Getting Ready for Zarkana

We’ve known for some time the end is near. It’s 2012, after all. But it’s finally confirmed as Viva Elvis officially leaves the building — a.k.a. Aria — Aug. 18, the King will be replaced a new demigod named Zark.

Some could say that the timing is impeccable (Elvis after all made his way toward that big fried peanut butter sandwich in the sky on Aug. 16, 1977), but for Daniel Lamarre, president and COO of Cirque du Soleil, the closing of the show and the introduction of Zarkana (a rock opera which made a splash at Radio City Music Hall in 2011 and will return for a final summer engagement in 2012) will be just what MGM Resorts International and Cirque du Soleil wants, needs and has been hoping for.

Zarkana is family-friendly. It showcases all the exciting stuff that Cirque has become known for, and it also features many of the elements of the Canadian theater group’s newer productions like video projections and fancy digital doodads. It also has been a big hit on the road and with international audiences. All these things should spell success in Las Vegas.

We recently had a chance to sit down with Lamarre and Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Resorts, and they explained how they are preparing for the transition from a rock icon to a rock opera.

Is Zarkana a sure bet?

Feldman: We are obviously sad about having to move on from Viva Elvis, which we all love very much. But we asked, “What are our options?” The normal answer would be, “Well, there are none, and we have to start over” but with our colleagues at Cirque, there are three to four options and such an amazing wealth of creativity in all that they offer. Zarkana is a show that is already scaled appropriately for Las Vegas, that has been tried and tested, which has been hugely successful in very tough entertainment markets like New York, and that we can bring here without needing to worry about working out kinks and problems. It is up and running and will be spectacular from the get-go.

Lamarre: The one thing that we are so happy to offer is what I call a sure bet. Normally, you have a feeling, but you never know. This time we know. The show is working. We know that in a tough city like New York we’ve been successful. Imagine how great an experience it is with 5,000 seats [at Radio City Music Hall], and now it’ll be with 2,000 seats.

What are some of the reasons for choosing Zarkana versus another show?

Lamarre: For me it’s a bonus, but the real reason is that we needed to bring something hugely different than all of the other Cirque shows. I will challenge anybody to go and see Zarkana and see a similarity with our other shows.

I was able to see Zarkana opening night at Radio City Music Hall. It is a nice mix of what I’d like to call traditional Cirque because it has a lot of what Cirque is known for, but then it’s also very modern because of the wonderful score, all the vocals and all the layers of technology.

Lamarre: The director of the show, François Girard, when he started working on Zarkana, said, “Cirque du Soleil has reinvented circus art, and I want to reinvent Cirque du Soleil.” I thought that was a very good line.

What are some of the changes the theater will undergo in preparation for Zarkana?

Lamarre: The good news is … almost nothing. All we have to do is load out Elvis and load in Zarkana, and we are ready to rock.

Are you adding anything new to the show?

Lamarre: The length of the show is going to change. We have to bring it down to 90 minutes. It means that the pacing will be even higher. We were very happy with show and the success in New York. It is just evolving really well. We will do the 90-minute version this summer in New York.

Are you doing another casting or will you offer the positions to the people with the existing show?

Lamarre: As we speak, our creative people are talking to the cast in Moscow. They are learning today that they are moving to Vegas. For them, it is a huge lifestyle change.  Touring
from one city to another. The ultimate goal for an artist of Cirque is to work in Vegas.  It’ll be a much more normal life with your family. It is great news for them.

When is it opening?

Lamarre: We are talking about having a premiere on Nov. 8. We will do a soft opening on Oct. 25. 

Will you do another show for Radio City?

Lamarre: The reality is Radio City Music Hall obviously wants another show, but there is nothing yet.