predominant tone in Vegas since Wynn exited the limelight five years ago.

His return has generated much buzz, though the question remains, can he pull it off, or will this investment lead to another buy-out? And is the new hotel-casino all it’s cracked up to be?

Last year Wynn’s company, Wynn Resorts Ltd., reported a loss of $205.6 million. And while the company’s stock reached a $76 high this year — up from its $12 initial public offering in 2002 — it’s since dropped to its Friday close of $48.

Wynn is not through. Next year the $1.4 billion Encore, an all-suites hotel, will open adjacent to the Wynn, along with a $700 million casino in Macau.  

At the $2.7 billion Wynn, whose sleek, coppery tower stands 50 stories tall and commands the central part of the Strip (it’s on the site of the legendary Desert Inn), there are still fancy shops and rooms, but the hotel has a more brash, whimsical tone than the Bellagio, which it most resembles. It also has the boutique-like whiff of Ian Schrager.

Wowy colors

The color scheme is a punchy mix of reds, lime greens and purples, offset by somber chandeliers and marble. Morcheeba plays in the elevator. Warhol prints line the guest rooms.

“It’s for trust-fund Gen X-ers,” said one Wynn Resort shareholder. “I prefer the Bellagio, but my kids would love it.”

Yet despite all the chatter over the revolutionary Wynn, a week after opening, the hotel was not quite booked to capacity and — mountains and color schemes aside — in the end it does not stray all that radically from the Bellagio, from its flower-filled atrium to the Mediterranean-style canopies hanging above the gaming tables.

Even the hotel’s main entertainment attraction is in keeping with the Wynn tradition of smaller, less colossal acts.

Rather than booking headliners, like Caesar Palace’s Celine Dion show, the Wynn’s main event is “Le Reve,” a water-centric performance by Franco Dragone, former creative director of Cirque du Soleil; show premiered Friday.

The show is an extension of sorts of “O,” Dragone’s other water-inspired show at the Bellagio.

“Le Reve,” however, is more intimate than its predecessor — the show takes place in a theater-in-the-round, though in this case, the stage is a pool filled with a million gallons of water.

“In ‘O,’ water was a dramatic ingredient,” Dragone said, “The water here is part of the show as a very active, predominant player… The water is something tender, something strong. It can be a source of life.”

In “Le Reve” (“The Dream”) — which would more aptly be named “Le Hallucination” — a squadron of muscle-sculpted men and women flip, dive and splat into the water from trapezes, spinning globes and rotating carriages.

The show’s logline — “A small collection of imperfect dreams” — predicts, or perhaps justifies, the eclectic nature of the, by turns, whimsical, jaw-dropping and eerie shows-within-the show, all flamboyantly costumed and moodily scored. (Dragone’s longtime collaborator Benoit Jutras composed the score).

Opening night was not without its mishaps. Mid-way through the show the theater lights went up and an overhead voice alerted the audience that there was a fire alarm. Within a minute, the voice reassured the audience that all was well, and the lights dimmed. It was later revealed that the alarm was caused by an overly sensitive smoke detector on a fog machine.

Dragone said that the show — much like the hotel — was still growing into itself and smoothing out its wrinkles.

“It takes at least six months to figure out,” he said. “A live show needs to live. You never stop working on the show. If you stop, it will die.”