“Do you already know what you’re going to write?” jokes Simon Hammerstein, the modern-day P.T. Barnum behind New York’s and London’s cabaret-nouveau concept, The Box. We’re an elevator ride away from a similar concept under development in Vegas, The Act, which is under construction inside The Shoppes at The Palazzo a month before the VIP club’s late-October opening. Hammerstein’s question is posited with an easy smile, a quiet voice with a hint of a British boarding school accent, and eyes that have yet to be jolted awake by the morning’s full dosage of espresso. He seems healthier than the bearded, somewhat disheveled enfant terrible who appears in photos on Manhattan’s webloids, and too congenial and laid-back to be the “narcissist-egomaniac” he calls himself.
Hammerstein did not come southwest to exchange the New York party scene for Strip nightlife, where The Act will bring risque burlesque to what is considered here a small, intimate club: He’ll still be making trips to London’s The Box, even with his new home in Summerlin. “Vegas is wonderful,” he says. “I love the desert air and mountains. I learned to rock climb after my dad died when I was 21, after years of clubbing really hard.”
Dad was theater director and producer James Hammerstein (“He was a real classy guy”), himself the son of legendary playwright and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. Simon, the fifth-generation New Yorker, followed in his elders’ footsteps into theater life—with his own just-slightly dangerous twist.
Indeed, Hammerstein’s concept pushes boundaries— enough to keep customers coming back for more—but, he says, “It’s gotta be safe enough where you don’t draw the wrong attention.” The lead in The Guardian’s January 2011 preview of London’s The Box characterized the atmosphere of its New York cousin thusly: “It is 2 a.m. and a woman dressed as a giant vagina is on stage.”
Of course, not every late-night musical or comedy act and performance art piece at The Act is sexual, and Hammerstein’s creative process for finding talent and developing acts is inspired by anything from YouTube to walk-ins. Qualifying candidates include “anybody that can rock the crowd and busk for that money, and get people excited and energized,” he says. “A lot of it is about confidence, energy, and ‘F--- you, I’m badass.’ That kind of confidence is infectious.”
Winding passages within The Act’s 16,000-squarefoot space lead past a bar to the theater-like main venue (where most clubs would have a dance floor), marked by wood floors and antiques found around the world. The Box veteran Raven O has been confirmed as The Act’s emcee, and there will be Hammerstein Beauties in Vegas just as there are in New York and London. “Yeah, got my girls,” says the 34-year-old nightlife impresario, “and an international cast of rotating acts that we’re flying in from Japan, Paris, England, Germany, New York and beyond. It’s gotta stay fresh.”