It’s the first week of January, which in this column means we again turn our attention to Three to Watch in the upcoming year.
Over the past two years, I have written of three figures in VegasVille to watch in the coming year. Traditionally, these are always subjects who are fascinating, compelling or interesting in some meaningful way.
Before pulling the drape back on this year’s triangle of intrigue, let’s check back on the list of Three to Watch from 2012:
Myron Martin, president and CEO, Smith Center for the Performing Arts: Reynolds Hall brimmed with activity with such touring musical productions as “Mary Poppins,” “La Cage Aux Folles” and “Million Dollar Quartet” (the latter moving into Harrah’s for an open-ended run in February). The production most frequently mentioned by Martin in the run-up to Smith Center’s opening, “Wicked,” was wildly popular and consistently sold out, and the opening-night gala was recorded for a special on PBS. Cabaret Jazz, with Clint Holmes as the monthly headliner, was home to such groovy performances as Mary Wilson’s tribute to Lena Horne, a return to Las Vegas by vocal impressionist Bob Anderson (whose history dates to the heyday of the Dunes) and the monthly Composers Showcase emceed by the curtly hilarious Keith Thompson. One Las Vegas publication even named Martin as its person of the year, so he was a good call, before the year started, as someone to keep an eye on.
Adam Steck, founder and CEO of SPI Entertainment: Steck was busy in 2012, with his Human Nature production moving from their construction-disrupted showroom at Imperial Palace to the newly named Sands Showroom at Venetian. Steck’s most impressive move, maybe ever, was bringing to the stage his vision for Mike Tyson’s one-man, multimedia show (the producer also pitched a similar show starring Jerry Lewis around Las Vegas but found no takers). Tyson’s “Undisputed Truth” was the uncommon instance where a show opened in Las Vegas (at MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theater) and moved to Broadway (for six shows at Longacre Theater in August), and a 36-city U.S. tour of the performance is set to begin in March. Steck didn’t strike gold every time -- his “Name That Tune Live” never did find the beat on at I.P. -- but his rewards far outdistanced the risks.
Paul Davis, vice president of entertainment, Hard Rock Hotel: Davis found the notes at the Joint and played them at high volume. The rock residency was firmly established at the Hard Rock in 2012 as Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses rumbled through the Joint in limited-engagement runs that were a delight to fans of classic, hard rock. Near the end of the year, Davis, in partnership with producer and promoter AEG Live, helped lure Def Leppard to the Joint for a spree of shows running March 22-April 10. The Who, too, has been booked for two shows in February, and, in the interim, while some hotels are taking apart their great live venues (a move not worth an ovation), Davis and the Hard Rock opened a very cool music club called Vinyl that welcomes such diverse acts as crooner Mark OToole to Sin City Sinners.
And now, for the Three to Watch in 2013. As is custom, the criteria are that these people are Las Vegas movers/shakers who are interesting and making news in some sort of inventive, fascinating or relevant manner:
Jonathan Segal, chief executive officer, The One Group: If Segal were a superhero, he would be MoverShaker-Man. All he’s missing is a mask, a cape and some sort of radioactively manifested superpower. He makes deals with Flash-like precision. In 2010, he partnered with Cosmopolitan for the slick and stylish steakhouse STK. In 2012, he was cutting contracts with the Palms for the sports-themed restaurant and tavern Heraea and the restaurant replacing Little Buddha, Xi Shi, which Segal energetically reminds is named after one of four legendary women from ancient China.
The One Group also has cut deeply into the Tropicana property to open Bagatelle, creating a clear divide with the existing hotel-casino with a separate entrance and a color scheme that is cobalt blue and wedding gown white. An effort to conduct business at MGM Grand fell apart in the fall, but no matter. Segal has many dance partners, but he is his own man. The upcoming year will show if he’s a shrewd and aggressive Vegas visionary, or simply took on more in Las Vegas than his company could handle. I'd bet the former, and on Segal, any time.
Jeri Crawford, president and CEO, Las Vegas Philharmonic: Crawford responded quickly, and correctly, in the face of an unexpected change in the director of the L.V. Philharmonic when David Itkin announced that he would be leaving the symphony at the end of the 2012-2013 season. Instead of taking the stage with a conductor who was already on his way out, Crawford and L.V. Phil officials negotiated a buyout of Itkin’s contract before the season opened and focused on the performances at Reynolds Hall, which are commonly sold out. The Philharmonic is using the current season to showcase a series of guest conductors, each of whom would (ideally) embrace the position as both an artistic and a civic opportunity.
Up next in the season schedule is the Jan. 12 "Masterworks Series III: Rising Star" with guest conductor Alastair Willis and violinist Elena Urioste. Then it's Steven Jarvi, associate conductor of the Kansas City Symphony, for the Feb. 16 “Mardi Gras in Las Vegas” performance. On March 9, it’s “Lights, Camera, the Oscars” a celebration of Academy Award-winning films, with Randall Craig Fleischer, who has worked with the Boston Pops, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic and San Diego Symphony (among innumerable orchestras and artists around the world). Guest conductor Taras Krysa of Henderson Symphony Orchestra, who directed the music behind the Charlie Chaplain film classic “City Lights,” is charged with conducting the L.V. Phil’s annual Youth Concert Series, eight performances for 13,000 fifth- and sixth-graders from 115 schools in Clark County. That spree of performances is set for Jan. 11 and 14-16 at Reynolds Hall, and the shows will feature winners of the Philharmonic’s Young Artists’ Concerto Competition as soloists.
Crawford has led the organization of a search committee of L.V. Phil board members, staff and musicians to find a new creative leader. “This is neither a simple nor speedy process,” she says, and the search might require an additional season of reviewing even more guest conductors. Regardless, the L.V. Phil has overcome myriad obstacles in its move to Smith Center, and 2013 should be the year one of the city’s most important institutions achieves harmony -- onstage and off.
Bobby Hauck, head football coach, UNLV: At some point, the head football coach of the local university needs to instill some consistent confidence that the team will be competitive. It is a must, as there is finally momentum behind an a 60,000-seat, on-campus football facility that would be a wonderful home to a successful program. The UNLV administration, student body and Las Vegas community has been admirably patient while waiting for the Rebels to reorganize for its first winning season since John Robinson went 8-5 in 2000. The hoops program has returned to prominence and can be expected to contend for conference championships and at least reach the NCAA Tournament. Hauck had a bulletproof reputation as the architect of championships from his years at Montana, where he won seven Big Sky Conference titles and was the most successful coach in that league’s history with a 47-6 record. But the Rebels have won two games in each of Hauck’s three seasons at UNLV. Any movement toward even a .500 mark, an ascent to mediocrity, would be reason to feel good about the Rebels’ future. Considered one of the fine young football minds in the country, the 48-year-old Hauck is being given another shot to make that happen.