R.U.N is a Flop, Montreal Show Troubled

Cirque du Soleil has had a rough start to 2020. Its latest show in Las Vegas is set to close Sunday, marking the shortest run and highest-profile failure for the Cirque on the Strip. R.U.N., which opened in late October, was supposed to be performed indefinitely at the Luxor Hotel & Casino.

There are also serious creative problems plaguing Under the Same Sky, the Cirque show that is set to have its world premiere under the big top in the Old Port in Montreal on April 23. Executives at Cirque du Soleil were not pleased after a preview performance at Cirque headquarters in St-Michel last week.

This led to animated discussions between the executives and the show’s high-profile writer/director/production designer Es Devlin, who was not happy with the criticism. Cirque reps insist the London, England-based artist is still part of the show, but her role is now described as providing “conceptual support.” Cirque du Soleil president and CEO Daniel Lamarre said Devlin — who has worked with Beyoncé, U2, Adele and Kanye West — will be given full credit for her work on the show.

But he confirmed the Cirque has brought in a new director, Mukhtar O.S. Mukhtar, who has worked on previous Cirque shows, notably Messi 10, a show inspired by the life of football superstar Lionel Messi. He will begin work on Under the Same Sky in the coming days. Devlin is home resting in England, but will return to the show, according to Cirque officials.

In addition, the Cirque has had to close down its resident show The Land of Fantasy in Hangzhou, China in late January as a result of health concerns following the outbreak of the coronavirus. The Montreal-based circus has also cancelled the Hong Kong tour for the show Amaluna, which was supposed to be taking place in May.

Lamarre confirmed rumours that for the past six months, Cirque du Soleil has been contemplating a public-share offering, but that is off the table for the moment given the turbulence of financial markets, he said.

In spite of the closing of R.U.N., the problems on Under the Same Sky, the two cancelled shows in Asia and the scuttling of a potential share offering, Cirque CEO Lamarre puts a brave face on the situation.

“When I listen to how you’re presenting the facts, I should go home and cry,” Lamarre said. “But that’s not the way we run the business. The way we run the business is to fight … we have three shows … and two of the shows are going to be tremendous successes.”

Lamarre believes the two successes will be Under the Same Sky and Drawn to Life, the latter is set to open at Walt Disney World in Florida in April.

But Lamarre admitted there are creative problems with Under the Same Sky only weeks before its premiere.

“I think Es brought us an amazing visual signature that is going to bring the Cirque to a different place and I was very happy with that,” Lamarre said. “The adjustment we have to do is regarding the acrobatics. It’s very tough if you’re not used to working with the Cirque du Soleil to appreciate the importance that we have to keep in the acrobatic content. That’s what we have to improve and in order to do that we’re going to surround her with people that have expertise and experience working with us.”

He also admitted major creative mistakes were made with R.U.N., that was described by the Cirque as a live-action thriller. It had no acrobatics.

“I think that it was a mistake for us to put the name ‘Cirque du Soleil’ on the marquee,” Lamarre said. “Because when I looked at the research, people who’d never seen a Cirque du Soleil show loved R.U.N. and thought that it was a great show. And when you ask a fan of Cirque du Soleil who attended the show, that fan was very disappointed because there were no acrobatics in the show and they felt it was almost like misrepresentation of the brand. I was very involved in the decision to pull the trigger sooner rather than later because we thought, looking at the research results, that we were damaging the brand.”

Lamarre said he has a new show that will be brought to the Luxor, but wouldn’t reveal more details. The budget on R.U.N. was $60 million, but Lamarre said the biggest part of those costs were paid for by Cirque’s partners. Cirque’s part in the budget was “less than $20 million,” he said.

Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté sold his majority stake in the circus to TPG Capital in 2015 for US$1.5 billion and he sold his remaining 10 per cent this month to the Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec. The Caisse now owns a 20-per-cent stake.

One veteran Cirque insider said many believe the Cirque has lost its creative direction since the departure of Laliberté.

“It’s just so sad,” the insider said. “This is the jewel of Canada and to see it so mismanaged, it just breaks my heart. This is an organization that is supposed to breaking creative boundaries.”

{ SOURCE: Brendan Kelly, Montreal Gazette }