Original musical ‘Clowntown’ explores a strange world not unlike our own

Rehearsing Clowntown.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

Clowntown May 27-28, 2 p.m., $30. Judy Bayley Theatre, 702-895-2787.

A world in which clowns are an actual, living species. Sounds like the stuff of nightmares, right? But for Michael Brennan, former musical director of Steve Wynn’s Le Rêve, it was the seed for a musical.

“I was just mesmerized with it,” Brennan says of discovering a screenplay by Nathan Olney more than two years ago. “It was like a Tarantino film with clowns.”

Over the course of a year and a half, Brennan and one-time Le Rêve illustrator John Massé turned Clowntown into a Broadway-style production with 18 original songs, which debuts at UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre with two shows this weekend. The post-apocalyptic world, in which clowns have been ordered to live separately from humans within the confines of a place called Clowntown, is a little bit X-Men, a little bit West Side Story, all while relating to some serious global issues, Brennan says.

“It’s been so interesting to watch the political climate in our country, [especially] with immigration,” he says. “The basic concept of the story is: How do we find a way to all live together? By the end of the show, I think we get to a really beautiful place and a statement that basically says, ‘Until we all figure out how we can do that, we don’t have a way to move forward.”

Brennan has his sights set high for his first endeavor since leaving Le Rêve. He has enlisted an all-Vegas cast, including talent from UNLV and Strip productions like Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers and Baz, and all proceeds will go to the university’s Nevada Conservatory Theatre, a nonprofit training program.

“There’s a wonderful community of incredibly talented people in Las Vegas,” says Brennan, who has worked on Strip productions like Mamma Mia! and at Equity theaters throughout the U.S., giving him an outsider’s perspective. “New York, [for example], is a fabulous place, but there are so many new things in development [there], it’s hard to get people to commit to stuff. When you do something out here … you get people really excited about doing it.”

As for pairing up with UNLV, Brennan says NCT could someday become an Equity theater of its own—provided it finds the necessary funding and exposure. “There’s all these really reputable Equity theaters connected to universities in California and Arizona. It just sort of hit me, we’ve got one right here … with better facilities than a lot of other theaters in this area. The pieces are in place. All they need is more financing and more people to know that they’re around.”

Tags: Theater
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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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