Entertainment » Jim Harris

Cirque du Soleil reaches higher



Cirque du Soleil, for all practical purposes, started life on stilts. The company was composed of street performers in Montreal, says Carmen Ruest, who’s been both a trained dancer and circus stilt-walker with Cirque for a decade.

Today, people plan their trips to Las Vegas around when they can get choice seats to see Cirque’s water extravaganza “O,” the sexy “Zumanity” or the majestic “Ka.” The casting office (read: talent scouts) that had five people when Ruest went to work for Cirque is now run by Ruest with 30 employees. Cirque now has 17 international shows to cast, and the search for talent is worldwide.

The search for ideas on how to present Cirque du Soleil in new and more interesting ways is also never-ending. A show based on Beatles music is being prepped for Vegas.

Next week, Central Arkansas and Alltel Arena witness Cirque du Soleil’s newest thing yet, “Delirium,” the company’s first arena show.

If you can’t get to Vegas to the specially built theaters or to one of the cities where Cirque sets up for five weeks or so under a big top, Cirque is now coming to you. If you’ve been to Vegas to see what Cirque offers, Ruest says, the arena show will be completely different, with remixed music from other Cirque shows the focus and paired with the company’s unbelievable stunts. “ ‘Delirium’ is about man’s quest for love and identity while realizing it with his feet firmly on the ground,” she says.

The shows, featuring 40 performers, four IMAX-like screens and a 130-by-25-foot stage, are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, March 22-23. Prices start at $67.50 through Ticketmaster or the arena box office.

Endearing ‘Morrie’: The Mitch Albom of “Tuesdays With Morrie,” now playing at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, is just as we’ve come to know him on ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” and through his writing: arrogant, off-putting, a know-it-all from Detroit. He’ll speak before he thinks how it might hurt others, such as in 1994 when he predicted Duke would beat Arkansas in the NCAA basketball title game because Duke “was the smarter team.”

For whatever reason, though, college sociology professor Morrie Schwarz found the likeable side of Albom when Albom was a student at Brandeis, near Boston, and they struck up a friendship. Predictably, Albom then forgot about Schwarz for 16 years, until he caught a “Nightline” special about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” in which Schwarz was the subject. Albom reinitiated contact, however brief, but it grew and grew into an almost father-son type relationship. Albom learned in that brief time with Schwarz more about life, relationships and forgiving himself than in all his previous years.

Give actor Christopher Cass credit; he nails Albom. It’s just not a likeable character early on as Cass’s Albom sets up the story. But, thanks to Frank Lowe as Morrie, the two-man, one-act play takes on that “make you laugh, make you cry” enjoyment. Cass serves as straight man, setting them up for Lowe, who, if he doesn’t whack them out of the park, at least bounces them into the corner for extra bases.

The jazzy background music soothes, and Mike Nichols again has outdone himself with a stunning set, particularly when Morrie’s room comes together before your eyes.

“Tuesdays With Morrie” is playing through March 26. Call 378-0405 for times and tickets.

Motown Mike: Lumped into the 1980s syrupy pop category and with a singing style that sounds like somebody’s giving him a Heimlich hug, Michael McDonald on Friday showed off a side we never imagined. His gospel-influenced writing, the Doobie Brothers hits and Motown covers rocked Robinson Center Music Hall in the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Pops Live! show. What he and his Nashville-based band also showed was what we’d seen one night earlier with the Rolling Stones: artists laying it all out there, not holding anything back.

Sadly, a portion of the crowd, who probably thought McDonald was too loud more than 25 years ago with the Doobies, gave him a few songs before sneaking toward the exits, probably wanting to catch Ned, Ed or Brett before bedtime. About two-thirds of the audience remained, though, as McDonald reached his peak with uplifting gospel-style piano solos on his Yamaha keyboard, then finished with Marvin Gaye’s duet numbers “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” — backup singer Drea Rhenee was rangy and strong, complementing McDonald nicely. We were humming the Motown tunes all the way home.

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