By E.C. Gladstone
Cirque du Soleil and Las Vegas hotels are so intertwined now that the era when the Canadian circus/theater troupe didn’t dominate Strip entertainment seems like ancient history. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to see all the shows here, I thought I would offer a primer for those visitors who might have a hard time figuring out which Cirque du Soleil show they’d most enjoy.
O at Bellagio
The title of this Cirque du Soleil show is a pun on the French “eau,” or water, which is the centerpiece of this magnificent production, performed on a massive moving stage/tank of H2O. Two clown sailors provide both comic relief and a thematic thru-line between a variety of aqua-centered acts drawing on a world of cultural touchstones and archetypes: synchronized swimming, magnificent dives, trapeze artists, shadow play, fire play, drummers and more, all in an exquisite color palette and buoyed by a seamless cross-cultural musical score.
It’s truly a marvel of imagination, engineering, coordination and execution. Plus, it draws a well-dressed, great-looking audience, and there’s a Richard Macdonald sculpture exhibit in the Las Vegas hotel lobby.
KA at MGM Grand
For a show with perhaps the most flighty synopsis, KA is, in fact, the most down-to-earth. Inspired by Asian and Eurasian mythologies (mixed with some bleak futurism), KA follows a dramatic storyline of royal twins shipwrecked and split apart. The stage at this Las Vegas hotel not only rises and rotates but even turns vertical for several breathtaking scenes making it almost a videogame come to life. With pyrotechnics, fake snowstorms, slapstick and good ol’ fashioned shadow puppetry, KA is easily your best bet for a male friend resistant to Cirque du Soleil shows. No matter how macho, he’d have a hard time not leaving with a smile. I think the merch is also impressively fashionable.
The Beatles: LOVE at Mirage
Taking on the risky task of reinterpreting the Beatles’ music and mythology, LOVE — in a dramatic ampitheater in the round mashes up the Fab Four’s catalog and characters with adoring excess. There is so much continuous choreography onstage in this cinematic ’60s celebration that arguably the cheap seats take in more than the close ones. Unless you hate the music, you’ll leave feeling LOVE is all you need.
Zumanity at New York, New York
The most intimate (in size and subject) of the Cirque du Soleil shows here, Zumanity is also the most specifically “Vegas.” The subject is sex (18 and over only) and with an Amazonian transvestite as host/ess, you get all flavors within the 90-minute “circus.” With as many topless beauties as the average showgirl revue, Zumanity also sports several statuesque men, some physical oddities, and a healthy amount of audience participation. But this is more than titillation: there are also several impressive Cirque-style acrobatic performances, and at least as much elegance as eroticism.
Mystere at T.I.
As symbolized by the baby-man who is one of the recurring characters throughout the evening, Mystere reignites your sense of childlike wonder. Before the curtain is even up, unworldly creatures are filtering through and surrounding the audience, as drummers float down from the sky and bird-women cavort and contort. Kodo drummers, pole-dancing bird women, muscular contortionists, stunning trapeze and trampoline work, a multi-level, moving stage, visible orchestra and ethereal vocalists, and exceptional lighting effects are among the ingredients here. When the giant snail comes on stage, you may finally realize that the title is French for “what the heck?” Still, this is possibly the most family-friendly of the Cirque du Soleil shows, appropriate for kids five and up.
Criss Angel:Believe at Luxor
When even Las Vegas hotel publicists admit (off the record) that a show is a “train wreck,” what can you say? Attitudinal “Mindfreak” star Criss Angel is a moderately talented (in my opinion) magician onstage, but I think the combination of illusions with Cirque dancers and drama looks good only on paper. For those seeking sleight of hand, I’ll blog about the best Vegas magicians later …
Viva Elvis at ARIA
I usually resist the temptation to review a Las Vegas show this early in its run, even though I believe a show that’s ready to charge money should be ready to critique. Regardless, after being invited to two media presentations, here’s my take on the newest Cirque show: unlike LOVE, Viva Elvis is an oddly disjointed, sloppy set of postcards caricaturing episodes in The King’s life. Still a work in progress I’m told, VE has a handful of exciting numbers: “Gotta Lotta Lovin” (a great mash-up of several Elvis rockers), with superheroes flipping around a pinball-inspired trampoline set; “Mystery Train,” a medley of Elvis’ Sun songs, with cartoon cowboys doing amazing lasso tricks; “Burning Love,” and “Suspicious Minds.” Most of the remaining choreography adds little to the energy Elvis still shows in well-edited archival film projections (though it does recall well the cheesy pop of the ’50s). Quite a comfortable theater, though.
Insider Tip: Know a Nevada resident? Cirque du Soleil often offers discount deals for locals.
Veteran entertainment and travel writer E. C. Gladstone writes regularly on top Strip entertainers, restauranteurs, moguls and behind-the-scenes players for many local and national publications and Web sites. Like many Las Vegans, he sleeps only when absolutely necessary.