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Cirque gearing up for ‘O’ return July 4

Updated February 27, 2021 - 5:08 pm

The fuse has been excruciatingly long, spanning the globe and smoldering for more than a year. But Cirque du Soleil is eager to set off a firecracker on the Fourth of July by reopening its long-running aquatic hit “O” on the Las Vegas Strip.

“I think at this point, we feel we need to draw a line in the sand because of the amount of time it would require for us to return to work, given the complexity of our shows and the physical performance, getting our artists back in the show in ready condition,” Cirque Senior Vice President Eric Grilly said in a phone interview Thursday. “We’re planning to open this summer. I’m being hopeful. I would love to open by July 4th weekend.”

Grilly, who was named to his executive role in Cirque in November 2019, confirmed the tentative order of progression of reopening would be “O” at Bellagio, followed by “Mystere” at Treasure Island, then a still-to-be-determined procession of “Love” at The Mirage, “Michael Jackson One” at Mandalay Bay, and “Ka” at MGM Grand.

Starting in July, a Cirque show would open every month, roughly, through the end of 2021.

To conceive this reopening plan, Grilly has worked with MGM Resorts International execs, led by that company’s president of entertainment and sports, George Kliavkoff, and the management team at Treasure Island.

“With MGM Resorts, I think we’re very much aligned that ‘O’ will be the first show that we relaunch with them,” Grilly said. “And our partnership and Treasure Island has expressed great interest in the return of ‘Mystere,’ so we’ve sort of identified those two shows that would be the first that would reopen … We presented a staggered approach to opening the shows, but we really don’t have a schedule beyond that.”

Cirque theaters would likely be at reduced capacity with spaced seating for social-distancing requirements. But the shrunken houses would not be a deal killer for Cirque shows. Company CEO Daniel Lamarre and Kliavkoff have both said Cirque could run its Strip shows at 50 percent, and still edge into the black.

In its reopening template, the first Cirque holding to return to the stage might not be traditional Cirque show. It’s conceivable Blue Man Group, which Cirque owns, could be back onstage at Luxor even before “O” arrives.

“I would be remiss not to add, our actual first show that could reopen could be Blue Man Group,” Grilly said. The show plays to a customized theater across from the second-floor Atrium Showroom at Luxor. For it to return, the troublesome 25-foot moat would need to be removed in place of a 6- or 12-foot distance between the performers and audience.

Grilly’s Las Vegas Entertainment Creators Council and Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson’s Vegas COVID-19 Events Committee have been lobbying Clark County officials and the state’s Covid Task Force to amend that directive. They are likely to meet that end on May 1, when enforcement of pandemic protocols in Nevada hotel-casinos shifts from the governor’s COVID emergency directive, to the state Gaming Control Board and (on the Strip) the Clark County Commission.

Artistically, Cirque performers and technicians would require about eight to 10 weeks to return to the stage. Artists and techs in a show as intricately staged and choreographed as “O,” for starters, can’t just be called back and expected to immediately perform safely. That is the case even though Grilly says about 95 percent of the company’s artists have remained in Las Vegas and have been training throughout the COVID shutdown.

“We’re calling back artists into our theaters in March, to do physical assessments for those acts that have specific apparatuses, so that will give us a good sense of physical conditioning,” Grilly said. “That could influence, and probably will influence, our current thinking around rehearsal time.”

Grilly was previously CEO of VStar Entertainment, taking his post with Cirque after the company snapped up all VStar’s productions (including “Sesame Street Live” and “Barney & Friends”). He was barely in place before COVID shut down the entire worldwide Cirque operation. The six Cirque shows on the Strip were halted March 14, with the company laying off 3,500 employees over 44 international shows. That includes some 1,370 artists, technicians and support staff in Las Vegas.

In November, Cirque permanently shut down “Zumanity,” which had run for 17 years at New York-New York. A couple weeks later, a new investment team formally took control of the company. The group’s $375 million investment has effectively kept Cirque afloat.

The relationship between the new Cirque and MGM Resorts International is not quite the same as pre-pandemic, as there is no guarantee Cirque will realize its hopes of bringing a new show to New York-New York. And MGM Resorts has other plans for Luxor Theater, where Cirque held a long partnership with the magician Criss Angel and attempted the $64 million, graphic-novel inspired production “R.U.N,” which closed less than a week before Cirque’s company-wide shutdown.

But for Cirque, the news is brighter entering this spring than at any point in the past year. Grilly says there is “definitely” a celebration centered on the 15-year anniversary of “Love” this year, which would be a boffo event after the lingering shutdown.

“I got a card from the cast and crew of ‘Love’ the other day, thanking us, myself and the team for our efforts to return the performances,” Grilly said. “It’s contagious to see the love that these folks have, and the passion they have for their art and for their shows. I feel honored to be a part of it.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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