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Every detail lovingly fretted over. Technical mastery? Seamless.
The problem with being on top is that you become an easy target. Everyone wants to take down Number One.
“O” by Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino has been the gold standard of Cirque majesty on the Strip since it premiered in 1998. There’s a reason it still commands $132 for the cheap seats. It’s breathtaking – a spectacle of air, fire, and of course water, the star set-piece being the massive circular pool. The title, “O,” evokes both the shape of the pool, and the pronunciation of the French word for water (“eau”).
There’s more to the “O” experience than the pool, though – the purpose-built 1,800-seat theater within the Bellagio lovingly recreates a 14th-century opera house, from the gilded walls to the sumptuous drapes. Stepping into the theater is like stepping back in time – until you get to the anachronistically padded cushioned seats, which are thankfully more butt-friendly than the 14th century would have offered.
When your set is a 1.5 million gallon shark tank (without the sharks), the theme of the day is man’s relationship with water. Synchronized swimmers and high divers have their minute to mirror the elegance and fatal power of H2O. Other scenes play out on suspended scarves and rings by aerialists who invoke the wind rippling the glassy surface of the tank. It’s a cast of 85, supported by 150 technicians, with nary a weak link.
The decades have been kind to “O,” which showcases Cirque du Soleil’s exacting standards of talent and production value; modernist imagery and nouveau-classical musicality. The problem is not what “O” has become, but what everyone else has done as a response to it.
“Ka” has more of a story. “Zumanity” is sexier. “Le Reve” (not a Cirque production, but conceived by Cirque alumni) arguably has a cooler pool. Show after show seems intent on out-“O”-ing “O.” These competitors sell less pricey tickets, too.
So make your choice. You could spend every night of the week with Cirque when you’re in Vegas. “O” is the granddaddy of them all, however. If you have only one night in town and want full Cirque immersion, don’t kid yourself – “O” needs to be a contender.
The stage is huge, so “O” really shines when it goes big. Particularly inspired is the skeleton of a floating two-mast sailing ship that descends from the scaffolding and reveals itself to be a giant oscillating trapeze structure, upon which pirate-clad acrobats go to town in three dimensions.
Another crowd-pleaser is the pyrotechnic show involving a fire-juggler and another performer who is literally on fire for the whole number (courtesy of a protective suit, of course). “O” also features first-rate clown work, hewing to the producers’ circus roots. The costumes range from traditional baroque and Commedia dell’Arte, to far eastern and Arabic influences. The music follows a similarly multicultural template.
This is all framed by the thinnest of storylines – a young boy named Guifa is lead by curiosity into a magical watery realm by a Virgil-like crone named Eugen. Guifa makes a decent audience surrogate, but we’re really here to see high-divers, right?
Has “O” earned your entertainment dollars yet? (That’s the $19 billion question for any owner of a Vegas cash register.) They’ve certainly worked hard enough. The acrobatic talent? Couldn’t find better. Atmosphere and production value? Every detail lovingly fretted over. Technical mastery? Seamless.
Yes, there are pretenders to the throne, but you go see “O” when the goal is to go big or go home. This is Vegas, after all … who’s in a rush to go home?
VERDICT: Massive, exhilarating, expensive, and worth it, “O” by Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino is the fountain at which every other upstart circus show seeks to drink. Go to the source. I dare you.