Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016 | 6:31 p.m.
Even before the current season has concluded, a new blockbuster series of nine mega-hit Broadway musicals was unveiled tonight for the Smith Center’s 2016/2017 season of The Great White Way super-shows.
Rio headliner magicians Penn & Teller revealed the rundown (check out our accompanying story for the Royal Robin Rundown of the new season), which begins Aug. 2 and which Smith Center President Myron Martin describes as “our strongest Broadway season to date.”
Myron also took the opportunity to clear up rumors that the current Broadway mega-hit “Hamilton” is on the new schedule. Sorry to advise that it isn’t, despite rumors published elsewhere, because it doesn’t go out on tour until the 2017/2018 season:
“Of course we’re working on it. Everywhere I go, people ask me, ‘When’s ‘Hamilton’ coming?’ Obviously, it wouldn’t have fit into the 2016/2017 season because it won’t go on the road — outside of two sit-downs in L.A. or San Francisco — until the 2017/2018 season. We’re working really hard on it, and I happen to really love, love, love the show, so we certainly want to bring it.”
The new Broadway season starts Aug. 2, just two weeks after the tryout of the homegrown musical “Idaho” completes its two-week run. Said Myron: “We start previews of ‘Idaho’ on July 6. The official press opening will be Saturday, July 9, then we run a full week starting July 12.”
Right after “Idaho” in comes “The Sound of Music” to start the new season?
Yes, two weeks later, starting Aug. 2. The Broadway Las Vegas Series is always musical heavy. Broadway series in every big city are always musical heavy. There are very few straight plays that tour.
Do you like the look and sound and feel of this year’s new lineup?
I do. I think it’s probably our strongest season in terms of a bunch of Tony Award winners. To your point, we’re doing something this season that I’m really happy about, and that’s our experience with ‘War Horse,’ which was a musical, but it was really a play with music.
“People said, ‘Bring us more of these kinds of plays with music.’ ” And, as it happens, this season “Fun Home” won the Tony for Best Musical, but some consider it to be a play with music. It’s a serious piece of drama. So we did that, we found another what I consider “War Horse.” Another great play with music.
“An American in Paris” was the famous Gene Kelly movie, right?
Yes. It was just this season reconceived as a Broadway musical. It has extraordinary dancing, of course, which is what you would expect. It’s a beautiful musical, and it, too, won Tony Awards this season.
Does this new lineup have the most Tony Award winners for Las Vegas to date?
We’re about to celebrate our fourth anniversary, so it very well may be. If not, very close, but certainly our most beautiful season to date. There are more than 27 Tony Award wins in this collection. That’s something for everybody.
“The Sound of Music” is one of the great, great musicals. I’m not certain if a professional production has ever played Las Vegas or not. It may have gone to Cashman Field eons ago.
Certainly not as long as the 16 years I’ve lived here.
It’s a tour on the heels of the NBC live production of “The Sound of Music,” the 50th anniversary of the film last year, so I like that, and I’m looking forward to it.
“Beautiful” is one of those shows some people thought we might get last season on the heels of it winning its Tony Awards and Grammy Awards, but I’m thrilled that it’s here this season. It’s a show that I loved on Broadway, so we’re happy about that. It’s about more than just Carole King, although she’s at the center of all of it.
It really tells the story about her and her friends and the guy who became her husband working in the Brill music building on Broadway and going to work every day writing songs. Telling their stories through songs, then seeing the people who recorded their songs make big hits out of them. It’s a love story, it’s a lot of things, it’s a good one. I can’t wait for our audience to get to see it.
“White Christmas” follows. A classic for all times and all years, I’m guessing.
Not only that and not only is it another great family show, but we stumbled across something that we didn’t expect. In our first year, one of our shows happened to land on Thanksgiving Week, and we weren’t too sure about it because some people go on vacation or are busy, busy, busy with family or Christmas planning.
But, for the most part, people loved it. Thanksgiving Week, you take time off, and people have taken that week as a really good time to get together with family and friends at the Smith Center. We’ve done it every year, and now “White Christmas” will kick off the holiday season here at the Smith Center on Thanksgiving Week, and I like it.
Moving on to “Fun Home,” Tony’s Best Musical this past year …
Some people think of it more as a play with music. This is not only a terrific drama; it’s a deep story. Fun, by the way, doesn’t mean fun like we’re going to go have a bunch of fun and laughs. Fun is short for funeral, and the play takes place in a family’s home, which happens to be at their family owned funeral home.
It’s a deep story, an important story, but it’s not fun. For those who have been wanting more of a serious drama, this is their chance. It’s pretty extraordinary. It is a musical. It won the Tony for Best Musical.
But for me and what some people consider it is, it’s a play with music. For me, the drama overrides the music, meaning that the drama is the first priority in this piece. There is definitely music. There are some great songs.
Dealing with death?
It’s dealing with death, but it’s really dealing with a young girl. You watch her grow up as she’s dealing with her own sexuality, and when she comes out, her dad disowns her.
I’m not sure I should say this because I don’t think it’s fair for the audience to know in advance, but at the end of the play there is a surprise with the father who wasn’t happy that she was a lesbian. It’s serious stuff, and critics loved it.
Very, very New York centric — too much so for Las Vegas? I always think of New York and L.A. having nothing to do with Las Vegas. We seem to operate on a different plane here. For your hardcore theater fans, it’s perfect, but for the regular, God-fearing folks of Las Vegas, that’s heavy work through the sexual problems of mid-America?
It might be, but I think our patrons will get it. Once people understand, as the critics pointed out, “The word fun in the title doesn’t mean come here to have a bunch of fun.” This is serious stuff. It’s serious, but you leave thinking about things, just like you would expect a great play to do. It taps into all kinds of positions. It certainly makes you think.
That is the object of theater. OK, I want to put the next two productions together for comment because I have to ask, “Who would ever have thought that the Smith Center would be moonwalking to Michael Jackson?”
“Motown: The Musical” is a phenomenon on Broadway. I mean people love hearing “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and all those hit songs and learning more about Berry Gordy along the way and like that. So “Fun Home” ironically people might unknowingly think they’re coming to that to have fun, whereas “Motown: The Musical” is all about having fun.
So that’s eight days later. You plan this as a doctor would plan a recovery. If you were emotionally provoked, maybe saddened, for “Fun Home,” you’re going to be brought back to life nine days later.
Well, having spent time really thinking and having great conversations with friends and neighbors about a serious topic in society today, I love it.
Let’s roll onto “Finding Neverland.”
This is Harvey Weinstein’s pet project. He really is responsible for this. It’s from the book, but this is his baby. It opened a year and a half ago on Broadway. “Motown: The Musical” and “Finding Neverland” are completely different, but it’s great music for both.
So that brings us to “Matilda: The Musical.” One of the books by a British novelist that has sold 200 million copies worldwide.
Another one that people were asking about last season. As it happened, their touring schedule as it started in our last season didn’t find its way to this part of the country, so we were fortunate enough to get it on this season. It’s one of our most-asked-for titles. The fact that we’re bringing it is going to please a lot of people because they’ve been asking us to bring it.
This is the Roald Dahl book about a group of English kids in their classroom. It is that famous “Matilda” book. Time Magazine called it the No. 1 show of the year last year on Broadway.
After “Matilda,” you have “An American in Paris.” The movie had extraordinary dancing. Do you recapture that onstage at the Smith Center?
Oh, yes. Truly wonderful choreography and dancing, a great book that brings our memories of that wonderful film to life, and great songs, the songs of George and Ira Gershwin. Everyone is going to love this one, and dance fans will especially love it.
How on earth do tour producers find anybody to measure up to Gene Kelly?
I’ll tell you something: We don’t know who any of our casts will be on our tours, but the Broadway cast had real dancers. I mean trained ballet dancers who were extraordinary; really, really good. What the producers have told us is that they fully intend for the tour to bring that same level of dance to our audiences around the country.
I didn’t walk into the theater the day that I saw it thinking that they were re-creating the movie because they don’t. This is an American serviceman who finds himself in Paris after the war. I don’t remember the storyline in the movie; I only remember the iconic dance piece.
What I do know is the book writer for the musical did a wonderful job, and this director/choreographer who we know named Christopher Wheeldon, he did a phenomenal job of bringing this story to life. I think it’s new and fresh, and I’m certain our audiences will like it.
And you wrap up the season with the return of “Phantom.”
Oh, yes! I don’t know how you suggest we position it, but this is one of the biggest, most notable musicals of all time. We’re bringing it to Las Vegas only a few years after it closed its “Phantom — the Las Vegas Spectacular” production at the Venetian. We didn’t hesitate because this is the full-on Broadway show with intermission. It will be a different experience than people had at the Venetian.
Not to say anything but good things about the Venetian production, but I think Las Vegas is ready for its return for a few reasons. There are Phantomphiles, people who have seen the show many, many times and will want to see it multiple times in the future who are looking forward to it.
And, as we know, there are a lot of people in Las Vegas who simply didn’t get a chance to see “Phantom” when it was here or many of the other Broadway shows when they played on the Strip. So us getting the full-fledged U.S. tour as part of our season is wonderful for our patrons and the community to get to see it.
I remember how director Hal Prince when he was bringing “Phantom — the Las Vegas Spectacular” here told me that he had to dress it up, and he wasn’t too happy in the beginning as he had to make it Las Vegas-sized. This is really the art of theater rather than the spectacular of theater. Is that a fair comment?
I think coming from you, that hits it exactly on the head. This brings it back to its roots, but it does it on a grand scale. There’s a cast and orchestra of 52, so they’re saying it’s one of the largest productions on tour today.
I’m guessing no chandelier will drop from the ceiling of the Smith Center? You’re much higher than the Venetian theater.
When we get ready to talk about “Phantom” in full a year from now, there is a whole story around how performing arts centers, Broadway touring houses, that are built today include something they call Phantom steel. What that is is additional steel up in the ceiling to accommodate the chandelier for “Phantom of the Opera.”
That will be a very big drop from the Smith Center ceiling?
Yes! I can’t wait. It will come complete with the falling chandelier. More spectacular than it was spectacular at the Venetian. I think it’s just nice to get it back to its original form.
It would be nice to have Hal come out again in the week before that, and you just planted a seed in my ear. We did that talk back with you and Hal two years ago. There’s an audience that would come out for that again.
Absolutely. We ran out of time, he was so fascinating. Nobody wanted to leave. Overall having talked to you about the new Broadway season rundown, I would say at first glimpse it sounds far more musical than previous years, maybe because of the very familiar titles.
I disagree with that because every season has been all about the musical, but that’s just our perspective. These shows represent 27 Tony Awards and two Grammy Awards.
Penn & Teller revealed the list and described the shows because A) they’ve been successful on Broadway, they understand that, B) Teller’s “The Tempest” was a really big deal for the Smith Center’s evolution and C) they’re like family.
I guess there will be a little magic involved. Where does Teller’s “The Tempest” stand at this minute?
So after here and Harvard and Orange County, it went to Chicago and played an extended run. Now there’s talk and rumor of it possibly going to New York, going to Broadway. No guarantees, but I think it’s deserving. It’s such a wonderfully staged piece. Teller should be proud. I loved it and thought it brilliant.
The depth of what you’ve booked shows you’ve come a long way since Season 1.
The Smith Center celebrates its fourth anniversary March 10 this year.
Is the Smith Center now firmly in the sights of Broadway producers?
Absolutely, positively. Broadway in its broadest sense loves Las Vegas. The producers, the actors, the people who go on tour, the booking agents are now looking at Las Vegas as one of their more important stops on tours. We couldn’t be happier.
Let me flip that and ask how does the Smith Center look at its relationship with Broadway now after 4 1/2 years? Is it less of a struggle for you getting the best shows?
Here’s the thing. I know sometimes people will write us or call us or send us an email or something on Facebook and say why don’t you bring “Beautiful”? And sometimes I think people think it’s going up to the TKTS booth, just walking in and saying, “Hi, I’d like ticket the week of ‘Beautiful’ in Las Vegas, then you buy it and you leave and you’re done, but it’s really complicated.
What our COO Paul Beard goes through is the ultimate Rubik’s cube. You have to get the right shows. BTW, the fact that I’m a Tony voter and I go back and see every show puts us in a position to know which ones we really want. If you get the right shows, it has to be touring, and not only touring, but it has to be touring on the West Coast during the period where you’re booking the season.
It has to sit on the calendar because sometimes two shows that you really want, the buses and the trucks want to land in Las Vegas at the same time, and of course we can’t have two shows going on at the same time. Then you get it all lined up, like Paul is already deep into the work for the 2017-2018 season now. We have what they call ghost routes on a number of shows that we’re working on now for two years from now.
You get it altogether, then something changes in some market, and it causes the tour to have to change and the dates change, and you go back to the drawing board trying to fit all of these jigsaw puzzle pieces together to make sure that you get the shows you want in the period that you want them. It’s very complicated — beyond comprehension.
I guess it’s going to be even more complicated holding a possible week out or two weeks out for “Hamilton”?
Yes. We don’t talk about shows before we announce them, but we’re always working on getting the shows that we love, and I don’t mind telling you that I love “Hamilton.”
Were ticket sales for the current Broadway series a complete sellout?
No, and I’m glad you asked that because one of our challenges this year was the perceived notion out there that everything at the Smith Center is always sold out, so why even try. Sometimes people don’t even go online to see if tickets are available. We have approximately 10,000 Broadway subscribers, so put that in context.
We have approximately 2,000 seats available times eight shows in a Broadway week, so we have approximately 16,000 tickets to sell in a week,10,000 of which are taken up by our subscribers. When we start selling single tickets we typically have for two week-ers, that’s 32,000 available tickets less 10,000 subscribers, so we have 22,000 tickets available for single-ticket buyers.
Sometimes I look in the rearview mirror and I talk about how great it was that this show sold out or essentially sold out with maybe a few single seats scattered about, but what I learned is that when I talk about things in the rearview mirror saying it was great that it sold out that I’ve been suggesting to people that all shows are sold out immediately, and they’re not.
I mean we purposefully limit the number of season tickets to 10,000 so that the general public can buy a ticket and come see one or two shows if they want, and that’s by design.
But safe to say that interest in shows at the Smith Center has been on a steady upward movement since Day 1?
Yes, but think about it. We have over-delivered in terms of the number of shows, meaning not just Broadway, but everything and having something for everybody. Rock and pop and jazz and dance — you name it. That’s all wonderful and great, but I just hope when we go on sale, after the subscribers, to the public, there will be tickets available, particularly if they act early.
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
Source: Las Vegas Weekly Stories