If you build it, they will come — as long as you keep right on building.
So while Las Vegas’ 2013 arts-and-culture scene lacked the lightning-bolt impact of The Smith Center’s 2012 arrival, there were plenty of signs of life — and growth.
Many of them materialized at The Smith Center itself, which has altered Las Vegas’ cultural landscape by its mere existence.
Smith Center president Myron Martin often runs into patrons who “introduce themselves and say they don’t remember life without The Smith Center,” he says.
They might be among the 12,000 subscribers to the center’s Broadway series — or a parent of one of the 57,000 students who visited the center. (“No story about The Smith Center is more important than how many kids’ lives we touch,” Martin says.)
The starry roster of visiting acts ranged from Itzhak Perlman to Taj Mahal, from Burt Bacharach to Carol Burnett, from the Boston Pops (whose conductor Keith Lockhart, also led the BBC Concert Orchestra) to the Kronos Quartet. (The latter’s “Kronos at 40” concert included the U.S. premiere of Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 6, which was commissioned by, among other institutions, The Smith Center itself.)
The Tony-winning “War Horse” led the charge as the first nonmusical to play Reynolds Hall, while Cabaret Jazz provided the backdrop for the center’s second PBS special, “Frank Wildhorn and Friends Live in Las Vegas” — the friends being Cabaret Jazz regular Clint Holmes and frequent visitor Jane Monheit.
The Smith Center’s resident companies also basked in the performing arts center’s spotlight this year.
The Las Vegas Philharmonic maintained its impressive technical and artistic standards despite a parade of guest conductors auditioning for the orchestra’s vacant music director post. And Nevada Ballet Theatre’s Tchaikovsky celebration expanded from the company’s extravagant “Nutcracker” to include excerpts from “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty” that managed to showcase the company’s range without overstepping it.
Around the corner from The Smith Center’s performance spaces, the Discovery Children’s Museum opened in March to enthusiastic response, according to Linda Quinn, Discovery’s chief executive officer.
At its previous location, the museum drew 157,000 visitors annually. But in its first nine months at its new home, 289,000 visitors explored Water World, climbed the Summit and experienced other fun-to-learn areas, Quinn notes. Museum memberships also have tripled, from 2,000 to 6,000.
“We’re really thrilled,” Quinn says of the museum’s reception, especially when young patrons tell her, “ ‘This is awesome,’ ” Quinn reports. “I love being ‘awesome.’ ”
October’s Life Is Beautiful festival, meanwhile, augmented extensive music and food programs with arts attractions that showcased excerpts from Strip shows, turned the former Town Lodge motel into an eclectic art gallery — and brought an international cast of muralists to transform the walls of downtown buildings. (Life after Life Is Beautiful wasn’t in the cards, however. One mural, which depicted a giant Vegas cowboy with a slot machine embedded in his chest, was eventually painted over.)
Downtown’s monthly First Friday gatherings continued to attract thousands to the Arts District. But Southern Nevada’s cultural life extended far beyond downtown.
On the Strip, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas augmented an artist-in-residence program with a pop-up museum devoted to Liberace’s resplendently blingy costumes. Meanwhile, Andy Warhol’s “Warhol Out West” spent most of 2013 at Bellagio’s Gallery of Fine Art.
At Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, Super Summer Theatre celebrated its 38th season — and welcomed its millionth patron during its production of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”
At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Master Series played on, highlighted by the China National Symphony, which played a captivating concert — before a disappointingly tiny crowd. Grammy-winning pianist Peter Nero, meanwhile, collaborated with UNLV’s award-winning jazz ensembles on “The Gershwin Project.”
Also at UNLV, the national tour of the musical “American Idiot” (which previously played The Smith Center) rehearsed a downsized touring version there, while the resident Nevada Conservatory Theatre season included the world premiere of the comedy “Dog Explosion” by UNLV film instructor Sean Clark.
Other world premieres ranged from the opera “Holodomor,” by UNLV composer-in-residence Virko Baley, to the Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater’s “Firebird” at The Smith Center, along with new works staged at the annual Fringe Festival, hosted by Las Vegas Little Theatre.
An impressively eclectic array of productions also graced other valley stages, from the raw, raucous musical “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” to more traditional dramas as “Death of a Salesman” and “The Glass Menagerie.”
And, speaking of theater, no recap of 2013 would be complete without a final salute to Anthony Del Valle, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s longtime theater critic and columnist.
Del Valle, who died in May, embodied Oscar Wilde’s definition of “the highest criticism” as “the record of one’s soul.” Or, as Broadway songwriter extraordinaire Stephen Sondheim once wrote, “Here’s to us, who’s like us? Damn few.”
Contact reporter Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272. Review-Journal critics Alan Adams, Paul Atreides, Lisa Bennett and Richard Davis contributed their insights to this recap.