A new signature acrobatic sequence, rechoreographed flying machines, a trimmed climax, and deeper backstories for the lead characters are all among the creative changes that Cirque du Soleil will incorporate into its Broadway production “Paramour” — work extensive enough to warrant cancelling four performances later this month in order to accommodate it.
It’s a rare move on Broadway, where the costs of additional rehearsal time, coupled with the loss of revenue from the darkened performances, tend to discourage such tinkering after opening night. But according to Scott Zeiger, the president and managing director of Cirque du Soleil Theatrical, it’s common practice at deep-pocketed Cirque, which, hearkening back to its roots as a troupe of street performers, often tweaks shows using audience response as a guide.
What’s unusual for Cirque — and necessitated by the strictures of a Broadway venue and the industry’s labor regulations — is the need to cancel shows to do the work, since touring shows like “Toruk,” the “Avatar”-inspired outing that hits New York next month, can make changes in the several days’ lag time between stops. Even “Love,” the company’s Beatles show in Vegas, has been significantly updated for its 10th anniversary, with Zeiger estimating that some 30% of the show has been reworked.
“Paramour,” a riff on the golden age of Hollywood with a love-triangle plot, earned reviews that skewed mixed to negative when the production opened in May, but that hasn’t dissuaded Broadway’s summer crowds, boosted by seasonal tourism, from turning out. Weekly sales for the production top $1 million with some regularity.
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Cirque won’t specify exactly how much the creative changes to “Paramour” will cost. “It’s not free. It costs a lot,” Zeiger admitted, but added that the additional outlay fell within the reserve funds built into the show’s initialization capitalization of $25 million.
The cast’s dancers are currently rehearsing some of the upcoming changes in a studio during non-performance hours, but the cancelled shows — on Aug. 22, 24, 25 and 31 — will allow for full-staff, eight-hour work days. Among the changes are new choreography for the flying machines in a $500,000 sequence that marks the first time drones have been used on Broadway.
Depending on where they’re seated, some audience members have mistaken the flying machines for marionettes on invisible wires, which significantly reduces the impact of a lyrical sequence that sees lampshades take flight. The show’s creators will rechoreograph the sequence to make it clear, from every seat in the house, that there are no wires involved.
Despite a wealth of tumbling sequences throughout the first act, a lot of audience members also felt they only get a taste of signature Cirque acrobatics in the first aerial sequence, starring the twins Andrew and Kevin Atherton, that comes three quarters of the way through the first act. So Cirque is adding what Zeiger called a new “signature sequence” — one noticeably different from the floor-based tumbling — during the show’s third scene, set in a cafe. (He’s keeping mum on the exact details to preserve the surprise.)
Even one of the show’s best-received scenes, a climactic rooftop chase with trampolines, is getting nipped and tucked. The scene was cited favorably in a lot of reviews, and the audience seems to love it, Zeiger said, but because their enthusiasm peters out toward the end, he thinks it runs a little long. It’ll be trimmed by 90 seconds — a complicated endeavor, given the number of moving parts involved.
Perhaps toughest of all, however, might be the challenge of deepening the characters of the three leads, which many critics and traditional Broadway theatergoers found wan. Through new dialogue incorporated into existing scenes, “we’re going to give the principal characters a little bit more backstory,” Zeiger said.
The cost of it all — at a time when city tourism is at high tide — will be worth it, Zeiger said, if the improvements help solidify the show’s staying power. “We’re not doing this to get re-reviewed,” he said. “We just want it to be better. We intend to be here a long time.”