TOMASZ ROSSA / COURTESY PHOTO
Published Sunday, April 6, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Updated Sunday, April 6, 2008 | 2:40 p.m.
IF YOU GO
What: “Le Rêve”
Where: Wynn Las Vegas
When: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday; 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: $99 to $179; www.wynnlasvegas.com, 770-9966
More leg room! Built-in TV monitors! Champagne service!
The creative minds charged with inventing a new, improved, profitable version of the aquatic spectacle “Le Rêve” at the Wynn Las Vegas seem to have taken cues from consumer-savvy airlines Virgin America and Jet Blue.
Lucky and/or loaded audience members who can shell out $179 get plushy seats in the recently installed VIP section ringing the orchestra level. They can watch closed-circuit video monitors and observe the performers after their plummeting dives, breathing through scuba tubes during extended underwater sequences. And there’s champagne service (Perrier-Jouet and chocolate-dipped, Las Vegas-scale strawberries, discreetly refreshed by a hostess).
And after many struggles over artistic control and le revenu, the show itself has undergone a makeover — maybe even an overhaul — going from night to day, from darkness to light. And it continues to change, with no end in sight. You might call it “Le Rêvision.”
The entertainment titans who created the show, former Cirque du Soleil mastermind Franco Dragone and casino mogul Steve Wynn, are by all accounts happily playing together in their gigantic pool once again. Their creative team, numbering in the hundreds (counting the 85-member cast), has been making almost daily adjustments to the ultraexpensive show (opening costs were $75 million for the theater, $35 million for the production) since it splashed onto the Strip three years ago.
The show’s atmosphere is almost entirely water; “Rêve” means “dream” in French. Both water and dreams are known for changing constantly (and for being hard to understand or interpret).
“La Rêve,” artistic director Brian Burke says, may turn out to be an artwork in perpetual progress. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
• • •
The story so far:
December 2003: Las Vegas showbiz insiders are abuzz after Dragone holds top-secret auditions for a new show — in a Las Vegas municipal swimming pool.
April 2005: Named for a 1932 Picasso painting owned by Wynn and wife Elaine (Wynn accidentally put his elbow through the canvas while showing it to friends), “La Rêve” opens. And belly-flops. No one seems to get it, neither audiences nor critics. “Cirque du Cliché” the Los Angeles Times grumps. Rumors swirl: cancellation, cutbacks. Could this dream be a nightmare?
May 2005: Dragone switches the overall tone of the wordless, plotless, symbol-laden show from solemn and foreboding to lighter and more playful, and switches the central character from male to female. He drops the ponderous subtitle “A Small Collection of Imperfect Dreams” and deletes a disturbing segment with pregnant women plunging from a great height into the 27-foot-deep pool.
June 2006: Steve Wynn decides he can do it better, and buys out Dragone’s rights and creative control for nearly $16 million. “We wanted 100 percent of the show’s revenue,” Wynn tells the Sun, adding that Dragone’s schedule couldn’t accommodate the changes Wynn wanted, which included making it less Cirque-robatic and more dance-oriented.
March-June 2007: The show goes dark, the theater is revamped, dropping seating from 2,087 to a more intimate 1,600 seats. New surround sound (180 speakers) and automated “intelligent” lighting (by Broadway vets Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer) are installed. The color scheme of both the theater and the show is changed from chilly blues and purples to opulent tones of amber and bronze. The running time is reduced from 90 to 75 minutes. (Ticket prices stay the same).
September 2007: Dancer Maxsim Chmerkovskiy of “Dancing With the Stars” steps in to create two new ballroom-dancing vignettes for several soaked and sopping performers.
• • •
Which brings us up to date:
Artistic director Brian Burke works with Dragone on all his shows in the United States, including Celine Dion’s “A New Day ...” He has been living “the dream” since Day One, and witnessed “Le Rêve’s” progression from droplet to big wave. This afternoon, Burke is in Palm Springs, Calif., on his first vacation in “a really long time.” And although you’d imagine that after working in a giant swimming pool every day for years, he’d want to stay as far away from the chlorinated blue as possible, Burke is happily reclining poolside, a pastel-hued cocktail within easy reach. Birds chirp loudly in the background as he recounts over the phone the continual — perhaps never-ending — unfolding of “Le Rêve.”
“We’ve seen a real evolution of the show since we opened,” he says. “When we opened, it had a darker vision, and there wasn’t a story line involved; it was more a series of tableaux. The decision was made to center the show around a female dreamer and her dream man, and the journey that they go on throughout the dream.” More changes followed, Burke says: One tableau that began as a gathering of vampires is now filled with sun-dappled gardens and fountains and fantastic creatures.
“Because we were doing the show in the round, we didn’t have all the answers on opening,” Burke says. “And it’s an aquatic show on top of that, so most of the technology had never been used before. We’re kind of the opposite of regular shows — we don’t have a standard script with words. And you can’t rehearse a show like this in a studio and then take it into the theater — you have to do it on site. A lot of the changes happened in technical rehearsal without the cast, over a span of months and months. The cast is integrated at the end of the process when there’s about to be a change.”
Puzzling over the diminished audiences and critical response, Wynn and Dragone studied the entertainment landscape of the Strip and decided they needed a shorter show with a quicker pace, so the show was condensed and showtimes were changed to 7 and 9:30 p.m. They shut the show down several times last year for two or three weeks for what Burke calls a “focused opportunity” to renovate the theater and install the VIP seating, new lighting and sound system.
“We also felt that some of the show could be more uplifting and energetic, Burke says. “And Steve and Franco decided that they wanted to have more elements of dance in the show, maybe some exciting ballroom dancing. It’s never been done with water, and it’s never been done with synchronized swimming.”
Enter Chmerkovskiy from “Dancing With the Stars,” who helped stage the tango and up-tempo paso doble sequences, danced in tight, soaking wet costumes. It’s steamier than it may sound.
Most recently, two spectacular curtain effects were integrated: During the overture, a 24-panel canopy curtain vanishes into the ceiling (it takes an hour to reset the curtain for the next show), and a Kabuki curtain rêveals the “Spell” act. Both effects are over in moments, but they took more than a year of technical work and rehearsal before they were seen by an audience.
“Franco doesn’t like anyone to think they’re sitting in a theater,” Burke says. “If you remember that you’re sitting in a theater, we haven’t done our job. If we take you to a garden, to outer space, to a beautiful job, then we’ve done our job.”
• • •
So for now “Le Rêve” remains in flux, its creators and crew continually tinkering and tuning it to create what they hope is the most effective spectacle available. And its visually told “story,” such as it is, is still enigmatic and elusively allusive and likely to remain so. Burke refuses to spell out a plot or moral — don’t expect a “Le Rêve for Dummies” to appear in the gift shop anytime soon — but he will allow that the Garden of Eden, the Sistine Chapel and the center of the Earth were inspirations for specific scenes.
“What we would like to do is allow everyone a simple story to follow: Here’s a girl, she’s romantically in love with a man, she goes to sleep and goes on a journey. We’ve never tried to impose one message on the show, because it’s so visual — the audience (members are) allowed to enter the dream and go on their own journey. After the show, I’ve asked people what they came away with, and it’s meant something different to each person.”
And this dream so far has a happy ending: “The changes have created tremendous favorable response from customers, and it absolutely shows at the box office,” says Jennifer Dunne, vice president of public relations and advertising at Wynn. And then there’s the peaceable collaboration between its larger-than-life creators, both described as perfectionists by Wynn staff.
“Like any great friendship and creative partnership, they have had creative differences, but I don’t know what show hasn’t,” Burke says, noting that Dragone visits Las Vegas quite often and meets with Wynn; they phone and e-mail all the time with ideas and suggestions.
Don’t hold your breath for the day when “Le Rêve” is pronounced complet, or “frozen” in showbiz lingo.
“I like to think of the show as a living piece of art,” Burke says. “Just like with a painting in a museum, you can come to our ‘museum’ and see something you didn’t see before, depending on where you sit in the theater. It’s nice that we all get to dream together.”
(Editor's note: This story has been corrected. An earlier version misspelled Brian Burke's name.)