Most “Le Reve — The Dream” audience members — even the ones in the pricey front-row seats — probably never notice the metal-fitting contraption at the end of AJ Montgomery’s left leg that makes him just a bit different than the show’s other acrobatically talented cast members.
And, really, that’s the point, says Montgomery, who brings to the show’s considerable athletic, aquatic and choreographic challenges a physical challenge of his own.
In 2015, just four days after auditioning for and landing a spot in the Wynn Las Vegas show, Montgomery was in a traffic accident that resulted in the amputation of his left leg just below the knee.
Montgomery, who wears several prostheses during the show, considers performing not just a great job but a strangely apropos one.
“There are times in the show where I still look around and I don’t know how I’m still here,” he says. “I get to perform with some of the world’s best athletes nightly, and it makes you so humbled to be able to step onstage, because there is a time when that could easily have been taken away from me.
“It’s so ironic the show is called ‘Le Reve’ because this is something I still dream of doing, and now I get to do it every day.”
First audition a hit
Montgomery, 31, grew up in Minden, Nebraska, and began performing during high school. After a year of college in Chicago, he toured for two years with a Los Angeles-based group called The Young Americans. While performing at such attractions as Disneyland and Universal Studios, he learned skills that helped to prepare him perfectly for “Le Reve.”
But, he says, “it wasn’t until I saw this show, about 11 years ago now, where I was like, ‘Wow, I want to do this.’ ”
On April 15, 2015, at age 28, he auditioned. “There were probably about 100 candidates and I made it all the way to the end, and I felt really good about my performance that day,” Montgomery says.
Four days later, Montgomery’s motorcycle was T-boned by a car that illegally sped over several lanes of traffic. His leg was damaged severely. He underwent three surgeries over the next two and a half weeks in an attempt to save his foot and lower leg. Then, with recovery prospects uncertain — Montgomery was told he’d have to have several more surgeries over the next several years and likely would have daily pain and have to walk with a cane — he chose amputation.
“It probably took me about 10 seconds to make the decision,” he says. “I didn’t know much about amputations … but that seemed like a much better opportunity than lying in bed for five or six years. So, for me, it was a very easy choice.”
It turned out that Montgomery’s pre-accident audition had earned him a spot in “Le Reve.” A week out of the hospital, Montgomery received an email from Louanne Madorma, the show’s casting director.
“She was basically reaching out to me,” Montgomery says. “She didn’t know my state of mind. But she had heard about what happened and wanted to reach out and see how I was doing.”
A second chance
Madorma invited Montgomery to see the show when he came to Las Vegas. A month and a half after his final surgery, Montgomery and some friends stopped by. Madorma gave them a backstage tour.
“I was on crutches. I didn’t have a prosthesis yet,” Montgomery says. “So we’re walking around backstage and then walked in the rehearsal room. She said before she opened the door, ‘I told the cast about you. They’d like to meet you.’ She opened the door and the cast was sitting there, and I was just overwhelmed.
“She told me she had spoken to the general manager, the health services team and the athletic training team, and said if I was still interested and I could do what I did in my audition, I would have a job here at ‘Le Reve.’ ”
“It took me 10 seconds to understand what she was saying to me,” Montgomery says. “Then I started crying, and she started crying, and some people in the cast started to cry.”
“That was a turning point,” Montgomery says. “At that point, I didn’t know what my life would entail. But I had something to work toward.”
Madorma says that after Montgomery’s first audition, “I knew we were going to hire him.”
“It’s kind of difficult to find people like AJ for the show, because he had everything we had been looking for when he auditioned.”
A few months later, Montgomery got his first prosthesis. Eight months later, he again auditioned for the show and again was selected to join its cast.
‘Just like everybody else’
Performing the show’s complex stunts and acrobatic moves is a bit different for Montgomery now. He has to pay particular attention when pivoting his body and knowing where his center of gravity is. Each prosthesis he wears during a show — three, plus a backup — is matched to a specific artistic function.
But, he says, “I perform just like everybody else, I warm up just like everyone else and I do choreography just like everybody else.”
Montgomery doesn’t know where his career will take him, but he’s confident in his ability to meet whatever challenges arise.
“I’ve always figured this show was not to be the end of my book. This was a continuation, and it’s an amazing chapter, being here,” he says. “I love my job and I love being here.
“I think if I were to explore other avenues, I think it would be a crazy opportunity to be on the U.S. Paralympic team, and do stunts and movies as a one-legged pirate.”
A one-legged pirate? Montgomery laughs.
“Honestly,” he says, smiling, “I feel my Halloween costume is always a pirate now.”