“Fucking awesome.” – Filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, quoted in an online video promotion of For the Record: Baz
Poignant, no? When your honoree feels so fucking honored?
“Everything about Baz is very Vegas, very over the top,” says Shane Scheel, co-executive producer of about-to-debut For the Record: Baz at Mandalay Bay’s Light nightclub. “I’ve come of age to his films. He’s a great inspiration to me.”
Described as “a show breaking out in a bar,” the production is a cabaret-style mash-up of musical theater and rock concert excerpting scenes and songs that have been injected, often anachronistically, by Luhrmann into his films (see sidebar below). Expanding from Los Angeles, where it debuted in 2013, Baz employs the original nine-member cast and a six-piece band to intertwine the soundtracks of Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom (1992), Romeo + Juliet (1996), Moulin Rouge! (2001) and The Great Gatsby (2013), with the latter three’s love stories worked into a loose plot.
Baz also pairs Cirque du Soleil’s new theatrical division with Scheel’s Los Angeles-based company, For the Record Live, which has produced similar tributes to moviemakers Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers and John Hughes, among others.
You don’t know the wham-bam-glitz-and-glam Baz oeuvre?
“The films are stylish, they’re over the top, they’re Bazzy,” wrote the Daily Beast in 2013, pointing out his “take-no-prisoners commitment to spectacle” and its polarizing effect.
“Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor belting a medley of love songs by Paul McCartney and Whitney Houston while standing atop an elephant structure in turn-of-the-[20th] century Paris while CGI fireworks boom over their heads in Moulin Rouge! is a scene that firmly places audience members in Team Genius or Team Lunatic.”
Here, we fill in some details on this live paean to the genius/lunatic in a sit-down with Scheel at Light:
What inspired these types of shows?
Quentin was the inspiration for the series because we love his soundtracks. The importance of music in films, the storytelling behind the scenes—it’s something you don’t really think about, and we’re bringing it to the forefront. The Quentin Tarantino show started out as one night you’re in a bar, and you bring your favorite song from a Quentin Tarantino film. As we were doing these concert/cabaret nights, we started quoting the movies and then we’d say, “Before you sing that song, do that little scene there.” That’s how what we call a postmodern cabaret started, very organically.
Is this a free-for-all mash-up of Baz movies, or is there a unifying theme?
The characters from all these films come together to put on a rock concert. Baz loves that story of star-crossed love that’s in every movie. That provides a connective thread for this show. If you don’t know Romeo and Juliet, you didn’t graduate junior high. And that story is told in Moulin Rouge! and Gatsby to a degree. Even Strictly Ballroom is about a couple who is not supposed to be together.
How does the show begin and unfold?
It’s a bit of a pre-show. People come into this world that is not your traditional theater. They’re sitting in booths, cabaret tables, very informal seating. A few actors are milling about, bringing you into this world. As you settle in, the show just comes to life. You know when it begins and when it ends, but we’ve made sure it all feels organic to the nightlife experience.
Non-Baz-o-philes: get a grounding in the auteur’s out-there style by flashing back to 1996 and some critical reaction to Romeo + Juliet, thumbs thrust in both directions, compiled from RottenTomatoes.com: “Gleefully cinematic” and “relentlessly inventive” (Time Out New York); “a slick blast of decadence” and “violent swank-trash music video” (Entertainment Weekly); “a classic play thrown in the path of a subway train” (The New York Times); “puts Shakespeare’s romance in a chokehold and takes it slam-dancing” (The Washington Post).
Given that it’s at a nightclub, are you targeting a younger demographic?
In Los Angeles we’ve pushed to find new audiences for theatrical presentations, and putting it in a nightclub opens it up to a younger demographic. Gatsby bridged that gap for us. The soundtrack was only two years ago, Jay Z produced the album, it brought Baz to life to the younger generation. The younger crowd may get that they are going into a nightclub and seeing something different than the normal nightclub fare. But I don’t want the traditional theatergoing crowd to be intimidated.
What kind of role will improvisation and audience interaction play?
That’s the cabaret nature of the show. We break down that wall with the audience. There is a lot of play with the audience without audience participation. We never want to scare people, like we’re going to drag you onstage and embarrass you or put you in a conga line around the room.
Vegas Nocturne had a similar structure but flamed out at the Cosmopolitan. Does that give you pause about your odds for success?
We actually got some of their musicians. I know a few people who were involved in it. I understand it was an amazing experience, but I’ve heard it was hard to explain what that show was; it was too underground. We hope the Hollywood film element of what we do will grab people.
Is there a concern that a socializing nightclub crowd won’t give a production the proper attention?
We’re the early show, and we benefit from the fact that people aren’t so gone [i.e., tanked] yet. I know people like to party in Vegas, but we hope that at 8 o’clock, we’re just the beginning of your night out.
Flash back to 2001 and reaction to Moulin Rouge!: “The film dances, the heart sings” (Time); “a magnificent mess of a postmodern musical” (The Washington Post); “Feels as if a dump truck has buried moviegoers in confetti and glitter” (USA Today); “The movie has so much heart that the poor, overworked organ explodes” (The New York Times); “I felt mauled” (Rolling Stone).
Does a DJ figure into the show?
Pre-show, our keyboard player serves as kind of DJ to get the vibe going. After, we hope this can transition seamlessly into the nightlife, since there is something of a set we have to strike. As we go through the first few months, we’ll need to figure out how the nightlife will blend into this thing.
Given the partnership with Cirque du Soleil, how prominent are acrobatics?
Minimal. … This is Cirque Theatrical, trying to find new product. That’s not what this show is about, not a hundred people flying over your head. It’s an intimate, raw, rock ’n’ roll show. There are moments we’ll use the ability to fly people in and out, just as long as it’s natural to what the show is. There’s a moon here we’re excited to use, but we’re not adding extra circus moments.
In using songs from different artists, were there copyright issues?
There always are. The people with Rock of Ages became like a consultant for us to approach all of it.
How did you choose the score?
From our source material, we looked at every song and tried to see which were the story songs. I’ve gone to a lot of Broadway shows where you can’t hum a tune when you walk out, and that’s what makes our show special—the music is comfort food.
How logistically challenging is the show in its entirety?
We have people from Broadway who say this is the most demanding show they’ve seen, running around a 30,000-square-foot nightclub, flying, singing and dancing.
Flash back to 2013 and reaction to The Great Gatsby: “a crude burlesque on … American literature’s most precious jewel” (CNN); “a gargantuan hunk of over-art-directed kitsch, but it makes for a grandiose, colorful, pleasure-drenched night at the movies” (Slate); “Plays like a ghastly Roaring ’20s blowout at a sorority house” (Chicago Reader); “Everything, not just the parties but the intimate scenes, turns into Mardi Gras” (Christian Science Monitor); “It surely belongs to the category of baroque, overblown, megalomaniacal spectacles” (Salon).
Spectacle? counterintuitive as it seems for a Baz-inspired blowout, “spectacle” is not the buzzword Scheel hangs on For the Record: Baz.
“The essence of all the craziness is that simple story about love,” he says. “That’s what makes this show not feel like a Vegas spectacle.”
Fucking awesome? Stand by …
FOR THE RECORD: BAZ
In previews starting June 19, officially opens June 26, 8 p.m. Fri.-Wed., Light at Mandalay Bay, $55 and up, 702-632-4760, ForTheRecordLive.com.
All About That Baz
For the record, a primer on the Aussie auteur’s greatest hits:
Strictly Ballroom (1992)
A Down Under Dirty Dancing with less grinding, more sequins and fewer (OK, fine, no) watermelons, this fleet-footed directorial debut follows a professional dancer who reluctantly pairs with a frumpy newbie in the hopes of winning a national competition. In addition to introducing Luhrmann’s trademark flamboyant visual style, Strictly Ballroom marks the birth of the theatrically inspired Red Curtain Trilogy (see also: Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!)
Song you’ll know: “Love Is in the Air,” the disco hit by John Paul Young that briefly topped the U.S. charts in 1978.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? ’Tis the celestial sheen of Leonardo DiCaprio’s golden highlights in this supercharged Shakespeare update. In a Hawaiian shirt and angel wings, respectively, DiCaprio and Claire Danes fall in love, in verse, en route to their (spoiler alert?) tragic end.
Song you’ll know: Des’ree’s pared-down ballad “Kissing You,” which was written for the film—and which anyone of dating age in the mid-’90s desperately longed to make out to.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Love! Art! Jealousy! Betrayal! Tuberculosis! This epic tale of a heartsick writer (Ewan McGregor) who falls for an ethereal prostitute (Nicole Kidman) in turn-of-the-20th-century Paris is so packed full of musical moxie that it threatens to explode!
Song(s) you’ll know: All of them; the soundtrack features covers of everything from David Bowie to Madonna. The bouncy, suggestive “Lady Marmalade” might be most familiar.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Another classic book adaptation, another doomed, enigmatic lothario played by DiCaprio, another chance to quick-cut decadent party montages so fast and furious that the audience feels drunk. With flappers swinging on trapeze (in 3-D!) through opulent art deco sets, West Egg comes with jazz hands.
Song you’ll know: “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody,” an electro-hip-hop dance anthem written for Luhrmann by Fergie, Q-Tip and GoonRock.
– Una LaMarche