In a recent interview by Michael Lyle for View, RagTag Entertainment founder Andrew Wright was quoted as saying he is challenging the thought that there is no culture in Vegas. “Pretty soon, people won’t be able to say that,” Lyle quotes Wright. “In 2011, (RagTag) exploded, and 2012 is just going to be bigger.”
There’s one major problem with that statement. RagTag Entertainment’s are usually the worst musicals in town. Wright has a knack for hiring top talents but doesn’t seem to understand how to take advantage of their gifts.
He will be doing Stephen Sondheim’s difficult “Assassins” in February, and as my Christmas gift to him, I arrogantly offer the following advice:
■ First, congrats on doing the show at the Onyx instead of Green Valley Station’s Ovation room. The Ovation’s stage doesn’t have enough depth for a two-person play, let alone a large-cast musical.
■ You’ve made an intelligent choice in hiring a director who really knows something about theater. Often RagTag acts as if musicals are just concerts, but Sean Critchfield knows from drama. Of course, that’s no guarantee, but at least you’ve acknowledged theater needs theater craftsmen.
■ Now that you’ve hired Critchfield, give him total control. It’s his baby. Naturally, there should be parameters set by the producers, but hopefully, this was all agreed upon before Critchfield came aboard. Let Critchfield schedule the rehearsals, approve the sets, lights and costumes, interpret the material in the way he chooses, and OK the cast (don’t straitjacket him with singers who can’t act or won’t attend sufficient rehearsals).
■ Theater is a visual medium. There are a few scripts that require no set, but hardly any musicals. You don’t need big bucks. Sometimes simple, well-placed interesting props can do the trick. But no matter how impoverished the physical environment, you’ve got to give us something interesting to look at. And if you must tear down your set after each performance, make sure you take that into consideration when you design it. But don’t think no set is the solution. Creativity is.
■ Choreograph the movement. It’s rarely enough to have characters just stand and sing (even if they occasionally do so, it must be planned for a reason). Actors need to move in a way that, dramatically, relates to the material. And when you have a chorus of people onstage, it’s usually death to have them moving arbitrarily.
■ Make sure you have enough rehearsal time on the stage of the Onyx to have your actors get comfortable in the space and to work out technical problems.
■ Invite theater directors whose work you respect to come see your show and pick their brains.
■ Finally, please, as a favor, stop telling the press you’re going to bring culture to Vegas. Seems every new showman makes that claim, before he’s even learned the ABCs of his trade. Besides, you may not have noticed, but we have several theaters in town who have been consistently doing professional-level work. Your statement is, however unintended, an insult to many local hardworking “cultured” artists.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.