So here we are, back to the age-old question. How many Cirques are too many Cirques?
I kind of gave up asking it around early 2005, when founder Guy Laliberte noted four titles ago, “Every new show we’re adding raises always the same questions: Is it too much? Will they outdo themselves? Will it be different enough to not cannibalize what they’ve done before?”
But it comes up now with a twist. The same week Cirque celebrated 18 years of its first Las Vegas title, “Mystere,” it confirmed its first certified Las Vegas failure (you can debate how to score most of the Cirque-created content disappearing from “Criss Angel — Believe”).
“Viva Elvis” will close Aug. 18, to be replaced by “Zarkana” in October. If branding with iconic pop stars seemed the future of Cirque in Vegas, this decision reverts back to an exotic name and original content.
I asked Cirque’s president, Daniel Lamarre, if “Elvis” was just a mismatch with the upscale Aria. Might it have done better at the Las Vegas Hilton, which (foreclosure issues aside) already was branded with Elvis Presley?
“I wouldn’t say that,” Lamarre said without further elaboration. But he agreed Aria needs a “modern” show, and echoed the ongoing concern with the need “to bring a different type of show. That’s the challenge we have all the time. We have to come with a very distinctive show.”
I also asked Lamarre if “Iris” in Hollywood is draining any business from the Las Vegas shows.
“I think it’s a promotional tool for us,” he said of the ticket surge that followed Cirque’s performance on the Academy Awards.
Audiences in New York, Moscow and Madrid have chalked up a million-plus ticket sales for “Zarkana,” just as the Michael Jackson tribute “The Immortal” again tops Pollstar’s most recent list of top-grossing concert tours.
Both shows drew mixed-to-tepid reviews from newspaper critics. The New York Times’ Charles Isherwood said “Zarkana” is “basically a series of familiar, reliably exciting old-school circus acts embroidered in baroque, sometimes bewildering art direction.”
The Toronto Star’s Cirque-savvy Richard Ouzounian found it “tremendously impressive” in places, “but it never really touched me and I truly don’t have any idea what it was trying to say.”
Perhaps Cirque has reached that state of mass popularity where its titles are analogous to Hollywood franchises such as “Transformers.” The critics sneer, but the public votes with its wallet.
So, how do we know when there are too many Cirques? Based on “Elvis,” the answer is simple: When people quit buying tickets.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288