New theater is shaking up the Arts District
Rene-Claude LaMarre’s theater concept sprouted from the writer-director’s “Chocolate City” movie franchise.
Updated February 3, 2023 - 11:11 am
It’s a theater that sits in the Arts District, but it’s inspiration grew out of “Chocolate City.”
The LaMarre Theater, 1510 Main St. (next to Able Baker Brewery and across from Wiseguys Comedy Club), is named for actor, entrepreneur and co-owner Jean-Claude LaMarre.
The 5,000-square-foot showroom and retail space, with its 160-seat performance venue, is the only free-standing theater in Las Vegas with Black owners and operators. LaMarre and his partner, Eurika Pratts, opened the venue in July. The LaMarre hosts the male revue “Black Magic Live,” “Black Girl Magic,” the Motown show “Iconic Soul” and Steve Connolly’s long-running Elvis tribute, “Spirit of the King.”
Making ‘Magic’ materialize
LaMarre’s theater concept sprouted from a single show, “Black Magic Live.” This was originally a fictional dance troupe in LaMarre’s 2015 movie “Chocolate City” and its sequels, 2018’s “Chocolate City: Vegas” and 2022’s “Chocolate City: Live Tour.” LaMarre is director and writer of the entire franchise.
The series centered on a male revue called “Black Magic Live,” with model-dancer Tyson Beckford at the front. Beckford would tap into that portrayal for a series of guest-starring roles in “Chippendales” at the Rio. The movie and dance team were similar to Channing Tatum’s “Magic Mike Live” format, with the movie inspiring a live show.
“ ‘Chocolate City’ somewhat mirrored ‘Magic Mike Live,’ but it was a Black version,” LaMarre says. “And it did very well because there was an untapped market for a ‘Black Magic Live.’ ”
Lifetime picked up on the title and created a reality series, “Vivica’s Black Magic,” starring actress and host Vivica A. Fox, who was featured in the original “Chocolate City.” The Lifetime show ran for one season in 2017.
LaMarre developed a “Black Magic Live” stage show, premiering it at the Plaza Showroom, then Tommy Wind Theater (which would become the now-closed Mosaic on the Strip), Ron DeCar Event Center (also closed), Embassy Nightclub on Procyon Avenue and Alexis Park’s Pegasus Theater.
He also toured the show for three months in Southern California, where, as he said, “We had lines around the corner. They were all sold-out performances.”
LaMarre pieced together an opening schedule, with the male revue and a companion show, “Black Girl Magic.” He had met Pratts, who specialized in independent film productions, on the “Chocolate City” projects. She runs day-to-day operations at the theater.
“Being a film producer for several years, I learned how to manage a business, from managing the staff to breaking down the budgets to dealing with customer service,” Pratts says. “We are running a theater with live entertainment as a small business.”
Connolly had been seeking a venue for “Spirit of the King,” after closing at the Four Queens in March 2020 following a seven-year run.
His show is the only Elvis showcase downtown. Connolly arrived in Las Vegas with his Elvis act in 1996 and has performed at the MGM Grand, Riviera, Bally’s (now Horseshoe Las Vegas) and Fitzgerald’s (the D Las Vegas) before the Four Queens. He also had a stint with “Legends in Concert.”
“It’s a great little room, perfect for what I’m doing,” said Connolly, who previously played the Kings Room at the Four Queens and is accompanied by son Brandon on guitar. “We have it seated for 100, 150, a great Vegas experience. And J-C is really a remarkable guy.”
Long before Connolly figured into LaMarre’s plans, the producer wanted a venue of his own, for his own dance revue and outcroppings of music productions. He found a space to work with at the vacant Sal’s Furniture store on Main Street.
That is where the LaMarre Theater stands now, sharing the same parcel as Abel Baker. Both venues have been jammed nearly every night.
“We looked at a bunch of different places, and we started hearing about the Arts District, which was not in our original plans,” said Lamarre, who is of Haitian descent, grew up in Brooklyn and lives in L.A. “Downtown, I had only known about Fremont Street. But we looked at this old furniture store, with a bunch of junk in it, no bathrooms, no electricity, gutted. But the foot traffic in the area reminded me a lot of Melrose in L.A. We got a really good rate, and we said, ‘OK, we are going to tear everything down and just start from scratch.’”
Small shows, big ideas
With a background in writing and starring in small theater productions in New York, LaMarre ran into challenges in offering tickets online to shows at his new venue. He recalls popular ticket brokers turning back requests to be listed. LaMarre turned to names in his database and asked them to call and email the broker site to list the show.
“We called a couple of major brokers, beginning with Vegas.com, the biggest one,” LaMarre said. “They were reluctant; they weren’t sure we had an audience. So, I just emailed all these women in our database and asked them to let Vegas.com know that we, in fact, do have an audience.”
LaMarre says that within 24 hours he got a call from Vegas.com, pleading with him to call off the forces. Tickets for all shows at the LaMarre Theater are now listed.
LaMarre is among the entertainers at his theater. He hosts the “Black Magic Live” revue, which is usually near capacity. The crowd is boisterous, usually laden with bachelorettes seeking a rowdy show off the Strip.
There is a segment dubbed Queen of the Night, which opens the stage to audience members who want a truly immersive experience. The guest star is happy to be totally concealed by the shirtless cast.
“For $100, you get serenaded on stage by all seven dancers,” said Pratts, who has weathered this crowd since last summer. “It’s a Las Vegas experience, and something they will never forget.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.