“What Ifs and If Onlys, Part 5 of 7”

“What Ifs and If Onlys, Part 5 of 7”
By: Ricky Russo – Atlanta, Georgia (USA)

Over the years Cirque du Soleil has announced or was rumored to be working on a wide variety of interesting advancements beyond circus shows, their traditional core product. Some of these new opportunities were in the realm of music, some in television, some as new experience concepts, and some in the realm of… say what?!

Back when we were approaching our 100th issue (in 2012, gosh, has it really been eight years?), I thought about all the quotes, blurbs, and past announcements we covered in Fascination of new products, venues, or avenues of adventure the Cirque intended to explore. I wondered which of these came to fruition and which had quietly remained hidden behind the curtain at Cirque HQ in Montreal. I uncovered many examples in my search through our news archives – some that had come readily to mind while others I had completely forgotten about, and couldn’t wait to touch on further – and then organized those findings into a three-part celebratory series leading up to Fascination’s publication milestone.

In Part One of that series, we explored a number of rumors and announcements regarding “permanent” or “resident” shows made through the years that didn’t pan out. In Part Two, we examined announced and/or rumored media potentials from the company – from filmed shows and books to new music CDs – many of which never saw the light of day. And in Part Three, we explored what could have been in regards to projects beyond Cirque du Soleil’s traditional space – entertainment and media – and dove into the realm of other experiences Cirque attempted to provide. It was a satisfying look back at what could have been from Cirque du Soleil, if only…

As we began to approach our 200th issue I began to ponder those “what ifs” and “if onlys” again and wondered: would it be interesting to revisit that original idea and present new findings on old and new topics alike? Turns out… yes! And we’ve organized these findings into a new seven-part series that mixes together announcements of new show concepts and/or places that Cirque wanted to set up residence, to projects for the large and small screen, to experiences and other oddities that were announced but didn’t quite come to fruition. So, without further ado, let’s jump in, rediscover and share what Cirque du Soleil announced but then quietly disappeared over the years. Like…


On March 30, 2015, it was announced that Charlie Smalls and William F. Brown’s THE WIZ would be presented as NBC’s third annual live musical, following 2013’s The Sound of Music LIVE!, starring Carrie Underwood, and 2014’s Peter Pan LIVE!, starring Allison Williams and Christopher Walken. But what made this announcement profound was the inclusion of Cirque du Soleil – the production would be co-produced by Cirque’s then new Theatrical division. And following the television broadcast, THE WIZ would head straight to Broadway for a revival (also presented by Cirque du Soleil) for the 2016-17 season. SAY WHAT?!

“We love this yearly tradition and we’re more excited than ever to not only bring another Broadway musical to America’s living rooms, but also see it land on Broadway as well,” Robert Greenblatt, chairman, NBC Entertainment, said in a statement. “It’s a natural next step for our live musical events and we’re so pleased to be in business with this award-winning creative team and Scott Zeiger, president and managing director of Cirque du Soleil’s new theatrical division. Cirque’s incredible imagination will help bring the fantasy world of Oz vividly to life and give this great show a modern spin on the age-old story we all love.”

“We are delighted that NBC and Cirque du Soleil will present The Wiz,” added Zeiger. “It’s a musical I have wanted to produce for years and it’s the perfect show to present under the new Cirque du Soleil Theatrical banner.”

THE WIZ, a retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic Wizard of Oz stories, opened on Broadway in 1975 and won seven Tonys including Best Musical and Best Score. A 1978 film version starred Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. It was last seen in New York in a New York City Center Encores! Summer Stars revival in 2009, with a cast led by Ashanti, Orlando Jones, and Tony winner LaChanze. For this special, NBC pulled in some big names, such as Queen Latifah as the Wiz; Mary J. Blige as Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West; David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion; Uzo Aduba as Glinda, the Good Witch of the South; Amber Riley as Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North; Shanice Williams as Dorothy; Ne-Yo as the Tin-Man; Elijah Kelly as Scarecrow; and Stephanie Mills (who played Dorothy in the original Broadway production of “The Wiz”) as Auntie Em.

The news had certainly raised eyebrows in the Cirque du Soleil fan community. It was not the first thing that popped into our heads when the new Theatrical division was announced, but the December 3, 2015 broadcast on NBC went off without a hitch. The Wiz Live! delivered hit ratings, averaging a 3.4 rating, 11 share in adults 18-49 and 11.5 million viewers overall to dominate the night. It was the network’s best Thursday average in total viewers, excluding sports, since September 2014, and nearly tripled NBC’s best 18-49 Thursday average, excluding sports. It was also NBC’s highest-rated night for any night of the week, excluding sports, in 11 years, since November 2004.

But THE WIZ would not be a success story for Cirque du Soleil Theatrical.

Following the broadcast, THE WIZ dropped out of the collective consciousness of fans and theatergoers alike. We saw “Coming Soon” for weeks that turned into months, that then simply disappeared. “The goal was to get The Wiz Live to Broadway,” said Neil Meron, one of its producers. “But, as anybody who knows about what is going on in the theatre [knows that] there is always a log-jam in terms of the available and appropriate theatre that we need for this show. It’s kind of like jets lining up on the runway. Unfortunately, we’re still on the runway with that.” Craig Zadan (the other producer) added, “We did plan to do The Wiz immediately after we did the television production, and as Neil said, there was a problem—not with the show, but the fact that when we went to the theatre owners, there were no theatres available, so it kept getting delayed because there were no houses. The future of that has not been determined.” But the future was determined: It was the end of the yellow brick road. THE WIZ never found its home on Broadway, and Cirque du Soleil Theatrical lost the rights to the production.

Of course the future of Cirque du Soleil Theatrical itself was determined when PARAMOUR failed to find audiences in New York City; the division was shuttered. PARAMOUR itself lived on though with performances in Hamburg, Germany beginning April 2019.


In the week of May 10, 2005, the Miami Herald and WTVJ-TV (NBC-6) ran independent stories highlighting the possibility that Cirque du Soleil would bring its brand of entertainment to South Beach’s Jackie Gleason Theater, recently upstaged by a new performance theater in Downtown Miami. “What Cirque du Soleil is doing now [is] looking at the box that is the theater to see if it works,” Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez said in NBC-6’s coverage. Rumors abounded that due to the theater’s close proximity to beautiful Miami Beach, Cirque du Soleil could bring a decidedly Latin-themed version of Zumanity, its “sensual” cabaret from Las Vegas, to the Gleason. But a spokeswoman for Cirque cautioned against getting too excited: “We’re prospecting many cities in many countries,” said Renée-Claude Ménard. “There have been rumors like that in London [and] New York. We do all kinds of prospective work.”

Originally named the Miami Beach Auditorium, the Jackie Gleason Theatre once hosted performers like Frank Sinatra and Jack Benny and shows like the Miss Universe Pageant and the Ed Sullivan Show. In 1964, the theatre was taken over by Jackie Gleason for his weekly television show, which ran for seven years. A number of touring Broadway shows stopped at the theatre through the 1970s and 1980s. The city of Miami Beach renamed the theatre in honour of Gleason in 1987 after extensive renovations. Since then, the theatre has staged touring musicals, concert performances and award shows. In 2007, though, its largest tenants – including the Miami City Ballet and Concert Association of Florida – were moving out, leaving the Theater in a lurch. Therefore, proposals for redevelopment were ripe.

A scant two months after the Miami Herald story, Variety would report that Cirque du Soleil had confirmed its interest in the Gleason Theater. Cirque and its partners, Related Group of Miami and Clear Channel Communications, pitched an entertainment complex worth $150 million USD that would include restaurants, a spa, bars and clubs, a garden, stores, a boutique hotel, a 3,000-seat theater, and a ballroom for the Miami Beach Convention Center next door. The trio wanted an unspecified package of inducements from Miami Beach though to convert the Gleason and build the surrounding entertainment complex.

“We’ve only seen an initial presentation of what they would like to do with the theater,” said Miami Beach communications officer Nanette Rodriguez. But the city likes what it has seen so far. The city’s finance and projects committee will review it in September. If all goes well, it would be a year before breaking ground, Rodriguez said.

“Miami is one of our target markets,” Cirque spokeswoman Renee-Claude Menard said. “I think there’s a good fit there. We do a lot of presentations to a lot of cities. We do believe, though [that] this is moving ahead as one of the most viable projects” under consideration by Cirque. “The challenge will be to offer something distinct from ‘La Nouba’ in Orlando.”

By January 2006, Cirque du Soleil and its partners advised they’d put up roughly a third of the cost, leaving the city and county to front the remaining $95-100 million. But this financing plan irked many, as much of that sum would have to be diverted from bond money earmarked by voters for an expansion to the adjacent Miami Beach Convention Center, and they felt the Convention Center should get that money instead. “I don’t think the city should be in the joint venture business with private entities,” commissioner Saul Gross said. Tourism industry officials were reluctant to take sides. “I think everybody can come out a winner,” said Stuart Blumberg, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. “It doesn’t have to be either Cirque du Soleil or the convention center. Let’s have both.” City officials were trying to work out a deal using some of the estimated $90 million in revenue the Cirque complex would generate each year, but it didn’t look promising.

The following month, The Montreal Gazette reported that Cirque reacted to concerns and scaled back the project, trimming the theater from 3,200 to 1,700 seats and scrapping all but a 250-seat restaurant and event garden. City manager Jorge Gonzalez said the Cirque could pump as much as $50 million into the local economy. The company would produce seven to 10 shows a week at the venue and says it would attract as many as 600,000 patrons a year. “No one at the Cirque’s Montreal office returned calls requesting comment on the Miami Beach project,” the Gazette said. “But a source said the company needs a decision by early fall if it is to proceed.”

By August 28, 2006, an excerpt from the City Debate in Miami suggested the deal had fallen apart: “[I]n response to a question from Commissioner Jerry Libbin at the August 17th Finance Committee meeting, Randy McElrath, Regional Director of Live Nation (formerly Clear Channel Communications) stated that Clear Channel and Live Nation was no longer involved with Cirque du Soleil in their deal for the development of the Jackie Gleason Theatre as a permanent venue for a resident company of the Canadian acrobatic circus.” (Clear Channel Communications spun off their “Entertainment” division in late 2005, as Live Nation.)

So Cirque du Soleil forged ahead alone, but now with competition from AEG Live and its previous partner, Live Nation. In its plans to the city, Cirque expected to pay Miami Beach about $9 million a year to take over the Jackie Gleason Theater and build a restaurant and nightclub there. That return would be considerably larger than rents pledged by AEG Live and Live Nation, the two concert giants now competing with Cirque for the Gleason lease. But Cirque wanted $55 million in public dollars to fund a $100 million renovation of the Gleason, AEG and Live Nation would spend between $2 million and $3 million to fix up the Gleason at no cost to the city. Beyond the costs involved, Cirque would commit to about 430 performances a year. AEG and Live Nation, the country’s top concert promoters, wanted to transform the Gleason into a hipper venue for live music and comedy – but with the doors open less than 150 times a year.

City Manager Jorge Gonzalez predicted Cirque would generate about $1.5 million a year in parking revenue for a nearby city garage: “Just on that we’ll be making more than what AEG or Live Nation is offering.” Gonzalez said the proposed 15-year deal protected the city, because Cirque would pay rent on gross revenues, not profits. Cirque didn’t agree to a minimum annual payment. Cirque also wanted an exit clause that would let it close the show after three years if it lost money for 12 consecutive months. For the restaurants and nightclubs, the exit clause would kick in after five years.

On October 19, 2006 the saga of Cirque in Miami came to a close. The Miami Herald reported that Cirque withdrew its offer just hours before the city commission that was considering the offers was set to vote. The commission had been under some pressure from community leaders to delay the vote, claiming that there had not been enough time to weigh all options carefully. Public sentiment had been against Cirque almost from the beginning, though. Earlier in the negotiation period, Cirque had made it clear that any public referendum would be a deal breaker. The public responded with approbation at anti-cirque sentiment expressed at a hearing that was open to members of the community. “I have said for a year and I repeated to the media last month that if it becomes a political battle we won’t be part of it,” Daniel Lamarre said. “We have been investing for the last 18 months a lot of money and resources, and I cannot responsibly continue to invest without knowing that one day this project will come to fruition.”

And so Live Nation acquired operating rights to the venue.

Shortly after, the venue began a renovation to the tune of $3.5 million. The theater reopened October 2007 as “The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater”. Since acquisition, the Fillmore has become the busiest mid-sized venue in the Southern United States, hosting over 200 concerts per year. The venue has attracted big-name artists including: Janet Jackson, Ricky Martin, Lana Del Rey, Ciara, The Weeknd, Fall Out Boy, Lily Allen and Sting. Interestingly enough, in 2010, NBC Miami reported that the theater would be demolished to make way for remodeling of the convention center, which would replace the theater with a new hotel. The demolition did not take place and over time other plans for redevelopment have been put forward. A 2013 proposal by Portman-CMC had the theater slated for demolition for another massive overhaul project for the site, but demolition was staved off again. Portman-CMC reworked much of its proposal, suggesting that programming would be split between Live Nation and Cirque du Soleil. But that of course did not end up happening.

The Fillmore Miami Beach is still in operation as of 2020 and Cirque du Soleil has yet to open a resident show in the city.


Also in May 2005, the Las Vegas Sun announced that MGM Mirage and CapitaLand (one of the largest listed property companies in Asia) had agreed to submit a joint concept proposal to the Singapore government for the development of an integrated entertainment resort complex at Marina Bayfront in Singapore. The joint proposal agreement was in response to the Singapore Tourism Board’s invitation to interested parties to submit concepts for an Integrated Resort in Singapore. (Marina Bayfront is ideally located on the south bay of Singapore, adjacent to the busy Central Business District and the proposed Business and Financial Center.) “We have been exploring development opportunities in Singapore for some time, and we are very pleased to be submitting a joint concept proposal with CapitaLand, a company for which we have the greatest respect,” said Terry Lanni, Chairman and CEO of MGM MIRAGE. “We are seeking to expand our international interests in the world’s most promising resort venues and hope to take advantage of our international marketing skills and worldwide recognition as leaders in the entertainment industry. By proceeding jointly with CapitaLand, both companies will benefit by building on each other’s great strengths and reputations.”

MGM Mirage’s announcement came two days after rival casino operator Harrah’s Entertainment said it would build a 1 million square foot “urban theme park” to accompany a Caesars-brand resort proposed for the Marina Bayfront in Singapore. The Caesars property would feature movie-themed attractions created by Academy Award-winning film director James Cameron. “Cirque du Soleil’s innovative entertainment plays a significant role in our company’s reputation for presenting the best possible entertainment available at our Las Vegas resorts,” MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni said in a statement. “Our two companies have accomplished some amazing things together and Cirque enthusiastically agreed to join us in our commitment to make Singapore Asia’s new entertainment capital.”

The production would be tailored to Singapore with Asian travelers in mind and little more was said about it… until almost a year later when, on March 18, 2006, in support of the project Guy Laliberté was quoted as saying: “We are confident a resident show in Singapore will quickly prove itself a powerful tourist draw, even more so than our successful touring shows. It will become a new, world-class landmark on the Singapore entertainment scene.” But just a few short months after (May 26, 2006), the Singapore government chose U.S. Casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp, owner of The Venetian Las Vegas, as the winner of the Marina Bay Casino Project, leaving MGM-Mirage and its Cirque du Soleil inspired proposal in the dark.

Interestingly enough though, Cirque du Soleil would go on to partner with Las Vegas Sands Corp to stage ZAIA at The Venetian Macau (an announcement made on May 2, 2007), which closed on February 19, 2012 and is no longer performed. But, had everything gone to plan in Macau, Cirque du Soleil would have produced a second show for the hotel’s expansion project, planned to debut sometime in 2009. This show, dubbed Macao II, Macao 2009, and later Macao 2010 as expansion delays ensued, would be, as some creative sources put it, a re-invention of the long-lost variety show. The production was assigned a creative team and work was set in motion at Cirque du Soleil HQ in Montreal: René Simard — Director, Serge Roy — Director of Creation, Stéphane Roy — Set Designer, Alan Hranitelj — Costume Designer, Alain Lortie — Lighting Designer, Michel Cusson — Composer, and Steve Dubuc — Sound Designer.

Ultimately the downturn in the economy doomed Macau II from ever seeing the light of day (as the hotel expansion did not move forward), but amusingly enough the idea of producing a “variety” show seemed to survive and was transferred over to the troubled BANANA SHPEEL concept, which itself was billed as a “new twist on Vaudeville”. (With a brand-new creative team, save Serge Roy, who remained on as Director of Creation).

Either way, the whole thing was a mess.


Like Vietnam, Washington DC is not a city you often hear floated as a possible residence candidate for Cirque du Soleil. So it was somewhat surprising to learn in mid-2006 that Cirque du Soleil was part of a project to re-develop the District of Columbia’s southwestern waterfront. NBC 4 reported that the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, the private-public partnership charged with re-developing the area, had chosen two finalists in a contest to improve the waterfront district, setting out its vision for the area as follows:

The City’s vision for a revitalized Southwest Waterfront is a true urban destination, where maritime activity and commerce mixes with culture and housing to form a vibrant neighborhood just steps from the National Mall. Today the area is dominated by redundant roadways, surface parking lots and poorly designed and underutilized open space. The Southwest Waterfront Plan, approved unanimously by City Council in 2003, proposes approximately 2 million square feet of mixed use development. The redevelopment will create approximately 3,000 construction jobs, 1,500 permanent jobs, $14 million in new annual tax revenue, 14 acres of new parks and open space, upgraded maritime infrastructure and public access to the water.

Washington launched a competition in 2001 to revitalize approximately 185,000 square meters of the Southwest District. Seventeen consortia responded to the call for tenders. Selected from five competing groups, the two finalists had envisioned the waterfront quite differently: one group proposed a design distinguished by a health club, upscale grocery store, river walk and “market hall” for produce sales (Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects). The other team (PN Hoffman) proposed a cultural zone with a water park, piers, an aquarium, and a space for Cirque du Soleil performances. “We had informal discussions with Cirque du Soleil representatives about our vision for the southwest sector and their possible participation,” David DeSantis, PN Hoffman vice-president of sales and marketing, told Le Devoir. They have expressed their intention to discuss further with us if we win the competition.”

Ultimately, the AWC selected New York-based Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects as they decided there was no room for a permanent Cirque du Soleil show in DC. “A team of developers has been chosen to transform the District of Columbia’s Southwest waterfront from mostly parking lots and concrete buildings into a leafy, park-like setting that will include a promenade, piers and cultural attractions. (. . .) The developers are seeking a mixture of white-tablecloth restaurants, cafes and bistros, a small grocer and specialty stores. The original proposal included a space for Cirque du Soleil, but the developers decided against it because the attraction was viewed as too touristy.”

As I mentioned before, Cirque du Soleil is frequently used as a “cultural bonus” for real estate projects, even if the company hasn’t entered a formal agreement with the development. And that was the case here.


On October 22, 1999, Cirque du Soleil and TVA Group announced an association to develop and produce international audiovisual productions. Their respective subsidiaries, Cirque du Soleil Images and TVA International, would shortly begin work on a series of projects that would fuse Cirque du Soleil’s creativity with TVA’s broadcast, finance and production resources. Daniel Lamarre, President and Chief Executive Officer of the TVA Group, and Peter Wagg, Managing Director of Cirque du Soleil Images, announced the new strategic alliance during Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard’s trade mission to Los Angeles. The value of the projects was expected to surpass $25 million CDN.

“We are very happy to have reached an agreement with TVA”, Mr. Wagg said. “Our discussions with Andre Provencher, President of TVA International, and Daniel Lamarre have enabled us to create a production base in Quebec. This is the home of Cirque du Soleil and now we can join forces with TVA in building complimentary television activities with our network of partners, in particular Granada Media Group, to continue to develop internationally while maintaining our ties at home.”

“Uniting two brand names as powerful as TVA and Cirque du Soleil, and forging an association with the Cirque du Soleil’s prestige and international recognition, is a dream project for us”, Mr. Lamarre added. “This association will certainly ensure TVA International’s rapid development and visibility”.

Cirque du Soleil Images and TVA International would develop and produce various projects with Cirque du Soleil Images in charge of conception, development and creative control and TVA International overseeing financial planning and production control. Distribution would be assumed by companies mutually selected by the partners. And there were a number of ideas that had already been given the green light by the time the announcement was made. They were:

• Variety Series – This family driven primetime variety show will be filmed entirely in Quebec and will feature performers who have been discovered over the years by Cirque du Soleil. The number of episodes has yet to be determined, but should include an initial season of 13 shows. Development should be completed within the next four months and production could begin in the spring of 2000.

• Documentaries – A series of one-hour documentaries on Cirque du Soleil.

• Movie of the Week – Cirque du Soleil Images has agreed to cooperate in the production of a TV movie based on the life and career of Sylvie Fréchette, the Olympic synchronized swimming champion who has been a performer and coach with “O” since 1998.

• Animated Children’s Series – TVA International has started discussions with Cirque du Soleil Images and Granada Media Group to partner in the production of an ambitious animated children’s series with the potential to be produced in Montreal backed by the creation of a state of the art animation studio.

The partnership was an instant boon to TVA. Daniel Lamarre, president of TVA Group Inc., said via Canadian Newswire that he spent two years knocking on doors, looking for strategic alliances for the Quebec-based French-language TV network. Then came Cirque du Soleil. As soon as he announced a deal with the troupe to make a series of prime-time TV variety shows, Lamarre began doing the kind of heavyweight connections that he’d always dreamed of making. “You can’t imagine what a boost it gave TVA International to be associated with Cirque du Soleil,” a beaming Lamarre said. “We announced the deal at 11 a.m. in Los Angeles. At 1 p.m. we got a call from the president of Disney Channel who wanted to know what we were producing with the Cirque. The next day we were on the front page of Hollywood Reporter and Variety. I’d been trying to promote TVA for two years. As soon as we were linked to the Cirque, we had instant credibility.”

Since the Cirque deal was announced TVA has had “many many partnership offers” from German and other European firms as well as from the United States. “People want to visit our studios, to see how they could produce more here for the world market,” Lamarre said.

There may have been a lot of pomp and circus surrounding the deal at the time, but about a year after the announcement, TVA would go through a profound change, and Lamarre would end up being called up by Guy Laliberté himself to head up Cirque du Soleil’s New Ventures unit (a unit that would include Cirque du Soleil Images and much, much more. It’s something we’ll get into later.) Suffice it to say, much of what was part of TVA’s production slate with regards to Cirque du Soleil did not happen as originally announced. The variety series, which was delayed a couple of years, eventually became SOLSTROM. The movie-of-the-week based on the life and career of Sylvie Fréchette was not completed. Cirque du Soleil would go on to produce a number of documentaries – too numerous to mention here. And, eventually, the animated series would become LUNA PETUNIA, but it would take a few more agreements (and a few more years) to get there.

To be Continued…