It is one of the most ambitious Strip productions each year, and it takes almost a year, by a team of 300 volunteers, to pull off a one-night-only spectacular seen this time by only 1,250 lucky VIPs. Exactly two weeks from now on March 3, Cirque du Soleil stages for the fifth consecutive year its incredible charity show “One Night for One Drop.”
“We have a massive logistical puzzle to fit everybody in,” Krista Monson, director of creation, told me at a sneak preview rehearsal Feb. 7. “We have 63 artists, we probably have a crew of 80, and our designers and wranglers and travel immigration specialists to get everybody here, we probably have a total team of 300 people. Everyone is a volunteer — nobody gets paid.”
The extraordinary experience supports safe water-access programs worldwide and includes charitable support for our Springs Preserve. Cirque founder Guy Laliberte created the international nonprofit to develop strategic and operating initiatives to address access to safe water. The four previous performances of “One Drop” have raised about $25 million.
Our thanks to contributing photographer Tom Donoghue for our photo gallery when Krista gave me a special look at what to expect March 3 at Zumanity Theater at New York-New York. Nicky and Laetitia Dewhurst are co-writers and -directors this year, and my interview with them and Cirque’s dad, Brian Dewhurst, also runs today.
Said Krista: “This show has a spirit of freedom, comedy, wit and taking a chance, and there’s really cool writing.”
That closing song is almost like a Monty Python episode!
Exactly! Cirque is about taking a chance, that’s what we do, and that’s what Nicky and Leticia have done with this and with the whole narrative arc. It comes to a point where the emotion gets so high, we have no choice but to break out into a completely new feeling.
We have a singalong — we want to keep people guessing about what the end will be, so, without giving away too much, it takes a look at the planet in a way that has that Monty Python comedy edge that you don’t expect in these lyrics. It’s almost inappropriate, but the end hits us.
(In addition to the Cirque performers, Krista and her team have secured William Shatner, Grace VanderWaal, The Tenors, Redfoo, Lisa Loeb, the eight-man Brazilian drum-and-dance team Malevo, aerialists Duo Sky Angels and Miles Brown, who was a sensation in last year’s “One Drop” at The Smith Center. Jean-Francois Blais composed the original soundtrack.)
So the audience, in glittering gowns and smart tuxedos with a touch of blue, will let its hair down?
We want everyone to leave having a blast. The audience will be singing as they walk out of the theater no doubt, we hope — even in their glittering gowns.
The song “Screw It — We’re Moving to Mars” … which came first, William Shatner or the number itself?
“Move to Mars” came first, and, to be honest, it had nothing to do with the space theme that made us think of him. We wanted a man, an iconic figure who can actually tell Cirque du Soleil how to close the show. He didn’t hesitate for a split-second! I got an immediate callback saying that he’s interested.
He was on a “Star Trek” cruise at the time, so we had to wait a couple of weeks until he got back on land, and after that it was, “Let’s jump on a call.” Leticia took him through the story arc. There was a bit of a pregnant pause at the end of the line, and he burst into laughter and said, “I can’t believe you want me to do this.”
And we said, “The pleasure and honor is all ours, Mr. Shatner.” It is really interesting because he’s the old man of theater, and Grace is the young girl of theater. It fits with the theme, the idea of generations, the old ringmaster and the new ringmaster.
How many guest circus performers are joining in from around the world?
We have six guest artists coming in from all over the world. You’ve seen our dance trapeze artist today. We have others coming in over a three-week span. We have a massive logistical puzzle to fit everybody in, including their training, plus the staging.
Some of them have already been here. We know what they’re going to be doing. They will train on this stage. “Zumanity” has very small space, so some of them will train at the “Mystere” training studio, the “Ka” training studio. We have to coordinate our forces to make it all happen.
How many people under your control behind-the-scenes are moving all the pieces to make it work?
We have 63 artists, we probably have a crew of 80, and our designers and wranglers and travel immigration specialists to get everybody here, we probably have a total team of 300 people. Everyone is a volunteer — nobody gets paid.
Has President Trump’s travel ban caused any hiccups?
That’s a great question. We have an award-winning duo coming from Uzbekistan, and they were here in December. They have their travel visa, they’re ready to go, but it’s an interesting time right now for all of Cirque.
They’re not on this list of seven countries, but it’s a funky time, and we’re recognizing that it seeps into all walks of life, right? I do know that the people who are here are appreciative to be here, and they’re thinking twice before they leave, that’s for sure.
With two weeks left, how confident and comfortable are you that you will pull all of this off? Or is it nails bitten down to the quick until the night of March 3?
Our mandate is to reinvent and break formulas and do things in a different way, so that’s always chancy, and it always gets the fire under our butts and the adrenaline pumping. I’m not going to lie, but we’re confident, we’re working with extremely talented people, and they all feel the passion to do it all together. They feel the pressure as well as the passion.
The timeline of that pressure and passion has a new equation now because it’s that much earlier. There are a lot of things that still have to come together. So over 200 volunteers for one night, it is extraordinary, absolutely amazing. The common thread is everybody is here to create a show that we’re all proud of, so everybody’s making it happen and doing whatever it takes.
You directed the first “One Drop” at “O,” and there have been three others since. Let’s run through them.
We were immersed in water when I directed that first show. The concept was to celebrate Earth in its fragility, vulnerability and strength, so it was really a celebration of water importance.
Our second show in the “Michael Jackson One” Theater at Mandalay Bay was how to cope in a world without water.
The third show (at The Mirage) was a continuation of the walk for water by five women and how it affected each of them as we went into their personal stories. Last year our fourth show was at The Smith Center, and it was based on the personal story of our director, Hassan El Hajjami, of how he walked for water five miles every day as a child. These were surreal environments.
So this time we are lighter — we’re flying free and having fun. After five years, it’s a different rhythm but the same theme with different directors. That’s the joy of it, to see the interpretations and take audiences over years one, two, three, four and five to a totally different experience. This one is fun, comedic and witty, yet still with that degree of excellence and messaging.
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Jerry Nadal is the senior vice president of the Resident Shows Division at Cirque. He told me that he’s cautiously optimistic everything will come together perfectly March 3 despite the much-shortened preparation period.
And you’re having to cope with President Trump’s travel ban? Plus the logistics of 63 performers from different countries?
There are things you can’t predict. Immigration is our game. Without immigration, we don’t have Cirque du Soleil. People from 50 countries work for us, so it’s a big deal for us. With so many artists, it’s the nature of entertainment. Certainly, it’s the nature and tradition of circus, people coming from all over the world.
I think the rest of the world could take a cue from the way we operate. I always tell people that this is like running the U.N. except it works. We have people from all over the world, many different languages, and yet it happens every night onstage in the regular shows and certainly in this “One Drop.” This always amazes me that we pull this off every year for one night only.
Why this extraordinary volunteer commitment from the performers of Cirque to this one-night effort a year? Where does that come from?
I think the performers, and the entertainment industry in general, are inherently incredibly generous. I’ve given speeches at universities to students who are graduating in this field: You join the ranks of people whether you ever become famous or not who give of their time and energy to pick a cause.
It’s inherent of people in this industry, and Cirque du Soleil in particular, it’s been our goal to tackle the risk and water-related issues, and everybody rallied around that when Guy started talking about it.
They see the difference they’re making, and we see the progress we’re making around the world and the different projects. For the amount of time they’re donating to do this, if we can make a difference in somebody’s life — somebody’s buying tickets to come see them, and they love to perform on top of that — I think it’s just a win-win for everybody.
How much have the four shows raised to date?
Somewhere in the $24 million range. With a little luck, we’ll edge in on $30 million this year. It’s a smaller theater this year, but that was intentional. We wanted to completely change up —we always want to keep people surprised with what we’re doing. I think this is a beautiful venue at New York-New York.
I think we established a message in the first year, let people know what the issue is. We live in the desert; it’s a serious issue for us. We forget about it because we can turn on the tap and get water at any time. Go to Lake Mead and just see how far down it is.
You realize what’s going on. But this one, we’re having fun. There’s still a message, but I think we’ve established the message over the last few years; it’s still there but in a very humorous way.
Are you impressed with the performance turnout that Nicky and Laetitia have assembled?
They’ve got so many connections. You look at Nicky’s father, Brian, he goes back how many generations, he was a Vaudeville performer, and his parents were performers. They’ve got connections throughout the entertainment industry and in the competitive gymnastics world. It’s unbelievable how they’ve tapped into the network around the world.
Be sure to read our interviews with Nicky Dewhurst and his dad, Brian, who weeknights plays the clown in “Mystere” at T.I. and for “One Drop” is the old ringmaster who through a time machine looks back on himself as a young man first joining the circus and lessons to be learned.