Updated January 18, 2022 - 9:07 am
Michael Brennan burned hot and left too soon.
Brennan, who co-founded one of the city’s enduring artistic institutions and directed the music in a Vegas aquatic spectacular, has died. He was 47.
The great musician and composer was found dead Wednesday morning in his hotel room in Satellite Beach, Fla., where he had been taking a brief vacation. Brennan had reportedly told his friends Monday he was not feeling well, saying he possibly had COVID. He was not heard from after Monday night, and his body was discovered after hotel security performed a wellness check Wednesday morning.
There was no sign of foul play. The cause and manner of Brennan’s death won’t be determined until his autopsy.
Universally admired and respected in the Vegas entertainment community, Brennan was music director of “Le Reve” at Wynn Las Vegas for a decade, ending in 2017. Brennan was a cast member at MGM Grand Theme Park, and also worked on “Starlight Express” at Las Vegas Hilton,”Mamma Mia!” at Mandalay Bay, “Avenue Q” at the Wynn,”Disney’s The Lion King” at Pantages Theater in L.A., and “Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers,” again at the Wynn.
“Our community lost a musical genius today,” said Brennan’s friend and colleague Louanne Madorma, casting director at the Wynn who worked alongside Brennan on “Le Reve,” “Showstoppers” and “Starlight Express.”
Brennan had started his career as a dancer. He grew into a renowned vocal coach, musician and composer.
“He was a force of nature that lit up a room and sparked imagination wherever he went,” Madorma said. “No one could match his wit or humor. And I don’t think I ever met someone more invested in connecting creatives for projects.”
Brennan was “Le Reve’s” music director when eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken was recruited to refresh the show’s music. Though Steve Wynn ultimately declined to go forward with the new soundtrack, the Menken and Brennan bonded during the creative process.
“Michael was deeply involved in that project, and got to know Menken pretty well,” Wynn Entertainment General Manager Rick Gray said Thursday. “You know, when I met Michael, he was a musician in ‘Avenue Q,’ but it was clear his dream was to compose music. He was a funny guy a wacky guy who loved life, but he took the music in ‘Le Reve’ and all of his work very seriously.”
Brennan and his friend and fellow composer-musician Keith Thompson co-founded The Composers Showcase of Las Vegas in May 2006. The show started as a loose gathering of Vegas composers at a piano bar at Suede Restaurant. Today, it is a monthly production, always emceed by Thompson, at Myron’s at the Smith Center.
“We’ve lost a musical giant,” said Thompson, former MD of “We Will Rock You” at Paris Theater and “Jersey Boys,” at Palazzo and the Paris. “I’m really devastated.”
Thompson himself is in Florida, and had planned to meet with Brennan while the two were away. Thompson has early plans to dedicate the Composers Showcase on Feb. 23 to Brennan’s music. Thompson said, “I think it is only appropriate to honor him, at least by dedicating part of the next show to his work, at the Composers Showcase.”
Two “Le Reve” musicians, guitarist Mundo Juillerat and bassist Tyler Williams (who replaced Brennan as the show’s MD) had planned to reunite with Brennan when he got back from Florida.
“Tyler and I were going to crash his place and hang with him when he got back,” Juillerat said Wednesday night. “I’m gutted.”
Brennan had also been working recently with Franco Dragone, creator of “Le Reve” who has recently moved back to Vegas to co-create the club show “Amystika” with Criss Angel. Brennan’s recent compositions have been featured in such lavish, multimillion-dollar Dragone productions as “La Perle,” in Dubai, “The Dai Show” water spectacular in Xishuangbanna, China; and “Splendor,” north of Shanghai.
“Michael was a member of our family, our community,” Dragone texted Thursday morning. “We never give up and always live with the pressure of, ‘The show must go on,’ but God how some days are heavy days. That has been the case since yesterday.”
Brennan’s compositions have also been played through “Blackstone,” a pirate-themed production from Mirage Entertainment in Changsha, China.
In theater, Brennan’s had composed the score for “Clowntown,” the dark, circus-themed musical directed by Allegra Libonati, who also helped head up the relaunch of Spiegelworld’s “Opium” at the Cosmopolitan. “Clowntown” had showcased UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre in May 2017, and a stage reading at Open Jar Studios in New York 2019. Vegas piano great Phil Fortenberry performed “Clowntown’s” score.
Elsewhere in musical theater, Brennan’s musical “Citizen Ruth” won Best Musical at the New York International Fringe Festival. He was also a composer for animation. Two of his animated short films, “Nieta” and “Pasteurized,” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
Madorma had just spent the holidays with Brennan’s family and said entertainment professionals from all over the world had contacted her after learning of Brennan’s death. She shared their message, “What a loss this is.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.