Spamalot Vegas
Darrin Bush  /  AP
John O'Hurley dances with Eric Idle during a press conference to promote the opening of Monty Python's SPAMALOT at Wynn Las Vegas. Preview performances begin March 8.
updated 1/24/2007 6:27:30 PM ET 2007-01-24T23:27:30

It was spring 2005 when casino mogul Steve Wynn first went to see "Monty Python's Spamalot" in New York as he searched for an entertainment option for his hotel-casino, Wynn Las Vegas.

Wynn sat next to Eric Idle, an original member of Monty Python and the show's creator. According to Idle, about five minutes into the musical comedy, Wynn put his hand on Idle's knee and said, "This would be great in Las Vegas."

"And I said, 'Yes it would,'" Idle said. "And then I realized he was referring to the show."

It was the easiest entertainment decision he has made in his 40-year career, the 65-year-old Wynn said. And the craziest. "I think it was one of those days when I missed my medication," he joked afterward. "I came to my senses, but it was too late." He signed the papers.

The Tony Award-winning musical was adapted from the 1975 movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and has done well on Broadway, London and on tour in the United States. But it still may be a gamble in Las Vegas, where it begins preview performances March 8.

Shortly after seeing the show, Wynn bought rights that prevent "Spamalot" from touring in California and Arizona until five years after it opens in Las Vegas.

Slideshow: Viva Las Vegas! Other Broadway shows have come to the Las Vegas Strip and gone. "Hairspray" closed in June after only four months at the Luxor. "Avenue Q" was shut down by Wynn in May after just nine months. "Mamma Mia!" - the musical featuring hits from 1970s supergroup ABBA - will close in 2008 after opening in February 2003.

Wynn spent $10 million refurbishing the theater that once housed "Avenue Q," increasing the number of seats from about 1,200 to 1,508 and bringing the balcony closer to the stage.

Not only did the comedic puppets once play to a house that was only two-thirds full, but a planned Grail theater would have gotten in the way of convention space between his signature property and Encore, an adjacent casino-hotel being built.

Booting "Avenue Q," which Wynn says he personally saw 11 times, saved $40 million in construction costs.

Despite the risks of going back to the Broadway well, Wynn contends that "Spamalot" is different. The Monty Python brand is world-renowned, and among its fans are baby boomers who grew up with the English comedy troupe and now represent Wynn's core customer.

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In contrast, "Avenue Q" presented marketing challenges, Wynn said. "If you said, 'puppets,' you were in trouble. If you didn't say 'puppets,' you weren't telling the truth," he said.

Slideshow: Vegas then and now Wynn is so enthused about the show that he sometimes breaks into a British accent, re-creating the "bring out your dead" scene. He also takes on a gruff peasant's tone: "If he's king of all the Britons, then I'm the emperor of Norway." He is preparing to spend $10 million in preproduction costs to advertise the show and get it up and running. Ticket prices were slashed to as low as $49.

In Python tradition, the special effects are tacky and cheap - very different from the spectacle seen elsewhere on the Strip. That means the theater only needs to be slightly more than half-full to break even.

"The killer rabbit's a hand puppet," Idle said. "You can only do low-rent jokes."

Headlining the show will be John O'Hurley, of "Dancing With the Stars" fame, who plays King Arthur until Sept. 1.

Wynn said the show will remain "as long as the public likes it." If it flops, he said, it was worth the laughs.

"If we lose our sense of humor, we'll make more mistakes. That's one of the good things about this foolishness," he said. "If we turn on television, we're not going to get it. It's depressing. So if Las Vegas has any reason to exist, it's to help people have fun."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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