‘Carmen’ drives trip from Strip

Dragone reworking 1845 novella for B'way

HOLLYWOOD — Carmen and Franco Dragone have a lot in common — they use good looks and stunning movement to lurecurious onlookers.

Their courtship, however, is just beginning in Europe, with a marriage expected on Broadway in about a year and a half. For the story of “Carmen,” a new version of the 1845 novella from which Bizet crafted one of the world’s most famous operatic characters, it represents a belief that age-old tales such as “Les Miserables” can still be in demand on the Great White Way.

For Dragone, the former artistic mastermind of Cirque du Soleil, it’s the first chance a Las Vegas theater artist has to run the opposite direction on the one-way street from Broadway to the Strip.

“I saw four musicals in one week in July,” Dragone recounts while in Hollywood between TV interviews to promote his show “Le Reve” at the Wynn.

“I respect Broadway. But I don’t understand why most of the musicals are staged like a film. It’s theater, and you have to give space to the viewer — the viewer has to connect. If I did a play, I would look at how do I establish a primal connection. What I see in the first act (on Broadway), I know the second act will be the resolution. Nothing surprises me.”

To create a “Carmen” that is not only a spectacular but artistically sound as well, Dragone and lead producer Robin de Levita are putting the final touches on a creative team that already includes a book by choreographer Sarah Miles and music by John Ewbank, who has been turning out hit records in the Netherlands for the past 15 years. Orchestrations and choreography are finished, leaving de Levita and Dragone to interview lyricists. For the scenic designer, they likely will tap Cirque vet Michael Crete, who worked with Dragone on “Alegria,” “Quidam,” “Mystere,” “O” and “Nouvelle Experience.”

In March or April, the producers — de Levita, Dragone and L.A.-based marketing/management company the Firm — will stage a workshop in either Belgium or Holland with an eye toward perfecting the show’s flamenco and dance elements. Group then will seek an out-of-town tryout or a more elaborate workshop before moving to Broadway.

“Visually, ‘Carmen’ has got to have that Cirque feel, otherwise it’s the same show that’s been done 400 times,” says Jeff Rabhan of the Firm, which is making its virgin voyage to Broadway with this show.

The Firm, which has the role of marketing-producing partner, got involved with de Levita and Dragone on a Doors musical planned for Vegas that is still in an embryonic state. When the Firm and de Levita, whose Broadway background goes back more than a decade and includes “Urinetown,” “Victor/Victoria” (which Miles choreographed) and “Good Vibrations,” started discussions regarding “Carmen,” Dragone asked to be considered as the director.

Dragone has never worked within the limits of Broadway, whether they be logistical or financial. “Carmen’s” budget will be at least $7 million but not more than $15 million — or as the director puts it, “one act in ‘Le Reve.’ ”

Dragone sees “Carmen” as an opportunity to “express myself about love and death and the human experience.” Rabhan sees the business possibilities.

“We have no idea what we’re doing — which kind of makes it fun,” Rabhan says. “We’re learning as we go. It’s different from the concert business — the deals are structured differently, the players are different. But as a company, we are able to bring in our experience with youth culture and branding shows in some way. The ideal would be to start a new division that brings us into live entertainment.”

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