Cirque Expects to be Back Flying High by 2022

With the sale of Cirque du Soleil successfully concluded, president and CEO Daniel Lamarre believes shows will gradually begin reopening in 2021, but that the Montreal-based circus will only be fully back in operation in 2022. In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, Lamarre said he’s optimistic but admitted it all depends on when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available.

“We are not going to go back to normalcy until a majority of people have had the vaccine,” Lamarre said. “I feel strongly that when that situation goes back to normal and I like to think it will be late summer or early fall (2021), it’s my belief that people are going to rush back to live shows because they’ve been confined so they’ll want to go out and enjoy themselves.”

The Cirque boss said the Cirque will only be back in a real way when “the vaccine is highly distributed and that we don’t have to have social distancing in our theatres and in our big tops … in an ideal world, I would love to open a show in the Old Port next summer and would love to open a couple of shows in Vegas in the meantime.”

But it takes a long time to get the Cirque machine fully up and running and no one can predict how the pandemic will play out in the coming year, which is why Lamarre is cautious as to when he thinks the company will be at or near its old capacity.

“We think that we will start to open shows late summer, early fall, but the reality is that we think we can be up and running in 2022,” Lamarre said. “So the real target for us is 2022, which means that between now and then we will have a lot to do.”

On Tuesday, it was announced that the transaction to sell the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group to its secure lenders has officially closed and that allows the Montreal-based circus company to emerge from bankruptcy protection. The main companies that make up the group of lenders taking over are Catalyst Capital Group, Sound Point Capital and CBAM Partners and Benefit Street Partners. The previous shareholders — U.S. equity firm TPG Capital, China’s Fosun International, and the Caisse de dépôt et du placement du Québec — lost control of the company.

It was also confirmed that Lamarre will stay on as president and CEO, as well as sitting on the board of directors. The new co-chairs of the board are Jim Murren, chair of Acies Acquisition Corp. and former chair and CEO of MGM Resorts International, and Gabriel de Alba, managing director of Catalyst. The board will also include, among others, George Kliavkoff, president of entertainment and sports at MGM Resorts International, and Anna Martini, executive vice-president and chief financial officer of CH Group, which owns the Montreal Canadiens. Mitch Garber, the previous chair of the Cirque board, stepped down in September.

When the pandemic forced the circus to cancel all 45 of its shows around the world in March, the Cirque fired 4,700 employees, which is 95 per cent of its staff. Lamarre says he believes most of those staffers will be back but only once the Cirque is fully operational again. Right now the company is operating with just under 200 staffers.

“We have a lot of our artists on standby, we’re talking about 500 artists in Vegas who’re waiting for us to open the shows,” Lamarre said. “I hope we’re going to get close to where we were (staffing-wise) in the next two years.

There are currently three Cirque shows back on, Joyà in Playa del Carmen in Mexico, The Land of Fantasy in Hangzhou, China, and Cirque Dreams in Orlando, Fla. Lamarre said he hopes the Las Vegas shows are the first major shows to come back “because it’s very important to the Cirque revenue stream.”

It was recently announced that Zumanity has been cancelled, but the five other shows in Vegas have just had their contracts extended, according to Lamarre. Those shows are O, Kà, The Beatles LOVE, Michael Jackson ONE, and Mystère, the latter which has been running at the Treasure Island resort since 1993. Lamarre said he expects to announce one and perhaps even two new Vegas shows in the next year.

The Cirque is also set to open a new residency show in Orlando, Drawn to Life, which will be performed at the Walt Disney World Resort. It was set to launch just before the pandemic but had to be postponed.

{ SOURCE: Brendan Kelly, The Montreal Gazette }