“Kinky Boots” to Launch National Tour at the Smith, a First for Vegas

“Kinky Boots” to Launch National Tour at the Smith, a First for Vegas
"Kinky Boots" will launch its national tour in September 2014 in Las Vegas.
(© Matthew Murphy)

The recent news that “Kinky Boots,” fresh from its win of six Tony Awards including Best Musical, would launch its national tour in Las Vegas shone a spotlight on the reversal of fortune for Broadway in the famed gambling and entertainment mecca. Chalk that up to the venue where “Kinky Boots” will play in September of 2014: the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Prior to the opening of the beautiful art-deco 2,050-seat theater in March of 2012, Broadway shows were a catch-as-catch-can affair. Second-rate touring shows might play Cashman Field or the Aladdin Hotel, while sit-downs productions on the Strip were a mixed bag: healthy runs for “Mamma Mia!” “Jersey Boys,” and “Chicago,” but shows like “Avenue Q,” “Spamalot,” “Hairspray,” and, most recently, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” either flopped or underperformed.

The Smith has changed all that. Myron Martin, the president and CEO of the center, said that when the organization embarked on its subscription series in the fall of 2012 with a six-week run of “Wicked,” he and other administrators hoped to garner 6,000 members. The season opened with more than 10,000 and is currently at 11,000. “There was a pent-up demand for Broadway,” Martin said, adding that the subscribers include a significant number of first-timers for theater. “They don’t want to miss out on the coolest thing happening on Vegas.”

 

That may sound a bit self-promotional, but there’s no question that the Smith has had a transformative effect on not only the community but also on how Vegas is viewed by the Broadway establishment. It is no longer just a haven for Cirque du Soleil shows, magic acts, highly-paid pop singers, and strip shows.

“I think [the Smith] has added a touch of class to the idea of theater in Las Vegas and a touch of first class to Vegas,” said Jerry Mitchell, the Tony Award-winning director-choreographer of “Kinky Boots” who, at age 20, danced in Vegas at the Aladdin Hotel, and who created the strip-a-thon “Peep Show” for Vegas’s Planet Hollywood.

Indeed, the Smith, home to the Nevada Ballet and the Las Vegas Philharmonic, has drawn the attention of Broadway’s major players as a lucrative and prestigious touring stop. The new season, bookended by “Les Miserables” and  “The Book of Mormon,” is a case in point. In between, there are productions of “Once,” “Wizard of Oz,” “Sister Act,” “Evita,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Flashdance,” and “Porgy and Bess.” Each production will play a week with the exception of “Mormon,” which will play six.

“The most asked question among our subscribers has been, ‘When are you bringing “Book of Mormon,”’” said Martin, referring to the phenomenal drawing power of the musical, even in a state in which there is a sizable number of Mormons and conservative Christians. “I don’t speak for ‘The Book of Mormon,’” he added, “but the producers have done a very good job of saying what it is and reminding people that the creators for it [Trey Parker and Matt Stone] are responsible for ‘South Park.’”

The sheer variety of this season’s offerings — including the Tony-winning Best Play “War Horse,” a wartime drama — are an irresistible lure to Nevada’s theater lovers. And the prices — averaging $24 to $89 per ticket — may be the best reason to move to Las Vegas. Martin has also experimented with offering musicals such as “American Idiot” outside of the subscription series in order to draw in a younger crowd.  Although the production did not sell out, it did prove “beneficial” to the overall strategy of addressing the needs and tastes of the entire Las Vegas community, Martin said.

The downtown campus — which occupies five acres in the 61-acre Symphony Park — includes two other performance spaces, a 258-seat cabaret and a 250-seat black box. Martin said that he is not surprised that a major Broadway show would choose to launch a tour at the Smith but he is pleased that it has happened less than two years into its existence. “We were looking for something that would put the Smith Center on the cultural map, but I didn’t think it would happen this soon,” he said.  

While the next step in the Smith’s evolution may well be to help to develop shows for the Broadway market — Las Vegas as a tryout town would be appealing for any number of reasons including an enthusiastic subscription base — Martin looks to
“Kinky Boots” to anchor his next season. Mitchell said that the producer has reason to be sanguine about its prospects. 

“Cyndi Lauper’s international name will draw a lot of people to see what she’s written,” said the director of the show written by Harvey Fierstein about a drag queen whose fetishistic footwear designs rescue an ailing British shoe factory. “And the show’s got a title that Vegas should warm to very nicely.”