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Ex-Cirque visionary Dragone joins Laliberte in buyback effort

Updated June 9, 2020 - 8:32 pm

The man who has heightened the art of aquatic productions is making waves again in Las Vegas.

We speak of the esteemed entertainment trailblazer Franco Dragone, creator of “O” at Bellagio and “Le Reve” at Wynn Las Vegas. The veteran producer and director confirmed Monday he has joined Guy Laliberte’s effort to buy back Cirque du Soleil, which would mean a reunion between artistic visionaries who worked together for 13 years ending with “O’s” debut in 1998.

Dragone also directed Cirque’s original Strip production “Mystere” at Treasure Island, and Celine Dion’s “A New Day …” at Caesars Palace after he left the company.

Even as he’s pursued such international projects as “The House of Dancing Water” in Macao, Dragone’s relationships in the city have remained strong. He is further rekindling his affiliation with Las Vegas with the launch of the weekly web series “Las Vegas Creators United.”

The new project features in-depth conversations between prominent Vegas entertainment figures, raising funds for The Composers Showcase of Las Vegas’ Entertainment Community Relief Fund.

Dragone and Planet Hollywood headliner Criss Angel premiere the series at noon Friday; find that conversation at Dragone.com and the “Las Vegas Creators United” YouTube page. The series blends elements of “Inside the Actors Studio” and the TED Talk format.

In a segment recorded Monday on Zoom, Angel actually interviews Dragone, and the two recount the days when they pitched a show concept to Steve Wynn.

Upcoming segments feature expert artistic directors Kenny Ortega and Louanne Madorma (June 19), stage architects Ray Winkler and Ric Lipson of Stufish (June 26), and Nappytabs choreography tandem Tabitha and Napoleon D’Umo. Those listed as partners and on the extended list of participants include Elaine Wynn, Bernie Yuman and Wynn entertainment director Rick Gray.

Despite his international interests, Dragone yearned to throw a life raft to Las Vegas entertainment pros rocked by the COVID-19 shutdown.

“I had been deeply considering, ‘What can we do to help our fellow artists and performers in Las Vegas who are suffering?’ ” Dragone said during a phone conversation from his native Belgium on Monday. “We have so many people in this bad situation, I couldn’t imagine doing nothing. I have been many places, but Las Vegas has my heart.”

Dragone connected to The Composers Showcase fund, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, through TCS’ co-founders. He had worked with music director Michael Brennan at “Le Reve” and the two discussed Dragone’s options. Brennan then paired Dragone with Keith Thompson, who has produced and emceed TCS’ monthly shows since the series’ inception in May 2006.

Metaphorically, Dragone performed a swan dive into the nonprofit’s mission to provide support for sidelined entertainment professionals in Las Vegas.

“We all share this experience of making a show and making a life in Las Vegas,” Dragone said. “We will converse about what we know, what we can learn from each other, the ups and downs of being onstage and even many backstage stories.”

If Dragone’s creative template holds together, the series would lead into his return to the Strip as a Cirque partner. Laliberte is among several interested investors in the company he effectively sold to a corporate consortium led by TPG Capital in 2015. He sought Dragone just as he announced he was re-entering the circus of potential buyers.

The investors were to make bids on the company Monday. Reports out of Canadian media outlets indicate telecommunication giant Quebecor, private equity fund Providence Equity Partners and even concert operator Live Nation Entertainment are among those planning to submit offers.

Cirque sentimentalists would delight in Laliberte’s return to the company.

“Guy called me two weeks ago, when he decided to jump into the field, to bring Cirque back to what it really is, to see if I was willing to jump with him,” Dragone said. “I said yes. I have been approached by other people over the past month about Cirque, but I think Guy is the one I trust who will bring Cirque back … I could never say no to Guy, because there is such a beautiful history between us.”

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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