Velotta: ‘Book of Mormon’ could make Smith Center a hot ticket

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When the Smith Center for the Performing Arts opens in March, it’s expected to be a cultural magnet for downtown Las Vegas; An attraction that not only will serve residents, but also bring visitors to a venue expected to be among the best of its kind in the country.

For years, Southern Nevadans have lamented the lack of a performing arts center to house resident artists, the Las Vegas Philharmonic, and the Nevada Dance Theatre and to host touring companies.

Casinos have done a commendable job of bringing top-rate talent (Luciano Pavarotti) and Broadway shows (The Lion King) to town. But there’s no substitute for a world-class venue to house touring shows and internationally acclaimed performers. And, trust me, people will come to Las Vegas just to see them.

So what’s on the Smith Center’s calendar? Theatre aficionados are excited about the lineup.

“The Color Purple,” a musical based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book and the subsequent Steven Spielberg film, will be the first direct from Broadway offering, April 3-8. That will be followed by Disney’s “Mary Poppins,” May 22-27, “Million Dollar Quartet,” a depiction of a one-night recording session between Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, June 12-17, and the 2010 Tony Award-winning musical “Memphis,” July 18-22. Remember, that’s 2012.

The Smith Center made a big splash by announcing its marquee show on the slate, Wicked, which has been the top-selling Broadway show for the past six years. Its scheduled run here is Aug. 28-Oct. 7, 2012.

Broadway’s current top-selling show is a production that got accolades at Sunday night’s Tony Awards. “The Book of Mormon,” which reviewers have called “an equal-opportunity-offending musical from the creators of South Park,” was expected to win several of the 14 awards for which it was nominated.

Which got me to thinking: Would “The Book of Mormon” ever find its way to the stage at the Smith Center considering the vast number of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faithful in Southern Nevada?

“I’ve seen the show and it’s absolutely the hottest ticket I’ve ever seen on Broadway,” said Myron Martin, president and CEO of the Smith Center. “It’s also the rudest, most vulgar and most hilarious show I’ve ever seen on Broadway.”

Anyone who has watched an episode of South Park knows how the minds of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who co-wrote “The Book of Mormon” with “Avenue Q” composer and lyricist Robert Lopez, work. Martin admitted that there were times when he was squirming in his seat when he watched The Book of Mormon.

“I’m sure that there are people out there that might not like it,” Martin said. “But the day I was there, no one walked out. I sat down the row from (Rep.) Nancy Pelosi and I wondered if she was going to make it through the whole show. She did, and she laughed at all the right places.”

The story by Parker and Stone, who have admitted to being fascinated by LDS theology and the perky outlook of church members, traces the path of two sheltered Utah-based missionaries who are selected to go to Uganda, where they are unprepared to face the horrors of poverty, AIDS and genital mutilation. Yes, it’s a comedy.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement when The Book of Mormon opened at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in March.

“The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but “The Book of Mormon” as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ,” the church says on its website.

Which sounds a little like, “I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right.”

So will “The Book of Mormon” play in Las Vegas? Martin said Smith Center executives are in discussions with show producers to bring a traveling company here.

“It’s hard to say no to a show that is as successful and hilarious as this one is,” Martin says. “Theater like this entertains and stretches boundaries. Art isn’t always politically correct.”

Martin says he hasn’t received one phone call, letter or email imploring him not to bring the show to the Smith Center.

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