Cirque du Success
Behind the scenes at today's hottest live entertainment act
Every year, when the Canadian Grand Prix speeds through Montreal, the hottest ticket in town isn't to the auto race. It's to Guy Laliberté's annual bash to celebrate it.
A devoted Formula One fan, the billionaire founder and owner of Cirque du Soleil invites a select list of guests to a lavish two-day fete featuring the circus juggernaut's most beguiling performers. Complete with acrobats swinging from the trees, opera singers who appear to walk on water, and luminous faux moons so big they eclipse the real one overhead, the Fellini-esque festivities don't just flaunt Cirque's wild success. They help to ensure it.
Take the time Laliberté invited fellow auto racing fan George Harrison to the party. So inspired by the creative free-for-all unfolding in his host's backyard, the former Beatle soon returned the favor and invited Cirque's impresario to his own gardens at Friar Park, England.
"Do you think there's anything you could do with the Beatles' music?" Laliberté recalls Harrison asking him.
It was music to Laliberté's ears. Soon, the Beatles' producer, George Martin, and his son, Giles, were signed up to fashion a psychedelic mash-up culled from the Beatles' original recordings-laying, for example, the opening chord from "A Hard Day's Night" over Ringo's Abbey Road drum solos, screams from fans at the group's landmark Shea Stadium gig, and the opening guitar chords from "Get Back." Cirque's designers then put flesh and blood on the songs' characters, such as Lady Madonna, whom director Dominic Champagne conjured up as a pregnant black woman dancing South African style with her rock-and-roll lover, the Sugar Plum Fairy, in yellow gumboots.
All you need is Love. Six years and $125 million later, the resplendent result is Love, an audiovisual kaleidoscope that has both reaffirmed the Beatles' vaunted place in musical history and cemented Cirque's status as today's hottest live entertainment company.
Since opening in June in a custom-built, 2,000-seat theater at Las Vegas's Mirage Hotel, the 90-minute show has all but sold out every one of its twice-nightly performances, pulling in about $2.3 million a week on a run expected to last at least a decade-yielding a total take well north of $1 billion.
Although performing-arts audiences have long been declining, Love-combined with Cirque's four other permanent shows in Vegas, another in Orlando, and seven more now touring the globe-will push Cirque's ticket sales to nearly 8 million this year. That's about the same as Broadway's 20 biggest shows combined, and a 60 percent increase over Cirque's ticket sales five years ago.
The privately held Cirque says it has annual revenues of $650 million, but it declines to reveal its annual profits. It's enough-even after pouring 70 percent back into new productions, sharing an additional 10 with employees, and reserving 1 percent more for charity-to keep the 46-year-old Laliberté firmly ensconced on Forbes magazine's annual list of the world's richest people, with a net worth of $1.4 billion.
His wallet should only fatten after yet another traveling show premiéres next April, then two more permanent gigs in 2008 in Tokyo and Macao, and a partnership with Elvis Presley's heirs to create shows in homage to the King.