By Hillel Aron
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By Jill Stewart
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Although Cirque du Soleil's new show at the Kodak Theatre isn't scheduled to open until next year, the famously tight-lipped French-Canadian conglomerate will, if asked, drop some hints about the nature of the Hollywood show.
It will be a traditional Cirque performance, meaning heavy on the acrobatics, bright costumes and live, original music, Daniel Lamarre, Cirque's CEO, says by phone from his Montreal office. That mixture would have been expected not too many years ago. But the last three shows Cirque opened in Las Vegas — Beatles-scored Love, the magic show Criss Angel Believe and Viva Elvis — lack one or more of those elements.
Lamarre revealed little else, other than to say that the twirling acrobats and death-defying aerialists at the core of the 368 performances each year will pay homage to the movies. The show will go on twice a day, five days a week for 11 months of the year, vacating around the time the Academy Awards are presented in the Kodak late each winter.
Lamarre says the new show will open in 2011, and pegs the total cost at $100 million. Nobody from the Kodak returned L.A. Weekly's calls. In July, owner CIM Group persuaded the L.A. City Council to loan it the money to retrofit the Kodak for Cirque.
Every year, some 18 million people wander past the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, looking around, visiting their favorite stars' stars and hopping on tour buses to spy on the homes of the famous.
"They're looking for someone who will tell them something about all of this that is around them," Lamarre says. "That's what we would create."
The new show brings risks for both CIM and Cirque. Los Angeles has been a crucial scene for Cirque, which was a ragtag group of street performers about to go broke when they spent their last shekels to come to the L.A. Arts Festival in 1987 with We Reinvent the Circus, which was a smashing success.
In 1990, Cirque's performance of Nouvelle Experience at Santa Monica Pier was seen by Vegas mogul Steve Wynn, who brought it to the parking lot of the Mirage resort in Las Vegas. Wynn then built a custom theater at the new Treasure Island resort for a new show, Mystere. That launched the Cirque empire.
But Vegas, which now has seven concurrent Cirque shows, has a vastly different business model from the Hollywood & Highland complex. In Las Vegas, the company has a partnership with MGM Mirage, in which the casino corporation builds the theater, Cirque builds the show and they share the profits. But the resort doesn't make most of its money off the shows, it makes it from the gambling, shopping, hotel stays and dining of those who come to see the shows. CIM will have no similar revenue source.
As for Cirque, the danger here is actually to its many — some say too many — shows in Las Vegas. Since a third of Vegas tourists come from Southern California, will they spend their limited time on the Strip seeing shows they perceive as similar to what they can see back home?
"What makes Cirque special is that it's here in Las Vegas and it's permanent, so they can do things they can't do in touring shows," says Richard Abowitz, a Las Vegas–based L.A. Times entertainment columnist and a blogger at GoldPlatedDoor.com. "If you can do that in L.A., I find that at least as threatening as another Cirque show on the Strip."
MGM Mirage brass, however, have a different theory. The gaming industry in the 1990s was white with fear that the proliferation of casinos around the nation and in Southern California would harm Vegas but instead found that it whetted the appetite of gamblers who then wanted to check out the real thing.
So, too, shall it be with Cirque, says MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman. Cirque has a six-months-a-year perennial production planned for New York's Radio City Music Hall that will launch in 2011, too.
"As time goes by and more and more people understand that no two Cirque shows are the same, I view those permanent shows in New York and Los Angeles as opportunities, not threats," Feldman says. "It can be, if you had a good time here, whether here is Luxembourg or L.A., then come to Las Vegas.”