R.U.N For The Exit – Cirque du Soleil’s Latest is an EPIC DISASTER


Tone-deaf stunt show-cum-blockbuster confuses vulgarity and violence for action…

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If we can applaud entertainment companies for expanding outside of their comfort zone, then we’re surely entitled to speak up when they cross the line. That’s what’s been happening since Cirque du Soleil premiered R.U.N: The First Live Action Thriller at Luxor a few weeks ago. The public reaction has been overwhelmingly negative.

The outcry towards R.U.N has gotten so strong that I was bashed on Twitter for penning an opinion-free article describing the structure and content of the show for a freelance gig:

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Just how bad is it when readers DEMAND a negative review? Well…pretty darn bad indeed. R.U.N could have easily fallen into the category of “So awful that you have to see it”. Which is amusing when you consider that those very words described the previous occupant of Luxor’s theater – Criss Angel BeLIEve. That smelly heap of garbage somehow made it through ten long and miserable years (and several major overhauls) before Cirque could bleach away the stench and move forward with their next offering.

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But this is what they came up with for their newest show? I couldn’t for the life of me recommend R.U.N to anyone in good conscience…not even an enemy. It’s an ugly, inconsistent, poorly-planned and sloppily-executed mess that lies there like a dead body in a ditch. That is, except when characters are shouting F-bombs, being wheeled through the audience strapped to a torture device, having a syringe of drugs pumped into their arm or suspended over the audience by a metal claw driven into the face.

Yes, those things really happen in a Cirque du Soleil show….and people get up and walk out during these revolting sequences night after night (or so I’ve been told). It certainly happened during a Saturday 7pm timeslot that I attended. It’s also worth noting that despite plenty of nationwide advertisements and billboards all over the city, the auditorium was shockingly empty…..perhaps 25 percent of the seats were taken, and that’s not counting the two upper sections that are blocked off and covered with canvas. Ouch.

So how could something so awful make it past a brainstorming session, let alone twice-a-night performances on the Vegas Strip? Your guess is as good as mine. But let’s be real here….Cirque‘s reputation as a top provider of entertainment isn’t what it used to be. Viva Elvis did so poorly for ARIA that they ripped out their gorgeous theater when replacement production ZARKANA tanked there, too.

There have been numerous other missteps in the past few years that have allowed Spiegelworld (Absinthe, Opium and Atomic Saloon Show) to take away and put a new shine on Cirque’s tarnished crown. And the failing attendance of Cirque’s six other resident productions has led to rumors of them pulling out of Vegas altogether in the next few years. That’s what happens when you glut the market on a worldwide scale. You’re forced to eat your own tail just to survive.

Does anyone remember IRIS, the $100 million Cirque du Soleil resident show in Hollywood that closed after only 16 months? How about Paramour, the New York-based musical which did so poorly that Broadway’s LYRIC Theater paid Cirque $23 million just to close up and leave? There were other high-profile flops like Zaia in Macau, Zed in Tokyo, Banana Schpeel (New York/Chicago) and the first attempt to launch BAZ in Las Vegas (yes, it was Cirque that brought BAZ to Mandalay Bay before pulling out mere weeks into the run).

For some reason, Cirque du Soleil has been obsessed with Hollywood as of late. They seem to think that people want to pay over $100 to see a movie salute…at a time when people are skipping the cinemas and doing Netflix-and-chill at home. Besides film-centric IRIS and Paramour, they collaborated with director James Cameron on Worlds Away, a fantasy film that barely made a blip at the 2012 box office. Then Cirque produced TORUK – The First Flight, a poorly-reviewed touring show (based on Cameron’s AVATAR) that one magazine called “A troubling, redface spectacle”.

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                 R.U.N has guns, cars, drug dealers and LOTS of cardboard boxes…

Cirque even considered doing a Quentin Tarantino musical, but chose BAZ instead…because Tarantino films are so dark and violent! In an interview for Los Angeles Magazine in 2015, Cirque Theatrical‘s Scott Zeiger had this to say:

For the Record: Tarantino was going to be playing in Montreal. I went and loved it. I brought all of the top dogs from Cirque parent to see it. While all of them liked it, they were afraid for Cirque to get involved with this brand because the content of [Tarantino’s] films is pretty violent and deals with subject matter that might not be on the same wavelength with Cirque du Soleil’s more spiritual, love-oriented, happier themes.”

Yet here we are with a brand new $63 million production written by film director Robert Rodriguez, the man behind super-violent films like Planet Terror, Machete, Machete Kills and From Dusk Til Dawn. Somehow the company that once brought you glorious productions like Mystere and The Beatles LOVE thinks you want to spend an evening…and your hard-earned cash…watching the kind of show you’d slip into at Universal Studios for free to get out of the heat.

And as the photo below shows, people just didn’t care about the characters or what was going on all around them in the theater.

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                  Some people would rather stare at their phones than watch R.U.N…

That in itself shows just how tone-deaf Cirque has become to our current culture. And R.U.N lacks any kind of wink-wink fun that audiences might expect from the show’s advertisements. People are depicted as being tortured, killed and burned alive. One character has his arms and legs pulled out of joint and broken (with the sound of bone cracks amplified by Luxor’s megawatt sound system).

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Speaking of the sound system, this show is absolutely deafening. About five minutes in, my ears were literally hurting and my head began to throb. Fortunately, I’d read some online reviews warning about the extreme decibel level and brought along a pair of earplugs that stayed in place until the lights came up.

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So can this show be saved? Yes, it can. When Le Reve premiered at WYNN back in 2006, it was received so poorly that performances were cut and the production received a major retooling. Now it’s considered one of the best shows on the Strip…because audience reaction was analyzed and changes were made. And that HAS to happen with R.U.N, too.

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                   You’d have more fun playing a video game in a dark, creepy alley….

I predict a full closure for this show and a massive gutting. Costumes and sequences will be tossed out and the torture depictions have to go. Right now. There is no charismatic leading man to cheer for, no emotional investment in the fates of the characters, and even the plot (“retrieve a necklace to win” belongs in a video game, not a stage) will need to be refashioned into something people care about. A kidnapped child, perhaps? A damsel in distress? Anything but a pendant holding some secret data.

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The opening sequence, which is an actual film, goes on for far too long. From the get-go, people will be wondering “Did I just pay $300 to take my date to a movie?”. When flesh-and-blood characters actually appear, their performances and stunts will have you shrugging. Gang fights are so choreographed and punches so fake that you’ll think you’ve wandered into a high school production of “West Side Story”, despite silvery mylar costumes and moon boots that belong in a 90’s boyband video.

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Imagine if this show was built around an actual, heroic movie star! How cool would it be to watch the likes of Van Damme, Stallone, Chris Pratt or Dwayne Johnson doing their best stunt work before your eyes?  Even a live-action version of a familiar movie would be a cool idea…perhaps Rodriguez’s own SIN CITY, a hit film based on the works of Frank Miller. Now THAT is something I might recommend, not this violent, rambling and ugly excuse for a show.

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And yes, there were children in attendance despite a disclaimer stating that the material is intended for mature audiences 13 and up. I questioned a box office attendant as to whether they enforce this policy and she told me that they do not…it is a recommendation, not a restriction.

R.U.N is not a show for kids. Or teens. Or adults…or anyone, for that matter. Run as far away from R.U.N as you can…and don’t look back. Sorry, Cirque, but you’ve lost it…and heads are certainly going to roll.

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Normally I’d put ticketing information and showtimes here, but that’s not going to happen this time. See anything else (except for Mariah Carey or Criss Angel) but skip this bomb.

Photos: Sam Novak

BEHIND THE CURTAIN: KIM SCOTT OF CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

 


Excerpts from my article for Best Of Vegas…

There’s a memorable scene in 1977’s Annie Hall in which Woody Allen says “Those who can’t do…teach. And those who can’t teach…teach gym.” In the acrobatic world of Cirque du Soleil, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Behind the curtain of every Cirque show is an army of skilled technicians and a highly trained supporting cast. Step further back to discover a collection of individuals who work as a team to make the magic possible.

One such person is Kim Scott, Senior Manager of Sourcing and Partnerships for Cirque du Soleil Resident Division. Working from an impressive headquarters in western Las Vegas, Kim serves many key roles.

“I am responsible for ensuring the continued sourcing of qualified technicians to support our upcoming creations and current productions. I am also responsible for maintaining our position in the industry as a leader in live entertainment safety standards, and position(ing) Cirque du Soleil as an employer of choice.”

Read the rest by clicking here

Wynn’s LE REVE Makes New Waves With Major Revision


Detailing major updates to Wynn’s long-running signature production…

NOTE: This article previously appeared on another site in February 2017. There have been additional revisions to the show since then. I will be revisiting Le Reve very soon and will share those updates with you at a later time.

The aquatic show Le Reve – A Small Collection of Imperfect Dreams opened at Wynn Resort in May of 2005. It was an eerie tale told through acrobatics and a blend of water and aerial ballet. Sets were adorned with skulls and skeletons, while the ceiling was layered with actual casts of human bodies. The dream of an “everyman” protagonist caught both audiences and critics off-guard. It was surprisingly dark for a night out in Vegas and became a bit of a PR nightmare for the newly-opened resort.

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Despite the fact that this writer was blown away (I saw it on my first Vegas trip), the production was quickly retooled. A lengthy process of reinvention took place over the next several years, much in keeping with the “fluid” nature of its setting. Le Reve was lightened and brightened, transformed from a sinister nightmare into a sweeping adventure filled with romance, dance….and lots of flowers.

The reinvention worked. Le Reve – The Dream (its second official name) became a must-see…and winner of Best Production Show for six consecutive years (Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association). Throughout its run, additional artistic and technological elements have been added to keep audiences returning. My personal tally is twenty-seven as of this writing (you can read all about my previous experiences by visiting an archived VegasChatter article here).

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Perhaps it was a reflection of the times that a happy version of Le Reve soared while the economy was tanking. Failed projects continue to surround the Wynn/Encore property, reminders of a time when the future of Las Vegas growth suddenly seemed bleak. But for fans of Le Reve, all was sunny and bright.

Now that tourists are pouring back into Vegas in record numbers and money is flowing once more, the folks at Wynn Entertainment have once again retooled their namesake show (Wynn resort was originally to be called “Le Reve”). And surprise…the production has gone back to the beginning and restored a bit of the darkness.

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Why would an established show embrace an approach that didn’t work so well the first time around? Perhaps we can credit this to the current crop of Vegas enthusiasts. Younger crowds that make Sin City their go-to destination these days don’t generally attend this type of production. But they do indulge in imagination-based entertainment like gaming, martial artistry, sci-fi, and superheroes.

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Le Reve version 2017 has tapped into the burgeoning fantasy culture and brought heroes and villains to the center of Le Reve’s aqua-stage. A romantic triangle that forms the core of its storyline has been amped up, with characters and costumes having a new sense of familiarity to genre fans. Elements of AVATAR and Ridley Scott’s LEGEND, sword/sorcery visuals and graphic novel sensibilities have been woven into the plotline, along with a dashing prince-like hero (in a billowy romance-cover shirt) and a bald, muscular challenger in black leather pants.

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As you might expect, Le Reve is much less of a musical now. The live singing doesn’t kick in until the second third of the show. Most of the ballroom dancing has been jettisoned, along with three angels who served as comic relief. In their place are two impish sidekicks who serve a staff-wielding Dream Master. That ominous character sends the dreamer into her adventure and leads her from one experience to the next before returning her to our world.

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Certain acts remain relatively unchanged, like a wild sequence with giant fishing nets and another with three female acrobats inside of a sphere. Natural elements like rain, snow, and fire have been amped up. A new effect features globes made entirely of water that descend from an enormous domed ceiling….while flames swirl around inside of them. It’s hard to describe, but absolutely breathtaking.

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As you might expect, not all is perfect in the new Le Reve. The happy-ending finale is set to a horribly cheesy song that would be more at home in Disney’s Parade of Lights. The Piece Montee set, a multi-tiered fountain from which high-divers leap and spin, is now adorned with Day-Glo accents that resemble a child’s aquarium. In fact, the entire sequence feels like a deleted scene from The Little Mermaid or Finding Nemo.

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A source connected with the show told me (on condition of anonymity) that the current finale is a remnant from a different failed revision that Steve Wynn halted (Wynn has had a hands-on role since purchasing the rights from creator Franco Dragone in 2006 and provides a voice-over in the latest rollout).

Apparently, this jettisoned re-imagining was only performed twice for audiences before being packed up and tossed into the dead pool. For whatever reason, the “get-happy” conclusion from the discarded reworking remains. It could easily be excised until another one is created and the show would still feel complete.

The source went on to say that original composer Benoit Jutras has been working on a new score to balance the overall tone and that a lyricist will be adding songs back into the production soon. So Le Reve will continue to be fluid, at least in the weeks and months ahead.

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As I stated in my review of the Beatles LOVE update, retooling a successful show can be a risky proposition. But like the artists of Cirque du Soleil, Wynn’s entertainment group has stayed true to the source material while making it feel brand new.

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Comparisons to Cirque du Soleil will most likely follow The Dream throughout its run, which in unfortunate. Le Reve – The Dream sets itself apart in ways too numerous to mention. Unlike Bellagio’s O, the show at Wynn manages to be both intimate and epic. It’s my personal favorite in the city.

Le Reve – The Dream is a spectacle on a massive scale. It’s incredible entertainment…and one hundred percent pure “Las Vegas.”

Le Reve – The Dream performs Friday through Tuesday at 7 pm and 9:30 pm. Tickets start at $115.00 plus taxes/fees and are available by clicking here. Our friend at VegasFool.com is running a special with Grandview seating for $99 plus taxes/fees (regular $145) by following this link.

Photos: Sam Novak

 

 

LOVE 2.0 Merges Tech, Heart…and Lots More Beatles


“The Beatles: LOVE” remains one of the most spectacular and satisfying shows in town…

When Cirque du Soleil unveiled “The Beatles: LOVE” twelve years ago at Mirage, it was a first in many ways. The custom-designed 360-degree theater had an immersive sound system with speakers built into the seats. Intricate stage platforms quickly transformed the set from one sequence into another. Hi-tech projections created the illusion of a unique concert experience that couldn’t be seen anywhere else.

And the biggie of them all…the Montreal-based acrobatic company had built their first-ever show around an existing musical property – the Fab Four. Dozens of works by the Beatles were intricately woven into a musical tapestry that defies explanation. It was lovingly created for LOVE by Sir George Martin (aka “the fifth Beatle”) and his son Giles with the blessings of Ringo StarrPaul McCartneyJohn Lennon‘s wife Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, widow of George.

A lot has changed in the ensuing years, especially in the relationship between Cirque and Las Vegas. Further collaborations resulted in productions featuring Michael Jackson (hit), Elvis Presley (fail) and Criss Angel (where do we start?). With the closure of Zarkana two years ago (the second of their shows to fail in the Aria theater), it’s fair to question whether CDS has over-extended their brand on the Strip. Still… LOVE started out…and remains…a critically-acclaimed crowd-pleasing hit.

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        May 5th, 2016 – Massive crowds lined up to see “Beatles: LOVE” at Mirage

For the tenth anniversary of LOVE, Cirque took on the challenge of revising, updating and fine-tuning what many already consider to be the best show in the city. A risky proposition, but with Giles and original artistic director Dominic Champagne at the helm, the updating was nearly flawless…and quite beautiful.

Those unfamiliar with the show…or who haven’t seen it multiple times (this writer clocks in at 14 and counting) will be oblivious to the more subtle tweaks. But the new sound system, updated video elements, and three-dimensional projections stand out as clearly state-of-the-art.

LOVE’s pacing is also much tighter in this new incarnation. What once began from an incredibly slow build to explosive action, then back to a more solemn World War II sequence now drives continuously forward, thanks to the addition of Twist and Shout.

There’s less focus on the Beatles as children (in fact, during the media event that I attended for the tenth anniversary, only three child actors were present, but their downplayed roles hardly made it noticeable). Another absence, seemingly permanent, was the “Eleanor Rigby” character (portrayed by beloved Brazilian actress Silvia Aderne since the beginning).

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It seems as though the re-sequenced songs and staging are now meant to represent an emotional interpretation of the Beatles’ cultural impact, more so than just a chronological depiction of their rise. LOVE has always been quite a bit on the dreamy side, with surreal visuals and characters.

Now the show is even more trippy, with wildly colorful costumes and props that are vivid and vibrant. Whimsical touches, like characters and sea creatures from Yellow Submarine and Octopus’s Garden, permeate every corner of the massive arena.

Two significant numbers have been re-imagined by replacing marionettes with projections. Lady Madonna has jettisoned the dancing yellow galoshes. The once-black floor now comes alive with moving multi-colored spots that turn the surface into a living Twister game board.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps has done away with the giant marionettes made of letters. In their place, a sole female character now dances with an animated sketch of a man that moves, morphs, and flies from one screen to another throughout the auditorium. The scene and staging are hard to describe, but their beauty brought tears to my eyes.

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The biggest sequence – and a fan favorite – is the enormous mushroom-cloud bedsheet that spreads over the audience during Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows. That set piece remains, but it was unclear from my seating position whether anything going on above the canvas had been updated (that statement might only make sense if you’ve seen LOVE in the past).

Check out the YouTube video below for a brief look at this mind-blowing segment.

Speaking of the previous version, it’s worth noting that the four band members were once only shown in silhouette until the final moments. Now their faces are front and center, sometimes using archival footage that syncs with the soundtrack. That effect and a few others might need a little tweaking (the show was briefly interrupted on the night I attended, due to a glitch) in the weeks leading up to the official tenth-anniversary celebration.

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That gala on July 14th 2016, presented the return of Ringo, McCartney, and the widows of John and George for a formal event. It was truly an epic night and one for my personal Hall of Memories.

It’s terrific to know that one of my favorite Vegas shows is just as wonderful as ever. Whether you’re a fan of the Liverpool quartet, Cirque du Soleil or just great productions, The Beatles: LOVE remains one of the most spectacular and satisfying shows in town. Don’t miss it.

The Beatles LOVE performs Tuesday through Saturday at 7 pm and 9:30 pm. Tickets and information on behind-the-scenes tours and VIP  experiences are available through this link. Our friend at VegasFool.com has tickets starting at $75 (plus taxes/fees) by clicking here.

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared on another site. It has since been updated.

Photos: Sam Novak