Zarkana is set in a theater that’s haunted by the ghosts of past performers.
After a successful foray into shows built around a singular celebrity (Michael Jackson, Criss Angel) or legendary group (the Beatles), Cirque du Soleil closed Viva Elvis to make room for a show that flouts this turn toward homage. In a move several years in the making, Zarkana opens at Aria with a creative ensemble cast devoted only to live theater itself.
With each production, Cirque prides itself on creating a fanciful world all its own, and one that can mean something completely different to each audience member—or even the same person when seeing the show a second time. So I’m loathe to compare Zarkana (opening November 9) in any way to other shows on the Strip. But I will say that the format returns to old-school Cirque, with pushing-the-envelope acts to make one’s heart stop.
Unlike the earliest productions, however, it does have something of a plot. And while in many ways it harks back to early Cirque traditions, the video technology woven into the choreography of Zarkana, in addition to the sheer enormity of the special effects, is very much a glimpse into the future. “Zarkana is a visual vortex set in a twisted musical and acrobatic fantasy,” says François Girard, the show’s writer and director who has a venerated background in film, theater, and opera. “Little by little, chaos gives way to a celebration.”
The story takes place in a theater teeming with ghosts of the Coney Island– worthy novelty acts that used to rule its stage. The spirits are controlled by a haunted emcee, Zark, played by esteemed opera singer Paul Bisson (who lived in Vegas when he played Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Paris). “It’s the story of a ringmaster who is also a magician,” Girard says. “He revives a show that’s been sleeping. The acts come alive as he wakes them—as he is revisiting his past.”
Aria has been billed the “perfect” stage for this huge production, called a “traveling show that needed a permanent home” by artistic director Ann-Marie Corbeil. After long runs in Moscow, Madrid, and at Manhattan’s Radio City, the $55 million production was cut down to the Vegas norm of 90 minutes, among other changes, and the cast were told they’d be making a home here. “A lot of the cast have been on tour for years and years—now they’re looking for apartments and cars for the first time,” Corbeil says. “They’re excited, scared. They’ve lived a caravan life, and now they’re looking for a house.”
On the tech side, many local hires were made, some transitioning from Viva Elvis. Evelyne Lamontagne, in a memorable role as a gibberish-spouting child character, is also a familiar face: She played Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds in The Beatles Love. Other standouts include the first female juggler in all of Cirque, a Russian bar act, a second-generation high-wire act, and ladder and sandpainting routines never before seen in Vegas.
“The casting machine at Cirque travels the world to find performing acts,” Girard says. “Sometimes it’s a surprise what comes out at the end. That ‘acrobatic skeleton’ of the acts keeps us going.” For tickets, call 877-253-5847.