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  2010

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CIRQUE SLIPS ON ITS OWN SHPEEL

Though Cirque du Soleil would launch three new productions in 2010 — VIVA ELVIS, presented at ARIA Resort & Casino, becomes Cirque's seventh resident show in Las Vegas (January); and TOTEM, a look at human evolution by director Robert Lepage, which celebrates its world premiere in Montreal come April — it's BANANA SHPEEL, Cirque's twist on Vaudeville, which arrives at the Beacon Theatre in New York City after a preview run in Chicago, that steals the headlines. And not in a flattering way.

When Banana Shpeel opened for limited preview performances in Chicago on November 19, 2009, the show not only failed to connect with critics, it also failed to connect with audiences – a flop of major proportions. And it didn't take long for the negative reviews to make the rounds. Then the changes started rolling in, prompting Cirque to postpone the original February opening in New York City to allow for more rehearsals. It came as no surprise then when the premiere was then pushed to March, and then later April. The changes drove speculation that the show (and the company) was in imminent danager of collapsing completely. Had Cirque du Soleil unleashed a lemon of a banana? With reviews for CRISS ANGEL BELIEVE and VIVA ELVIS in Las Vegas also lack-luster, patrons and fans seriously began to wonder.

Undaunted, Cirque then announced Banana Shpeel was "under new management" – Enter Marty Schmelky. The production – now "a riot of ha-ha's, la-la's and ta-da's" rather than "a new twist on vaudeville", would begin performances on April 29th with a gala premiere on May 21st. If all was successful, the show would run through August 29th. But all would not be successful. Still unable to find an audience, on June 14th, producers gave Marty Schmelky "the hook" and the announced the show would hold its final New York performance on Sunday, June 27th - a full two months early - with a hefty discount on tickets. Closing NYC would not be the end to Banana Shpeel's legacy, however. The company attempted to take the show on tour - first to Toronto and then to San Francisco after a "fair bit of tweaking" had been done. Alas, audiences didn’t like the show in Toronto any more than they had in New York City or Chicago before it – reviews were awful. And so all future engagements were abruptly canceled and the concept quietly died away, with its last performance on Sunday, November 14th.

Banana Shpeel, Viva Elvis, and BELIEVE weren't the company's only problems. ZAIA, in Macau, was in free-fall too.

Jerry Nadal, SVP Resident Shows, had to re-iterate that Cirque was at the Venetian Macau for the long haul. "ZAIA is here to stay, at least for eight more years. No conversation was held between Cirque du Soleil and Venetian about terminating the show before the end of the ten-year contract". Although he admits the show’s occupancy results are far from what were initially expected. "When the Venetian was designed and built, it was with the convention business in mind rather than the casino tourism." Sales and marketing efforts were geared toward a segment that didn't materialize. Hotel occupancy wasn't there and, as a result, it wasn't there in the showroom. This may beg the question: did Cirque need to bring a different product to succeed in Macau? "ZAIA is the right show for Macau," Nadal said. "We have no intention of changing the show." But changes were afoot and unltimately they would not prove successful.

Despite the down economy, Mr. Laliberté was aggressively making “optimistic plans,” he said, adding that “we’ve gone through three recessions in Cirque history, and they were all growth periods for us. But we are not tsunami-proof." Given the shaky economic times one might ask why has Cirque decided to try something new, instead of sticking with the tried and true? Mike Weatherford, a long-time Las Vegas observer who has followed the company's fortunes for the Review-Journal, suggests that Cirque needs to conquer new areas of entertainment if it wants to continue to grow without cannibalizing it own audience. As well, he adds, the company's new projects need to move away from Cirque's colourful, gibberish-filled comfort zone.

And that's what they intend to do...

Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour is unveiled (April). In May, Cirque Éloize enters a strategic partnership with CDS to promote and enable the company to enhance its visibility on the international market. Cirque also enhances it's visibility at EXPO 2010 in Shanghai by designing Canada's pavilion for the exposition. By June, the second chapter of Les Chemins Invisibles plays to audiences in Montreal while the special events team helps launch Microsoft's highly-anticipated motion capture peripheral - KINECT - for the XBOX 360 gaming console (the event required a crew of 200 and a cast of 76 artists to pull off. The 45-minute production was held over 2 nights to 3,000 guests, and was filmed for a 30 minute TV program.)

Cirque then partakes in the inauguraul Montréal Complètement Cirque, an international circus arts festival in Montreal, to great success (July). In August, "O" celebrates it's 10 millionth guest (4th) and OVO celebrates it's 500th show (14th). Two more new productions are unveiled in September: Hollywood 2011 becomes IRIS at The Kodak Theater in Hollywood, and Cirque announces a show for Radio City Music Hall in New York City (to be directed by acclaimed film and theatre director François Girard.) In October, Mystère celebrates it's 8,000th performance; Cirque du Soleil, James Cameron (Titanic, AVATAR), and Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Chronicles of Narnia), join their creative forces to develop and produce immersive theatrical 3D projects (with more information to come); and DRALION is restaged in arenas (it held it's final big top show on December 31, 2009). By year's end Guy Laliberté gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And the music to to Criss Angels' show at the Luxor - BELIEVE - finally gets released to CD (as does OVO's and TOTEM's, but much earlier in the year).


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