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September 21, 2014

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Cirque du Soleil President and CEO Daniel Lamarre says each new show is a big gamble, challenge and risk

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Michael Morales/Cashman Photography

Brian Dewhurst, Bruce Rickerd, Sophia Stiperski, Eligiusz Skoczylas, Daniel Lamarre, Najam Khan, Ross Gibson, Ricardo Galvis and Ginger Ana Griep-Ruiz at the 18th anniversary performance of “Mystere” at Treasure Island on Saturday, March 3, 2012.

Michael Jackson One

Guided by Michael Jackson’s own words, the new “Michael Jackson One” by Cirque du Soleil starts previews May 23 and celebrates its official premiere June 29 at Mandalay Bay.

L.A. attorney John Branca, co-executor of the Estate of Michael Jackson, said: “We are guided by Michael’s own philosophy in all that we do. In preparing for this production, Michael’s message to the cast and crew for his ‘This Is It’ concerts was foremost in our minds. He counseled them on what the audience experience should be.

“Michael said, ‘They want wonderful experiences. We want to take them places that they’ve never been before. We want to show them talent like they’ve never seen before. We’re putting love back into the world to remind the world that love is important. We’re all one. That is the message.’ ”

Cirque CEO and President Daniel Lamarre hosted a preview of “One” at Mandalay Bay and added: “Our second project with the Michael Jackson Estate confirms how stimulating this creative partnership was meant to be. As a creative challenge, this project is the ultimate -- Michael Jackson is an all-time phenomenal artist, timeless and contemporary.

“This new theatrical experience is not only respectful of Michael’s legacy, but also very distinctive from the ‘Immortal’ world arena tour.”

I chatted one-on-one with Daniel after the dance performance preview. It was a surprisingly and extraordinarily candid confessional of a conversation.

Robin Leach: So in terms of taking risks in show business, this new show ranks where in your seven to eight Las Vegas productions? They’ve built this theater to be a theater that has the show over, under, around and in front of the audience.

Daniel Lamarre: We don’t look at Cirque to underestimate every single new show that we are doing. Every time it is a huge gamble, every time it is a challenge. As you know, the magic operates when we walk into the theater, so (Cirque founder) Guy (Laliberte) and I cannot wait to see the show inside its real home.

We have been rehearsing in Montreal, and we have a good feeling about what is happening, but the magic is going to operate in the next few weeks prior to the preview and premiere. You will see a lot of Guy in the next few weeks sitting in the theater and watching rehearsals.

Michael Jackson One/Richard Corey

We understand that with each new show, the expectation of the public gets higher and higher, and the risk for us gets bigger and bigger. That is why we are taking it with a lot of humility.

R.L.: Would you say this is going to be the biggest and best to date? Is it going to outrank “Ka” and “O”?

D.L.: If you talk to John Branca, he will probably tell you that it will be the No. 1 show. For us at Cirque, we love all our shows. We are very happy with them all. When I ask cab drivers what is their favorite show, I have probably five, six or seven different answers because depending who you are talking to, they have their own version. This one I hope will be able to establish itself. I think that with all the support that Mandalay Bay is putting behind the show, it can be successful.

R.L.: There is no dollar figure yet on the investment because there is still more expenditures to come over the next few weeks?

D.L.: Exactly.

R.L.: But will you top $100 million?

D.L.: It is tough to say right now because it is a different environment. First of all, we walked in a theater that was already a good theater, so it was easier for us to really bring the theater to the standard of Cirque du Soleil. We are really looking forward to hearing the music of Michael Jackson in that theater because, as you know, the technology of the sound systems is improving all the time. This will be the newest state-of-the-art sound system; I think people will listen to the music of Michael in a different way here.

R.L.: This is not meant as an awkward question, but a really serious business question. You can reach plateaus in every business. Theater business is really soft at the moment in Las Vegas. There are some real demographic income problems here of how much people can spend when they visit. How as a businessman do you deal with that when you are launching a show as ambitious as this one?

D.L.: The one thing that you have to do first and foremost is don’t take anything for granted. We feel today like if we would be launching our first show in Las Vegas, so we don’t take for granted that the brand of Michael or Cirque du Soleil is a slam-dunk.

Click to enlarge photo

Daniel Lamarre at the "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour" red carpet at Mandalay Bay on Dec. 3, 2011.

We come here and we have to convince people that this show can work. At the end of the day, it is not us who will make the success of this show. It is the word of mouth. We live it right now with “Zarkana”; the word of mouth of “Zarkana” is very, very positive. All of a sudden, we have a new show working, so it is the public, at the end of the day -- they are the judge.

In this city, there are a lot of very important influencers -- the concierge, the cab drivers, the employees of the casino. That is why, right now, we are going to put a lot of effort to bring the influencers to see the show. We also are spending a lot of time listening to their comments. If there are things to be fixed, we will fix it.

R.L.: It is not so much fixing, but when you’ve got seven shows on The Strip, do you now say that this is it for Las Vegas and concentrate elsewhere? Do we have enough? Are you worried about cannibalizing yourself -- it is not you, it is because of the population that is coming here with less and less money as disposable income?

D.L.: Obviously, we understand that by having more shows, we are cannibalizing ourselves. It is a strategy that we decided we will implement because we would rather cannibalize ourselves than give away tickets to other producers. But as Guy was saying to me, he says find me a theater and if I have a distinctive content, I will bring it to that theater.

That is the challenge every time. We are not going to bring a show just for the sake of being in a new theater. We will bring a show if we feel that we have something very different to offer to the public, and that is a challenge that we are having more and more.

The expectations of the public are getting higher and higher, so we have, again, to try to push the needle all the time and bring new content.

R.L.: So you don’t rule it out, but it is not something that you are looking into?

D.L.: No, we have no plan for more now, to be precise.

Click to enlarge photo

Oleksandra and Phil Ruffin and Daniel Lamarre with Mystere cast members at Treasure Island.

R.L.: The public always wants more, and we in the media always want to know more, so how do you deal with the increasing levels of danger with the acrobatics? We know these kids risk their lives and bodies -- how do you push that needle to make it even more wow for word of mouth?

D.L.: I understand what you are saying. First and foremost, we have to be very careful because we will never do anything that will bring additional danger to our artists. Our security measures are very tight, probably the tightest in the industry.

Having said that, obviously what they are doing is risky by definition, but at the same time, we don’t think that in the future we are going to bring people to the next level because someone is doing something crazier in terms of taking risks.

I think we have to be much more sophisticated in the way that the shows are directed, the way that we are bringing new technologies, the way we are seeing the design of our costumes. You are seeing more and more dance in our show, more and more technologies. We just have to meld now the acrobatic act much more with the music, with dance and other elements of content.

Guy now is surrounding himself with a new team of creators, bringing more and more young creators to make sure that we are going, in terms of creative content, to the next level and that we are bringing a new perspective to the type of show that we are developing.

Before we said au revoir, I had to ask Daniel how it feels with his huge French-Canadian conglomerate headquartered in Montreal that most of the company’s business is in Las Vegas and around the rest of the world.

He told me, “We certainly feel that we are a citizen of Las Vegas because we now have as many employees in Las Vegas that we have in Montreal, and we certainly feel at home and have over 1,500 employees based here. I feel home when we come to Las Vegas.”

On Thursday, my conversation with Mandalay Bay President Chuck Bowling, who reveals other changes and attractions coming to the casino resort.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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