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The odds of it happening must be more than 1,000 to 1. The odds of it happening for the same woman in just a half-mile stretch of the Strip in the same year must be a lot more than 10,000 to 1. It actually might never be repeated again, but it’s a fascinating story that could only happen in Las Vegas.
“I never thought it was going to be my year in Vegas. That hit me by surprise,” director Kristin Hanggi told me when she learned that she’ll have two musicals opening in rival hotels. “It’s an act of feminine insanity but a total coincidence,” she laughed.
Call it a war between The Beach Boys and the rock stars of the 1980s that she’ll wage from both fronts. Throw Tom Cruise into the mix with his new film “Rock of Ages” released this month, and you really have star-studded musical competition vying for audiences.
Kristin, who directed “Rock of Ages” on Broadway, will open the out-of-town version at the Venetian this December. But first comes “Surf: The Musical” with The Beach Boys music at Planet Hollywood. (Previews start June 22.) It took her producers four years to nail the deal with Mike and Brian Love before “Surf” could move forward into production.
Now guesstimate those odds of 2012 being the year for Kristin to burst onto the Strip entertainment scene as the hot director of two music sensations at once. It’s an amazing coup for the girl who grew up under the strict guidance of schoolteachers playing dress-up showbiz characters in her Southern California backyard.
“If you were my neighbor, I would have called you up and been like, ‘Come over and bring something that can be a cape,’ and ‘bring something that can be a crown and we’re going to do a pageant’ in my backyard. I was just a little girl that liked to play pretend, and I’ve always loved to dress up and sing songs. Then eventually I started getting paid for it. I did a musical right out of college that went to New York, so that was kind of the beginning of it all,” Kristin told me in the darkened Peepshow Theater in Planet Hollywood where “Surf” had begun its rehearsals.
She went from landing her first professional gig at 24 with the Pussycat Dolls at the Roxy on Sunset Boulevard into winning the director job for “Rock of Ages” on The Great White Way in which the film is based.
Here are excerpts from my conversation with Kristin:
Robin Leach: How’s it feel to be competing with yourself when you’ve got “Rock of Ages” just a couple of blocks away that you gave birth to, and you’re now giving birth to “Surf””
Kristin Hanggi: I’m directing both. After I open “Surf,” I go right over there to open “Rock of Ages.” I’m going to jump back and forth. Thank heavens there’s a pair of roller skates in the “Surf” wardrobe department. I am going to need them to race back and forth. I should just strap them on and go out on the Strip. When do I get a nap? I guess afterward. I have to watch over both shows.”
R.L.: So from your viewpoint, what’s the difference between the two shows?
K.H.: “Rock of Ages” is a really fun, loud party experience. It’s male humor. It’s like Will Ferrell and Jack Black, a ballsy, irreverent, guy, guy show. I would say it’s the man’s musical. Men are gonna drag their wives to it. What I feel like with “Surf,” it’s more family friendly. It has a sense of nostalgia and optimism. There’s a lightness inside of “Surf,” and there’s also a real heart. It’s all Beach Boys music. We had to get permission from them. My producers licensed the music from their publishing company, and it took about four years to do that.
R.L.: Is it just another coincidence of the tie-in between “Surf: The Musical” and The Beach Boys reuniting to go out on the 50th anniversary.
K.H.: I think so. That was about four years ago our producer decided he wanted to do this. He just set out on a mission, and it just happened the timing, it was one of those beautiful accidents. I also think sometimes something just wants to emerge, like in our culture, like it has to come back around again. It was interesting as we were looking in this year’s fashion shows, Prada’s entire line is early ’60s. Sometimes it just feels like that comes back into style or these moments in time happen.
R.L.: So will you do one night here with “Surf” and one night there with “Rock”?
K.H.: Well, the great thing is that I’ll get to open “Surf” at Planet Hollywood, and then I’ll go and open “Rock” at the Venetian. Probably after that’s open, I’ll come back here and check in. I have an amazing associate director here who’s also going to do both shows with me, so we can tag team.
R.L.: You know your “Rock of Ages” Broadway musical inside out, but what about the movie version?
K.H.: I went to Miami when it was being shot, and I’ve seen lots of scenes of it, so I’m really excited about the release. The movie absolutely helps our musical coming here to Las Vegas. So many people know musicals, but movies go everywhere, so it gives us more opportunity for more people to know what “Rock of Ages” is, and then maybe if they see the movie when the musical comes here or on tour to their city, they’ll want to go see it.
(“Rock of Ages” had a short, pre-Off-Broadway run at the Flamingo here in May 2006 before it opened April 7, 2009, on Broadway. It still plays as a sellout production today at the Helen Hayes Theater. At the Venetian, it will open in the Blue Man Theater. That group moves early fall to the Monte Carlo, next door to where it started its Las Vegas run at the Luxor in March 2000. The Jabbawockeez, who currently perform at the Monte Carlo, will move into a new theater being built at the Luxor, as Vegas DeLuxe first reported.)
K.H.: It will have a lot of audience involvement like Blue Man does. That doesn’t happen in the “Rock of Ages” movie, but it will in the show. There’s lots of audience involvement, and you just want to sing along.
R.L.: Did you build tinker toys when you were a kid? Were you a tomboy? What were you doing before these two musicals suddenly made you “rich and famous”?
K.H.: I did a show at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip, the Pussycat Dolls, one of their first shows. I directed the one that had Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani in it. I was 24. That was really the beginning of my career. I was the director who had the vision and worked with the choreographers.
R.L.: What are the odds of a girl of 24 years of age growing up and having two shows on the Strip simultaneously? Those odds must be thousands to one against it.
K.H.: I know, right?! I had great parents -- they’re schoolteachers. I always thought that because they were so encouraging of me just trying things and practicing and just figuring out things on my own really, really helped.
But now how do I top having two shows on the Strip simultaneously? What am I gonna do next? I have some movies I would like to direct. I have a few that have been in development. I’d love to cross that bridge next. But eventually I could have a third show on the Strip. I like working in Las Vegas. I’ve never worked here before these two, so I’m having a blast.
Tickets for “Rock of Ages” go on sale Saturday, and tickets are now on sale for “Surf: The Musical.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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