“From Dust To Dreams: Opening Night at The Smith Center For The Performing Arts” in Las Vegas
By Valerie Milano
Beverly Hills, CA (Hollywood Today) 9/21/12 – “I am so honored to have been a part of the Smith Center’s opening night,” said the GRAMMY winning recording artist, Martina McBride to Hollywood Today. “I am excited for viewers at home to see how magical the night was performing with some of the most iconic names in music.”
Las Vegas is all about the entertainment from shows, concerts, gambling, parties, conventions, hotels yet now it is even more as it gives back to its community with its own 2,050 seater, the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. In true Vegas showmanship style, PBS gives the world a peek into the grandeur of the desert’s newest jewel. A legendary line-up of talent from the worlds of music, television, stage and screen join together for an unprecedented night of entertainment in “From Dust To Dreams: Opening Night at The Smith Center For The Performing Arts” in Las Vegas, set to air tonight on PBS Friday, September 21st at 9pm ET/PT.
This historic television event is filmed with ten cameras and it is hosted by Emmy Award-winning actor Neil Patrick Harris The show features performances by Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson, country superstars Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Emmy Lou Harris and Martina McBride, iconic singer-songwriter Carole King, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, world renowned classical violinist Joshua Bell, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Member John Fogerty, Gospel great Mavis Staples, Train lead singer Pat Monahan, and American Ballet Theater dancers Marcello Gomes and Luciana Paris. The magical event is produced by George Stevens, Jr. and directed/ produced by Michael Stevens, Winners of 19 EMMY Awards
“From Dust To Dreams” showcases never-before-seen duets and artist collaborations: Train’s Pat Monahan takes the stage with Martina McBride for their first-ever performance of “A Song for You.” Mavis Staples teams with Carole King for their performance of the timeless classic “You’ve Got a Friend.” In a powerhouse trio of talents brought together for the first time, Jennifer Hudson takes the stage with Martina McBride and Carole King for an unforgettable performance of “Natural Woman.” Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard prove once again why they are country music royalty with their rendition of “Pancho & Lefty.” Later, they are joined by Emmylou Harris for a special version of Haggard’s classic “Ramblin’ Fever.”
The world of Broadway is represented by Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell (Kiss Me Kate, Man of La Mancha, Ragtime), Laura Osnes (Grease, South Pacific, Anything Goes), Cheyenne Jackson (television’s Glee, 30 Rock and Broadway’s Finian’s Rainbow, All Shook Up), Sherie Rene Scott (Aida, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Little Mermaid, Women on the Verge), Montego Glover (Memphis, Color Purple) and Benjamin Walker (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, Inherit the Wind).
“We set out to celebrate the best of the American creative spirit whether it was classical, Broadway, rock, dance or soul on the occasion of the opening of a world class performing arts center,” comments director and producer, Michael Stevens. “It’s not every day that you get the chance to see such a range of artists all at the peak of their respective talents.”
“This was an historic night in Las Vegas and the Smith Center was thrilled with the show. George and Michael Stevens produced an extraordinary celebration filled with timeless and inspiring performances,” adds Myron Martin, President and CEO of The Smith Center for The Performing Arts.
At a recent press conference, a candid preview was shared by several important key players in the Center’s operation as well as the PBS special. A little more on the structure itself, the Smith Center looks like a combination of a great theater with elements of the most beautiful of the old European opera houses. Myron Smith shares “So the Smith Center at the end of the day was a $470 million project. Throughout the process with our design architects and our design team, including David Schwarz out of Washington, DC, we took our team to the greatest concert halls and opera houses around the world. We went to the Paris Opera House and Le Venice and the Musikverein and La Scala and Carnegie Hall, and the very best performance halls in the world. And we said, “If we are going to do this, we are going to do it at that level. If we are going to go to the trouble to build a world class performing arts center, it truly has to be among the very best.” And, fortunately, the media has been very kind. One of the first concerts was the Cleveland Orchestra. And as you know, those who write about classical music can be pretty tough. And this is a writer who followed the orchestra on their North American tour and wrote that, out of all of the performances that the Cleveland Orchestra had around the country, they sounded best in Las Vegas at the Smith Center. And it wasn’t by accident. We hired the acoustician long before we hired the architect. We hired the theater designer before we hired the architect to make sure that people had good sight lines and you could see the show no matter where you sat. This was truly a community who came out to do something extraordinary. And I guess the price tag should suggest it, but you know, you can spend $470 million and not get something as good as this one. We think it’s among the greatest performance venues in the world, and I hope that the performers who come and join us there feel the same way.”
The first singer to ever sing on the Smith Center stage is Cheyenne Jackson, who shares “I would definitely second that. I mean, I’ve had the privilege in the last couple of years to sing in a lot of different places. I did my first solo show at Carnegie Hall in November. The Smith Center was impeccable, and everybody was talking about it. All of the singers were talking about it. And I remember you said because we were the first ones to sing on it, and I had to open the show with “Something’s Coming” from “West Side Story,” and you said, “You are the first person to ever sing on this stage. No pressure.” But it sounds beautiful and lush and easy, and you can hear everything. It’s worth every penny.’ Cheyenne Jackson shares about his stage roots, ‘When I was a sophomore in high school, and we had a french teacher named Ms. Henry, she was like the culture lady. She would take the kids on field trips and stuff to Spokane, Washington, the big town around. That’s where I was born, actually. She took us to “Les Mis.” We had to sign consent forms because she said, “There are some ladies of the night in this show.” So, you know, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that it was, like, a second national tour of “Les Mis.” I realized that’s their job. You can do that for a living? So that’s when I thought, “I’m going to do that.”
Michael Stevens adds “But I’ll share from a television perspective, which speaks to what Myron and his team did so well, is that the team that we bring together for our shows, whether it’s The Kennedy Center Honors or the Obama inaugural, like a memorial in 2009, it’s a team that does all of the big shows, whether it’s the Grammy’s or the Academy Awards, the Country Music Awards. They’ve seen everything. They’ve been there. They’ve done that. And part of what they worry about is going into a new facility and saying, “Why did they do oh, that was wrong, and uh.” And we had the burden of coming in with basically four or five days to load in and get a show done. And I’m like for example, at the Kodak Theater, the team came in. They loaded in, and they said, “They did everything correctly here.” All of the conduit was there for the pipe for the cable runs. There was adequate loading space in the back of the stage. They said, “to a T.” And these are guys that have been doing it for 30 or 35 years. They said, “The Smith Center did this correctly, and it’s rare that it gets done correctly because we’ve been in enough situations with theaters where you go, ‘You can’t do X, Y, or Z because this isn’t there or that isn’t there,’ and the Smith Center did it correctly.”
Myron Smith comments, ‘Can I just say that, as we put the Smith Center together, we set out to hire the very best talent no matter what it was we were doing, architecture or the talent we put on the stage. And when Paula Kerger and I first had that conversation about why don’t we put opening night on PBS, my board and I agreed that, just like everything else we did, we needed to find the best people to help us produce this for television. And somebody in my board room said, “Well, you know, you should see who’s won the most Emmy Awards for this kind of thing.” George Stevens and Michael Stevens, I think. And that’s who we called. And how many times did you tell me no? Michael Stevens responds, ‘It’s very funny. It’s actually not very funny, but I’ll share it with you anyways. It was the classic father and son conversation. “Son, there’s this fellow from Las Vegas. He wants us to do a show. We should talk to him.” “Dad, we don’t want to do a show in Las Vegas. I don’t understand how that fits with what we do.” “Son, we really need to do it.” “Okay. We’ll talk to them, but let’s make it very clear we don’t want to do the show.” In the course of a 45 minute conversation, we said no ten times because, again, that oxymoron, performing arts center, Las Vegas. Very clearly because of Myron and because of his persuasiveness and that he said, “I believe in what you all do, that I want you to come to Las Vegas, at least see the hall. Don’t commit to anything.” And it was a courtship. And very clearly, Dad and I agreed that this was really an opportunity, as I shared with earlier, to make a show that really does present the best in American performing arts. It can sound trite or sweet, but as you all reacted to what you heard, there is nothing like the power of music and performance to move and stir the soul, and that’s what we do as producers on television in a very small way. We are not “American Idol.” We are not “The Voice.” We are not, you know, “CSI,” it’s what Myron and his team in Las Vegas have set out to do, to show that a performing arts center can make a city become not a place to visit, but a place to stay. And that was the message that he had for us from the beginning. We kind of had our doubts about it, but when we really dug into it and saw how, in truth, the building of this performing arts center is going to be as important to Nevada and Las Vegas as the building of the Hoover Dam, I became a believer. It is absolutely true. We had a joyous experience sharing that journey to get the performing arts center completed but also to share with you all, really, the best, as Cheyenne has shown, in American performing arts.’
Myron Martin shares ‘I produce shows on The Strip. I totally get the mind set, and for people who come and visit our great town, on any given night, there’s something like 125 different shows you can choose from. We take care of our tourists really well. This was built primarily for those of us who live there, the 2 million plus people who live in Las Vegas, who have been thirsting for this. Let me give you an example. So far we, in the four and a half months we’ve been open, we’ve done six weeks of first run touring Broadway shows. In fact, tonight, right now as we speak, is the last performance of “Memphis,” the Broadway show. It’s sold out. It’s completely sold out. You couldn’t get a ticket tonight for the show as you couldn’t all week long for this performance. In August we bring “Wicked” for six weeks. There’s never been a place for “Wicked” or “Mary Poppins” or many of the Broadway shows to sit down on a long term basis. So the community has totally, truly, and absolutely supported this center as a place of their own, but that doesn’t mean on any given night there isn’t a line of taxis who have gone to their concierge from hotels and said, “What do the locals do? I want to go to something authentic.”And they’re finding their ways to our architectural marvel.’
Michael Stevens enlightens the press with more details, ‘The bottom line was that that show happened in a compressed amount of time, so quickly. I directed and produced the show. So I spent more time in the truck than I did on the stage. But the process of putting together a show like that was something that happened over about eight weeks, and it really was a question of, in a very strategic way, going down the line and saying, “Who have we worked together with before? Who might be right for this occasion?” We brought together the wonderful Rob Ashford, who is our collaborator on the Kennedy Center Honors, who’s a top shelf Tony-nominated director and choreographer, and I worked with him and assigned to him this process of these integral Broadway sequences beginning, middle, and end of being the narrative thrust of the show and then went to the Jennifer Hudsons, and I went to Neil and Willie and Merle and Emmylou and basically said, “We’re doing something special. It will be along you know, it will be at the level of the quality and the perspective and the reach of what we do on the Kennedy Center Honors when you were with us, and we really hope you can be with us.” And it really then became a process of saying what would we like to see, for example, Martina McBride and Pat Monahan from Train do together. For example, we’re all huge fans of Leon Russell’s song “A Song For You,” and it just felt like an organic fit of the two of them doing a duet at the end together of that song as an example.
Myron Martin adds ‘And part of their brilliance as producers is trying to come up with things that average producers don’t, and I just want to say this production ended with Neil Patrick Harris introducing a song that most people probably don’t know from “1800 [sic] Pennsylvania Avenue.” It’s called “Take Care of This House.” And Neil Patrick Harris said Jennifer Hudson would like to sing this for you, “Take Care of This House,” as our way of saying to you who built this place take great care of the Smith Center, and that’s producing.’
From Dust To Dreams: Opening Night at The Smith Center For The Performing Arts is part of the ongoing, multi-platform “PBS Arts” initiative, which highlights PBS’s commitment to the performing and visual arts, and gives millions of viewers a front-row seat and a backstage pass for the best music, theater, dance, art, and cultural history programs on-air and online.
The Stevens Company is one of the industry’s most respected and lauded production companies helmed by a father-and-son team with a combined seven decades of experience as storytellers of the highest artistic caliber – feature film, documentaries, and event television specials. Michael and George Stevens, Jr. have produced the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors together for a decade, the performing arts celebration which George Stevens, Jr. started in 1978. They earned Emmys for the 2008, 2009, and 2010 productions of the Honors–one of only 12 programs in television history to win in three consecutive years. At President Obama’s invitation, the Stevens conceived and produced “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial” and secured talent ranging from Bono to Jon Bon Jovi to Garth Brooks and Jamie Foxx for the historic event. In 2011 their award winning film “Thurgood” which starred Laurence Fishburne as the Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall who paved the way for racial integration in our nation’s school drew widespread critical acclaim on HBO. In 1998, they collaborated on their first feature together, Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line,” which was nominated for seven Academy Awards.
The Smith Center for the Performing Arts is a public/private partnership that is becoming the centerpiece of cultural life in Las Vegas, offering a blend of performances by resident companies, as well as first-run touring attractions. The Smith Center is the cultural center for Las Vegas – a place that educates, entertains and excites the citizens of our great community. Located in downtown’s 61-acre urban development, Symphony Park, The Smith Center broke ground in May of 2009 and opened to the public March 2012. For more information about The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, visit http://www.thesmithcenter.com.