Delirium is defined as a mental disturbance characterized by hallucinations, or sometimes simply as frenzied excitement. “Delirium,” the first “Cirque du Soleil Live Music Concert,” indeed has several moments of frenzied excitement, but the first — a dazzlingly designed underwater segment — doesn’t occur until the aud has been sitting there for one long hour.
The guiding question, apparently, was how can the phenomenally successful Montreal-based outfit break into the lucrative arena-show market? Cirque troupes play in theaters of various sizes (the touring tent for “Corteo,” in the company’s last New York stint, seats 2,700). The audience for this fare seems to be unlimited; there are 14 productions playing on five continents. Cirque’s touch being on the level of Midas’, why not rake in some of the cash that can be generated from 10,000-seaters?
Cirque marketing presumably is up to the challenge, but there’s a problem, and it turns out to be a big one. They may call it a “live music concert” — an FAQ on the Web site asks, “Is this like other Cirque du Soleil shows?,” with the answer being, simply, “no” — but ticket buyers going to see Cirque expect to see Cirque. Many of the oohs and ahs earned by typical Cirque shows are made possible by the ingenious equipment built into expensive physical productions. This tours well, as Cirque has proven; but there’s only so much you can unpack for a two- or four-show stint, especially when there’s a basketball or hockey game the day before.
And so you get the live music concert. The idea seems to have been to select Cirque’s greatest hits, musicwise — 21 numbers from a catalog of more than 500 — and build a show around them. New arrangements have been devised by Francis Collard, along with new lyrics by Robbie Dillon, which we are told are in English. (One of the few clearly intelligible phrases came midway when someone sang, “It’s time to go.”) The songs are performed live, by a Brazilian-Canadian band called Gaia supplemented by Senegalese percussionists and a gal with an electronic violin.
Grafted upon the songs is a mini-Cirque show, featuring a dreamer (Karl Baumann) harnessed to a balloon-womb who pedals in space for the whole 90 minutes and finally finds love with a blonde in a white dress. Along the way, he comes across a leering clown in red on stilts (Adam Read).
There are also several acrobatic acts, typical of Cirque but on a smaller scale with less equipment. The lack of functional scenery is offset by use of massive multimedia, namely “540 square feet of projection space, the equivalent of almost four Imax screens.” Filmed material includes a cast of about 10 ghostly people opening and closing doors in their underwear. That’s all well and good, but not necessarily what auds have come to see.
“Delirium” itself clocks in at 90 minutes. Show opens, though, with a singer named Nitza doing a 24-minute set. This is followed by an intermission, making it seem like a mighty long time before things start cooking with the aforementioned underwater effect.
Cirque is partnered in the venture with touring-show behemoth Live Nation (formerly Clear Channel), which clearly knows the arena field. But this Cirque du Soleil Live Music Concert needs less live music and more Cirque.