Monday, Dec. 8, 2008 | 2 a.m.
IF YOU GO
What: “O” by Cirque du Soleil
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, dark Monday and Tuesday (performances resume Dec. 23)
Where: “O” Theatre at the Bellagio
Admission: $93.50-$150; 796-9999, www.bellagio.com
Running time: 90 minutes
During December, Sun critic Joe Brown is visiting and revisiting every Cirque du Soleil show on the Strip. His reviews will appear on Mondays in the Las Vegas Sun and at www.lasvegassun.com.
Next week: “Ka” at MGM Grand
Beyond the Sun
How do you follow an act that forever changed the face of entertainment in Las Vegas?
Just add water.
After the success of “Mystere,” which continues to this day, Cirque du Soleil and writer/director Franco Dragone dreamed up an entertainment that’s like an unexpected oasis in the desert.
The elegant enterprise is “O,” and now that it has achieved the 10-year mark, the beloved spectacular is as permanent as anything gets around here.
The show is internationally famous, but it’s entirely possible that you may not know that “O” is a play on “eau,” the French word for water. And upon entering the elegantly appointed jewel box theater, you still might not figure out right away that the substance of “O” is 90 percent water (although there is a telltale whiff of public-pool chlorine in the air).
When the sumptuous crimson stage curtain is raised, it’s one of “O’s” most phantasmagorical images — and not just because the stage is revealed.
Possibly the ultimate water park, the stage is the true star of “O.” Given apparently unlimited license and resources, Cirque created a shape-shifting pool that reconfigures itself to conjure a puddle, a bathtub, an African watering hole, an island, a maelstrom at sea. The 1.5-million-gallon pool accommodates splashdancing as well as plunging dives from terrifying heights.
If Bette Midler were working this stage, they could have called it “Beaches.”
Having summoned such a stage, Cirque set itself to imagining ways to get every drop out of its ocean of possibilities. So “O” is a panoply of the life aquatic. Playing with the elements, mostly fire and rain, it brings forth a fluid sequence of vignettes, populated by humans and chimeras, uncorking a flood of dream-logic associations.
Put another way, “O” is a sensory hot tub. Stop making sense: just let yourself sink into it and go with the flow.
The show’s circular structure sets a cast of recurring characters, in procession around the perimeter of the pool — a pair of salty nautical clowns, cadres of bewigged, red-coated footmen, a bridal party (it’s a nice time for a wet wedding), carousel horses that become bathtub toys ... and a literally burning man.
Central to the scenario is a squad of synchronized swimmers, acrobats and aerialists, but that’s a rather dry way of describing these waterworkers, who meld aesthetics and athletics, taking wild, wet choreography way beyond Busby Berkley and Esther Williams (one stunt was inspired by a Williams flick). Many of the “O” performers have competed in the Olympics.
The acts are impressive and exhilarating, expressing the sheer joy of moving freely through water and air. Like kids showing off dives at the pool, a series of divers seems to swim through the air, and it’s impossible to count the twists and tucks they make before splashdown.
Zebra-striped tropical fish climb then plummet into a sliver of a pool. A ghostly galleon (doubling as a jungle gym) hovers over the waters, precariously trailing its occupants over the abyss. Perched upon a lily pad, four lovely contortionists arrange and rearrange themselves like human origami, suggesting iridescent dragonflies or a cluster of fuchsia blossoms.
And then, the biggest splash: An aerial rig rises from the roiling depths, hoisting with it a lengthy chain of sky-diving aerialists.
With the skintight costuming, augmented by masks and makeup, this is a sexier Cirque, considerably more European in style and sensibility than its predecessor. The score, performed by a 10-piece ensemble, is akin to chamber music, with an emphasis on cello and accented by Chinese violin and African kora and percussion.
At the best Cirque shows — and “O” is one of the very best — you can truly forget where you are, brought back at the end waves of applause, which sound like a sudden shower, or the surf.
After 10 years in the pool, it would be understandable if “O” suffers some sogginess or pruning, or displays at least a bit of bathtub ring. But the crown jewel of Las Vegas still sparkles and surprises.
Long may “O” wave.