Theater repeats dull Las Vegas playhouses’ season lineups

Looking at the newly announced local plays for the 2010-11 season (printed in Thursday’s Review-Journal) one word comes to mind: caution. There are lots of small-scale shows we’ve seen before; few new titles that elicit excitement.

Theater owners argue they’ve got to give audiences what they want, or they won’t be able to keep their doors open. Die-hard arts fans say playhouses are responsible for raising the bar, and how can they do that when they keep catering to the lowest denominator?

I admit I groaned when I saw another “Annie” and “The Sound of Music” on the boards (at Super Summer Theatre and Signature Productions, respectively). But, since it’s been several years since we’ve seen either, there are probably many children who have yet to be exposed to these works. Super Summer is also doing another title we could use a break from — “Fiddler on the Roof” — but its third summer show is a local premiere of the highly touted, recent “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Maybe that’s a semisolution for a playhouse: Do at least one show a season that’s risky, of quality and new. Signature on the other hand is doing not only “The Sound of Music,” but also the oft-seen “Little Shop of Horrors” and the mediocre (in script) “Singin’ in the Rain.” Might they not have included at least one quality recent script in their lineup?

Las Vegas Little Theatre’s mainstage titles sound like yesterday’s leftovers, led by the two-person “Greater Tuna” (seen here before and now being hosted at the Vegas-popular Utah Shakespearean Festival), and the drama “Doubt,” which played the Nevada Conservatory Theatre 2007-08 season.

Nevada Conservatory has a peculiarly lean lineup, including the three-person drama “Fool for Love” and the small-scale musical “The Fantasticks.” I’m sure this will save the theater lots of money, but do we really need tax dollars going to support what have become staples of community programming? Another Conservatory production is a script written by artistic director Robert Benedetti. Artistic directorships are great gigs. You don’t have to look far for creative outlet and monetary rewards.

In addition to the shows I’ve already mentioned that are being repeated, we will have seen, in less than a year, four productions of “Macbeth.” And the Utah Fest is now presenting “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which played the Nevada Conservatory’s 2008-09 season.

Of course, a good production of anything always is welcomed. And there are some hopeful signs: Nevada Conservatory has got “Spring’s Awakening” coming up, a rarely performed, very adult look at adolescent sexuality. And some small groups that are young and slow to firm up plans seem determined to uncover treasures.

In an arts-healthy town, the lack of imagination involved in many of this season’s titles wouldn’t matter, because they would be merely supplements. But here, with so much yet unseen, all these old titles are chokeholds. They’re stifling the growth of a culture that should have matured years ago.

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

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