In its five years, Cirque du Soleil’s “One Night for One Drop” shows has raised millions of dollars for its water charity — and played host to such stars as William Shatner and Leona Lewis. The sell-out productions have raised extraordinary awareness for water, its shortages and the incredible courage and determination shown by those seeking it, finding it and developing it.
Now, in somewhat of a departure from stories told previously, this year’s theme will be inspired by the unbelievably tough life and hardships that singer-songwriter Jewel has overcome in her life — and she will perform in the new production set for March 2 in the “Michael Jackson One” theater at Mandalay Bay. Jewel recently appeared here for our St. Rose Dominican Dignity Health fundraising dinner.
Also, Cirque creators Laetitia and Nicky Dewhurst are returning for a second consecutive year to mastermind the unique production — and they talked with me exclusively for the first time, about the early stages of the process. I told them that their new show seems personality-driven rather than story-driven as was in the past shows.
Nicky Dewhurst: It’s still very much a Cirque du Soleil show. The show’s really inspired by events in Jewel’s life. So what we’ve done is we’ve created a story, a show that is really the core of her story. So it’s not specific, although it does parallel her life and. …
Laetitia Dewhurst: And although complicated, we’ve written a show that everybody can relate to. So, if you’re watching the show it’s something simplified so that anyone can relate to in that sense. So, we’ve gone for the theme of family, love, betrayal and courage.
It’s the courage to forgive. So these are big key elements that, you know, … things that happen to her in her life story, in her life. The show itself, is still going to have acrobatics and it’s still going to have comedy and, although she is in the show, she is acting as a guide. Sort of providing the thread to us to take us through the story. She inspired us saying: “I wish I could go back and tell myself, everything would be all right.” And you know, because she went through some pretty rough stuff.
So we thought that would be a good way of doing it. She’s actually taking somebody else who represents her journey — not herself — but her journey, through the show. And she sings through the show. Some of the songs are specific to that particular moment, others are more inspired by working with the composer to create tracks that work with the acts.”
Nicky and Laetitia are using the same composer they used in their last production, Jean-Francais Blais from “Zumanity.”
Laetitia: We were super pleased with his work and we worked together very well and he’s fantastic and we’ve already started playing around with some music and it’s absolutely phenomenal.
Nicky: He’s gonna work in harmony with Jewel. Basically, you know creating … we’re hoping at some point we may even create some original music with her. We’re actually using a lot of her hits because they’re all fantastic and a lot of (them), of course, people know … and they’re very iconic. But we’re also using her voice, she has a beautiful voice, her speaking voice. So that we have a little bit of poetry in the show with music.
Laetitia: Yeah so, it will be a through line with her and basically she’ll be guiding the lead character through her story. It’s like a parallel life and with, not to give too much away, but we’re basing the show in Alaska because that was where she’s from. So all the inspiration for the costume and characters and set design will be Alaska. But not HD, you know, kind of National Geographic. It’s (has) kind of a Cirque du Soleil twist to it, very — a little surreal aspect to it. And the costume designer is working on costumes … very earthy, I would say. The show’s very earthy and about nature in that sense because Jewel is very sensitive to that and we love that, too, and it’s a beautiful backdrop.
Nicky: Hopefully, it will snow, yeah.
Q: Normally “One Drop” shows tell stories about the survival for water, yet Jewel’s story is a survival for life story. How different is it?
Laetitia: Jewel said a beautiful thing and she has her own water charity as well. She said something beautiful” “Water is like love, with it we flourish, without it we wither.” So, and it was a joint effort with Jewel. Nicky and I that we came up with this concept.
Nicky: So we’re somewhat paralleling the need for water in everybody’s life, is that it’s very similar to the need for love in people’s life. So, if you have love you tend to flourish and you tend to do better in life and if you don’t then you tend to, sort of, lock it off away or hide away and become solitary. And suffer, I think, more. So the parallel, the concept that if you have water then you flourish, you know, people are able to live and thrive and in the same way with nature. So, that was the underlying theme. In the same way that last year we had, we paralleled the story with people (who) represented the earth and they represented humanity. This is in the same way, you know, water, love represents water in this show.
Laetitia: We sat around the table with Jewel and we tried to come up with a show that we all agree on. … We’re entertaining the public and we’re not, you know, because if we told her whole life story it would be, you know, a lot of script and a different type of show. So we’ve decided to do it in a, not fantasy way, but something … We just tried to find something that everybody related to. And what we’ve really tried to do is touch people’s emotions.
Nicky: It’s the story of her and how she was abandoned when she was 8 years old by her mother and she was raised by an alcoholic and abusive father who, essentially, she always says he was really, on reflection, … just trying to do his best. ” ‘cause he was put in a very difficult situation.” And then it’s the story of her getting out of that situation and then thinking she was a failure and failing because she ended up homeless, obviously. We’re not being specific in the story, but you will feel those things and then it’s getting back on her feet and how she started to thrive when good people came into her life. And then it’s also the story of her mother reappearing in her life when everything is going great. …. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with her whole story, but, essentially, her mother came back in her life when she was a big success and she took control of her finances and, essentially, cleaned her out.
So that was a very difficult thing for her to realize that, by the time she was 30, she had to rebuild her whole career and empire and everything else. But then it’s also the story of her father who, like I said, she always felt that he was just dealt a difficult situation and was doing the best that he could and how she reconnected with him, had the courage to forgive herself because she blamed herself for a lot of this stuff. And then had the courage to forgive him.
Laetitia: That’s basically the premise of our show in a storytelling way — we wanted to find something that everybody could relate to. Because, unless you’ve read her book, it’s a very complex life story. So we wanted to find something truly inspiring, It’s a gift and her voice, she will be in the show. She will sing about five songs.
Q: So it’s a little bit unusual in that there is “a star” to this next” One Drop.”
Nicky: Yeah. But I think everybody can relate to them. That’s why we’re taking it more in a family aspect. There’s a lot of people that have been brought up by distant fathers and mothers that have left. You’ve gotta find it in your heart to forgive people to move on with your life and that’s what she’s done. And we just really wanted to find a way to touch people’s souls and move them with some music. And, because of the music, everything she wrote has a reason. So we’re tying that into the show and we’ve chosen very carefully what tracks we’re using. And they all mean something within our story.
If you look at the show you wouldn’t know its water-centric. But if you read into the show then you understand. So it’s the kind of thing, in the same way, that last year, on the face of it — it really doesn’t look like there’s anything to do with water and the search for water. Whereas, the same thing this year, the search for love represents the search for water.
Q: When the two of you sat down with Jewel, what was the spark that you said, her story could become the theme of “One Night for One Drop?” I mean, you didn’t just bump into her and the, click: This is a show.
Nicky: My sister, Sally, works with Ryan Wolfington, who runs the Inspiring Children’s Foundation here in Las Vegas. He works with Jewel. He manages her business affairs, some of her business affairs. So, Sally invited him to see “One Drop” and he loved it. He loved that fact that we told a story, that had an emotional hook to it. And he approached us, literally the day after we’d finished. And, obviously, you can imagine our heads were spinning a little bit. But he said we should chat because it’s a great opportunity to do a collaboration with Jewel. It’s a perfect fit, she has her own water charity, she’s very much a believer in this cause of providing clean, sustainable water to people around the world. He said: “Let’s do something and have you read her book? Do you know her story?” And quite honestly, we didn’t at that point.
Laetitia: I knew a little of her hardships because I was a fan of Jewel, actually. But I didn’t know she’d written a book until we started meeting with her. I mean she’d done a lot. She did the book of poetry, a children’s album and a country album. Ryan told us: “She’s got a beautiful story and we’d really would love to put it onstage and tell the story. You guys are the right fit to do that.” And then that’s basically what happened. The ball started rolling.
Nicky: We took it to the “One Drop” organization and they got very excited about the concept and thought it was a great idea. And they turned around to us and said, “Would you direct it?” And, of course, we said, “yes, absolutely.” It was a bit of a head spin having just finished the other one. But this all sort of developed over a few weeks.
Laetitia: Once we’d read the book, “Never Broken,” we were really inspired. We felt this could be fantastic and we bounced around a lot of different ideas, but finally, we came up with this concept. Now, we are all really super excited about it. Jewel loved it, too.
Q: How do you avoid the focus being on a major recording star like Jewel? Compared to the main focus of “One Drop,” which has the job to educate and inform the Vegas audience about the shortage of water in the world.
Nicky: I think she embodies that anyway. She’s an incredible spokesperson for that cause. it’s such a great marriage because of that background. The fact that she grew up on a homestead in Alaska and had no running water and no electricity, did the walk for water herself every day. So that in itself is a beautiful story and a beautiful link to the cause and the concept.
Laetitia: She said she’s so passionate about this because she could only drink clean, distilled water when she was on the street. That was grueling for her because, obviously, she had no money that she got very sick without clean water. And she said, you know I can only imagine what these people go through and I felt my life was bad. And she always looks on the other side and there’s always somebody more worse off than she is. A beautiful soul and that’s the way she looks on life. She’s just incredibly humble.
She’s a fantastic mother (Atz and Lenedra) despite what she went through. Obviously, her parents were, well her father, was just trying to do his best but, you know, she’s … very in tune with nature and the world and she cares and she’s such a beautiful being despite what she’s been through. It’s quite remarkable.
Nicky: I think her father, too, he was kind of the first to break the mold. At a certain point in his life, he kind of recognized who he was becoming. And he changed that. And, he really turned his life around so that he could reconnect (with) her, and she, obviously, recognized that she never wanted to be that kind of person. So, I mean, incorporating those themes into the show, it’s kind of easy and I think that it is really — it’s an emotional hook that we all understand. And her music is fantastic for the acrobatic elements in the show. You know, there’s some beautiful acts that will work flawlessly with her songs as well as we said our original compositions that are gonna marry the two things together.
Q: Laetitia told me they will bring in some Cirque acts from overseas as in previous years to fill out the Vegas performers who will be taking part
Laetitia: We’re trying to keep it very even this year as well, we’ve got a lot of excited Cirque de Soleil employees. We just started doing our tour around and the show presentations to get people involved and the sign-up sheet with Vegas folk is going very well. They fill up very fast. So, yeah, we’ve got a couple of group acts coming in, just purely because we know they don’t exist in the Vegas shows. And we wanted to do something fun with a couple of acts that we’re inviting to come and they’re super excited. But of all the dancers, all the main characters will be Cirque Du Soleil artists from Vegas. We’ve just started the casting process.
Q: And does your father, Brian, the 84-year-old standout in “Mystere” have a role this year?
Nicky: (I told him): “I’ll give you a break this year Dad, you don’t have to perform.” He said, “Oh, I’d perform. I’d love to perform.” It blows my mind with his age what he does. So, we’re going to have to write him in somehow. Its tradition to have him there, somewhere.
Jewel, she’s been incredibly generous with her time. She will obviously be more present in the show and more involved in the storyline. I’d say that would be the biggest difference this time than our earlier shows. We will have some time to really work with her and incorporate her into the show. Beforehand, with our celebrities, it’s really been last minute plug-and-play-type situations.
This is gonna be different, so we’ll have that opportunity to really develop her role and get input from her as to how she wants to employ her talents into the show. It truly is ‘inspired by events in her life.’
“One Night for One Drop” will be performed March 2 at the Michael Jackson One theater in Mandalay Bay.