Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana
Let's face it, no one does Cirque better than Cirque but the latest offering on the Strip, "Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana" (at the Aria Resort and Casino), is just that, just more Cirque. While the environmental submersion into the world of Zarkana is interesting, saturated with color and new, the recent performance I attended left me wondering if indeed the Cirque saturation level hadn't finally been met in Las Vegas (and beyond).
The show begins with the Cirque standard pre-show band of merry characters, this time in period white costumes which seem period and yet have no specific period all at the same time. Odd, interesting and inviting, the characters move through the audience interacting, eliciting laughs. And then the show really begins with "Zark" who is called, "the protagonist of Zarkana." But one can't help but feel that Johnny Depp's many Tim Burton characters have been morphed into one to create this character in his red tailcoat, top hat and eerie sensibilities.
Here's where you first notice the main problem with this show -- he's singing in what they call, "Cirque-ish" (which is a made up language that consists of unintelligible vowels and consonants being strung together). The problem is that in most Cirque shows it's not the centerpiece of the show, but in "Zarkana," there's so much of it that it makes it almost impossible not to be distracted and annoyed by it.
You can tell "Zark" is trying to tell you something but, without a real frame of a story, you're completely lost. He's like my mother talking to someone who only understands Spanish. Picture a short Jewish woman that gets louder and louder, gesticulates more and more, talks slower and slower but no one understands her. Such it is with "Zark" and everyone else that sings in this show. (However I suspect my mother is more entertaining to her unintended audience than "Zarkana"'s cast is to its actual audience.)
The show is moody, moving from snakes to spiders to projections of eyes interspersed with the two clowns (who appear far too often for my taste) and the classic Cirque character, "the baby." There's no taking away from the acts themselves that appear, they are talented beyond belief but this time the "Zarkana" frame is so distracting that the acts seem to be less the focus and more a necessary evil to get to more nonsensical singing and another bit from the clowns.
Standout performances are the woman on the Russian flexible bar held by two men, the "tarantulas" who spin themselves in oversized hula hoops in a dizzying display, the flag twirlers that juggle their flags from person to person at amazing heights, the trapeze artists, the banquine acrobatic act with intricate stunning choreography as they do more formations, spotting and acrobatics than any NCAA Cheerleading Squad and my personal favorite, the hand-balancing act done on a slippery surface by a man who moves his body like liquid.
There are problems, like when the action stops three-fourths through for the fortuneteller character to retell everything you've just seen to that point in sand being projected onto a screen. If you watched last season of "America's Got Talent," you feel as though you've seen not only this sand act (done better on that show) but also you've seen several of these acts before -- it's "Cirque's Got Talent."
While other Cirque shows seem to have acts you can't see anywhere else, maybe thanks to Cirque, many of these acts we've now seen before on major network shows. Sure, they may not have had settings like this but that's exactly what seems to get in the way this time for Cirque.
If you've been to other Cirque shows in Vegas you know that "Mystere" was the first and is still a magical journey, "Love" has the Beatles music, "O" has water (and is the most staggeringly beautiful in my opinion), "KA" has a storyline you can follow and the most amazing set ever, "Believe" features Criss Angel and "Zumanity" is the sexier side of Cirque.
When you look at "Zarkana," it doesn't have that singular, unique piece to hang its moody top hat on unless they thought the singing was going to do it (in which case see the earlier paragraph)! Had "Zarkana" been the first or even the third Cirque show in Vegas it might have seemed more interesting, but unfortunately there's so much to compare it to by Cirque itself in this town that it doesn't measure up to the other incarnations of Cirque.
I know that the Cirquophiles will say I'm wrong and will love adding another Cirque logoed T-shirt or baseball hat to their collection. But if you want to see Cirque at its best you have so many great choices in Vegas and unfortunately, "Zarkana" just isn't one of them.
"Zarkana" enjoys an extended run at the Aria Resort and Casino at City Center, 3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South in Las Vegas. For tickets and info, call 855-ZARKANA (927-5262) or visit http://www.arialasvegas.com/cirque/zarkana