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Nevada Conservatory Theater founder Robert Brewer dies at age 70

Updated May 9, 2017 - 10:19 pm

Nevada Conservatory Theater founder and former UNLV professor Robert “Bob” Brewer died Thursday. He was 70.

Brewer, who lived in Las Vegas for 28 years, worked as a director for the musical theater graduate program at UNLV and directed more than 20 productions during his tenure. Brewer’s daughter Kate Gingras said the cause of death was complications from Lewy body dementia.

He enjoyed many forms of drama, his wife, Sherri Brewer said, especially musicals and opera. He “absolutely ran the gamut.”

In his lifetime, Brewer directed shows across the country and traveled to Scotland to direct two more, his wife said. Brewer directed operas in New York’s Central Park, San Francisco and Maine and worked under the National Endowment for the Arts, visiting theaters in different cities and writing reports for funding.

The Nevada Conservatory Theater, which Brewer founded in 2003, brought professional talent to the city, including Sandy Duncan to play in “The Glass Menagerie” and Sally Struthers to play in “Annie,” Brewer’s wife said.

Westward bound

Brewer was born in Chicago to second-generation Polish immigrants in 1946. He later changed his name from Baczak to Brewer because “he thought it would be a better, more theatrical name,” Sherri Brewer said.

In his early years, Brewer was encouraged by an aunt and uncle to pursue the arts, his wife said. With their support, his interest grew, and he later attended the University of Illinois to pursue an undergraduate degree in theater. While there, he met his wife at an audition for a school production.

Through the show, the two developed a close bond.

“We thought we were the two funniest people around,” she said.

They were married two years later. Together, they attended Penn State for graduate school.

The new couple felt scared to move to New York, even though it had ample opportunities for acting, Sherri Brewer said. So they moved to Boston instead.

“We had nothing, no job, nothing at all,” Sherri Brewer said. “Bob, being the brave soul that he was, went trotting down to Harvard. He walked right through the door and said, ‘I’d like to direct.’ ”

The school declined Brewer’s proposal, but offered a stage management position, which he accepted. Through Harvard’s theater department, Brewer made the connections necessary to work at Julliard. At age 25, he became the youngest faculty member to ever teach at the esteemed school for the arts.

After about two decades in New York City, Brewer received a call offering a teaching position at UNLV. He agreed and joined the faculty in 1989. UNLV professor Jeffrey Koep hired Brewer to build the musical theater program for graduates.

“He was a caring, compassionate teacher,” Koep said of Brewer. “Las Vegas and the theater have lost a true friend.”

In 2011, Brewer retired from UNLV and devoted the final years of his life to his family and travel.

Brewer is survived by his wife, Sherri; his daughter, Kate; his grandson, Jacob; and his brother, Richard. The family will hold services Saturday at Palm Mortuary on 7600 S. Eastern Ave.

Contact Rachel Hershkovitz at rhershkovitz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @rzhershkovitz on Twitter.

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