“Risk” is the operative word in the epilogue of “R.U.N’s” story at Luxor.
And as Cirque du Soleil has reminded, the bolder the risk, the greater the collapse.
“R.U.N” took on a big, expensive risk, only to spin out, its chase scene ending in a pileup of Dodge Chargers and electric bikes. Cirque’s du Soleil’s live-action adventure production is closing after performances March 8.
“We are in the business of taking risks,” Cirque President and CEO Daniel Lamarre said in a phone chat Thursday, confirming the show’s imminent shutdown. “We thought we had a good risk here. We all believed it was the right thing to do, to bring something special and different to the Strip. Unfortunately we did not attract as many people to the show as we were hoping.”
Cirque’s bold departure from its proven artistic formula opened for previews Oct. 24. The show’s 4 1/2-month run is the shortest ever among Cirque resident productions in Las Vegas, dating to the 1993 launch of “Mystere” at Treasure Island.
Lamarre told the cast and crew the sobering news after Thursday night’s show at Luxor, flying in from the company’s headquarters in Montreal. Lamarre said the final decision was made within the past week, effectively halting the company’s efforts to revamp the show.
“We have made some changes, here and there, the pacing of the show,” Lamarre said. “But we saw that the bulk of it was working pretty well. We thought that by tweaking here and here we would come back with the quality of show we were shooting for.
“But I don’t think it was the quality of the show that was in question. It was more bad alignment between who we were trying to reach and our brand-new type of content.
Lamarre said he and Cirque officials had been monitoring ticket buyers’ reaction, which was consistently troublesome.
“We were looking at a target group that was very different from one that would normally see Cirque du Soleil,” he said. “The fact that we had our name on the banner, a lot of people who were showing up for Cirque were disappointed in the content, because they were expecting acrobatic acts.”
There is no plan for a show to move into the “R.U.N” theater at Luxor. Lamarre said the magic show “The Illusionists” is one possibility, as the show is performing at the March 27 “One Night For One Drop” charity show at Luxor. That night will serve as a test for the show in a comparatively large venue.
”I would love to bring ‘The Illusionists’ to Las Vegas, and I think ‘One Night For One Drop’ will be a good test for it,” Lamarre said. “But I don’t think that is the perfect theater for that show. I would prefer to bring ‘The Illusionists’ somewhere else. We are looking at other alternatives, too.”
As a side plot, Circus Circus owner Phil Ruffin has stated he is in talks with Cirque for “The Illusionists” to his property. Lamarre said only that he wants “The Illusionists” in Las Vegas, having been impressed with the version that played on Broadway in December. “I want the best home in Las Vegas for that show.”
Asked what other shows could conceivably be staged to supplant “R.U.N” at Luxor, Lamarre said there is nothing in-hand to drop into that theater.
“We are having a lot of conversations, as you can imagine,” Lamarre said. “These are brand-new conversations. We have made this decision quite recently. It is my hope in a few weeks we can come back to you and answer that question.”
Despite the show’s surprisingly short run, Lamarre said Cirque’s finances are stable, with upward of 50 shows in its collection of productions worldwide.
Questions about the “R.U.N’s” viability arose in early January, when ticket sales had been halted after April 30. Over the past several weeks, officials saying the show needed to be “honed,” and its marketing message sharpened to separate its story-telling format from other Cirque shows on the Strip.
Cirque still produces six original Las Vegas shows: “O” at Bellagio, “Love” at The Mirage, “Ka” at MGM Grand, “Michael Jackson One” at Mandalay Bay, “Mystère” at Treasure Island and “Zumanity” at New York-New York.
“R.U.N,” is a massive undertaiking, an extravagant, $62 million production that cost about $500,000 a week in operating costs (estimates were the show was grossing half that weekly figure). The production has been seriously under-performing at the box office in its 1,500-seat Luxor theater. As recently as the first week of January, Cirque officials said they planned to review the show’s marketing effort and revamp the production.
However, even as MGM Resorts sought to save the project, officials from Cirque du Soliel and ownership company TPG Capital could not rationalize spending additional funds — which would rise to the millions — to remake the show and return it to the stage.
Coinciding with the show’s difficulties, Cirque du Soleil President and Chief Executive Officer of Business Jonathan Tétrault resigned from the company on Feb. 12. He had been employed by Cirque for four years, brought on by TPG to oversee the company’s bottom line and its many productions. Tétrault authorized every Cirque production worldwide, including “R.U.N” at Luxor.
Elsewhere, signs of struggles abounded: “R.U.N” never returned on-sale dates to its schedule in May or beyond. Plans to stages a single performance of “R.U.N” for the annual “One Night For One Drop” charity event at Luxor were spiked. Cirque instead opted for a ready-made version of “The Illusionists,” which it owns through its acquisition The Works Entertainment, rather than spotlight a new show the company created in-house.
“R.U.N” got off to an inauspicious start as an artist suffered a broken clavicle after an electric motorcycle spill. The show’s VIP premiere was Nov. 14, and the production was immediately met with negative fan reviews (earning two out of five stars from customers on the TripAdvisor and Yelp consumer websites).
The production separated itself from existing Cirque shows on the Strip, emphasizing its artists were performing movie-styled stunts rather than traditional Cirque acrobatics. Advanced video mapping, mixed with live chase scenes through a fictional Las Vegas, was employed extensively in the former “Criss Angel Mindfreak Live” theater.
The also show followed a narrative arc — in English — written by renowned director Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City,” “El Mariachi,” “Spy Kids”). That approach, too, was a Cirque first.
Director Michael Schwandt (“The Masked Singer”) designed the show’s combat segments. Tyler Bates (former guitarist for Marilyn Manson who has scored “Hobbs & Shaw” and “300,” among other action films) created the thundering soundtrack.
None of which could salvage “R.U.N,” which represents a noble risk, but a costly lesson.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.