For the first time, Cirque du Soleil’s chief Daniel Lamarre has confirmed start dates for the two new Michael Jackson shows coming to Las Vegas. The first, a rock concert arena-type show, opens Dec. 15, 2011, with tickets going on sale Nov. 3.
The official announcement will be made from Los Angeles on Nov. 3, but you have the advance news here at Vegas DeLuxe in this exclusive. Tickets go on sale simultaneously in 25 cities for what will be the largest-ever music show going on tour in North America and around the world for four nonstop years.
The second, which will be a permanent residency show here, Cirque’s eighth, arrives in 2013. Both shows have the blessing of the Michael Jackson estate administrators. Cirque has budgeted an amazing $100 million just for creating and developing the two shows and expects that another $150 million will be added to the final costs for staging and theater construction.
The Jackson concert show will be performed twice nightly for two months in a reconfigured Mandalay Bay Events Center with just 8,000 seats per show. Cirque and MGM have not yet decided upon a hotel home for the second Jackson residency show and will come to that decision after seeing how the arena show works with all of its mind-blowing logistics.
I talked at length with Cirque head honcho Daniel on Monday night after the 8,000th performance of Mystere at Phil Ruffin’s Treasure Island. Here’s our conversation about the two new King of Pop shows and Daniel’s analysis of the extraordinary long-lasting appeal of Mystere, Cirque’s first residency show in Las Vegas.
Robin Leach: Now comes Michael Jackson -- two Michael Jackson shows. The first show is the one coming here to Mandalay Bay for a little while before going out on tour. The second show will be the residency show. Have you decided what hotel theater will become its home?
Daniel Lamarre: We’re still struggling with that final decision. We are still talking with people at MGM. I think the arena show will be a good test for us, and it certainly will have an impact on the final decision for MGM.
Leach Blog Photo
Photo: Fred Morledge/FMPhoto.com
Oleksandra and Phil Ruffin and Daniel Lamarre with Mystere cast members at Treasure Island.
RL: When do you open the Mandalay Bay show?
DL: The first show opens Dec. 15, 2011. The second show will be at the beginning of 2013. The first arena show will globally tour in North America for two years and then as it leaves to go onto Europe and the rest of the world, we will open the permanent show here in a theater yet to be designated.
RL: How different will that show be to the arena touring show?
DL: The arena touring show is as close as you can get to a rock concert. Our audiences will have the feeling that Michael Jackson is alive. The permanent show will be much more theatrical. We are looking right now at a lot of new technology that we want to bring into Vegas for the first time.
RL: How far along in the development of both shows are you at this moment?
DL: For the arena show, we are done. The concept exists. It is approved by all parties. We will start rehearsing in Montreal this December, so we are really there already for the arena show. For the permanent show, we’re still exploring the new technologies that we would like to bring to Vegas. The preliminary concept exists for the theatrical show, but depending on how far we can go with new technologies, that will influence the final concept of the second show.
RL: Now when we talked about that several months ago, I sensed it would be 3D on steroids, where the audience gets inside as the show wraps all around outside them?
DL: Yes, that’s right. We really want to use the newest, latest of breakthrough technologies that have never been seen before or used theatrically before. There are a lot of conversations going on with a lot of different companies to see who can deliver to us the advanced technology that we’re looking for.
Viva Elvis Media Tour
RL: Now that the concert show is 100 percent concept completed, is it with a Michael Jackson or without?
DL: Michael Jackson will be there on video, and then again we will bring in technologies that will make it seem that Michael is with us.
RL: But no lookalikes or soundalikes?
DL: People want to see the real Michael, and the real Michael will be very, very present on the unique video. His estate administrators have completely accepted the concept of the show, which is a great relief for us. Not only are we happy they have accepted it, but we’re happy they’re enthusiastic about the concept of the show. It will be a 90-minute show with all of his big hits, over 20 of the bestselling songs. The show will have about 72 artists: dancers, musicians and acrobats.
RL: Anything in this first show that Michael was developing for his London This Is It concerts?
DL: We have some video that was for the London show that will be integrated into the new show.
RL: What will we be amazed by most?
DL: I think the challenge here is to give the feeling to people that Michael is on that stage. We will do everything we can in terms of video and technologies to bring his presence to life.
RL: Did you learn anything from presenting Viva Elvis to tackle the Michael Jackson shows?
DL: If you take Love or Elvis, the challenge is always to be representative of that era. Obviously, Michael is from a different era than Elvis, and we have to make sure that if Michael were onstage, that’s what he would deliver. It will be him as he would be today.
RL: When do tickets go on sale?
Leach Blog Photo
Criss Angel and Daniel Lamarre at the Luxor in 2008.
DL: Nov. 3, 2010, we start selling tickets for the arena show at the Mandalay Bay box office and everywhere around North America. We have two shows a night to sell out for two months at 8,000 seats each performance. That’s the challenge. We’re cutting the number of seats down because we want to keep the proximity for the audience to the stage.
This is going to be just like a real rock and roll tour. Dozens of trucks -- well over 30 -- with staging and equipment will arrive in Las Vegas exactly as it will be when we go off around the world. Two years touring in North America and then another two years of global capitals. A monumental four-year world tour! It’s a huge challenge -- the largest we have ever undertaken, but we’re very excited about it.
RL: I always have to ask the money questions. What will be the cost of both shows?
DL: We’re talking close to $100 million for the two shows -- that’s just for the production. Then the cost of the theaters for both shows will add another $100 million to $150 million.
Daniel invited me to Montreal headquarters to watch rehearsals of the arena show. The present timetable calls for preliminary rehearsals beginning in December and then full rehearsals next summer before the company moves here in early fall.
Since we were sitting together in the Mystere Theater at Treasure Island after watching the 8,000th performance, I asked him why the show seemed the best it’s ever been.
DL: It’s amazing, I could feel the emotion because I met the artists before the show. I know how emotional they were about this 8,000 representation, and I’ve seen the reaction of the public tonight. Standing ovations throughout. What’s amazing to me is that the magic still works. The artists are still excited every performance.
Leach Blog Photo
Photo: Monique Concepcion/Cashman Photo
Jackie Jackson, second from left, Randy Jr. Jackson, fourth from left, and Donte Jackson, third from right, with cast members of Cirque du Soleil's Mystere at Treasure Island.
Mystere has made history in the industry of entertainment because no one show of this magnitude has lasted so long. All the other shows that have more than 8,000 representations have duplicates, like The Phantom of the Opera or others with different casts in different places. This is only one show, one cast, one crew and 8,000 performances.
RL: There have been several updates over the years to Mystere. Is that how you ensure that each night looks better than ever before?
DL: That’s the only way. We have an artistic team working here, and every day they train, they try to make their show evolve, and that’s why after 17 years, the show is still relevant.
RL: Phil Ruffin told me a while ago that he’s given the show another five years’ extension here at T.I. Is that your understanding?
DL: That was the first thing that Phil told me when he bought the property from MGM. He said, “Daniel, don’t change anything. I love this show.” We renewed right away for an additional five years. It’s just amazing the occupancy level even in a struggling market. This show is still doing very well. Our house was full, and we still have standing ovations.
RL: Do you think it’s because it was the very first Cirque show and everything that came after was really a child to the parent?
DL: I think that’s what it is. I have people coming to me saying, “Daniel, this is the original.” There is a real extraordinary emotional link between the public, Cirque du Soleil and Mystere. To them, Mystere is the classic that will be around forever.”
Mystere remains in place as the timetable moves forward now for the premieres of the two Jackson shows. It is not a changing of the guard. This is where the proud parent welcomes the new arrivals and makes history all over again.