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Las Vegas theater connections spreading

Whenever I attend “basement theater” in Los Angeles, I’m always struck by the thought of how capable Las Vegas is of giving us the same sort of excitement. The physical spaces in L.A. are usually tiny, but the designs are clever and the acting is often first-rate. Recently, I spent time meeting up with folks who have a strong connection to Sin City.

Former Cockroach Theatre director John Lorenz is involved through Sunday in an intriguing 32-cast-member production of “Marat/Sade” at the Knightsbridge Theatre in Silver Lake. It takes place in a prison, but the designer put the audience behind bars, rather than the actors. You don’t need a big budget for that kind of creativity. Lorenz was already an actor of depth when he worked at Cockroach, and he remains so.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas playwriting program graduate Julianne Homokay had a staged reading of her moonshine drama “Cottonmouth” in Hollywood’s 50-seat Blank Theatre (the space is paid for, in part, by actor Noah Wyle). It was amazing to see how much Homokay has grown as a writer since I first saw her work at UNLV 10 years ago. And after a decade of slave wages, she’s managed to get a decent paying gig as the assistant to the executive producer of CBS’ “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.”

Homokay is testament to the value of hanging in there. And the Crown City Theatre Company — whose members often have produced Henderson’s annual Shakespeare in the Park series — is mounting an original musical version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood through Feb. 24. The Tolucan Times called it “an excellent production that packs an emotional wallop.”

Tinsel Town often is joked about as a place that respects nothing but money. It’s reassuring to see groups of people donating their time simply because they love what they do.

It was a welcomed surprise, then, to return to Vegas and see the very next day a reading of an original musical at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The music and lyrics were written by Wayne Green, the current musical director of Wynn Las Vegas’ “Spamalot,” and featured members of several local shows, all pitching in to help Green hear his vision. It was very L.A.-ish.

And finally, 2007 UNLV grad Zonya Love, who in January got the lead in Broadway’s “The Color Purple,” will have a brief reign as a Great White Way star. The show is closing at the end of this month. But Love is optimistic. “‘Wow’ sums up my experience,” she told me. “It is still a great test of strength and diligence. I have gained more confidence in myself, and I look forward to doing more.”

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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