Category Archives: Theater

Jubilee! Could Have Been Saved by Better Marketing

Now that Bally’s Jubilee! has been officially shuttered for the next month to update and change unspecified portions of the show, questions still abound about what prompted this decision of Caesars Entertainment to give up on the last gem of the golden age of Las Vegas showgirl production shows.

In a cynical sense, change in Las Vegas entertainment is always driven by one thing: money. Shows were originally mounted in casinos to attract, retain and reward gamblers. It’s only logical that if Caesars felt changes must be made to Jubilee! it was because the show was not generating enough money.  Since the show was paid off decades ago, and the performers are paid the least of any performers on the Strip, the lack of profit must primarily be due to lack of ticket sales.

Jubilee! Finale Jewel Box

It’s that hard to market and sell tickets to THIS!?!! Gimme a break.

Jubilee! is as beautiful and gorgeous as at any time in its 33-year history; wardrobe legends Donna Shad London and Marius Ignadiou have done extraordinary work in preserving the condition of these decades-old costumes. The gorgeousness and retro-quality of the show would be any Las Vegas marketer’s dream because of its uniqueness, high production quality, and historical value. The show should be raking in the money.

So, if the show is aesthetically spectacular, with a world-class talented cast, and is the last jewel of an era that millions pine for, why is it not selling?

In marketing terms, it’s not selling because the target audience is not being reached or influenced. In public relations terms, it’s not selling because it hasn’t been branded effectively.

Looked at with a non-insider’s eye, marketing and PR efforts lack some important components:

  • There are no social media channels for Jubilee!.
    • There is no active official Facebook page for Jubilee! There is a Facebook page entitled “Jubilee! at Bally’s Las Vegas”, but it has no posts, and so appears unused.  9,448 people have visited the page (that’s 9,448 people out of 40 million Las Vegas visitors each year), but there is no indication how many likes it has.  There is no impetus for anyone to “like” this page, as it appears inactive.  So, there is no active Jubilee! page on Facebook for audience members to “like” or follow.  Therefore, there are no daily posts showing up on followers’ Facebook pages to remind them of the gorgeous show, which is the whole idea of social media in marketing.
    • “The Pulse of Las Vegas”, Caesars’ Facebook page, occasionally posts about Jubilee! special appearances, but does not promote the show or describe it.
    • There are no Jubilee! Instagram or Twitter accounts — no other social media that is easily found by Internet surfers.  There are no links on the Bally’s website entertainment page to any social media.

Dear Caesar’s PR/marketing team,

Facebook and social media are free advertising.

Sincerely,

Everyone on planet Earth.

  • There are no Jubilee! souvenirs or t-shirts on sale. From a marketing view, souvenirs and t-shirts are one of the most popular items for tourists, and one of the most effective ways to spread the word about the show in distant parts of the country and world.  A show-goer has no memento of the Jubilee! experience, and therefore, it fades in his memory as soon as another experience creates a more immediate memory. If a show-goer had a t-shirt or desk souvenir that could be worn or displayed in the weeks after the show, the memory of the show would be rekindled, the show-goer would likely tell others about it, and maybe make plans to return again. Word-of-mouth would be created, and the show-goer’s friends might put Jubilee! on their lists of things to do in Las Vegas. Nothing (i.e. no souvenirs) leads to nothing, unfortunately.
  • There are no programs. This abolishes any chance of audience members bonding with the cast and show, as programs give information, stories, and up-close images that people relate to and remember. Another lost marketing opportunity.
  • There are no billboards of Jubilee! around town, only two on Bally’s own marquee, and even that is reduced from the previous three. If you are driving eastbound on Flamingo, you see no advertisement for Jubilee! on the Bally’s marquee. There were many years when Jubilee! did not even do taxi cab banners.
  • There are no local TV commercials for the show that this writer has seen, as a member of a moderate TV-watching public.
  • Jubilee! is listed at the bottom of the entertainment show page on  Bally’s website, below every other entertainment offering at Bally’s.  It is listed AFTER “Tony & Tina’s Wedding”, (which isn’t even running); below once-a-week shows “Dancing Just Like the Stars” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show”; and below a singer who imitates other singers and doesn’t even have a national name in the US.  Any PR or marketing person knows that website viewers tend not to scroll to the bottom of pages. So by pushing Jubilee! to the bottom of the page, they are burying it beneath imitators, not-open shows, and once-a-week, low-production knockoffs. This is not the way to promote a multimillion-dollar, world-class show.
  • Jubilee! has made some recent guest appearances on TV talk shows, which is great PR placement. Guess how most of us found out they had happened? Social media postings by the cast.

This lack of, refusal to implement, or ignorance of modern and effective promotional techniques leaves people who care about Jubilee! feeling one thing: that Jubilee! has been abandoned by Caesars.

Jubilee! Opening Act

Hundreds of Beautiful Girls. This could go viral! Oh, wait, it’s not on social media.

Caesars has the amazing opportunity — nay, the responsibility — to keep Las Vegas showgirls alive in the mind and awareness of the public, if they want it to sell tickets. Caesars has a virtual lock on the Las Vegas showgirl – they basically own the brand, as no other show has classic Vegas showgirls wearing $3,000 Bob Mackie costumes. How they have not seen this as an opportunity to take over the image and make it work for them is beyond the comprehension of outside PR professionals. It’s a tragically lost opportunity, in marketing, sales, and to lovers of classic Las Vegas entertainment.

Dear Caesars Marketing/PR Team,

Many people love to see gorgeous, gifted, topless dancers draped in glittering rhinestones tell a story through dance.  So, please let us know that you still have them on stage.

Sincerely,

Everyone in the world

By bringing in the choreographer of a current hip hop/pop celebrity to revamp the show, it seems apparent that Caesars is targeting the Millennial generation as preferred audience members. Which is fine – although it ignores the fact that many Millennials have never learned to appreciate full-length live theatre or elegant performances; they only know Youtube videos and Pussycat Dolls (although Dancing With the Stars is helping with that, somewhat).

Hiring this new choreographer has garnered some news coverage for the show, but mainly within Las Vegas and regional print newspapers and online news.

The best way to find and communicate with Millennials is through social media. That’s where they live.  So, even if Caesars is willing to pay for new choreography and music, their target audience won’t know about it, or learn why they should care, unless Caesars goes to where they hang out. Not print newspapers, not TV news.  Online — in social media.

Since 2010, notably, the fastest growing demographic of Facebook users is senior citizens — people aged 50 and older. This older generation, known as the “Baby Boomers”, appreciates and seeks out classy theatrical productions, and would highly value information about shows like Jubilee!

If social media and innovative branding had been used expediently, years ago, to promote the show, would the image and popularity of showgirls have been resurrected and ticket sales enhanced, without even needing to bring in such drastic changes and cost to the show? Has corporate resistance to new media, and lack of creative thinking, lost Caesars millions of dollars in ticket sales, and squandered the potential title of “home of the real showgirl”?

Jubilee! Disco act

Gorgeous showgirls, dripping in Swarovski crystals, dancing gracefully to Gershwin. Nah, people won’t want t-shirts or souvenirs.

From a marketing and PR standpoint, here are some suggestions for promoting Jubilee!:

  • Team Jubilee! up with “Dancing With The Stars”. It would be great PR for Jubilee! and for DWTS. Bring in guest celebrity/pro duos from DWTS to do Pink & Purple Ballroom, Top Hat, or any act, on a monthly basis, and then actually promote them on your new…
  • …Social media channels.  You should be using all of them. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and more.  Need some help?  Ask any 14-year old.
  • Hotel outdoor wrap advertisement with Jubilee!’s name on it.  Full coverage of the entire Strip-facing side of the hotel. Using Jubilee! showgirls in the current restaurant wrap is nice, but it looks incidental and does not actually promote the show directly.
  • Bring in internationally-known guest artists, who use retro style in their performances, for guest spots.  Justin Timberlake, Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Jackman, Michael Buble, Michael Feinstein, Tommy Tune, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweiger, Richard Gere, Jason Alexander could all be candidates. Brand Jubilee! as THE place for classy, musically-trained pop and movie stars to show their singing and dancing skills. And then, you could mention it on…that’s right! You guessed it correctly…your new social media channels.
  • Hand out free Jubilee! postcards to every audience member as they leave.  People love free things.  They can take photos of it and post it on their Facebook pages.  Then their friends will see what show they went to.  It’s a handy way to control the online image of show. This is called what, Caesars?  Right again!  “free advertising”. Did you also know your PR department can track social media mentions, so you can actually measure how your free advertising is working?  Cool, huh.

Jubilee! is a timeless icon of lush beauty and elegance that speaks across time and cultures.  It is an important cultural institution.  Caesars shouldn’t abandon it without updating — updating the marketing and PR efforts.  It CAN reach a new audience without changing the essence of the show.  Brand it right, promote it smartly, and Caesars will have an irreplaceable money-maker on its hands for a very, very long time.

Disclosure: This writer was a performer in Jubilee!. This writer is near completion of a Masters degree in Media & Communications Psychology from Touro University Worldwide. This writer receives no remuneration for posts to this website.

 
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Lavish Costuming and Sets Transport Music Man

June 12, 2013

Spring Mountain Ranch

Super Summer Theatre’s “The Music Man” premiered with visual and musical glory that rivaled the golden sunset itself.

The timeless and well-known story was brought to life by Huntsman Entertainment’s high production values and astounding investment in the visual elements, which framed and matched the musical talent endemic in the cast.

"Music Man"

“Music Man” at Super Summer Theatre

The costumes were beautiful in design, construction, and materials. Constant costumes changes gave a fresh and eye-inspiring feel to every scene. The opening black-and-white palette gave way to an explosion of color half-way through the show.  The costumes were intricately designed, down to bloomers under the skirts.

The detailed sets were a feast of turn-of-the-century colors, shades, and architectural detailing. The huge backdrop channeled antique parchment, while the bridge’s sculptured-stone façade was perfectly convincing, as were the portals’ faux-brick treatment.

The choreography was lively and well-rehearsed. Parts closely resembled the movie choreography, and all were nicely staged and exciting to watch.

There were many charming moments in the show that make it very memorable (they won’t be revealed here).

This was a classic presentation of a timeless, family-friendly musical, with production values far beyond what one would dream of in a community production; that is the magic that so many wonderful theatrical groups bring to Las Vegas, now including Huntsman Entertainment.  This show splendidly brought the joy of musical theater to the Super Summer Theatre audience.

Rating: A- (=go see it!)

Ages: all.

Cockroach Theatre’s “Sudoku”

June 8, 2013 at Las Vegas Little Theatre

New works by Las Vegas playwrights? Right here at Cockroach Theatre’s new program, “The Residents.” Currently housed at Las Vegas Little Theatre during the Vegas Fringe Festival, and soon to be based in Art Square Theatre, this group of thesbians, playwrights and visionaries are doing something very rare; cultivating local playwright talent.

"Sudoku"

Glenn Heath and Angela Chan in “Sudoku”.

“Sudoku”, a full musical in under an hour, featured original script and score.  The micro-theatre space of LVLT’s Black Box and minimalist sets left the storytelling to the script and actors. Playwright Ernie Curcio offered a book of angst, neurosis, and devastation, which was brought to life by actor Glenn Heath in agitated, suffering desperation. Jacquelyn Holland-Wright completed the cast in her absorbing portrayal of Heath’s desire and torment.

Composers Angela Chan and Jolana Adamson created a pleasing contemporary-style score and lyrics that were vocally caressed by Heath and Holland-Wright.

“Sudoku” uses numbers and puzzles as a metaphor for life’s challenges and how people choose to deal with them. The script is symbolically and cleverly written, and makes a fine addition to contemporary theater.

The performance was an emotional touchstone for the audience: many were weeping as they rose from their seats at the end.

Don’t miss the intimacy and talent of local, new theatrical works: check out Vegas Fringe Festival, Las Vegas Little Theatre, Art Square Theatre and Cockroach Theatre.

Rating: A- (=go see it!)

Audience: Ages 10+

“Phat Pack” Delivers A True Punch

Plaza Hotel, January 1, 2013

Phat Pack infused a classic entertainment genre with modern, theatrical sensibility.  Four experienced performers offered classic crooning of popular musical theatre fare.

The small theatre allowed the audience to experience these legendary singers (and musician) in an intimate setting. The

Phat Pack

Phat Pack

performance by each cast member was focused, genuine and lighthearted, and built friendly rapport with the audience. Impeccable group harmonies, varied vocal dynamics, resonant vocal tones, comedic playfulness and personal stories made the show exhilarating and compelling.

Audience reaction was positive; people clapped along to the upbeat songs, laughed and applauded generously, and fell into quiet awe during dramatic solos.

Gershwin, Sondheim, Cole Porter and other illustrious composers were on the rich Broadway-based bill.

The projected slides were used effectively for the most part, as adjuncts in story-telling or to display background patterns that supported the particular mood of a song. During the autobiographical segments, there were, at times, too many family-moment slides. Paring down the number of slides would help tighten up these scenes and reduce the distraction of so many slide changes.

The stage set-up was basic: black backdrop curtain, piano, stand-up bass and a few microphone stands.  Props, choreography and staging were cute and cleverly used. The show would benefit from more visual changes, such as shirt or jacket changes (to ones with color) or progressing from tied to untied bowties. Backdrop changes would be very fitting.

“Phat Pack” has all the musicianship, content and talent one could wish for. Its irrepressible fun is bursting with personality and charm. A classic crooner format sweetened with musical theatre showstoppers and up-close contact with world-class talent makes this show one to share with family, friends and out-of-town visitors.

Rating: A

Audience: All Ages.

A Sublime “Arcadia”

Dec 8, 2012 at Judy Bayley Theatre, UNLV Performing Arts Center

Here are the great things about Nevada Conservatory Theatre and UNLV Performing Arts Center productions:

  • They are presented on-campus at UNLV. Great location, great parking, great university-ambience, great box office, great prices.
  • Medium-sized house (Judy Bayley Theatre) feels like a metropolitan theatre yet still intimate; not a bad seat anywhere.
  • Renderings by the wardrobe, set design and lighting design teams are on display in the atrium for the audience to explore. Colorful drawings, fabric samples, and scale models of the stage and sets show how these show elements were conceived and built. It’s like a backstage tour! And you can touch them!
  • Variety. Straight plays to musicals, they have it all.
  • Casts feature a mix of theatre majors, community members and theatre professionals.

All that’s missing is…well, nothing.

True, they don’t have motorized moving stage parts or computerized hi-tech set antics, but that, thankfully, allows the focus to stay on the human element — the talent. The actors and the storyline, not technology, are the entertainment here.

All of these elements were in evidence in the production of “Arcadia”, a play by Tom Stoppard.

"Arcadia"

“Arcadia” by Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre. Pictured (L to R): Jordan Bondurant, Joshua Nadler, Melissa Ritz, Angela Janas, Darren Krattli, Gerrad Taylor. Photo credit: Devin Pierce Scheef.

The script was an intellectual exploration of physics and philosophy, both challenging and rewarding to follow. While dense with academic and theoretical concepts, it offered equal parts humor and word play.  The audience laughed from the first two minutes of dialogue and continued the positive reaction throughout the show.

The sets and costumes were feasts for the eyes. The set was an open, airy minimalistic design evocative of the period. The costumes were detailed and period-appropriate, right down to the shoes. The clothing was constructed in vibrant colors to support each actor’s character. Props were thoughtfully created, including the large book that was central to the storyline.

The actors breezily conversed in natural-sounding British accents; diction and projection were excellent to a person. The actors made extensive dialogue interesting to the ear by varying pitch, volume and speed appropriately. John Maltese’s vocal expression made even his long passages of technical information easier to grasp and digest.

Body language furthered the character development. Of note, Joshua Nadler’s stiff, affected, uppity movement style visually corroborated his character’s verbal insecure uptightness. Jordan Fenn’s wide-eyed fear clearly expressed his character, without needing words.

Some of the longer dialogue scenes, in which the actors stayed in one position, sitting in chairs around the table, seemed a little static.  Perhaps some movement might give those long minutes of discussion a bit more life.

The only moment when the audience grumbled was when a real cigarette was lit and smoked on stage. Apparently this was bothersome to some of the patrons.

Despite these tiny drawbacks, the acting was excellent, onstage interaction was smooth and entertainingly-presented, production value was high, and the script itself was educational. Certainly a top-notch theatrical production, and a very enjoyable experience. “Arcadia” was another feather in the NCT/UNLV PAC hat.

So, is the big, new, marble performing arts center down the road too expensive, seats too far from the stage, too many balconies, lacking intimacy, not offering all plays you want nor featuring the local talent you want to support? Head to UNLV for everything you’re looking for.

Audience: all ages

Rating: A

“Company” Bursts with Talent

July 10, 2012, LVH Showroom (formerly Las Vegas Hilton)

A dream team of Las Vegas singers and musicians celebrated the sounds of Sondheim on one of the most venerable stages in town.

The one-time home of legends Elvis and Barry Manilow played host to this two-night revival of the 1970s Broadway hit “Company”, a wrenching examination  of marriage and relationships.

"Company"

“Company”

Dozens of local Las Vegas singer-actors and musicians banded together to resurrect this deeply-emotional musical.  The cast was a who’s-who of current and former lead singers from 30 years of Las Vegas theater and production shows.

The singers shone at every moment– belting and cooing, vocally cavorting (and sometimes, physically cavorting) to bring to life each different character.

"Company"

“Company”

The singers also acted their socks off, committing to their characters so completely that the audience physically experienced the anguish and longing they were expressing.

The lighting was beautiful and dramatic.

The orchestra was breathtaking. A 22-piece orchestra played the score live — what a treat!  Bassoon, oboe, tympani, and xylophone graced center stage along with a 10-piece string section.  Bill Fayne, musical director and conductor, guided the tuxedoed musicians with expertise, subtlety and passion.  Quite a thrill for anyone who studied music or previously experienced a Broadway-caliber orchestra, and a fabulous introduction for anyone who had not.

Winds section from "Company"

Winds section of orchestra in “Company”

“Side By Side By Side” was a standout number because of the energy, humor and playfulness amongst the singers.  The choreography was effective, supported the message of the song, was well-rehearsed and sharply-performed by the singers, adding a delightful visual element.

Unfortunately, some slow scene transitions and pauses in dialogue hindered the pace of the show.

The singers’ black attire, in front of the black background on the LVH stage, had the regrettable effect of disappearing their bodies and movements.  There was good use of the levels of the stage platform by the cast to differentiate scenes, yet the platform was far away from the audience and the cast would have been more visible had they worn brighter-colored clothing.

Transitions and wardrobe would almost certainly be worked out in a longer run of the show; it is incredible difficult to tweak these things to perfection in only two shows.

Despite these challenges, this production presented a Broadway show that was bursting with talent and fantastic performances from the entire cast, and demonstrated, once again, that the theatrical and music community in Las Vegas has both the depth and passion required to present nationally-known shows at an impressive level.

Audience: age 8 and up

Rating: A

“Oliver!” at Super Summer Theatre

July 11, 2012 (Opening Night), Spring Mountain Ranch

The British National Theatre Company of America’s production of “Oliver!” opened on a strong note at Super Summer Theatre.

The sets were richly painted and detailed, with deep colors, lots of textures, and multiple levels that were enhanced by varying heights of set pieces and props. The lighting enhanced the creation of a dark, forbidding, grimy atmosphere, effectively transporting the audience to a war-torn, crumbling city.

Oliver!

Oliver! at Super Summer Theatre

Immediately notable in the opening of the show was the talent and professionalism of the child actors. The children were focused, clean and confident in their scenes, group dances and interactions. Sara Andreas, who played Oliver, demonstrated vibrant vocal quality and strength. She was in good company, as every lead and ensemble member sang strong and clear.

Costumes were period-appropriate, with good detail and style.

The choreography for the children was delightfully creative, with a modernized hip-hop style suffusing the children’s movements throughout group lifts, canon movements and prop work. The fresh style was eye-catching and fitting in its street-feel, and in many ways reflected movement that children naturally do.

All of the children were good dancers, and the sharpness of their performance was impressive. Whether in formations or during simple gestures of the head, focusing to and away from a lead adult character, the children moved in unison and were obviously well-rehearsed, giving the production a polished appearance. Great job, especially on an opening night.

Oliver!

Oliver! at Super Summer Theatre.

“Consider Yourself” had interesting formation work and character choreography, including umbrella choreography.  Artful Dodger performed a quirky, clean, memorable dance solo.

Violence toward women and children was graphically presented in “Oliver!”, and was disturbing. Children in the audience may need adult guidance to navigate the violent themes.

While these themes are part of the original foundation of the show, and traditionally central to the show’s theme of ‘survival’, they make the audience wish that one of the victimized characters would outright resist, outwit their persecutors or trick them into turning on each other, or that the offenders would ‘get their due’ as vividly as Oliver and the women suffer abuse and death.

This production of “Oliver!” was admirably directed, choreographed, and performed. With modernized choreography, robust singing and confident performances, it entertained the full-house crowd and set a high bar for its three weeks of performances.

Audience: appropriate for ages 10-up

Rating: A

Signature Productions’ “Hairspray”

April 11, 2012 at Summerlin Library Performing Arts Center

Signature Production’s Hairspray blew our wigs off with its high production quality and joyful performances.

The cast had terrific energy, talent and passion. Even though many characters were written to be somewhat over-the-top or caricature-ish, the actors in this production played those at just the right level to be believable, likeable and relatable.  These subtle choices in acting and direction are to be commended.

The interaction of the actors established solid relationships, drawing the audience in from the first moment.

Singing by every actor was strong and well-articulated. All sang at a professional level.

Signature Productions' "Hairspray"

Signature Productions' "Hairspray"

Direction was superb.  Transitions were inventive and clever, and performed smoothly.  Use of sets, lighting and script during scene changes made them as engaging as the scenes. Staging was creative and contributed greatly to the storytelling.  Placement and movement of each actor had a reason, and furthered the story.

Choreography was pleasingly stylish, sharp, and well-rehearsed.  It was not distracting, gratuitously complex or self-aggrandizing; it was well-chosen for the level of dance ability of the cast.  The cast performed it cleanly and joyfully. Choreography of sets, such as the jailhouse bars, was witty and interesting. And choreographed special effects using real hairspray –- terrific!

Costumes were richly designed and constructed, authentic in style to the 60’s, eye-catchingly detailed, expressive of each character’s story, and perfectly tailored.

Lighting was judicious and effective in creating the right mood and directing the eye to the action.  Sound had no discernible problems, and the performers’ voices sounded natural and clear.

Sets were impressive in size, detail, construction, mobility and variety.  Of special note was the huge blue-checkered backdrop early in the show, and the simple jailhouse scene set: the former perfectly symbolized the aesthetic of the 60s and created a ‘groovy’ atmosphere with its rich colors and sophisticated execution; the latter effectively evoked the setting due to its shape, minimalism and starkness.

Signature Productions' "Hairspray"

Casting an actual child in the part of Little Inez is rarely done, but Malia Blunt sang, acted and danced with skill and poise.  Her talent and skill are professional-theater level, maybe even Broadway-ready.

This performance belied the label ‘community theater’.  In all respects, including staging, costumes, sets, directing, acting and singing, this company and production offered a professional theater-level experience.  If a few of these theatrical and production elements were weaker, the show would still have been well-worth attending.  But every element was designed and performed with excellence, which made attending it fun and memorable.  The production sparkled with professionalism. This show was truly a gem.

Audience: All Ages

Event Rating: A++

Las Vegas Shakespeare Company’s “Cinderella”

April 20, 2012 at Henderson Pavilion

"Cinderella" by the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company

This performance, in the beautiful Henderson Pavilion, was a sore disappointment in every aspect except one (to be addressed later).

First, the obvious: theater has a strong visual component.  Costuming and scenery matter.

In this show, the opening costumes were bland, and of rough construction, on all the characters.  They all read as flat, and blended into the background scenery, especially Cinderella’s dress. If a contrast to the later ball gowns was intended, it went too far to the plain/visually-uninteresting end of the spectrum.

The king wore what appeared to be a modern black suit with a white collar shirt.

The low-cost nature of wardrobe efforts was also evidenced by the proportion of actors who wore plain Capezio character shoes or modern ballet flats that were unadorned and unmodified to resemble period footwear.  It doesn’t cost much to indicate period style; it just requires a good designer and clever ideas.  The costumes in this show were disappointing in their lack of creativity, dimensions, and historical details.

The sets were alarmingly amateurish.  The opening sets looked painfully small for the stage, and did not read as three-dimensional structures – they were painted very two-dimensionally.  While minimalistic sets can be done very effectively and cleverly, this was not the case in Cinderella.  The butcher’s building, supposedly a stone structure, had no depth or weight to it because of how it was painted.  The palace bedroom looked like a shack or converted garage, as it was merely a chaise sofa and a window treatment – no painted or hung adornments to indicate wealth, prestige or royalty.  There were no backdrops in the first act to create atmosphere or indicate place or time.

The sound suffered from unending reverb, and many of the actor’s voices were muffled and too low in volume to be heard, especially in the ensemble.

The inclusion of children brought its own problems.  Their costumes were alternately ratty, ill-fitting, or not appropriate for their ages.  The white-horse girls particularly lacked confidence, continually looked at, and talked to, each other, and steered the pumpkin carriage right into the legs (side curtains). It appeared that the children in animal costumes did not have character makeup on.  Choreography for the children was extremely simple, yet they were under-rehearsed or not quite at the level of performance that a show like this, in a performance space like this, requires.

Of note, the mice were ticklingly cute.  But that wasn’t the significant positive aspect of the show.

Gail Bennett, who played Cinderella, was a joy.  Her singing, acting, timing, and stage presence were of the highest caliber. She was a bright light of talent, intent, and skill.

Unfortunately, the overall impression of Cinderella was of an uncreative, unclever amateur staging – more like a dance school recital than a professional production.  This was an unexpected shock from a company that named itself after one of the world’s greatest playwrights.

Luckily, other community theater groups in Las Vegas are doing better than this. In fact, several other production groups have mounted exceptional shows, even in smaller venues, that border on regional- or professional-theatre quality.  These include Signature Productions and PS Productions. Don’t give up on all Las Vegas theater, just head for those other productions and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Event Rating:  F    (for Ms. Bennett: A)

Audience: All Ages

Marta Becket Ends 43-Year Run at Amargosa Opera House

“The Sitting Down Show” (closing night),  Amargosa Opera House, February 12, 2012

The desert ballerina has retired.

Marta Becket

Marta Becket

Marta Becket, the dedicated performer who brought the Amargosa Opera House back to life with her one-woman dance-mime shows, gave her final public performance on Sunday February 12.  Though she no longer can dance, she sat regally on a throne-like chair with costume pieces and props in easy reach, and shared her memories of her life in Death Valley Junction.  She acted out real-life characters that populated her adopted town, as well as fictional characters from musicals she had conceived, composed and danced.  Her memory was relentless, and her wit fully intact.  She demonstrated that her passion for art, music and dance is matched only by her keen observation of people around her and her comedic storytelling.  She was luminous, entrancing, and consummately entertaining.

Ms. Becket was a performer in well-known Broadway productions in the 1940s, yet by the late 1950s she felt her artistic options drying up in New York.  She created solo shows that toured around the country.  In 1968 she inadvertently discovered the abandoned hall at Death Valley Junction when her car got a flat tire nearby.  She refurbished the hall over time, painting every inch of the inside with richly-detailed murals of a royal medieval audience.

Amargosa Opera House, view of the house from the stage

Amargosa Opera House, view of the house from the stage. Murals by Marta Becket.

Ms. Becket labored at her art – including dance, piano, singing, composing, writing, painting – in a place most performers would not feel comfortable.  Far from a metropolis, cultural mecca, famous theaters, devoted art lovers, and other artists.  She had none of the support upon which most artists thrive or depend – neither from wealthy patrons, nor celebrated dance companies, nor an artistic community.  She created her art in the vast openness of Death Valley.  Completely alone, entirely un-networked.

She proved that it doesn’t matter where you do it; it matters that you are doing it.

Ms. Becket brought art to the desert, to people who had never seen it before, who never thought they desired to.  She planted the seed.  It didn’t grow big, but it grew strong and held on, like desert sage brush.  Audiences never forgot her shows.

She didn’t let geographic status erode her passion or dilute her vision.  She claimed the emptiness of the valley, and the opera house, as her blank canvas.  And she created her art on her own terms.

She did what she wanted, where she wanted.

Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals

Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals

Discarding the group-think of the New York arts crowd (that Manhattan was the only desirable locale for true artists), Ms. Becket asserted a bold notion: art is art, no matter where it’s created.

That insight freed her to explore and express all her talents.

She didn’t need tuxedoed audiences, thousand-seat theaters, employment in world-renowned companies, million-dollar sets — or even a stage crew — to validate her sense of being an artist and performer.  She found a space in which to revel in her own creativity and style, unencumbered by the strict expectations of the artistic and show business communities in large cities. As she wrote in her original lyrics, “No longer a slave to theatrical tradition; I’ve found my place in the sun.”

Of course, she was often unencumbered by an audience to see her work.  Many nights, when no one came to her scheduled performance, she danced only for the royalty in her hand-painted murals.  Yet, she always felt that joy of being onstage.  She was happy.

Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals

Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals. Words on parchment read: "The walls of this theater and I dedicate these murals to the past, without which our times would have no beauty".

She performed not for money, fame, status or recognition, but for the joy of creating — that transcendent fulfillment that results from planning, rehearsing, creating concepts, constructing sets and props, and coordinating all of it to convey a story of human desire or experience.  Like a writer composing a book, she was never sure if anyone would see her work or care for it.  Undeterred, she continued to dream and create, because that was what her soul yearned to do.

Ms. Beckett lived her soul.