Published Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 | 10 p.m.
Updated Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 | 10:48 p.m.
Ten Broadway hits — classics and today’s newest productions — are set as the stellar lineup of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts’ new season. In all, the royal roster represents an extraordinary 40 Tony Award wins and 27 nods.
The epic and uplifting “Les Miserables” — celebrating its 25th anniversary, seen by 60 million people worldwide and winner of eight Tony Awards — kicks off the season Aug. 7 for five nights. The much-anticipated and long-awaited “The Book of Mormon,” winner of nine Tonys, gets its Las Vegas debut and wraps the season June 10-July 6, 2014.
In between: “The Wizard of Oz,” Sept. 10-15; “War Horse,” Oct. 2-6; Whoopi Goldberg’s “Sister Act,” Oct. 15-20; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita,” Nov. 26-Dec. 1; “Mamma Mia,” Jan. 7-12, 2014; “Flashdance,” Jan. 28-Feb. 2, 2014; “Porgy and Bess,” April 15-20, 2014; and “Once,” May 20-25, 2014.
Smith Center President and CEO Myron Martin unveiled the shows Monday night at a donors reception at The Smith Center and surprised VIP supporters with a close-up look at one of the amazing horses from “War Horse,” which inspired Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated movie.
I talked with Martin about the lineup he has put together for the second Broadway Season at Smith Center:
Robin Leach: Does this extraordinary collection of shows validate recognition on Broadway for the Smith Center and Las Vegas?
Myron Martin: I think it certainly validates Las Vegas as an important stop for Broadway. Las Vegas is now a major market to Broadway tours.
R.L.: And that wasn’t the case up until the Smith Center opened its doors?
M.M.: I’ll let you say that if you want. The history is there were some touring shows that would come to Cashman Field or the Aladdin from time to time, but as far as I’m concerned, this is the first time that we have had the proper venue with the proper approach to bring the first-run touring Broadway shows to Las Vegas.
RL: You obviously met with producers in New York to put this package together. What are they telling you about why they are coming to Las Vegas now?
M.M.: The great thing, that kind of gets to your first question, Paul Beard, who is our chief operating officer, is on point with most of the Broadway agents used to have to make outbound calls to start conversations about bringing a Broadway show to Las Vegas. Now, all the Broadway community is calling us. They see us as a perfect stop on their West Coast part of their tours. They are calling us, and we are getting first dibs at all the great shows. It feels so good to be able to say that we have come this far this quickly.
R.L.: Did you expect it to be this far this quickly?
M.M.: No. Our first goal for first-season subscription tickets was 6,000. We had about 11,000, way beyond our expectations. The fact that all the Broadway shows have sold out every performance this year, no one could have dreamed that big, to think that we would have been that successful.
R.L.: Was the culture of Las Vegas just waiting to explode and it took a new building to do it? If you didn’t think that the demand for it was there and everybody had given up on Las Vegas as a wasteland of culture, why did it just explode like this?
M.M.: I absolutely knew that there was a market. I knew that there was a demand; I just didn’t expect it to be as great as it was. I think there was pent-up demand. I think that a lot of families in Las Vegas had just kind of gotten into the habit of taking their families to L.A. or San Francisco or New York to see shows. They suddenly saw this as a great opportunity to stay at home and see the first-run tours and sleep in their own beds at night.
I think the excitement of the Smith Center, having one of the greatest performing arts venues in the world right here in their own backyard, has created demand from people who weren’t necessarily standing in line for Broadway shows before they saw how great it was going to be. I think we were also helped by the long-term culture of Broadway coming and sitting down in hotel-casinos for kind of unspecified periods. I think it helped us that “Mamma Mia” was here for a long time, “The Lion King” and “Hairspray.”
“Jersey Boys” is still here, but even those that have kind of come and gone have helped us. It is funny when a show is here for an extended run, without a closing date, people think that they can put it off. Well, when we say “Les Miserables” is going to be at the Smith Center for one week only, it really is just one week. There are only 16,000 seats available. When we sell out, we sell out, and we unfortunately have to turn people away.
R.L.: What does this new season of shows with 40 Tony Award wins out of 67 nominations say about the quality now of performing arts coming to Las Vegas?
Broadway Season 2 at Smith Center
M.M.: It’s really just like the fact that the Israel Philharmonic or the Cleveland Orchestra or the New York City Ballet are now coming to Las Vegas in a proper hall. The fact that we are getting “War Horse” and “The Book of Mormon,” that every venue in America would love to have, I think it says a lot about our city, community and this extraordinary building that turned out even better than I dreamt it would be. The artists love it here, they love performing here, and they all want to come back.
R.L.: Myron, let’s talk about the two bookends of this package. “Les Miserables” runs for one week to kick off the season and “The Book of Mormon” runs for five weeks at the end of the season. What is the booking procedure? Why do you get a hit classic for only one week, and how do you land a blockbuster for five weeks?
M.M.: We only have a year’s worth of experience, but this last year, our experience told us, in Broadway touring terms, we think of Las Vegas as a one-week market. Meaning that for almost all shows, you bring them here for one week only. There are some cities, bigger than Las Vegas, that bring all their shows for two weeks, and maybe one day we will get to that point.
But every now and then, we have the opportunity to do something where the demand is so great that we want to extend the run. Last year, it was “Wicked,” and this year it is “The Book of Mormon.” “Wicked” sold out immediately, and “The Book of Mormon” I think may sell out even faster.
R.L.: It is amazing that a dream that took 20 years to come to fruition now doesn’t have enough seats to sell when “The Book of Mormon” comes!
M.M.: You think back to the early days, about 20 years ago, when Don Snyder and that group of community leaders first got together and said we are the largest community in North America without a world-class performing arts center and we have to change it.
And now all of the sudden we don’t have enough seats to sell when “The Book of Mormon” comes. We could have taken more weeks had the producers offered them. The nice thing about this is, I think people in Las Vegas are now starting to plan and saying if we want to see these Broadway shows and subscribe, we need to pick a night, then let’s stick to it, and they get to keep their seats throughout the subscription year. It really is a phenomenon that the community has embraced this place in such an extraordinary way.
R.L.: It also proves that there are shows other than Cirque du Soleil that can dominate the Las Vegas entertainment skyline.
M.M.: We always envision the Smith Center primarily for those who live here and all the great shows up and down the Strip are built primarily for people who come to visit Las Vegas. I think that the Smith Center adds values to the shows and their performers. Quite frankly, we give those people opportunities to be engaged and inspired by new performances.
I love when I see big groups of performers come in and sometimes recognize groups. Dancers from “Jubilee!” or performers from Cirque du Soleil, they, too, were longing for a world-class performing arts center to see new and different things, and every once in a while just know that we provided those people with a bit of inspiration.
R.L.: Is it a case of welcoming each other to the same neighborhood?
M.M.: Sure. Listen, we love Cirque du Soleil. They are one of our founders, our friends, they produce excellent shows, and the fact that we are neighbors and that we live in this community together, we look to them for shows that they might like for us to bring to Las Vegas. This isn’t about head-to-head competition. This is about making Las Vegas a better place to live for people who live here, including the performers who work on the Strip.
R.L.: You said that primarily the shows for the Smith Center are aimed at residents. Do you see a day when tourists will start to plan trips here to take in Celine and Shania and what’s playing at the Smith Center?
M.M.: Well, sure, and we have already seen it. We track ticket sales, and we know that a certain percentage of all the tickets sold for “Wicked,” for instance, were sold to people from out of town. … We are in fact attracting tourists to come to Las Vegas and see “Wicked,” and while they are here, they are going to eat in restaurants, stay in hotels, and, yeah, they might go see another show on the Strip.
R.L.: Two questions in one: Your favorite show from last season that cemented or anchored your faith in the future of the Smith Center? And although it is impossible for a father to choose his favorite child, what is your favorite in this lineup?
M.M.: You are right; I can’t pick a favorite child, but I can answer the first part. I can tell you that the Smith Center, the producers of “Wicked,” are friends, but we all kind of had a bit of a leap of faith when we agreed to bring “Wicked” for six weeks because we didn’t know for sure.
We had a good idea that there was a big audience for a show like that, but the fact that not only did we bring it here but also technically the Smith Center was able to house it because it is a big show to mount and to stage on the road. The building performed beautifully, and we sold out all of the shows, and because we did so well with “Wicked,” I think it is the one show that sent a message to Broadway producers that those folks in Las Vegas are for real.
R.L.: I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but will it be a toss-up between “Les Miserables” and “The Book of Mormon” as the two blockbusters?
M.M.: Yeah, but there are others. “War Horse,” I think, is going to be a wonderful surprise for Las Vegas. I don’t think anyone on the Strip has produced a straight play. The fact that we are bringing a nonmusical Broadway show to Las Vegas I think is one of the next big things for us. I can’t wait to see the audience reaction. It is an important next step for the Smith Center and our community.
R.L.: Many also will be looking forward to the rerun of “Mamma Mia.”
M.M.: Well, sure. Think about our wonderful local leading lady Tina Walsh and all those who still live here, who were in this production. I think that they are also going to look forward to seeing it.
R.L.: Is there a show that got away from you?
M.M.: No. The fact that we are bringing “The Book of Mormon,” I think, speaks volumes about the Smith Center and Las Vegas’ ability to get the biggest, most successful, most-asked-for productions.
R.L.: “The Book of Mormon” wraps the season in the summer of 2014. Are you already planning what follows for 2015?
M.M.: Yeah, although now is about the time when those routings just barely start to come together. Paul is on the phone regularly with our Broadway folks talking about what we are seeing today on Broadway, speculating about which of these shows will tour and starting to look at a ghost route of where certain shows might land. The same is true with the biggest symphony orchestras around the world and the big dance companies that need longer lead times in order to make these world tours come about.
R.L.: Myron, can the day come and would you like to see the day come when the Smith Center could be a greenhouse for something that goes to Broadway like La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego did with the first workshop presentation of “Jersey Boys”?
M.M.: We in fact have already had some conversations with producers and composers, successful Broadway folks, about potentially launching the pre-Broadway run of a big show here at the Smith Center before it goes to Broadway. I like the idea. I think that Las Vegas would really get a kick out of being able to see a show in workshop and as it evolves before it goes to Broadway.
I’d just like to sum up by saying 40 Tony Awards. When you think about that in context, it says a lot about this new season. Don’t forget about “Once” — it won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. In many ways, it is the most unique offering we have. The music is different, and the staging is different. It has an impressive ensemble of actor musicians who play their own instruments onstage.
That is going to really excite some people. “The Book of Mormon” follows that, and it’s been called the best musical of this century and the funniest musical of all time. It’s a very, very powerful Broadway season, and we’re only two years old. Just imagine how it’s going to continue getting bigger and better.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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