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April 23, 2014

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Composers Showcase, a hidden gem, aims to be less hidden

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Keith Thompson, one of the co-founders of the Composers Showcase and host of the event’s debut at the Smith Center.

By John Katsilometes

Since it was launched more than six years ago, the Composers Showcase has been one of the city’s hidden gems. In a gem state, as it were, which is fitting because co-founder Keith Thompson has written a wickedly satirical musical titled "Idaho," which he has sampled at these Showcases.

Thompson would like to keep that gem quality intact, but he struggles with that "hidden" characteristic.

Launched in the summer of 2006 at the since-closed Suede restaurant off Paradise Road just south of Harmon Avenue (a few cartwheels down from Double Down, as we used to say), the Showcase is today being staged at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts’ Cabaret Jazz. Thus, it can’t quite be strictly defined as hidden, but Thompson is hoping to sustain the momentum the Showcase has been building since taking over the club when the Smith Center opened in March.

The next Composers Showcase is tonight at 10:30, “after theater,” as the news release informs. The list of performers is topped by monthly Cabaret Jazz headliner Clint Holmes and “American Idol” Season 5 champion and Bally’s Indigo Lounge headliner Taylor Hicks.

Tickets are $20 a pop, a ridiculous bargain for the high quality and quantity onstage each month, and available at the door. You also can call for reservations at 702-749-2000, or visit the Smith Center website. A cash bar and late-night menu also are offered.

To keep the Composers Showcase self-sustaining, Thompson needs to sell 100 tickets for each show in a venue that seats 250. It seems easy, but the marketing effort has always been scant (everyone involved in staging and performing the show is a volunteer), and the late starting time is not too friendly for the casual entertainment customer, even in 24/7 Las Vegas.

Composers Showcase at Cabaret Jazz

Keith Thompson, musical director for Launch slideshow »

“We’re doing fairly well. Each time we are close to making our nut, hitting the bottom line, and I know (Smith Center executive) Paul Beard is very, very happy with it,” said Thompson, music director of “Jersey Boys” at Paris Las Vegas. “But I feel that we can push harder, and we’ve been reaching out to the downtown community. We’ve found that a lot of people who are part of the downtown scene didn’t know anything about the Showcase when we moved into Cabaret Jazz, and as they have learned about it, they are very excited.”

Employees from Zappos attended the most recent Showcase in September. Thompson is working on cross-promoting the Showcase at monthly First Friday events in the Arts District, too.

The product itself, the show, is consistently wonderful. Performers joining Holmes and Hicks on tonight’s bill are Jason Andino, Randal Keith, Zoe Konsur, Jaryd Neiman, Reva Rice, Tristan Sanchez, Annette Houlihan Verdolino and the vocal group Vox Indigo (Pascale Elia, Dina Emerson, Silja-Marie Norderhaug and Zipporah Peddle). The composers scheduled to appear are Michael Brennan (conductor of “Le Reve -- the Dream” at Wynn Las Vegas who co-founded the Showcase with Thompson), Anne Charbonneau (“Zumanity” at New York-New York), jazz pianist Alex Clements, improv comedy vet Matt Donnelley, jazz great Michelle Johnson, Holmes’ music director Jeff Neiman, Napoleon’s Lounge dueling pianist David Mauk, “Ka” at MGM Grand music director Richard Oberacker, trumpet master Joey Pero, the classically trained pianist Michael Spadoni, vocal professor at College of Southern Nevada Mark Wherry and Thompson himself. (Each of these artists are worth a Google search, incidentally. The show is stuffed with talent.)

Thompson has one more Composers Showcase on the book, Dec. 5, this year. Early next year, he hopes to draw performers from the touring production of “Anything Goes” at Reynolds Hall (Feb. 5-10). Members of that show’s cast include ex-“Jersey Boys” member Erich Bergen -- a highlight of the Showcase when it was staged at Liberace Museum -- and “The Lion King” at Mandalay Bay music director Jay Alger.

“We are still building,” Thompson said. “It’s always difficult to get the word out, but we’re doing it. Aside from buying billboards, which makes no sense because we don’t have any money, we need to reach people directly.”

And when you check out the show, you’ll know why those putting on the show believe in it so strongly.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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