Conventional Strip wisdom aside, the Smith Center books Broadway—and it worked

Memphis to Vegas: The popular musical is on its way to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
Joan Marcus

It’s been well documented that Broadway and Las Vegas don’t have the best relationship. Aside from Mamma Mia, Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular, The Lion King and the ongoing Jersey Boys, Broadway musicals haven’t fared well with tourists here. But step away from the Strip and you’ll find a different story. Officials with the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, opening next month, knew as much when they scheduled programming for their opening season, but even they were surprised by the results.

“We thought if we opened the building with the same number of ticket sales as Dallas’ AT&T Performing Arts Center, we’d be good,” says Myron Martin, Smith Center president and CEO. “They opened at 6,000 subscriptions. Today, we have more than 10,000 sold.”

So who actually wants Broadway? Every demographic, says Suzanne Chabre, Smith Center spokeswoman, in reference to the results from marketing research begun last spring and followed by local focus groups. The research didn’t examine which Broadway shows the community wants, only that it wants them, she adds.

Martin says that a decade of conversations with the community came into play when deciding on shows, as did the desire to bring in acts that haven’t played Las Vegas in the past because of the area’s lack of a touring Broadway roadhouse. In the first year, Smith Center audiences will be able to see The Color Purple, Mary Poppins, Million Dollar Quartet, Memphis and the hugely popular Wicked, which arrives in August for a six-week run. Martin, a fan of The Book of Mormon, is looking into the possibility of booking that musical during its second national tour (the first one is already scheduled without a stop in Las Vegas).

As for the rest of the calendar, the Center has booked a little of everything, from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to Suzanne Vega, Lily Tomlin, Yo-Yo Ma, the Pink Floyd Experience, Sweet Honey in the Rock, David Sedaris and Golda’s Balcony, a one-woman play on the life of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.

Martin credits Paul Beard, Smith’s vice president and COO who ran Bass Performance Hall and Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, for leaving no cultural stone unturned in the 2012 lineup. “Part of our job is to get people to think, and we look for things that might excite or surprise them,” Martin says. “We feel diverse programming is part of our mission. But you try to balance it. On one hand, we don’t want the center to sit empty. On the other hand, we don’t want to overwhelm the community with too many [similar] shows.” Here’s to mixing it up.

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