Photo by Andrew James Monster pre-party: Michaels revs up fans before Evil Dead at Planet Hollywood.
Hope you love the F word.
“I wake up in the morning and it’s like, ‘Holy fuck, I’ve got two different shows on the Strip, dude!’” says producer Sirc Michaels, that street’s scruffiest, unlikeliest showman. “And by all rights, I shouldn’t.”
Impresario of Evil Dead the Musical 4-D and a local theater presence only since 2011, he engineered a Vegas entertainment first in June when that shock-schlock show migrated from the modest Onyx Theatre in a Sahara Avenue fetish shop to Planet Hollywood. Voila!—the first successful crossover of a community theater production to the Strip.
Soon after came LegWarmers: An 80s Musical, his original kitschy paean to that decade, both shows anchored at David Saxe’s nest of theaters at Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops. “People get in this mindset that there’s some ceiling, some limitation, but anyone can do what I’ve done. I don’t pay attention to what the fuck anyone does!”
Meet a walking exclamation mark.
Stream-of-consciousness is Michaels’ native tongue, dropping F-bombs that detonate for emphasis. Restlessness is his natural state, like a car inching forward at a red light to get a jump on the green one. Trying to downshift into neutral, he sits still (sort of) on a bench at the Shops’ open-air parking garage for a chat. Hey, it’s his “office,” which, one suspects, is wherever his ass happens to be at any given moment.
On this night, Dead die-hards will gather soon for Evil Dead’s Friday-night-at-10 curtain at the V Theater, to be preceded by this souped-up speed-talker donning a zombie mask to crank up the whooping crowd huddled outside the box office and adjacent Stripper Bar.
“It’s a musical for people who fucking hate musicals,” 38-year-old Michaels says of the gore-a-thon with songs, based on Sam Raimi’s horror-camp classic. Awash in gushers of fake blood—the most impassioned Evil enthusiasts crowd into the up-front “splatter zone” so they’re nearly showering in it—it’s a surreal parade of zombies, chainsaws, decapitations, severed limbs, exposed intestines, a talking moose head and leering sex gags.
“I’m not afraid of silly,” he says. “I think silly is good. The people who see this show would prefer it to Les Miz, and I’m comfortable with that.”
Born Chris Paltrow in Kearney, New Jersey—Michaels is his professional name, “Sirc” a nickname bestowed by a childhood buddy, origin unknown—he grew up a film fanatic, aspiring novelist and avowed theater-avoider. Blame some writer named Sophocles. “Antigone was the first play I saw as an adult, which was fucking awful,” he says. “I hated every minute of it.”
Credit an ancient motivation for luring him to the stage of a small company, the Touchstone Theatre of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “I was chasing a girl, and the girl liked theater,” he remembers. “Seventy percent of the guys in theater were gay. If you’re halfway intelligent and somewhat clever and not grotesque, you could get laid pretty easily.” Commissioned to write a play for children, Michaels embraced the life and launched a career, but kids’ theater wasn’t his creative sweet spot.
“I wanted to do shows that spoke to me and my friends and people who don’t give a shit about theater, otherwise you’re preaching to the choir,” says Michaels, who mounted productions across the country befitting a kind of warped wunderkind, including the 1996 and 2003 tours of The Rocky Horror Show. “I’ve come to appreciate [mainstream] theater over the years, though. When Tower Records was around, I started buying every cast recording of every musical I could find.”
Landing the job of artistic director at the Amarillo Repertory Theatre in Texas plopped him in the path of a buzz saw when an “ultra-militant Christian group” picketed gay-themed plays he staged such as Bent and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
“The culture was so fuckin’ ass-backward,” he says. “They targeted a lot of businesses they thought were leading people to hell. But it became good for us because the community got pissed off that they were attacking the arts.”
Antidote? Sin City. When his wife, Lorie, an environmental scientist, accepted a job here in 2010, Michaels scanned his own opportunities and the Onyx popped up on his radar. Owner Michael Morse brought him in as artistic director, and after some hits and misses, Evil Dead hit the bloody jackpot, playing to sold-out houses and repeat business yielding a loyal fan base.
Eventually, Onyx and Michaels split, and the reasons have never been clearly laid out, but Michaels just attributes it to the Onyx wanting to go in another direction creatively. Still, he says, “there was no one there to take my place, like, who is going to do this? They didn’t seem to care, so I said toodlee-doo.”
Yet by then, Michaels was plotting to turn Evil Dead into a permanent resident show and happened into the orbit of David Saxe, one of the Strip’s biggest multitaskers with his mini-network of venues and rotation of shows at Planet Hollywood. “I landed in the best place in Vegas,” Michaels says. “The mechanics here, the stuff you’d have to do, is all in place.”
Aided by the Saxe production machine, Michaels’ savvy, social media-heavy marketing, weekend-only scheduling (it plays Friday and Saturday nights), reasonable pricing (tickets start at $50), a modest budget (mounted for under $100,000) and a built-in cadre of rabid fans, Evil Dead has a hell of a pulse. Give it double kudos for debuting the same night in the same hotel as the much-ballyhooed Surf The Musical, its visibility buried beneath that show’s promotional blitzkrieg.
Flash forward: Surf drowned. Dead is alive.
Attempting to expand from hit-maker to franchise player at Planet Hollywood, Michaels later offered up a Vegas version of The Awesome 80s Prom, an interactive show imported from off-Broadway in which patrons and an improv cast re-create that seminal high school happening. It closed in previews. “It just didn’t gel,” he says. “The guy who owned it was very controlling and wanted to cookie-cutter it.”
Quick to recover, Michaels launched LegWarmers, a campy ’80s sing-a-long and affectionate parody of John Hughes’ teen movies, in September. Rushed into the V Theater, it was an unfocused mess, but Michaels distributed feedback cards in previews, took the comments seriously and retooled.
“The initial response was, ‘We’re gonna murder you in your sleep! You wasted an hour and a half of our lives!’ Now most of the responses are, ‘It’s a lot of fun.’ I pay attention.”
Looking toward a future on the Neon-Lit Road, this is a man who would never dream of not dreaming big. “My long-term goal is to take over the Strip,” he says. “We’re a minnow in a very big sea and that’s OK … for now.”
After all, not everyone is transfixed by the spectacle of Cirque. Apparently there’s an audience for the subversiveness of Sirc.