KPBS AIRDATE: May 13, 2005
“O” is an ‘Oh my God!’ experience. The Cirque du Soleil production at the Bellagio Hotel is nothing short of breathtaking. Though I’m not a fan of Las Vegas , or circuses, or even Cirque du Soleil, I found the show absolutely mesmerizing. The technical aspects alone are head-spinning. Consider this: the massive pool, for which the 1800-seat theater was built, holds more than 1.5 million gallons of water and reaches a depth of 25 feet. The 100×150 foot construction can move 20 feet up and down, so a given character can be walking on water one moment, and suddenly underwater the next. There are 18 breathing stations under the surface, and every one of the multi-talented, 85-member international cast is scuba-certified. 150 stage technicians lurk behind the scenes and make it all look smooth, simple and seamless.
But in, on and under the water, tumbling, high-diving, swimming in synchrony, balancing, swinging, floating, flying and contorting are the most astonishing array of acts and the most incredible feats of flexibility, ingenuity and dexterity you’re ever likely to see, anywhere. The design wizardry is mind-boggling, from the outrageous lighting effects to the otherworldly surround-sound. Ten live musicians play instruments that range from cello to Colombian guitar, from bagpipes to African harp and ancient woodwinds. Four singers intone those ethereal songs the Cirque is famous for, written in an exotic-but-invented language. The eye-popping costumes and multi-level, multi-tasking, multi-national acts barely allow you to take it all in at once. The stage pictures and visual imagery just blow your mind. You almost have to buy the pictorial program to be able to appreciate and reimagine the full extent of the beauty and creativity that went into this incomparable extravaganza.
But as a dramatic experience, it isn’t perfect. It makes no point or even sense at times. The clowns aren’t particularly funny. Most of the central characters — a Ballerina, a Waiter, a Zebra, a young Sicilian boy – have no particular purpose. This experience won’t have changed your life in any deeply intellectual or emotional way. But it is guaranteed to give you a heart-stopping thrill, to make you feel that the exorbitant price was worth every penny, and to make you want to see it again. Some say the Cirque’s new show, “Ka,” is even more outrageous. But I’m not taking bets on that, and I’m not rushing back to Vegas any time soon. Maybe in the fall, when “Avenue Q” settles into the new Wynn Hotel . By then “Hairspray” will be there, too. Sin City is reinventing itself yet again. This time, it’s more about theater than theatrics. Except for the Cirque, which now has four shows on the strip. There, it’s all about spectacle, and there will always be a place for that in the Nevada desert.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.