Reynolds Hall takes shape as centerpiece of Smith Center

Consider this (apologies to the aluminum foil folks) a Reynolds rap.

“There’s not a fight we haven’t had, so having had them, we don’t have to have them again,” said architect David Schwarz, ribbing his professional cohorts, theatrical designer Joshua Dachs and acoustics expert Paul Scarbrough.

Dishing on the attributes of Reynolds Hall as the centerpiece of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the trio held court at a panel discussion last week at the Historic Fifth Street School.

“We’re determined to keep the wonderful Union-Pacific Railroad out of that room,” said Scarbrough to audience giggles about the challenge of acoustically outfitting the hall to eliminate the rumble of the rail line passingt through downtown Las Vegas during shows.

With a 2,050-seat capacity for performances by, among others, resident companies Nevada Ballet Theatre and the Las Vegas Philharmonic, plus Broadway tours — “Wicked” already has been booked – Reynolds and the entire center is set to swing open its doors in a year. “This space should bring people together to share special moments,” Dachs said. “We want it to knock your socks off.”

Carrying a price tag of $502 million, the Smith Center is under construction at Bonneville Avenue and Grand Central Parkway and will include cabaret space, a black box theater and educational facilities at Boman Pavilion, plus a new building for the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum, which will drop “Lied” from its title when it relocates from its current home at the Las Vegas Library.

Philanthropist Elaine Wynn donated $5 million to the project in December. The major donor is the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, which contributed $190 million. The center is named for Fred W. Smith, ex-Review-Journal executive and chairman of the Reynolds Foundation, and for his late wife, Mary B. Smith.

What will we walk into? “A lot of our hall comes from other halls,” Schwarz said, referring to landmark inspirations such as New York’s Carnegie Hall, Italy’s La Scala and Paris’ Champs-Elysees. “We don’t copy. I would say we quote other buildings. They are reminiscences.”

Featuring Indiana limestone as the material that will lend it a grayish-cream complexion, the center’s biggest inspiration derives from Hoover Dam’s art deco-ish style, which Schwarz pegs as architecturally unique to an area otherwise famed for copying other cities in its resorts.

“The one thing we don’t have in Las Vegas,” he said, “is Las Vegas.”

Using a traditional horseshoe form and crowned by an ornate ceiling centered by a light, Reynolds’ interior will contain a main floor holding nearly 50 percent of the seats, plus four vertically stacked balconies — the first tier with 23 boxes seating six to eight patrons each, topped by two five-row balconies and one eight-row section.

Vertical designing, Dachs said, fosters an intimate environment, rather than one massive balcony making the room twice as long. “It would damage the experience,” Dachs said. “If you make it feel far away, it can make you feel disconnected from what you paid tickets for, what the artist is trying to achieve. It’s about manipulating scale perceptions.”

Performers’ dressing rooms — often cramped and windowless backstage — will be set along the street with glass to allow for natural sunlight. (Also using glass is the 300-seat cabaret theater, two sections of it behind the stage, facing out into Symphony Park.)

Acoustically, a major component for the Philharmonic will be a “shell” protecting sound often absorbed by scenery or draperies. Otherwise, an aural imbalance causes some of the audience to hear certain sections of the orchestra louder than others and lets sound escape backstage. It can be moved to accommodate the ballet and Broadway-style shows.

“It’s designed to blend the sound and send it out into the audience,” Scarbrough said, noting a plus for the musicians. “They’ll be able to hear themselves and each other and their sound will reach the last row of the house.”

Yet dissent about conditions for the Philharmonic has been voiced by its founding music director/conductor Hal Weller, who retired in 2007 (replaced by David Itkin). “Some ‘home,’ ” Weller said. “No office space, library or operations space. … And no snazzy pipe organ like all orchestral ‘homes’ have.”

Space? Unnecessary, claimed Philharmonic President Jeri Crawford. “We have an office,” she said, referring to its South Jones Boulevard headquarters. “Our intentions are not to move down there. But I know they have space if we were interested in leasing space.” (Co-tenant Nevada Ballet Theatre has offices and rehearsal space in Summerlin.)

That’s seconded by Smith Center President Myron Martin. “We’ve got a top floor of the education building with potential to be offices for our resident companies,” he said. “The opportunity is there if they came to us and needed it.”

Pipe organ? No go, because Reynolds Hall is not exclusive to the Philharmonic. “We’re not building a concert hall where the only thing you can do is orchestral music,” Martin said. “This is a multipurpose hall. You can’t put in big pipes when you need to change from a concert hall to a proscenium theater.”

Storage space is another Weller complaint. “Those familiar with orchestral operations,” Weller said, “can easily understand what a huge mess it is to transport all the music, the entire battery of percussion and other large instruments to the hall from disparate parts of the city for every rehearsal and concert.”

Again, Martin disagreed. “There is a musician assembly area and instrument storage at the Smith Center,” he said. “Violinists and cellists never leave their instruments. The only ones that care about having storage space are big percussion instruments and that’s all built in.”

Public disagreements aside, the Smith Center is “on time and on budget,” Martin said. Opening night? March 10, 2012.

“We’re going to have a grand gala performance,” Martin said, declining to name performers or the nature of the debut program. Shortly before the public opening there will be a private ceremony for workers building the complex.

“We couldn’t be happier,” said the perpetually upbeat Martin, who might float up to the elaborately appointed ceiling of Reynolds Hall this time next year. “It’s becoming more beautiful every day.”

Quoting a coming attraction:

Wicked, dude.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@review journal.com or 702-383-0256.

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