Immersive productions, relocations and foundation building defined Vegas arts in 2019

Super Summer Theatre’s “Death Is a Drag” (left) and “Dear Evan Hansen” at the Smith Center
Photo: Miranda Alam and Matthew Murphy / Courtesy

This year, Las Vegas visual, literary, theatrical and performing arts scenes took several decisive steps forward. Here are just a few of the year's highlights.

Local Theater

The Las Vegas theater community had a "glow up" in 2019, making big steps to grow and mature. Long-roving company Poor Richard's Players began performing in its own permanent location, the Playhouse on south Decatur Boulevard. A Public Fit thoroughly renovated its Downtown venue, the Usual Place. Experimental Theatre the Lab LV announced its first full season and delivered several exceptional productions, including the tour de force boxing drama The Royale. Cockroach Theatre positioned itself for further respectability by changing its name to Vegas Theatre Company (the Cockroach name is now reserved for edgier stuff). Similarly, Sin City Opera became Vegas City Opera.

Super Summer Theatre officially expanded its winter programming with its In City Series. Majestic Repertory Theatre continued to expand its immersive theater offerings, becoming Las Vegas' first immersive event agency; in addition to its regular season, Majestic staged interactive experiences for Cirque du Soleil, Jack Daniel's, the Golden Tiki and more. Vegas Theater Hub continued its mission of educating and hosting a sharp new wave of improvisational performers. And finally, staunch scene supporter Eat More Art! Vegas received congressional recognition for its service to the arts community. Bravo!

Visual Arts

Block 17

Three celebrity artists made a big splash this year with visiting exhibitions: Tim Burton brought his playful Lost Vegas to the Neon Museum, an unofficial Banksy show landed at the Fashion Show Mall and a 2018 holdover, Yayoi Kusama, drew crowds to the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art to cram into one of her Infinity Rooms, if only for a few Instagram-friendly seconds. (The BGFA also hosted two more winning shows by Japanese artists: Yasuaki Onishi's Permeating Landscape and the Material Existence group show.)

The increasingly beer-centric Arts District nevertheless made news for several arts-related endeavors, chief among them an anti-ICE mural by Recycled Propaganda, the neighborhood departure of Clay Arts Vegas and a new gallery space for Priscilla Fowler. A new arts hub grew in Commercial Center's New Orleans Square plaza, as Hiptazmic Studio, Random Alchemy and others relocated there alongside Nancy Good's Core Contemporary. UNLV's Barrick Museum and assorted galleries delivered one thought-provoking blockbuster show after another, including group effort Block 17, LA import Axis Mundo and Justin Favela and Ramiro Gomez's Sorry for the Mess. And organizers Brent Holmes, Checko Salgado, Sierra Slentz and Joel Spencer were joined by Su Limbert, Heidi Rider, Mikayla Whitmore and others in creating an original desert art exhibition, the Bullfrog Biennal in Beatty.

Performing and Literary Arts

It was a big year for Nevada Ballet Theatre, which began its 35th year in the Valley by honoring Rita Moreno, that rare EGOT (Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony) phenomenon of the stage and screen. The spring production of Alice in Wonderland was a highlight, bringing Lewis Carroll's madcap tale to life with traditional ballet, modern and hip-hop. The Smith Center's Broadway series started the year with hot-ticket Dear Evan Hansen; audience favorite Wicked returned later in 2019. Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Philharmonic saved some surprises for the fall with its Very Vegas Showcase, a collaboration with Keith Thompson's Composers Showcase at Cabaret Jazz. It was an evening of original music, Rat Pack favorites and vocal performances by some of the city's most talented musicians.

Speaking of local talent, Mondays Dark celebrated a milestone in December: $1 million for charity raised over six years of performances. On the literary side, the Believer Festival celebrated its third year, and Believer-sponsored author readings and events found a new home at the Lucy, a multipurpose culture hub that also houses a greatly improved Writer's Block bookshop. And UNLV's Barrick Lecture Series brought such luminaries as Ryan Coogler and Annie Leibowitz to share their experiences.

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