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Burton-esque ‘Sandman’ marks theater company’s return to stage

Updated October 25, 2021 - 8:45 pm

“It’s unlike anything anyone’s seen on a theater stage in Las Vegas before,” says Troy Heard, artistic director of Majestic Repertory Theatre. Given how often he’s staged musicals employing chainsaws, that’s saying something. But he’s not aiming for hyperbole.

“The Sandman,” opening Wednesday (see majesticrepertory.com), is the debut of a new musical by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker — their show “Bandstand” wona Tony — who contacted Heard because they wanted to open this work in a small, edgy, downtown space.

“I didn’t think twice,” Heard says, and no wonder: “The Sandman,” based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffman, author of “The Nutcracker,” “is ‘The Nutcracker’s’ dark, twisted sequel,” Heard says. “It’s gothic, scary and funny.” And complex: The set moves and reconfigures; the constumes are extravagant; robotics are involved. “It’s like a Tim Burton movie onstage,” he says. But it’s not all style. “At the base of it all,” he says, “it’s full of heart.”

“The Sandman” finds Majestic Repertory “circling back” to the sort of large-scale production it last staged in February 2020, with “Sweeney Todd.” With the COVID-19 lockdown subsequently clearing theaters, artistic director Troy Heard and his crew faced the same dilemma as everyone else in the culture industry: how to stay relevant in the lives of their audiences.

Many went online, offering Zoom shows or talks; galleries posted Instagram exhibits. With his history of staging shows in inventive ways and offbeat sites — houses, alleys — Heard quickly adapted to the pandemic restrictions. In addition to an early pair of Instagram shows, Majestic staged outdoor drive-up or drive-through productions.

Last holiday season, a small crew of performers took a macabre holiday work, “If Only in My Dreams,” to people’s homes in a twisted parody of Christmas caroling. This spring saw “Hot Trash,” a socially distanced peep-show-style production.

“It’s about keeping that connection between artist and audience,“ Heard says. “One thing I alwasy knew, in theory, was that people crave being in a space with other people. But during the pandemic I heard it from their mouths, saying, ‘Thank you for doing this.’ They crave sharing space around the metaphorical campfire.”

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