Caesars lays huge bet on future of Atlantic City entertainment with 'The Hook': Interview with Ross Mollison

AyCee finally takes a (hug)e step toward year-round, Las Vegas-style show business.
You'll laugh, gasp and go home full from 'The Hook."
You'll laugh, gasp and go home full from 'The Hook."Caesars Atlantic City

It’s time for Atlantic City to get Hooked.

For anyone who has not yet heard of The Hook, that’s the name of the state-of-the art entertainment-and-dining complex that debuts June 30 at Caesars Atlantic City.

It’s also the name of the built-from-scratch production show the venue will permanently host.

Both the theater and its resident extravaganza represent AyCee firsts and, if things go the way those behind The Hook hope they do, they could conceivably kickstart a new era in Atlantic City entertainment.

That The Hook--which will operate at a 422-seat capacity and incorporates the historic façade of the Warner Theater, a 1920s movie palace--is the first local casino showroom built to exclusively house a specific presentation is unprecedented in itself. But it’s when that presentation can be seen that is the real envelope-pusher.

Atlantic City’s casinos have long offered entertainment residencies, but the overwhelming majority of them have run for specific amounts of time (e.g. Euphoria the just-opened variety show at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, is scheduled to end its every-Sunday-afternoon presentations Nov. 19).

It’s true there have, in the past, been some year-round, multi-day production shows, but they were generally low-budget affairs, primarily designed as attractions for casino customers who were already at a property and needed something to do other than eat, sleep and gamble. What makes The Hook unique is that it’s Atlantic City’s first multi-day (Wednesday through Sunday), resident production created as a draw in and of itself, in the manner of so many Las Vegas presentations. The cost to get it off the ground is also a local first: While no exact numbers have been released, the tab is believed to be well into eight figures.

The Hook is from Spiegelworld, the Vegas-based show-business factory whose 12-year-old Absinthe, a marvelous mashup of side-splitting adult comedy and mind-boggling circus acts, continues to be a “must-see” for those heading out there.

Spiegelworld’s founder-guiding light is Ross Mollison, a Melbourne, Australia native whose first iteration of Absinthe in 2006 was a relatively modest affair staged in a tent on an East River pier in Lower Manhattan. Today, he stands astride a burgeoning entertainment empire that includes several other Vegas shows, an in-the-works project at Harrah’s New Orleans and the recent purchase of an abandoned town in the California desert that will one day serve as his company’s home base.

According to the affable Aussie (who actually spent nine months attending high school in the North Jersey burg of Metuchen), this week’s premiere represents the end of a long campaign on the part of Caesars AC to get him involved on the Boardwalk.

“We've been going there 15 years, since shortly after we opened Absinthe, offered Mollison during a recent chat. “Caesars would say, ‘Well, come over, have a look.’ It started off, ‘Could you could come over and do a few nights or a week,’ or ‘Why don’t you do the summer?’ And I was always, ‘Ah, it’s so much work to put it all up and then pull it all down.’

Mollison’s mind was finally changed when he met with executives of Reno, Nev.-based Eldorado Resorts which, in 2019, purchased Caesars Entertainment Inc. for $17 billion.

“I ended up having lunch with the guys who bought Caesars and they said, ‘We really wanna get into entertainment in a big way, and we wanna do it with you guys.’ So they mentioned where they were interested in doing it, and I said, ‘Let's get going. So that's how it came about, just because of the new ownership there; they're motivated to improve all their properties nationally.”

As for what visitors will see on The Hook’s stage, the otherwise loquacious Mollison had little to say when pressed for details. However, press releases have trumpeted the show as the home of “Spiegelworld’s signature blitz of the ridiculous, the funny, the jaw-dropping and the superhuman.” And we know it’s being overseen by Cal McCrystal, who has won acclaim as one of Great Britain’s masters of comedy direction, and, according to Spiegelworld, that the international cast includes an aerial “straps act” a “daredevil illusionist,” acrobats and a hoop-diving specialst.

But wait—as they say on TV infomercials—there’s more. The Hook complex also boasts four—count ‘em four—cocktail bars and Superfrico, which is described as a “psychedelic” Italian restaurant (a culinary category that is apparently a favorite of Mollison’s; he name-checked a number of local Italian eateries during the interview).

It all adds up, he suggested, to an evening out the likes of which Atlantic City has never seen.

“I think it's just a breath of fresh air,” he insisted, “not only for Atlantic City, but for the whole East Coast, because there's nothing like this, not even in New York.

“I think there's an enormous demand for the idea of a night out where see an incredible show where you laugh, you cry, you're amazed; where you see all sorts of crazy characters. And then you walk next door into this delicious restaurant, all while you're sipping on an elegantly made cocktail or drinking a fantastic red wine or whatever it is you love.

“Everything's totally integrated. The theater and the restaurant have been built together. It’s really just so relaxing to go to a show knowing that the producer of the show also runs the restaurant and they’re gonna hold that table for you; they're not gonna let you sit there in that restaurant and start the show without you.  And if you haven't finished dessert, well, we'll do dessert after the show.

“A [producer] friend of mine in Australia used to use this expression, which I love. He used to say to the audience, ‘You're with us now. Forget all your troubles. Come and enjoy yourself inside the circus.

“I say, ‘Come and enjoy yourself inside The Hook!”

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