Billboard magazine released its annual list of Top Grossing Venues this month, and Wynn’s Encore Theater—which has hosted comedian Nate Bargatze and big band Pink Martini in recent days and stages concerts by Chris Isaak on December 17 and 18—ranked fourth in the world among performing arts venues with a capacity under 5,000.
Drilling down further, the 1,480-seat room situated in the retail promenade between the Wynn and Encore resorts was the top-grossing venue in the world under 3,000 capacity this year.
Those achievements aren’t due solely to the challenging, sorta-post-pandemic circumstances of 2021. In 2019, Encore Theater ranked 10th on that under-5,000 capacity list. Its size and intimate setting has helped the venue respond this year, and a partnership between Wynn Resorts and AEG Presents has grown Encore Theater into one of the most prominent live entertainment spaces on the Strip.
“Being No. 4 among all venues under 5,000 seats … shows that the entertainment is high quality and there have been so many shows that are really resonating with our customer base,” Wynn President Brian Gullbrants says. “This is a special place to see any type of entertainment, because you feel like you are part of the show.”
Encore Theater is by no means an underdog of a venue, even in terms of the Strip, with its multiple arenas and much larger, residency-focused rooms. After all, it’s the place where Garth Brooks performed his legendary big-ticket acoustic residency from 2009 to 2014, not to mention the home of Beyoncé’s 2009 limited-engagement residency that spawned her I Am… Yours live and video album.
More recently, it has seen concerts from Diana Ross, Tony Bennett, John Fogerty, Harry Connick Jr., Lionel Richie, Robbie Williams, Alabama and others, and successfully added headlining comedians to the mix. Now, it’s diving all the way into the funny stuff, bringing back stars like Sebastian Maniscalco, Jo Koy and Jim Gaffigan and incorporating up-and-comers like Bargatze, Leanne Morgan, Chris Distefano and Taylor Tomlinson.
“It’s something we thought we’d try out at the beginning of 2019,” says AEG talent buyer Chris Hammond. “We brought in Chris Tucker, and we were all a bit nervous about how it’d feel in the room, but he just killed it. We walked out of there thinking this room is perfect for comedy, and just kept building and building.”
The theater offers proximity to the stage from every seat while maintaining Wynn standards of luxury and service, making it a unique comedy setting on the Strip. Those elements have also contributed to AEG’s confidence in booking rising comedians, which can be difficult in Las Vegas.
“And it’s no different with music,” Hammond says. “There are bands and acts that would sell out in most major cities that we can’t really build here. Las Vegas is not traditionally known to support up-and-comers, but I think we’ve built some trust with our fanbase and with agents and managers of artists.”
Since things have reopened, Wynn and Encore have made a concerted effort to increase connectivity among their entertainment offerings, from clubs to the new outdoor pavilion space to flashy restaurant Delilah, where theater headliners sometimes pop up onstage for a late-night encore. “Everybody has worked really hard to make sure we’re maximizing opportunities here,” Gullbrants says.
Recent Encore Theater headliners Brad Paisley and Bryan Adams will be back for more in 2022. And sometime in 2023, the adjacent theater space—formerly home to shuttered spectacular Le Rêve—is expected to relaunch. For now, specifics for the new show headed for that renovated venue are being kept under wraps.
“I can tell you there is something under development that is going to be phenomenal,” Gullbrants says. “There is an unbelievable creative team working on something special like no one has ever seen before.”