Cirque the tie that binds two cities

Could any two more different cities be joined at the hip?

You walk around Montreal, as I did for the first time last week after the premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson arena show, and laugh at the cosmic irony that Las Vegas and Montreal-based Cirque became so co-dependent.

I stand up to defend Las Vegas from hack attacks by those we call “parachute journalists,” who drop in, chat up a bartender and then make Big Statements to sum up the whole city.

But in reverse, cliches are irresistible temptations: The denizens of Montreal love their dark clothes and boots. Their sidewalk smokers may even outflank Vegas slot-huffers. They have Les Violons du Roy. We have, well, Roy.

If the Strip’s female ideal is Jenna Jameson or Holly Madison, there it’s “Amelie” or Juliette Binoche in “Chocolat” (a high-cheekboned femme was, in fact, bailing from the Sunday brunch wait line for a backup choice that was, in fact, called Juliette & Chocolat).

But Cirque unites us. More than 700 of its 5,000 artists and support staff work here (and another 1,000 casino-employed stagehands crew its shows). Over the years, that unflappable French-Canadian air of mellowness got a head start on Zappos in polishing this city’s rough edges of slot-bar culture.

A long-anticipated tour of Cirque’s Montreal headquarters — an airy building of glass and corrugated sheet metal I’ve wanted to see for years — proved to be, well, familiar.

With seven shows on the Strip, the mother ship is in many ways just a bigger version of each Vegas show’s backstage costume and training facilities. Montreal is literally a factory: It’s impossible to store enough costumes for all of Cirque’s shows on-site, so they print the designs on bulk fabric and sew the costumes there.

The company has more than 120,000 tickets to sell each week for its seven shows on the Strip. A 10 percent entertainment tax on every ticket stays right here, but a lot more ticket revenue heads back to this largely French-speaking city.

MGM Resorts has entrusted almost all its Las Vegas entertainment to this company. As our journo-bus rolled up for a tour, familiar faces in the lobby were headed upstairs for a powwow; Cirque’s president, Daniel Lamarre, and MGM Resorts executives among them. They looked serious.

The party to celebrate the launch of “The Immortal” in front of an enthusiastic hometown crowd was Sunday night. This was Monday morning. The party was over.

There will be 33 performances of “The Immortal” at Mandalay Bay Events Center. Cirque has upward of 246,000 tickets available for a tribute to a divisive pop star during December, one of the slowest tourism months on the Strip. It helps that some of the regular Cirque titles will take vacation then, and that Jackson remains an irony-free icon among Asians, who visit Las Vegas in big numbers around Christmas.

“The Immortal” is sure to see some tweaking on the road before it lands in Las Vegas. The debut seemed to be all over the place, with way more of what I would call “transitional” bits and pieces than big show-stopping centerpieces.

But this marriage has always been one with big demands on it. Michael Jackson just makes these two opposite cities more co-dependent than ever.

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

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