Now in its 18th year, 'Mystere' builds durability with good humor

<b>CORRECTION (12/31/2010):</b> This review of “Mystere” in today’s Neon section, printed earlier this week, implies that Francois Dupuis no longer plays the “baby” in the show. Dupuis still is in the cast but alternates performances with Anna Zlatkova.

There's the funny baby, the Red Bird and the giant snail we've all come to love over the years. Still, it was hard not to think about Spider-Man.

"Mystere" counted down to its born-on-Christmas Day 17th anniversary at Treasure Island last week, the same one in which a stunt man was seriously injured in previews for the Broadway comic-book musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."

Cirque du Soleil launched its Las Vegas empire with "Mystere." Even if it doesn't need "Spider-Man" to further its scheme of world domination, it's a safe bet the risk of injury would be lower with Cirque in charge of the Broadway show's stunt work.

Just look at what they do twice a night, where they have "spider men" in everything but the costume.

There's an aerialist who whirls in and around a giant cube, then takes flight from the stage, suspended by only his forearms, before he lands again to spin and twirl the cube on deck.

And look at the acrobats who climb poles upside down with only their hands, pumping their legs for momentum as they inch their way up.

Don't forget the people who spiral into the air from teeter-boards, landing on the shoulders of others to make a two- and three-person stack.

But chances are, if you've lived in Las Vegas for any period of time you know all this. Only three shows have been around longer now. Cirque's first permanent installation is a tradition in a city that doesn't have many, and still a wide-eyed experience for youngsters seeing it for the first time.

There have been a few changes over the years, mostly in the connecting material between the big acts.

The venerable Brian Dewhurst is now in his late 70s, and the longer he remains with the show, the more he becomes the audience favorite and focal point. His role has expanded from pre-show clowning; now he taunts the other characters with British humor not part of the early editions.

The big "baby" in the diaper we've known for years (Francois Dupuis) is now played in some performances by a "toddler" (Anna Zlatkova): a cute girl in pigtails, jammies and piggy slippers. She does all the same favorite audience bits -- hijacking an audience member with a golf cart, crawling precariously close to a sheer ledge -- but she also turns out to be a bit of an acrobat herself (to say more would spoil it).

"Mystere" owes much of its durability to this good humor. Those not fond of the French Canadians often fling the word "pretentious," but one could argue there's humor even in the teeter-board and trampoline acrobats conducting themselves like courtiers in some royal palace.

Cirque has even taken action on one past complaint, that the new-agey music has dated poorly and can sound a bit '90s and Enya-like in places. They re-scored the climactic trapeze act with more of a percussive orchestra sound in time for the celebration of 8,000 performances last fall.

Christmas may be over, and "Mystere" takes a couple of weeks off starting Wednesday, but a locals promotion (two tickets for $99) carries into the new year. The novelty has faded, and some of the wonders may have as well. But "Mystere" is still Cirque in the company's early purity, without Elvis, Michael Jackson or even Spider-Man getting in the way of the original vision.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ or 702-383-0288.