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‘Zarkana’ always seemed like one Cirque too many

Two shows in a row have disappointed in the same theater. What to do?

Here’s a Vegas solution, circa the boom days of the early-2000s: Tear down the theater!

So, that’s not exactly what’s happening with “Zarkana.”

It was announced today that the Cirque du Soleil title will close April 30 to make way for a $154 million expansion of Aria’s convention center.

Yet, that's the effect, which will leave all of CityCenter without any show at all. But just south, between Monte Carlo and New York-New York, MGM Resorts is building both a new sports arena and a 5,000 seat concert hall, which will be the company’s version of the rival Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

Las Vegas entertainment always follows a drift, and the drift is clearly away from production shows to big-name stars in concert “residencies.”

But “Zarkana” always seemed late to the Cirque party anyway. It opened in November  2012 to replace “Viva Elvis,” the show which opened Aria and became the first Las Vegas Cirque to close, ending the Montreal company's hot streak on the Strip.

And “Zarkana” seemed like a sure thing. It had spent two New York summers at Radio City Music Hall, selling about 550,000 tickets the first year and 450,000 the next, with comparable numbers for limited runs in Moscow and Madrid in between.

Its creators had impressive credentials. Director Francois Girard’s credentials ranged from the 1993 movie "Thirty-two Short Films about Glenn Gould" to the Metropolitan Opera. Composer Nick Littlemore’s band Empire of the Sun has become even more popular since “Zarkana” opened.

"It's a luxury we never had in Las Vegas before, to come with a show that we know is working," Cirque president Daniel Lamarre said then.

Except that “Zarkana” seemed to suffer from Cirque fatigue, which the company had otherwise sought to combat with its musically themed partnerships with the Beatles (“Love”) and Michael Jackson (“One.”)

The first Aria version of “Zarkana,” perhaps mistakenly, shed Littlemore’s English-language songs and most of the story about a magician who revives the ghosts of an abandoned theater in a bid to reunite with his lost love.

When the show retooled last year, even the magician was gone. What was left was a redundant variation of “Mystere,” which was fine with MGM Resorts International, since it had sold “Mystere” with the rest of Treasure Island to Phil Ruffin.

But to audiences not so respectful of corporate ownership,it just seemed like more of the same. Finally the question seems to be answered: How many Cirques are too many on the Strip?

- Read more from Mike Weatherford at review journal.com. Contact him at weatherford@reviewjournal.com. Follow him @Mikeweatherford

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