MGM Grand entertainment director Barry Morgan has been the man behind the MGM Grand’s annual Halloween spectaculars since well before the Strip’s longest continuously running nightclub—Studio 54—had even opened in December 1997. Were it his child, he’d be getting it a driver’s permit.
Today, Morgan oversees all things stage and performance for MGM Grand as well as special events for other MGM Resorts International properties. Most of the year Morgan can be found bouncing around the MGM, day and night, whatever it takes for the show to go on. “I love being involved with performers, I love creating new events,” Morgan says. But for him, Halloween is a special time.
When Vegas Seven caught up with the man, Morgan was simultaneously putting together an employee talent show, placing the finishing touches on Centrifuge bar’s entertainment re-launch, tentatively eyeing New Year’s Eve and readying Studio 54 for the 13th annual Nightmare on 54th Street party—all tasks Morgan is perfectly suited to juggle with aplomb.
After completing his master’s degree in music at UNLV, and capping off 10 years dancing with the Las Vegas Folies Bergère, Morgan—a 25-year Las Vegas resident originally from Nashville, Tenn.—began performing at the MGM Grand Theme Park, which opened in 1993, then later directed and choreographed the performances. But when the club opened, Morgan’s attention turned to Studio 54.
“We felt we could make Studio 54 a little bit more of an adult playground,” Morgan says. The Thriller-themed performances that had been such an important part of Morgan’s “Scream Park” Halloween entertainment were adapted to 54’s stage and the rest is nightlife history.
To keep the production current, Morgan uses pop culture as his guide. This year, the spider web vignette will take on Ne-Yo’s song “Beautiful Monster” and “Teeth” by Lady Gaga, and the club will convert into a spooky maze of street signs, graffiti, black light and urban grit. While the production theme changes annually, what has remained constant since Morgan’s Scream Park days is the full-scale Thriller stage production, though that undergoes updates, too, such as last Halloween’s tribute to Michael Jackson. But the thrill lives on, with performances happening twice each night during 54’s Halloweekend festivities. “It’s so crazy. That entire week—from the whole set, transforming the club, the staff in their costumes, all the people that show up—it’s really become a destination. And people keep coming back year after year.”
Morgan’s aide-de-camp since the Theme Park days has been DJ R.O.B. (a.k.a. Robert Hathcock). “He knows how to make enhancements to music that enhances the choreography … DJ R.O.B. is the man!” declares Morgan of their rapport. Their process begins two months before Halloween is even a thought in a second-grader’s mind. It starts with a big meeting of the entire MGM nightlife team, including representatives from Angel Management Group. After the think tank, Morgan collaborates with R.O.B. on music. Next come the scenic designers, costumers, casting, rehearsals (Morgan’s favorite part) and before he knows it, it’s time.
“It’s like having a baby,” he opines. “You spend so much time with your dancers, creating new stuff, but after you see people’s reaction in the club, for me that’s the most fulfilling part.”
This year’s party starts Oct. 28 with a ’80s Throwback Thursday featuring Doug E. Fresh. 1990s icon Vanilla Ice returns Oct. 29, this time celebrating both his birthday and his updated image, although Morgan notes, “He has to do ‘Ice Ice Baby.’” Holly Madison returns to 54 for her second annual Hollyween on Oct. 30. “She’s actually super-nice,” says Morgan, dispelling any rumors of diva-dom. “She’s so easy to work with, she’s so game.”
But more than just a party weekend, Nightmare on 54th Street will host Golden Rainbow’s 44th annual Beaux Arts Ball on Oct. 31, when performers of Viva Elvis, Le Rêve, The Lion King, Jubilee, Fantasy and other shows donate their time and, Morgan says, “get to show their creative abilities” by choreographing their own performances.
Although the Beaux Arts Ball relocated to Krave last year, Morgan, who has sat on the board for that event for a little over a year now, is elated to have it back for the 44th annual ball, which auspiciously falls on Halloween. “It just seems like home,” he says. “It just seems like that’s where it’s supposed to be.” Morgan’s ties to Golden Rainbow—an organization which assists people living with HIV/AIDS in Southern Nevada—date back to his days on the stage, when the performer who sat next to him in the dressing room died from AIDS in 1986. The next year, Morgan helped direct Golden Rainbow’s first show, now called Ribbon of Life, and has remained a devout participant ever since.
Predictably, Morgan is already thinking about next year. But more so, about how he can keep this great momentum going beyond Halloween. Because, says Morgan, “That’s what Studio should be.”