Majestic Repertory Theatre director Troy Heard and I are chatting about stage musicals when he shares an expression I’ll be adding to my repertoire. “Use dialogue to express your thoughts,” he says. “When dialogue doesn’t do it, break into song. And when you can’t sing anymore, break into dance.”
By that measurement, Las Vegas is currently enjoying a stage-three musical outbreak. Its most recognizable symptom is the 2019-2020 edition of the Smith Center’s Broadway Las Vegas series, a season of musicals that includes crowd-pleasing returnees (The Book of Mormon; Wicked), a pair of holiday chestnuts (Jesus Christ Superstar; Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical), adapted animation (Anastasia; SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical), vacations in miniature (Once On This Island, Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville) and a pair of award-winning powerhouses (2016’s The Band’s Visit, recipient of 10 Tony Awards, and 2017’s Mean Girls, which deservedly netted Tina Fey a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book).
That’s the Smith Center doing one of the things it was built to do. But our smaller stages are exploding in song, too. There are community and school productions, but also musicals staged by Vegas’ independent theater companies. Las Vegas Little Theatre recently presented Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. Cockroach Theatre is preparing the June debut of a new musical, Santango, with music by Stewart D’Arrietta and a book by Justin Fleming. (It promises a live band and “sizzling tango.” Break into dance.) Super Summer Theater promises lively productions of Annie, Into the Woods and Chicago.
And Majestic is in the midst of a musical streak, with Bigfoot, Cabaret and Spring Awakening in the rearview and several more musicals planned for the company’s soon-to-be-announced upcoming season. “Musicals are a cornerstone of what we do,” Heard says.
Musical theater has always been a thing here. We’ve seen everything from Avenue Q to Phantom playing the Strip. But this recent, homegrown spike in musicals can only mean one thing: There’s been so much dialogue, both on and off our increasing number of independent stages, that song and dance is inevitable. Let’s go with it.