Local theater is thriving in the Entertainment Capital of the World
Any mention of “seeing a Las Vegas show” brings to mind showgirls, magicians and high-flying Cirque du Soleil performers, not to mention Strip residencies by the likes of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Those are all cherished Las Vegas experiences, but Sin City also has a thriving local theater scene.
The Smith Center is clearly an immeasurable resource for art and culture as the home venue for the Las Vegas Philharmonic, Nevada Ballet Theatre and traveling Broadway shows, but for now, let’s turn the spotlight to five smaller community theaters worthy of your attention as well.
As the Downtown Arts District continues to grow, a new audience is discovering the Majestic Repertory Theatre and its eclectic lineup of programming. The name is a tip of the hat to a long-departed cinema and showroom on Fremont Street, but the 99-seat black box theater is crafting its own unique identity, opening with a production of Little Shop of Horrors in 2016 and picking up the pace ever since.
The team, led by founder Troy Heard, embraces the challenges of operating in a small space, whether it’s its established favorites like Sweeney Todd, American Idiot and Cabaret or kitschy up-and-coming presentations like Bigfoot: The Musical (co-written by late-night comedy writer and talk show host Amber Ruffin) or last year’s The Craft, An Unauthorized Musical Parody.
As Clown Bar 2 wraps up its run, the company is looking ahead this year to shows like burlesque period comedy Pink Velvet and Angry Fags, a dark political comedy set in Georgia during a midterm election—a topical touch sure to resonate this year. The Majestic also earned nationwide attention for a series of outdoor drive-in shows during the early days of the pandemic.
The Las Vegas Little Theater has been staging productions since 1978, making it one of the most consistent outlets for local community theater in Las Vegas. The all-volunteer organization began with shows in libraries and other temporary venues, but now has its own theater in Chinatown near Spring Mountain and Valley View. A mainstage hosts 150 guests with six major productions a year as well as an annual summer musical.
The biggest hit over the years? Avenue Q, which sold out every performance during its run in 2015, including dates added to help meet demand. This year—A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum debuts July 15. A 50-seat black box theater is now hosting Kiss My Astral Projection, a comedy about a husband and wife who switch bodies with a winning script in the Las Vegas Little Theater’s annual New Works Competition.
The theater is also excited to welcome back the Vegas Fringe Festival June 3-12 for the first time since the onset of the pandemic; a showcase for local production companies to stage plays of 60 minutes or less.
Broadway in the HOOD was founded by production veteran Torrey Russell, who credits the performing arts for saving his life and is now paying the love forward. The company gives youngsters access to classes in acting, singing and dance without income as a barrier. An annual summer camp is free for up to 100 kids and runs at least 10 weeks. Broadway in the HOOD stages 4-6 major productions a year and never shut down during the pandemic.
The company’s presentation of American Son, which tackles the challenging cross-section between race relations and law enforcement, has been performed throughout the country in a variety of venues, from traditional theaters to schools and detention centers with an open-forum discussion afterwards.
Most local shows are staged for free at the West Las Vegas Library Theater, but Broadway in the HOOD frequently teams up with the Smith Center, including a recent run of The Color Purple in the Troesh Studio Theater and the upcoming From Broadway with Love revue Sept. 1 at Reynolds Hall. (The same stage hosted Broadway in the HOOD’s production of The Wiz in 2016, featuring more than 300 local performers.) Russell and his team (which counts Ben Vereen as director of global outreach) is also gearing up for Rent in honor of National Pride Month at The Center from June 28-July 4.
Cheap Shot is the host venue for Miss Behave’s Mavericks, a new variety show in the Fremont East district that pushes boundaries with raunch and attitude. The 90-minute production moves at a fast pace with a rotating cast of performers that come and go quickly, including singers, burlesque dancers, showgirls and everything else in between.
You may see a hula-hooping chicken or an aerialist who resembles Jesus on a cross. Is it provocative? Sure. But there’s no agenda beyond having fun and enjoying yourself. The spectacle is hosted by Amy Saunders, who was previously the star of Miss Behave’s Game Show at Bally’s and is now bringing the same character and bawdy energy to Downtown.
Cheap Shot’s beautifully lit 99-seat theater takes inspiration from classic French cabarets with old bentwood chairs, red velvet drapes and a bar commanding much of the attention with wine and cocktails as low as $9. Anything can happen. Don’t be surprised if your bartender hops up on the counter for a performance too. Shows are Thursday-Saturday at 7 p.m. with a 15-minute intermission.
Super Summer Theater is a family tradition that dates back to 1976. Guests of all ages spread out on the lawn with blankets, chairs and refreshments to enjoy classic Broadway productions in a comfortable meadow with the natural beauty of the Spring Mountain Ranch State Park as a backdrop. The shows started out with a small cast and modest staging but have grown dramatically over the years to full-scale productions.
Many of the performers started out as child actors and grew up with the theater, which is back with three full-scale shows this season after scaling back a bit during the pandemic. Tickets are on sale now for Mary Poppins The Musical June 1-25, Sister Act July 13-Aug. 6 and Matilda Aug. 24-Sept. 10. An additional park entry fee is charged per car.
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