As I watched the disco scene in the revamped Le Reve during a media performance last night, the scene where a dozen dancers step-to-it on a dance floor submerged in three inches of water while a disco ball hooked to a cable spins slowly overhead, I thought of Believe.
Well, first I thought that I have probably forgotten all of the steps to the Hustle. Then, I thought of Believe.
I thought of Believe, the regretful production at the Luxor that clumsily links Cirque do Soleil and Criss Angel, because of how good Le Reve has become. I remembered how troubled Le Reve was when it was launched in the spring of 2005. In its original form, Le Reve was dark and confusing – what was the purpose of those half-dozen prosthetic-enhanced pregnant dancers floating around in white Spandex, then plunging to the round pool below? – and about as uplifting as a department-store blackout. There were reports of fans leaving the theater even on opening night. The headline in the first Las Vegas Sun review was: “Dragone’s Le Reve drags on.” It was a production whose chief value, it seemed, was to put one to sleep. In its early stages the show could have been sponsored by Ambien, and I’ll stop beating it up now.
But the reason Le Reve has outlasted some outstanding Strip productions – including two at Wynn Las Vegas, Avenue Q and Monty Python’s Spamalot -- is because Steve Wynn has been unafraid to make the necessary changes to improve the show. He has simply taken over the artistic process to the point that, today, it’s not a swan dive to say Le Reve is in the same class as its aquatic sister at Bellagio, O.
No longer is Le Reve called, Uh-O and Cirque du Cliche. Over the years Wynn has bought out Franco Dragone’s rights to the show and seized creative control. He has brought in major figures in dance artistry, first Moses Pendleton of Momix (the physical artistry company that inspired Cirque) and, last year, Maxsim Chmerkovskiy of Dancing With the Stars. Chmerkovskiy added a couple of water-topped ballroom-dancing segments that have helped enliven the performance. Also, the theater itself has been upgraded, as seats were taken out for a cozier atmosphere, and a new surround-sound audio system was installed. As a result, Le Reve is a top-tier show. But it required work, it required time, it required money (Wynn paid $16 million to buy out Dragone) and it required several tough decisions and bold shifts of field.
So, what to do with Believe? The most difficult decision is also the most obvious, which is to pull Criss Angel off the stage. He doesn’t have the charisma or swiftness of wit to make you care about the story arc (which you’ve probably read or even seen is a mishmash involving rabbits and matrimony), and is not an able enough illusionist to carry the production artistically. He’s not in the class of sleight-of-hand genius Jeff McBride, for one, whose $10 show at Palace Station was far more dazzling than the half-dozen or so tricks you’ll see in Believe. Same with Mac King, whose afternoon show at Harrah’s is immensely entertaining – you don’t walk out of Mac King’s show feeling you’ve wasted a piece of your life. Once the Loyals have seen this show once – and that day will come, regardless of how many Mindfreak devotees are out there – attendance will sink like one of Angel’s Gothic rings tossed into a pond.
But Angel has a 10-year contract with the Luxor, you say? These 10-year contracts have a way of not actually lasting 10 years. Remember Wayne Newton’s 10-year contract at the Stardust? Signed in 1999, that deal would be set to expire in October of this year. You might have noticed that not only is The Wayner no longer headlining at the Stardust, but there is no more Stardust. In that instance, Wayne and Boyd Gaming chief Bill Boyd agreed in 2003 to allow The Wayner to opt out of the deal so he could take over as the head of the USO and also to embark on his reality-contest show, The Entertainer. This, when six years remained on the original deal between Newton and Boyd. Different circumstances, yes, but the point is there is always a way to unwind these contracts.
And in Believe, there’s a lot to work with. The Cirque elements, not surprisingly, are really good. The clowns, whom I think are a few of my old high school buddies, are laughable in the manner intended. The costuming and staging are great – certainly, the problem with the show is not with the sets, lighting, sound, choreography or costumes. It’s with the star. Start there, and Believe can be salvaged. Shows once deemed hopeless have recovered. Just ask Steve Wynn.