Pick of the Week – May 11-17, 2015

At long last, we have come to the final in this series of Picks of things to do in Las Vegas that don’t involve drinking or gambling.  This week I am selecting one thing that is actually several, and with that confusing remark, let’s talk about Cirque du Soleil.

I have to admit that I didn’t get the appeal of Cirque du Soleil at first.  I thought it was just going to be a really pretentious circus.  You can move a high-wire act from under the big top into a nice theater and call it culture, but in the end it’s still just a circus act, right?

Wrong.

I was wrong.  So very wrong.  Ok.  I wasn’t completely wrong.  At a basic level, Cirque du Soleil does have segments with acts similar to those that you would see at a circus.  For example, on my last visit, I saw Zarkana, and one act involved a high wire.  It also involved a swinging pendulum, fire, and a level of physical skill well beyond anything I’ve ever seen at the circus.

And really that last thing is what has astounded me each time I’ve seen a Cirque show.  I spend my days sitting in front of a computer.  My body does what I need it to do, but then I don’t ask a lot of it.  Cirque performers, however, are able to do things that I cannot imagine myself accomplishing.  I marvel at the capabilities of the human form during every performance.

Cirque du Soleil has seven (technically eight. More on that shortly) shows running in Vegas at the moment.  I’ve seen three of them.  Here’s a quick rundown starting from the south end of the Strip:

Michael Jackson ONE (Mandalay Bay) – As you can probably guess from the title, this show uses the music of Michael Jackson as the springboard for its acts.

Zumanity (New York, New York) – Cirque’s “adult” show.  This one contains nudity and several raunchy bits of humor.  I was happy that I saw this one from the safety of the balcony because there is a bit of audience participation in spots.  The show is light and funny, and the theater is smaller and more intimate than the performance space for KA or Zarkana.

KA (MGM Grand) – At the time I saw it, KA was the only Cirque show with a plot.  I believe that is still the case.  It tells the story of a brother and sister who are separated by…well…that would be telling.  In many ways, KA resembles a martial arts epic.   Tragically, a performer was killed during the finale a year or so ago, so the ending has been changed.  I do not know what it is now.  However, the overall show is very impressive, and the stage itself is amazing.  If you only wanted to see one Cirque show, this is the one I would pick.

Zarkana (Aria) – This is the most recent Cirque show that I have seen and the one that is possibly closest to an actual circus.  Several acts, including the aforementioned high wire one, are performed with two clowns serving at the link between routines. 

O (The Bellagio)  –  This show contains water-based acts, which are supposed to be amazing.  I have not had a chance to see it because the tickets are still VERY expensive and, unlike the other Cirque shows, you won’t find discounted tickets at the Tix4tonight booths around Las Vegas.

The Beatles LOVE (The Mirage) – As you’ve probably guessed, this show bases its acts around the music of The Beatles. 

Mystere (Treasure Island)  – This is the longest-running Cirque show in Las Vegas, and, if the fine folks at Wikipedia are to be believed, the first Cirque show to ever have its own theater.  And honestly, that’s all I know about it. Hopefully I’ll be able to rectify that at some point.

Earlier, I said that there were actually eight Cirque shows in Vegas.  If you looked at the Cirque du Soleil site for their Vegas shows, you would see Criss Angel Believe, which is at the Luxor, on the list.  Yes, Cirque helped design the original show, but it has been radically altered from what it was at the beginning.  Having seen it, I would say that pretty much no Cirque remains.  It’s all about Criss Angel now.  If you like him, by all means, go (You might want to check out the Yelp reviews first though).  If you just want to see a magic show, there are less expensive options.  Or you could see Penn & Teller, who I recommended a few weeks ago. 

One final note before I bring this, and the Vegas series in general, to a close: unlike most of the Picks I’ve discussed, which require you to be in Vegas, you can get a sampling of many of these Cirque du Soleil shows without leaving your couch.  The 2012 film Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away includes sequences from the various Vegas shows that were running at the time.  Those include most of the ones I’ve listed except ONE and Zarkana, which hadn’t opened yet, and Criss Angel Believe, which had been thoroughly de-Cirqued by that point.  It also has an act from Viva Elvis, which ran at the Aria before Zarkana.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter