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‘A real concert,’ Vegas rock show ‘27’ turns it up at Virgin Hotels

Updated July 25, 2021 - 4:46 pm

Over the past week, “27 — A Musical Adventure” passed the two-month mark at 24 Oxford at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. And, we also marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Amy Winehouse, one of the rock icons honored in the rock production.

The show has just moved to Sunday matinee performances, 3 p.m. shows paired with their 8:30 p.m. starts. Producer Ramy El-Batrawi is coming up with inventive marketing schemes (look skyward as the temperature drops) and also seeking a “27” offshoot in San Francisco.

Led by music director Erik Himel, the show continues its portrayals of the “27 club” of departed rockers, with John Bigham as Robert Johnson, Adi Argelazi as Janis Joplin, Nazim Chambi as Jimi Hendrix, Toby Rand as Jim Morrison, Gabe Maska as Kurt Cobain, and Lea Cappelli as Winehouse. Along with Himel, the band is filled out with rockers Jimmy Khoury on guitar, Adam Peri on keys, Jake Hayden on drums and Victor Brodén on bass.

We recently caught up with Himel, who was host and producer of “The Sunset Jam” live music experience at The Viper Room in L.A. for five years before setting up “27” in Vegas. The highlights:

John Kats: How has the show progressed just as a live production experience since you opened two months ago?

Erik Himel: One thing I’ve noticed, having seen some other shows — I won’t mention the show’s I’ve seen — the response from people has been that they are so impressed that everything is live. There are no tracks. We’ve found our groove, just as a band, over the past two months. We have made a statement that way. It is a real concert.

Kats: But often in Las Vegas, as I expect you have learned, just because you have a great musical product doesn’t mean you will sell tickets. What have you learned about that process?

Himel: I think the biggest thing I’ve learned about is word-of-mouth. I have talked to so many people. I have not heard a bad review of the show, ever. I’ll be in Macy’s, and someone will tell me they saw that show, and has nothing but great things to say. Obviously we want to see things build overnight, but we are building for the long haul based on how word of mouth is spreading.

Kats: We see “27” all over outdoor advertising. What are some of the marketing concepts you’re working on?

Himel: We’re thinking of something new every week. Once the temperature drops to under 100 degrees, we’re going to be flying an airplane over Las Vegas with a banner for two weeks straight. You can’t fly those types of planes over a certain temperature, but we are really thinking outside the box with different marketing tactics. We are accepting no defeat in that regard.

Kats: Ramy is a very creative guy.

Himel: He has spent 20, 30 years marketing things. He helped with the marketing of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” (which has sold 15 million copies). He knows how to market, and knows what people want. We’re even talking about branding his private plane, his MD-80, with “27.”

Kats: The show has gone from fully seated at 24 Oxford to more standing-room ticketing in the club. Why is that?

Himel: Having seen what’s going on with the crowd. We obviously want to be at 100-capacity, sold-out shows, but we’re still building to that. I’ve actually tweaked the seating so there is a big standing section, but also assigned seating for those who want to sit, which is a limited number of seats. But the reserved seating, the standing room and VIP has worked really well.

Kats: “27” started in L.A., and moved to Vegas. Are there ideas for expanding the show to other cities?

Himel: We’re already playing daytime shows Saturday in San Francisco, for a permanent residency, as well, at the Milk Bar in Haight-Ashbury. We’ll see how it goes, but we think there is an audience for the show there.

Kats: How do you keep your musicianship sharp when you are playing the same set list every night?

Himel: I’ll tell you a little secret, some of the songs are really structured, but a few songs I have creative freedom and try new things every night. Jimmy, our other guitar player, told me the other night, “I played everything different tonight than I have in any other show.” We always find ways, as musicians, to keep it interesting and fresh.

Kats: Generally, how’s Vegas been treating you?

Himel: I’m loving it. I have no complaints. Not even the heat. The locals are friendly. We have great restaurants. It’s been actually amazing.

Kats: You see yourself here for the long term?

Himel: I hope so. I have zero interest in going back to California. I know this is Ramy’s passion project and he has no plans for it to go anywhere for years. We want Vegas to be our home base for quite some time.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.