Article: “Cirque du Soleil Owns the Las Vegas Strip”

In some ways, Cirque du Soleil and Las Vegas are unlikely dance partners. The Quebec circus sprang from the active imagination of former street performer and fire-breather Guy Laliberté back in the early ’80s, and its selling point in the three decades since has always been its authentic artistic savoir faire.

Vegas, by way of contrast, is the ultimate centre of glitzy entertainment — a tradition that goes from the days when late-period Elvis ruled the gambling mecca right up to today’s new-look Strip, which is dominated by pop stars like Céline Dion (whose revamped residency premières at Caesars Palace Thursday) and Britney Spears.

I was thinking of this unlikely marriage of Québécois cultural flair and the big-bucks casino biz while watching The Beatles LOVE at the Mirage hotel and casino this week. The production, which premièred here in 2006, is a most unusual Cirque show. Unlike most of the company’s productions, it isn’t built around spectacular acrobatic numbers; rather, it’s an inspired poetic performance piece that brings the classic Fab Four tunes to life, while taking us on a magical mystery tour of Liverpool history. I saw Spears’s shallow, paint-by-numbers Piece of Me concert at Planet Hollywood’s AXIS theatre a couple of nights later, and couldn’t help feeling the shows existed in two completely different universes.

But as surprising as the union of the Cirque and Vegas might be, it’s a happy marriage. Cirque du Soleil has eight permanent shows on the Strip, including LOVE, Kà, O and Michael Jackson ONE. The company puts around 140,000 tickets on sale each week, runs at 85 per cent occupancy and — wait for it — has a 36 per cent share of the entire live-entertainment market in Vegas.

In fact, the Cirque productions are doing so well that there are no plans to replace any of the Vegas shows any time soon. The most recent show was the Jackson homage, which debuted in June 2013.

Mystère, the first permanent Vegas Cirque show, is set to hit its 22nd anniversary at the Treasure Island resort in December. Last year, it hit the 10,000-performance mark. (A side note: Mystère’s guitar player, Quebec musician Bruce Rickerd, has been there since Day 1, and he’s never missed a show. That’s for a production that has, on average, 470 performances a year.)

“Everything is running really well,” Jerry Nadal, senior vice-president of Cirque du Soleil’s resident shows division, said in an interview at the theatre in the Aria hotel where the Zarkana show runs.

“We’re just clipping along,” he said. “There is no other market like Las Vegas. Last year we topped 40 million tourists coming through. The city changes over twice a week. There is repeat visitation from southern California, the drive-in market, but the international component of the city is growing. We have more direct flights coming in internationally. The beauty for us is that with all of the touring shows we’ve had, we have great brand recognition with people coming in. So we’re really focusing on those international markets.”

Nadal said all eight Cirque shows here are under long-term contracts with the casinos and hotels. Mystère, for example, recently had its contract with Treasure Island extended to 2021, which will be 28 years after it opened.

But the members of the Cirque team do like to tinker with the shows and give them, every few years, what they call a “refresh.”

“The beauty of the Cirque shows — compared to, say, a Broadway show like Phantom of the Opera, is that we have the ability to change up the shows,” said Nadal. “We did a refresh on Mystère two years ago. We just completed one on Zumanity this year. We changed a number of cast, some of the numbers in the show, costumes, choreography. We’re in the middle of a large refresh on LOVE that will debut next spring, in time for its 10th anniversary. So we have the ability to do that. But if you see Phantom of the Opera, Phantom of the Opera is Phantom of the Opera. We can keep them going. New talent comes up. We have a research and development department in Montreal that is always looking for different ways to present acrobatic numbers.”

In April, Cirque founder Laliberté sold his controlling interest in the Montreal-based company to an investment group led by U.S. private-equity firm TPG. Laliberté remains on board as a creative adviser.

Nadal said the new owners don’t want to change the Vegas business model — they just want to expand it.

“I think it will help to increase the Las Vegas business,” said Nadal. “These guys bought the company as an investment, so they’re treating it like an investment and they want to see their investment grow. It’s been great for us. They’re saying: ‘Hey, have you considered this? How about selling tickets this way or that way?’ It’s going to infuse the company with a new way of looking at the business and help us grow the business. And we feel there are still opportunities in Vegas to grow the market share we have.”

{ SOURCE: Montreal Gazette | }