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December 21, 2014

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Why must producers say ‘Bombs away’?

In the line of duty as an entertainment reviewer for this paper, I recently witnessed two shows that redefined failure. Afterward, I had to wonder how things got to the point where, in spite of all evidence, the creators and producers pulled the trigger and said “Yes. This is ready to be seen, and we can in good conscience accept people’s money.”

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Surely someone must have said at some point, “Um, this isn’t working.”

Or even “I don’t get it.”

Or “Iceberg ahead!”

The first and most infamous flop was “Criss Angel: Believe” at the Luxor, the $100 million collaboration between Cirque du Soleil and a TV magician, which continues to drain wallets and good will at the Luxor, and someday may be salvaged for parts. I won’t bother to review it again here, but if you want to read more, my review is on the paper’s Web site.

Shortly after that I took in “Raw Talent Live,” a new multimedia dance review at the Sahara, because Robin Leach called it “the most extraordinary show ever staged in Las Vegas,” while a local critic I respect described it as “an incoherent mess.”

With a spread like that, I had to see it for myself.

Sadly, the critic was right. From start to finish, the show is on overwhelm, with everything happening, all at once, all the time. The failure of “Raw Talent” (first question: who signed off on that title?) was heartbreaking, really, because so many talented performers — there are more than 40 dancers onstage, for starters — have been subjected to the whims of a director’s woozy and unworkable concept. It seems that someone was trying to do Cirque on a budget and came away with Burning Man on a bender. Still, there’s something to save in this heap of blinking and blaring nonsense, and that’s the singing and dancing.

Showbiz disasters like this don’t just happen. They’re not accidents. They can’t be. Creating and producing a show — on the Vegas Strip or anywhere — is a long, slow, expensive process, involving scores if not hundreds of people.

Along the way must be millions of opportunities for someone to blow the whistle, tell the emperor he’s naked, etc.

Clearly Cirque knew it had trouble, as it pushed back previews and opening dates several times. But Cirque runs a tight ship, so there have been no leaked stories about a brave little clown speaking truth to power and warning the showbiz wizards about the magnitude of meh they had on their hands.

Now I imagine the masterminds who financed these fiascos throwing back a shot, gritting their teeth, removing their hands from the plug and switching on the “NOW OPEN” sign instead.

Train wrecks have a long history, of course, not just in show business, but in presidential politics and economic plans. And, well, in trains.

Some thoughts on how things get to this point of no return:

1. They know it’s a catastrophe, but they’re too embarrassed to admit they made a mistake. (Sound familiar?)

2. They know it’s awful, but it would be financially disastrous to admit it.

3. They hope people (and critics, who are a kind of people) are stupid and gullible.

4. They sincerely don’t know it’s bad.

5. Everyone is scared of the star.

6. The producers have a secret Plan B, and they’re waiting for the culprit to quit.

7. The producers secretly want to fail, to take a tax loss.

8. Everyone involved is getting paid whether it’s good or bad.

9. It’s all been a dream.

Not to get all “Afterschool Special” on you, but maybe there’s a message here, a lesson for us all.

There’s no dishonor — instead a moral glory — in stepping up and saying, “This isn’t working. Let’s start over.”

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