Friday, Sept. 6, 2002 | 9:10 a.m.
"Mystere" reminds me of Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," with the audience filling the role of Alice.
Like Alice, who follows a white rabbit down a dark hole and embarks on a series of odd adventures in an alternative universe, we are thrust into an alien environment that forces us to examine things a little bit differently.
There are no Cheshire Cats, Mad Hatters or Mock Turtles in "Mystere," but there are more than 70 performers dressed as viruses, firebirds and a variety of other colorful creatures who defy gravity and reality in a multimillion-dollar showroom that has a vague resemblance to a circus big top.
The resemblance is fitting, considering that there is enough action onstage to fill a three-ring circus.
Everywhere you look, something is happening -- the band plays in an orchestra pit high on a wall; performers walk on giant balls at the back of the stage; and tumblers and acrobats fill the arena with action apart from the amazing feats that take place at center stage.
The roots of "Mystere" date to 1992, when the Canadian production company Cirque du Soleil debuted "Nouvelle Experience" at The Mirage under a big top. While "Nouvelle Experience" was preparing audiences for things to come, a 1,500-seat showroom was being built for the company next door, at Treasure Island.
When the showroom was completed a year later, the circus tent was taken down and "Nouvelle Experence" moved into the new venue as "Mystere."
It has been playing to capacity audiences almost from the start.
Perhaps one reason "Mystere" gained instant popularity is that it has universal appeal -- there are very few spoken words. An international audience doesn't need to understand English to appreciate what takes place. It is an evening of awe-inspiring action, in which performers in top physical condition challenge gravity as they push their bodies to the extreme.
The entertainment begins quietly, in a subtle fashion while the audience is still being seated.
Standing at the entry inside the theater is a frizzle-haired Brian Dewhurst dressed in a disheveled black suit. He is Carroll's White Rabbit. With the auditorium almost filled, Dewhurst suddenly stops a couple of unsuspecting guests, takes their tickets and leads them to their seats -- an extended journey that goes up and down several rows as the audience snickers.
Playing the part of a clown, Dewhurst leads several other guests on similar treks and eventually begins throwing containers of popcorn on the audience. He is finally ejected, only to re-appear at intervals throughout the show.
While most of the production is about athleticism and graceful motion, there is ample humor. The clown, a giant baby in diapers, a puppeteer and other characters provide comic relief for a show that is physical to the extreme.
The program begins in earnest when a Japanese Taiko drum the size of a Volkswagen Beetle drops from the ceiling as it is being pounded by a drummer.
An array of multicolored characters quickly fill the theater -- onstage, in the aisles and in the air.
Producers have brought together a cast of some of the top acrobats and gymnasts in the world, men and women whose strength seems superhuman, and whose grace is breathtaking as they soar through the air on trampolines or attached to bungee cords.
The Chinese Pole scene features gymnasts slithering up and down poles with apparent ease, and performing back flips from pole to pole; a giant, three-sided trampoline is a playground for athletes flying from one slanted wall to the other.
One of the highlights is the hand-balancing acrobatics of Portuguese brothers Marco and Paulo Lorador. The duo must have used every one of the more than 600 muscles in their bodies to perform a slow-motion act that was sheer physical poetry. Their routine had the audience gasping in amazement.
Fascinating in its own way was a synchronized bungee-cord team whose members fell from trapeze bars, either individually or in unison, and twirled high above the stage, creating a mid-air ballet.
It's not surprising that "Mystere" continues to be one of the most-attended shows in Las Vegas. The only mystery is how long it can continue to draw enthusiastic audiences with its New Age reality.
Well, consider that "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" has been attracting readers for 130 years.