HE’S ALWAYS BEEN BUSY. BUT it’s gotten even harder to ring up or hang out with super-friendly and too-humble Adam Steck to chat about the state of Vegas entertainment. The 42-year-old founder and CEO of SPI Entertainment, Inc., is engrossed in his first Broadway foray. Indeed, his latest production, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth — Live on Stage, debuts later this month at the Longacre Theater.
The former heavyweight-boxing champ’s one-man stage memoir triumphed during six shows at MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theatre earlier this year. A friend of film director Spike Lee (“Clockers,” “Inside Man”) caught a performance and rushed back with news: The show is good—great, even—and deserves a wider audience. So three months after ending its Vegas run, The Undisputed Truth takes to New York.
“The show has received a tremendous response,” says Steck during an interview and photo shoot at the SPI offices. “People are rooting for Mike to succeed.”
Speaking of success, Steck has come a long way from his roots as a rural dance-party organizer. Born in Bayside Queens to parents who always exuded a “hippie-dippie vibe” and constantly spun Bob Dylan, Carole King, Neil Young and Beatles records, Steck moved to Florida, and then Fairfield, Iowa, a comparatively progressive community in the Midwest.
There wasn’t a lot to do there.
“Out of boredom, I started throwing raves in the cornfields and bringing in House Music DJs from NYC while I was in high school,” says Steck.
“Hundreds of people started showing up, and a light came down from the sky: This is what I should do.”
He also got the event-producing bug from older sister Mona, who took him to rock concerts. Steck was fascinated by how shows were put together—from the stage to the audience seating. He loved peeking behind the curtain to see how lighting and rigging worked. He had to be a part of this. His destiny was to be in entertainment.
A desire to entertain led him, barely out of his teens at age 20, to do his first Fairfield concert: Richie Havens, opening act at Woodstock. Steck rented an auditorium and sold out the show.
Other concerts followed: Roger McGuinn, Bo Diddley, Chick Corea. Steck studied industry ins-and-outs via subscriptions to magazines like Pollstar and Performance. He studied up on entertainment and concert promotion legends like Arny Granat of Jam Productions in Chicago, Ron Delsner in NYC and his idol Bill Graham. But the one guy who took Steck under his wing was the late Leas Campbell who approached the younger Steck to co-promote shows. Taking loans from friends and family, Steck cobbled together money to put together concerts by Dylan, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Tina Turner.
“Campbell showed me how to ‘four wall’ a venue,” says Steck. To four wall means to rent a space and do the advertising, promoting and ticket sales yourself. “I made a few bucks, lost a few bucks. There’s no college for concert promoting. You have to have the desire and learn the ropes. Fake it till you make it, as they say.”
A good friend of Steck’s was doing business in Russia, and the ambitious promoter asked him if Russians loved to see shows. One thing led to another and, at age 27, Steck was bringing Liza Minnelli to the Kremlin. After the show, he watched as half a million dollars was wired to his account, and he took 10 percent, a lot back then.
He moved to Vegas 11 years ago after being introduced to an Australian production called Thunder From Down Under. The revue’s owner kept trying to install it in Vegas, with no success. Steck studied the market and determined Vegas needed something for the ladies. He opened Thunder in an old theater in The Frontier in ’01. Then 9/11 hit, audience numbers suffered, but he hung in there, building the momentum from the ground up. But after MTV filmed a “Real World” episode at Thunder, the show really took off at Excalibur. Now the all-male revue does nine shows a week, hosting 140,000 women a year. Steck insists he has “only scratched the surface of that brand.”
He parlayed the success into other Aussie-born shows—Human Nature (partnering with Motown singer/hitmaker Smokey Robinson), The Australian Bee Gees Show, and a revamped drag extravaganza by Frank Marino, Viva Las Divas.
Steck credits his SPI co-workers, especially his VP, Alex Schechter and his director of PR, Penny Levin. He also admits Vegas fascinates the world. Which is why, in addition to booking shows in Sin City, he takes the productions on the road.
“I love watching crowds get off, watching people from different backgrounds come together and share a collective vibe. If people come to Vegas to catch a show, gamble and leave, we’ve made their lives better in a small way.”
Previously published in diamondcake. Updated by smallTALK. Archived for Adam Steck.