Marking the Smith Center’s anniversary by reflecting on a few of its triumphs

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts grand opening on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Photo: Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

The Smith Center’s architecture was designed to represent Southern Nevada without falling into casino kitsch. Echoing the Hoover Dam, the Art Deco style trumpeted its permanence. This cathedral of the arts was built to last, not implode. Five years after its opening, the building—and all it represents for the local community—is as timeless as ever. Here are five examples of what it has meant for Las Vegas.

The grand debut. Hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and featuring a buffet of stars, the March 10, 2102 opening gala was exhilarating. There was a feeling of being part of history—here was something built for the ages, and it still had the crisp new-paint smell. From Dust to Dreams: Opening Night at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts included a performance of “Natural Woman” by trio Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride and Carole King; a duet by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard; violin by Joshua Bell; trumpeting by Arturo Sandoval and more. The production was later broadcast as a PBS television special, which you can still buy on DVD.

Wicked. The Smith Center’s Broadway Las Vegas series is like a starter drug for the performing arts. The shows are fun, accessible and often buzzworthy. The series started strong with the Broadway mega-hit Wicked, and the sold-out run in late-summer 2012 was so successful, the show returned in 2014. The tradition continues with the next hot ticket: Tony-winning musical Hamilton, slated for a May-June 2018 run.

Teller’s Tempest. When you imagine how Las Vegas is ideally supposed to work, this is what you get: a headlining magician using his free time to produce Shakespeare’s The Tempest in a circus tent outside the Smith Center. Teller, of Penn & Teller fame, bestowed real magic upon the characters, and he used his connections to secure a musical score of reimagined Tom Waits songs. (We’d give anything to get the soundtrack, but alas, due to licensing rights, it doesn’t exist.) This labor of love was delightful and authentic and served as a template for future productions that would be developed in Las Vegas, like 2016’s Idaho! The Comedy Musical.

Local love. One of the best aspects of the world-class performing arts center is that it offers a prestigious venue for the most talented Las Vegans. Resident companies Nevada Ballet Theatre and Las Vegas Philharmonic soar in Reynolds Hall. And Cabaret Jazz—with its recurring Composers’ Showcase and regular performances by the likes of David Perrico, Clint Holmes, the Lon Bronson Band and Frankie Moreno—has become a de-facto clubhouse for local entertainers.

Pipe Dream. Artist Tim Bavington created a new Vegas icon with his bright-hued, tubular sculpture, which crowns Symphony Park. A joyous physical interpretation of composer Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” the piece represents the Smith Center’s mission to serve the community. Mission accomplished.

Celebrating Five Years of Heart: Fifth Anniversary Concert March 7, 7:30 p.m. $29-$129, Reynolds Hall, 702-749-2000.

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