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A little star power on tap

Sorry, Carly. It took Cirque du Soleil an extra three years to budge on this “no names” policy.

NeNe Leakes, best known as one of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” makes Cirque history on Friday with a week as the guest host of “Zumanity.” It marks “the first time in 30 years we’ve ever put a celebrity in one of our shows,” says Jerry Nadal, who oversees Cirque’s resident shows in Las Vegas.

(Doug Elfman talks to Leakes elsewhere in today’s Review-Journal.)

“That’s not really been the DNA of the company,” Nadal says of the shift from even 2011, when marginally famous Irish rock singer and “American Idol” contestant Carly Smithson sang unbilled and with a wig in “Viva Elvis.”

“It was all about the sum of the parts… Nobody was a star in any of our shows,” Nadal says. “But you know, times are changing and Guy (Laliberte, the Canadian company’s co-founder and CEO) is ready to go along for the ride with us.”

“Zumanity” is “10 years old now and there’s a lot of competition here in town,” he adds.

Cirque is always looking for publicity opportunities in TV talent contests such as “Dancing With the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.”

It’s more expensive to move in the other direction, paying a TV star and the costs of rehearsing and advertising her for just a week. “There’s not a great economy there,” Nadal agrees, “but the whole social media landscape has changed the whole dynamic of how you reach out to audiences.” In terms of the latter, “it’s an easy and quick change to do.”

If Leakes brings a significant sales bump, “Zumanity” will keep going with guest stars two or three times a year, perhaps even vocalists who would combine the current work of drag emcee Edie (Christopher Kenney) with that of the show’s cabaret singers.

“Zumanity” is due for more changes later this year, including a new choreographer and replacing some of the music and acrobatic acts. Other local Cirque titles will follow the “refreshing” already given “Mystere” and “Zarkana,” with even the Beatles tribute “Love” due for some changes before its 10th anniversary in 2016.

“The audiences are changing, the demographics are changing,” Nadal says. “It’s getting younger. We have to try to stay ahead of the curve. We don’t want to have a dinosaur onstage.”

Nadal also had an update on the climactic battle scene of “Ka,” which has been missing since performer Sarah Guyard-Guillot died in a fall almost a year ago.

“We are working on reintegrating it in right now,” Nadal says. Rehearsals move from the training room to the stage for daytime training this week, with the goal of having the vertical battle back in the show by late summer or early fall.

“We have done a lot of work on looking at how that whole system was originally installed, and made some changes there to improve the safety,” he says. …

The recent news of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham moving into the theater at Planet Hollywood in November means two new shows will have a limited time to prove themselves.

Before producer Adam Steck gives up the keys to the PH theater he leased for rocker Meat Loaf, Steck hopes to establish the Australian topless revue “Sydney After Dark” by running it from July 7 through Nov. 22.

“My end game is to open it there, create a nice brand for it and hopefully move it to a smaller, intimate room,” Steck says.

“Sydney” will share the room with a sublet, the Latin-themed production show “Viva Veracruz,” before AEG Live takes over to produce Dunham starting Thanksgiving weekend. The “Veracruz” producers “know it’s a limited run, a paid showcase if you will,” Steck says.

The plan for that one is to build out from a cultural niche, as the Chinese revue “Panda!” and the Japanese “Matsuri” previously attempted to do with mixed success.

A Spanish-language show seems long overdue and curiously untested, if you don’t count last weekend’s early closure of magician Reynold Alexander at the tiny Clarion. His “Magia” wasn’t clearly branded as a bilingual product anyway. …

Speaking of “Panda!,” that one will continue at least through Aug. 31 at the Palazzo, though it’s not clear what will happen beyond then. …

An upheaval at “Raiding the Rock Vault” probably won’t be noticed much beyond the locals who bring repeat business to the fun rock tribute at the LVH. But it was a shock to us media folk when John Payne, the co-writer, bassist and chief spokesman for interviews, was suspended last month and replaced this week.

Although Payne guided the show from its first Los Angeles showcase to the LVH with a contagious enthusiasm, it’s now obvious he didn’t have a larger controlling interest than producer Harry Cowell. “It’s a crazy situation and a complete shock to me,” Payne noted earlier this month, when he was still “trying to work it out” after buying a house in Henderson.

Payne has been replaced in “Rock Vault” by bassist Hugh McDonald. Payne is focusing on his own band Asia featuring John Payne, which launched a new covers album, “Recollections,” in a Burbank, Calif., club last week. …

If you want to see what a David Copperfield slot machine looks like, then get yourself down to the MGM Grand to see it revealed at 2 p.m. today. …

And if you want to hear what a new Ghalib Ghallab album sounds like, then get yourself down to the Stiched Lifestyle store at The Cosmopolitan at 7 p.m. today for the release party of the Las Vegas jazz keyboardist’s eighth album, “I’m Evolving.”

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

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