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Cirque du Soleil: A global sensation

Showbiz Update: Canada - Quebec - Theater

Even by the Cirque du Soleil’s overachieving standards, this has been an exceptionally busy year.

The innovative Montreal-based circus is premiering three shows in North America in the space of six months, a first for the Cirque. “Zarkana,” written and directed by Montreal filmmaker Francois Girard, made its bow at Radio City Music Hall in late June, and is off to Madrid and then the fabled Kremlin Theater in Moscow.

“Iris,” a trip through the world of cinema, is set to preem Sept. 25 at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles and take up residence permamently there, while “Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour” will be seen for the first time Oct. 2 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, before heading out to play 25 cities across the continent.

The Jackson show will later head to Europe and there will also be a permanent version of the show at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, opening in 2013.

The Cirque has toured the globe extensively for years and is a Las Vegas fixture, but the three frosh shows mark a step in the circus’ plan to up its profile in the U.S.

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“This is a very important year for the Cirque,” says Cirque du Soleil CEO Daniel Lamarre. “We’ve got a pretty incredible presence in Las Vegas. The Michael Jackson show will be our eighth permanent show in Las Vegas. What’s key for us this year is to have a bigger presence in two major markets, New York and Los Angeles.” He adds that because it’s a show about the biz, he hopes it becomes a stop on every Hollywood tourist’s agenda. “Right now, when you go to Hollywood, you can go to the Walk of Fame and there’s nothing else to visit. We hope that soon people will look up at the Kodak Theater and go see our show. So strategically, this show in L.A. is very important.”

“Zarkana” will play every year at Radio City Music Hall from May to mid-September and it’s proven a hit in what’s been a tougher markets for the Cirque to crack. More than 400,000 tickets have already been sold for the show.

The Cirque has three models of shows. There are the permanent ones, the touring Big Top productions and the arena tours, the latter a relatively newer concept for the group. With the Big Top shows, the Cirque can only visit cities large enough to generate sales of around 100,000 tickets. The arena tours allow the Cirque to make its way to smaller markets, selling between 20,000 and 30,000 tickets over the course of a two or three-night run.

The plan is to have an arena tour every year, while the Big Top productions, which arrive every two or three years, will tour the globe for 10 to 15 years.

When Lamarre, the former CEO of the leading French-language TVA Network, arrived at the Cirque 10 years ago, the circus was active in 100 cities worldwide. Now that number is 350.

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