With the debut of Cirque du Soleil’s eyeball-melting first opening at the MGM Grand in 2005, the Chicago Tribune suggested that Vegas had replaced New York as the theatrical capital of the United States.  This is mainly due to the willingness to spend the kind of money there that Broadway cannot; even David Merrick would never have financed a new untried and unproven production to the tune of $165 million, the amount that was reportedly dropped by the Cirque and MGM/Mirage Corporation to mount .  Guess that’s why Vegas is famous for gambling.


It’s hard to know where to begin to describe , so allow me to start with the ending.  On the 149-foot high stage of the newly created $105 million Theatre—or the place where a stage would be if there was one—the show culminates with a majestic fireworks display.  On the stage.  Inside the hotel.  Inside a hotel which was notoriously destroyed by fire in 1980.

Where the stage should be in the Theatre is the place members of the crew and company call The Void, a huge fire-belching gaping hole descending into the depths of the Vegas desert sands 51-ft. below audience level.  Two enormous hydraulic steel decks, one 25’ x 50’ and the other 30’ x 30’, move at speeds to 60-ft. a second—and often with people executing outlandish stunts on them.  Not only do the decks slide into place over The Void, they have the capability to rotate 360 degrees and tilt from horizontal to vertical. 

This is nowhere more unbelievable than in one massive battle scene, where performers square off to fight, then slowly become perpendicular to the audience, as though watching an overhead scene in a Busby Berkeley movie.  The performers power their movements with a series of winches controlled by wireless remotes built into their costumes and, as their feet or bodies hit the now-vertical stage, pools of iridescent dark purple light spread out around them in psychedelic splendor.  These video projections originate from overhead infrared-sensitive cameras that follow the artists’ movements, capturing and tracking them by computer.

is also the first Cirque production to feature a storyline, following adolescent twins who are separated in a warlike attack upon their idyllic kingdom, sending them fleeing for their lives in opposite directions and through opposite but equally perilous journeys.  Perhaps no peril is more impressive than the sister’s sailing ship thrashing through a massive storm, in which the huge, careening vessel (completely manipulated by the artists themselves) is hurtled across the front of the stage, acrobats twirling from its mast and facing breathtaking leaps into The Void on either side.  And when they come upon a lush tropical forest complete with Rose Bowl float-sized snakes and centipedes crawling up the full height of the stage, a knockout character is added to the journey, an androgynous aerialist version of Tarzan played with arresting skill and death-defying courage by a charming Russian acrobat named Igor Karipov.

Watching Karipov train in the bowels of the Theatre three days before the show’s knockout debut was one of the highlights of my weeklong trip to Vegas for the opening festivities back in February of 2005.  Since then, I have returned to see this extraordinary show twice, and may I say that it has lost none of its power to astound.  A stop at the MGM Grand to check out at least once on any trip to this one-of-a-kind city sitting all bright and shiny atop the otherwise desolate high Nevada desert should be some sort of civic duty; nothing proclaims itself as representative  of the “new” Vegas Strip more than this one presentation, the best of Cirque du Soleil’s five permanent attractions filling houses nightly for years to come.

The MGM Grand Hotel & Casino is located at 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas; for tickets, call (877) 264-1844.



TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com