‘Mystere’ again launches Cirque on the Strip

In the middle of Mystere Theater on Friday afternoon sat the undisturbed, inert Korean plank.

And it was beautiful.

The plank act involves the entire “Mystere” cast, either airborne or ancillary around the piece. It’s a team effort, a family affair, and the way Cirque du Soleil rightfully should return to the Strip. The show comes back to the stage Monday night, marking Cirque’s reopening on the Strip.

“O” is next in line on July 1. “Michael Jackson One” at Mandalay Bay follows Aug. 19, and “Love” is next at the Mirage on Aug. 26. “Ka” at MGM Grand is still to be announced, but the company does plan to have all four shows open by October.

But as always, “Mystere” is ahead of the field.

“It needs to be the first one back, because it is last of the old-school Cirque,” says RJ Owens, who plays the grown-up Bébé François in the production. “It is the last show that completely relies on the human condition, rather than technology and fancy sets.”

“Mystere” is indeed the “last” of all those Cirque qualities, but will always be the first Cirque show to ever open in residency on the Strip, in December 1993. The cast has finally reunited this month, ahead of the Monday night re-opening performance. The company has adopted the #IntermissionIsOver hashtag in marketing the revival campaign.

Originally, Cirque had geared up for “O” to relaunch first among Strip productions, but “Mystere” vaulted into that role. The show was propelled into that position by Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin, whom Cirque CEO Daniel Lamarre said was “very, very eager that as soon as the market recovered that he would open ‘Mystere.’”

In a statement, Ruffin said the show “continues to be a very popular and we’re currently booking full houses – 1,600 seats and 10 shows a week!”

“We know that the performers are excited to return to the stage,” the statement continued.

“Mystere” Senior Artistic Director Tim Smith said the cast kept themselves in near-top condition throughout the shutdown.

“We were very surprised at the amazing shape of our artists, mentally and physically, when they came back,” Smith said. “But that is what they do. That’s how they live. They kept themselves trained to perform the unique skills that they do. They came back ready to work and were very excited about it. It was not too much of a task to get them back up and running.”

Smith said the show is usually the entry point for Cirque fans visiting Vegas.

“We are a lot of people’s favorite show, and often the first Cirque show they have seen,” Smith said. “It is iconic here in Las Vegas — we are lucky enough to be synonymous with people’s vacation. If you come to Las Vegas, you’ve got to see a Cirque du Soleil show, and usually it’s “Mystere.’”

The show has advanced through fully costumed rehearsals over the past three-plus weeks.

“They have gone perfectly. Perfectly,” Owens said. “It’s beautiful, it’s heart-touching and warming as it has always been.”

During the COVID pause, the show has undergone inevitable shifts — in cast, and even in the size and shape of one cast member.

Guitarist Bruce Rickerd retired during the shutdown. He was a cast member in “Mystere” in its opening, and played some 12,465 shows. Rickerd holds the Guinness Book of World Records mark for most theatrical performances by a male musician.

And Owens is not nearly as much man-baby as he was prior to the pandemic. He has lost some 200 pounds, down to 279. He’s had 12 inches taken out of his pajama costume and big diaper.

“I am where I was when I was 16,” Owens said. “I have new aches and pains in my joints because I am able to move differently. I can run a little with the cast.”

Owens has notched more than 4,500 shows dating to February 2013. His reunion with the cast has proven emotionally powerful.

“The fact that we have been able to take our masks off and actually see each’s others’ faces is so moving to me,” Owens said. “I’ve been weeping all day today. Just weeping. It’s been ridiculous. It’s the cast out here, working their asses off to do above and beyond the best show you have seen.”

{ SOURCE: John Katsilometes, Las Vegas Review-Journal }