Dragone's epic goes on despite criticism

LAS VEGAS — Here’s the big question buzzing around town these days: Has “Le Reve” finally become a beautiful dream, or is it still a contentious, money-burning nightmare? With two major revamps now under its belt, creatives behind the circus spectacular are looking to find new life in the Vegas desert.

Ever since Franco Dragone’s $110 million aquatic epic opened along with the rest of Wynn Las Vegas in spring 2005, it’s been the subject of endless reviews, gossip and speculation.

Even before the curtain went up, reports surfaced in the press of bitter arguments between former Cirque du Soleil collaborator Dragone and entrepreneur Steve Wynn over the show’s bizarre downbeat content, which included pregnant women flying through the air.

When critics chimed in, it initially seemed like Dragone didn’t have a leg to stand on. One pundit rechristened the show “Uh-O,” a swipe at Dragone’s other water-based spectacle, “O” down the Strip at the Bellagio. Another said, “The problem is that it all seems distressingly familiar.”

Sales were initially slow, and perf schedules were slashed. The show even had a negative impact on the price of Wynn’s stock.

So the Vegas businessman began cracking the whip.

Dragone “wasn’t finished with the show when he opened it, and he shouldn’t have done it,” Wynn told one journalist. “And that’s as simple a way of saying it.”

In retaliation, Dragone gave interviews claiming that ” ‘Le Reve’ opened too early and that’s one thing I will never do again. All the musicals here have four weeks of previews,” he added. “I only did five previews, which is not good for a show of this magnitude.”

But Wynn wasn’t looking for explanations, just fixes.

Dragone kept tinkering with the show for more than a year, trying to make it lighter and clearer, to fit Wynn’s demands.

The back-and-forth bickering between the creative and financial forces behind the troubled enterprise filled the pages of Las Vegas papers for months.

Still, everyone was surprised at Wynn’s audacity in June 2006, when he bought out Dragone’s interest in the show for $15.9 million dollars.

Ingrid Jansen, Dragone’s marketing adviser, told the Associated Press that Wynn had asked Dragone to make further changes, but that he was too busy with other projects elsewhere to stay in Vegas and complete them.

Wynn’s intention initially was to revitalize the show in different directions, harnessing such talent as Moses Pendleton, director of the dance troupe Momix.

But somehow, that plan never materialized, and while no official rapprochement was ever reported, by February 2007, Dragone was back at “Le Reve.”

Soon after that, Wynn announced plans for further revamping of the show.

The first major change was to streamline the facility itself, reducing the capacity from 2,087 seats to 1,606. A “VIP Indulgence Package” was also made available, with a $159 pricetag guaranteeing roomy seats, Perrier-Jouet poured by an attentive server and underwater cameras to provide a better view of the action.

Along with a shorter running time (down from 90 minutes to 70), the chief difference in the performance itself is a switch from the original neurotic male adolescent protagonist who generates the eponymous dream to a charming female central character.

But the changes didn’t stop there. The theater closed again for the month of July so that the Tony-winning lighting team of Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer could install a new system and re-cue the entire show.

The results appear to be playing well with recent capacity audiences. But it looks as if the fixes are ongoing.

News recently emerged that Wynn and Dragone are at work on a new script for the show, which they plan tointroduce in 2008.

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