It doesn’t get more “Cirque,” or more spectacular, than “KÀ”

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“KÀ by Cirque du Soleil” at the MGM Grand: It doesn’t get more “Cirque,” or more spectacular, than “KÀ”

It’s hard not to feel like “KÀ by Cirque du Soleil” at the MGM Grand is the show that Cirque masterminds Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix dreamt of when they were street performers in Montreal in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Could a more pure and magical expression of live performance be conceived this side of Never-Never Land?

Cirque du Soleil has always had bigger ambitions than a big-top tent could hold. The company has applied its surrealist touch to the work of Michael Jackson and the Beatles; to magic shows and peep shows; and that’s just what you can find without leaving the Strip.

“KÀ” is Cirque du Soleil completely and creatively off the chain, with a limitless budget to match its limitless ambition. The show doesn’t exist inside the box of an overarching theme or motif – unless you count the box a broad-strokes Hero’s Journey, with outsized emotions writ large on archetypal but relatable characters.

Bone up on the storyline before you attend, so you can effortlessly follow a plot that takes place mostly without (English) dialogue, in outsized actions on grand set pieces. The play opens with a joyous celebration hosted by a King and Queen and their twin son and daughter. The costumery is sumptuous – human actors transformed into a melange of Egyptian statues, Commedia dell’Arte masques, and Na’vi warriors from Avatar. Clowns entertain the royal family (and the audience) with displays of sideshow talent, to music that would be at home at a Renaissance Faire. The music is played live throughout by a mostly unseen band, though occasionally musicians, in full costume, take the stage, contributing both visually and aurally to the sumptuous spectacle.

The lutes and piccolos are undercut by deep, ominous cello drones as murderous Archers take their places, hidden from our heroes but visible to the audience. The tension that builds is almost unbearable. In the ensuing ambush, the king and queen are killed; the twin prince and princess separate, to face shipwreck, blizzards, captivity, and ultimately find love, reunite, and reclaim their kingdom from sinister forces.

The story plays out on what has to be the grandest mechanical stage ever conceived. Moving stage panels serve “KÀ” not only in function and grandiosity, but also in theme. Take the scene where the Princess and her clownish attendants wash up on a beach after the shipwreck. On the sand-covered stage panel, the attendants square off against a giant crab and a giant turtle, portrayed by human tumblers in truly transformative costumes. (The kids will go ape for this show.) This leads to some priceless tomfoolery … but eventually the time on the beach comes to an end and our heroes must move on to the next beat of the story. How is this transition signaled? By a simple exeunt or fade-to-black? Nope … in a surrealist crowning touch to a famously surrealist company, hydraulics tilt the stage upward, like the bed of a dump truck, spilling the sand off the stage panel and ultimately dumping the characters into their next adventure.

There are more indelible scenes than one review will fit – the shipwreck itself, on a freestanding see-saw set piece; the Princess rescuing her nursemaid from the ocean, played as if underwater by aerialists to the haunting strains of a piano and a cello; a battle that plays out on a vertical wall, creating the illusion of a bird’s-eye view as acrobats charge the wall in defiance of gravity … okay, I think I’m out of space. See the show.

Verdict: If you come to Vegas wanting to see “Cirque du Soleil,” what you really want to see is “KÀ by Cirque du Soleil” at the MGM Grand Hotel. Best $100/seat you could spend