When the Palazzo opened in 2008, everyone wondered what would become of the expansive third-floor space in the Shoppes (adjacent to Barneys New York). It seemed perfect for a nightclub, and there was initially one in the works—the elusive ND’s Space, which promised revelers an ultralounge, intimate concert venue and high-techcoffee bar. Regardless of whether you take your partying with cream and sugar, you probably breathed a sigh of relief that the somewhat convoluted concept never got off the ground.
But in Las Vegas no space shall go unturned—or unoccupied.
It would take four years, but the right match for a new nightclub partner was found in visionary Simon Hammerstein, proprietor of New York City’s the Box and spawn of live theater. Scheduled to open this fall, his new concept, The Act, is part cabaret, part Vaudevillian showcase with exotic performances set between interludes of roaring music.
The Act won’t be your typical nightclub. Beyond the two stages (one main and one telescoping performance platform), The Act’s characters engage the crowd from all angles in the 15,000-square-foot labyrinth, which disorients guests from the moment they walk in the door via a series of winding corridors.
I recently received an exclusive first look at the space from the ringleader himself—something of a modern-day PT Barnum with a dash of Tom Ford’s gracious elegance. Our first conversation went something like this: “Would you call yourself irreverent?” I asked, searching for just the right word to encapsulate the eccentric Hammerstein. “No, too passé. How about ‘douchebag nightclub operator?’” he said with a smirk, as he lit up a cigarette in front of a clearly marked no-smoking sign.
“I really want to play with reality,” Hammerstein said. “I want you to be drunk before you even have your first drink.” The first hint that you are not in Kansas anymore will be the life-size bronze statue of transvestite porn star Buck Angel by Marc Quinn. If that doesn’t throw you off, then the aerialist perched above Angel performing “questionable” acts might just send “the faint of heart running for McCarran,” he said. “It’s not for everyone.”
The Box’s two earlier incarnations, one in New York City and one in London’s Soho, have been lauded as groundbreaking nightlife spaces meshing the theatrical with bawdy balls-out partying. If all goes according to Hammerstein’s plan and proven track record, The Act will elevate Las Vegas’ nighttime playtime to new heights with sexy, salacious performances that will leave you asking whether the city or this hot spot is more sinful.
Hammerstein, quickly pointed to all the visual oddities (the space is under construction but taking shape). “Over there is where the windows from Grand Central Station’s Post Office will go. Up there will be Muppets-style director’s boxes with a prime view of the stage, and backstage there will be a few select tables for those who want to hang out with the performers.” An elaborate bar in the middle will set the convivial tone. “We are going to hit them hard. You will come in, and it will be pure, sexy chaos.”
Born and raised in New York City, Hammerstein produced his first play on his 18th birthday. Simultaneously he began attending and throwing raves. With a concept that blends theater with partying, “I found a way to connect with an audience,” he said. And so his brand of contemporary nightlife was born. “At a typical nightclub you pay, have a good time, then you leave.” At The Act, the patron will become part of the show. Just what kind of performers you will see is a closely guarded secret, but if hints are taken from the venue’s New York counterpart, expect anything and everything from burlesque to poly-gender impersonators performing drag striptease. Oh, and definitely some fire.
Cirque du Soleil this isn’t.
“Every time the curtain opens, we will change the status quo in the city,” he says. “I love theater. I love entertainment. I love it when the audience holds their breath when I want them to and they scream when I want them to.”
Right now it’s anyone’s guess what The Act’s door scene will look like. Expect a curiosity shop of freaks, weirdos and pleasure-seekers alongside Hammerstein’s celebrity friends, international socialites and high-rollers. “No one is safe really. They will all be caught in the act.”