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October 31, 2014

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Success of ‘The Tempest’ was no illusion, but is it built for Broadway?

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L.E. Baskow

Aaron Posner and Teller discuss some finer points of co-directing “The Tempest” adapted from the play by William Shakespeare on Tuesday, March 11, 2014. The production opens next month at the Smith Center in a tent at Symphony Park.

‘The Tempest’ Rehearsal at Smith Center

Actors Manelich Minifee and Zach Eisenstat as Caliban rehearse a scene Tuesday, March 11, 2014, from “The Tempest,” which opens next month at the Smith Center in Symphony Park. Launch slideshow »

‘The Tempest’ World Premiere at Smith Center

The world premiere of William Shakespeare's Launch slideshow »

On the final afternoon performance of “The Tempest” at the now-famous Tempest Tent at the Smith Center, Teller darted around the grassy backstage area clutching a steno notepad and chatting up cast members who had just bowed for a capacity audience.

That notepad was filled with notes in red ink, as if bleeding with ideas and suggestions.

“There really aren’t that many (notes) in here,” Teller said, remarking that he was going to deliver these edits to the show’s co-director Aaron Posner, who along with Teller five years ago envisioned this adaptation of William Shakespeare’s final play. “He’s going to have these actors for a week in a rehearsal studio in Cambridge (Mass.) without the burden of all the physical elements. Without having to create magic tricks and without having to project voices, any of that stuff.”

“The Tempest” was a precise, tightly executed production in its month in Las Vegas. As Smith Center President Myron Martin, Teller and even consultant Johnny “The Great Tomsoni” Thompson have noted through the run, the show performed impressively at the box office, and the final two performances Sunday — one a matinee and that night’s finale — were sold out. The venue ran out of programs at the 2:30 p.m. show.

The first partnership of a Las Vegas production and the American Repertory Theater now moves to the A.R.T.’s Loeb Drama Center at Harvard University for a series of performances from May 11-June 15.

Having won Tony Awards for its presentations of “Pippin” in 2013 and “Porgy & Bess” a year earlier, A.R.T. is a powerful entity in American theater and is accustomed to sending shows to Broadway. The expertly crafted performances in “The Tempest,” mixing great magic, well delivered live music and captivating acting, seems destined for a Broadway theater.

Does Teller agree?

“There’s no way to predict that, and to make any statements on that would be presumptuous,” Teller said. “But it certainly seems to me to be a much better piece of entertainment than many things I’ve seen on Broadway, and I’ve seen many things on Broadway that were not half as entertaining and rich as this."

Teller has once already delivered an original show to New York. Four years ago, his “Play Dead” premiered at the Rio’s Calypso Room (the onetime home of “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding”) before moving off-Broadway to the Players Theater in Greenwich Village.

“I think, to a degree, the fact that ‘Play Dead’ had its origins here and moved from here to New York (and later to L.A.), that was a legitimate piece of theater, but also a legitimate piece of entertainment,” he said. “I think, where we are now, partly thanks to the Smith Center and people like Tony Hseih, who are taking the idea of downtown seriously, we’re now starting to be an area where the arts can originate in Las Vegas and move elsewhere.”

Teller spoke of the unique setting for “The Tempest,” a facility that was structurally sturdy but did allow for outside noise to enter.

“I’m thrilled that this very potentially disastrous combination of things actually does work and that these noises really illuminate the story and illuminate what Shakespeare wrote,” he said. “They don’t in any way obscure it. They punctuate it at times. Let’s face it, this play is out there. It’s out there where the buses don’t stop … although the helicopters do fly by.”

And now the carnival is pulling up its tent, next stop Cambridge, its final destination to be magically revealed.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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