Cirque Du Soleil soars in Las Vegas and Two Pianos and Four Hands is grand in Walnut Creek!

Over the past several years, I have had the pleasure to review numerous Cirque Du Soleil shows, including several in their production infancy, such as The Nouvlle Experience in the San Francisco Bay area and Mystère in Las Vegas. What began as a street performance production in a small Quebec town in 1984 along with a little assistance from the Canadian government, a handful of inspired street performers captured the imagination of the public with their unique vision of exotic and surrealistic acrobatic art, an art form that has mushroomed into one of the most incredible entertainment companies in the world. Producer Guy Lalibertè’s incredible theatric acrobatic circus experience has become one of the most successful ventures of its kind in the world today. . Beginning with only 73 people in 1984, the company has now grown to over 3000 employees and 900 artists, having performed for over 50 million spectators to date.

If ever there were a great time to visit Las Vegas, Nevada, where Cirque Du Soleil has five extraordinary shows running simultaneously, then now is the time! With the current economic situation, Las Vegas and its entertainment industry is being hit extremely hard and there are great opportunities to see some of the finest entertainment in the world at very reasonable prices. The five permanent productions in Las Vegas at this time consist of “Mysterè” at the Treasure Island , “O” at the Bellagio, “KÀ” at the MGM Grand, “Love” (a Beatles Tribute) at the Mirage and “Zumanity” at the New York-New York.

“O” simply defies adequate description, an exhilarating experience from the moment you walk into the theatre, to the standing ovations at the end of the show. As my daughter and I entered the theatre and took our seats, we overheard a woman sitting behind us who was saying to her daughter, “this is nothing like the good old days”. With it’s 1800 seat capacity, its steeply inclined house seating (to assure the best possible sight lines) and its tiered European opera house balconies, just the magnitude of this theatre is an eye opener. When the curtains are subsequently opened, the immense stage, the massive and revolutionary overhead conveyer structure system and pool are revealed, it is an awesome sight to behold.

As with all of the Cirque Du Soleil shows, before the real action begins, the principal clown performers set the mood by walking through the audience, cavorting and engaging the audience, warming them up with comic capers.

This show is uniquely aquatic with all forms of acrobatic regimens, trapeze, high diving exhibitions, fire acts, parades, aerial hoops and contortion, designed specifically to meld with the concept of water. After all, the French word for water is “eau”, which phonetically translates to “O”.

The multitude of remarkable acts running without intermission, keep you glued to your seat and the colorful and exciting kaleidoscope of adventures unfold. Synchronized swimming that far excels anything that Ester Williams could have ever produced sets the ground work for a spectacular and emotionally thrilling evening.

The Duo Trapeze act that follows makes us hold our breath as two beautiful human forms spin and tumble through the air on their trapeze rigging, suspended high above the pool with its ever-changing configuration. Aquatic acrobatic pirates soar above the crystalline waters on their chromium-steel ghost “bateau” (boat) which provides an incredible platform for their unique display of acrobatic timing and strength. A ballet that incorporates gymnastics and the circus acts of Banquine merges with the athletic prowess of adagio on a floating barge. The Russian Swing incorporates three opposing swing catapults that rocket airborne swimming acrobats toward each other as though they were human cannon balls, hurtling as high as 32 feet in the air, crisscrossing each other’s path in what appears to be wild abandon!

Unique costume design has always been a trademark of the Cirque Du Solei productions. Some of the most stunning of costume designs in this show are incorporated in the costumes born by the zebra patterned acrobats performing on a steel pole mesh, high above the water below. Perhaps the most stunning display of acrobatic daring is the terrifying high dive, in which multiple divers plunge at the same time into a narrow key hole shaped area between floating platforms. I could go on and on about the many diverse and magnificent acts, but space is at a premium as I have three shows to review this week.

Perhaps the most understated magic is the technical marvel of the swimming pool itself. Its configuration changes constantly as platforms and barges and floating houses and all nature of wonderful transporting devices emerge into and from its watery depths.

While I have seen the same types of acrobatics and daredevils in many of their shows, this combination of surreal lighting, and magnificent mosaic of mysterious and outer-worldly music, exquisite and sensual costumes seem to eclipse anything I have seen to date from this outstanding company. Of course, I probably say that after every Cirque Du Soleil show that I see, because each show is so remarkable, but I truly have to exclaim that this is granddaddy of them all.

“O” is the grand aperitif, the frosting on the cake, an astonishingly rich dessert, certainly the gourmet’s grand pinnacle of performance. As I left the theatre, the oft repeated exclamations of “Oh, my God” and “Oh what a show”, and just plain “Oh” as the audience in mass, applauded the cast and company in a standing “O”vation, would seem to exemplify the phonetic origins of the shows most appropriate name. “O” is certainly perfect as the name of the game!

At the other end of the Cirque Du Soleil spectrum is “Zumanity”. A truly amazing cabaret style show, fine-tuned for the sensuality and the “adult” in all of us. The show is resident at the New York – New York Hotel and Casino, located at the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard South on the strip in Las Vegas.

Still married to the basic concept of acrobatic fantasia, this show is a merger of eroticism, athleticism and promiscuity. “Zumanity” is certainly not a show that would play well in mainstream American theatrical venues. One of the show’s hosts bragged to the audience, “after all, what plays in Vegas, stays in Vegas!” In some small way, the opening patter of the hosts of the show, both male and female, reminds me of old fashion burlesque. The comic would tell some pretty crude jokes and pull some very crude gags to get the audience up to speed and then bring the girls in to share their many assets. This show opens with some similar theatrical pre-show (or can I say - - foreplay) warm up exercises!

There are many delightful talents in this show, including two upbeat and well endowed sisters who wander through the audience titillating and teasing the men in the audience with some outrageously silly sexual slapstick. At the same time there is a very tall and attractive Drag Diva (Joey Arias) who calls himself the Mistress of Sensuality (in reality, the master of ceremony) and Antonio, a gigolo, who toys with the ladies in the audience. In some ways, the show reminds me of the Exotic, Erotic Ball in San Francisco and the Cirque Du Soleil founders have taken this show far outside their typical theatrical envelope, into an area that may be uncomfortable and too sexual for many, so be forewarned this is not a family show!

It is however a grand show, and it may well be the Cadillac of this kind of adult show in Las Vegas, excellent in every theatrical respect, acting, staging, costumes (or incredible lack there of), lighting and music. Cirque Du Soleil asks you to dispel your fears and inhibitions and explore your fantasies. If you never had any sexual fantasies, you may well understand what that is all about, following your “exposure” to this show! The show consists of many different skits that address human sensuality. You will view just about everything there is pertaining to male and female nudity, stripping, and sexual playfulness (however, no actual or simulated sexual intercourse is engaged in).

An absolutely beautiful African lady from Senegal weaves magic dance steps and exotic, erotic rhythms into her dance routine. A gorgeous young man whose body and shedding of clothes makes the normal concept of a Chippendale male’s stripper, sound like a poor second, as this guy is truly “hot”. The melding and magic of acrobatics and gorgeous bodies, barely dressed, and artfully costumed, make this a show to remember. A stunning woman, dressed in a school-girl plaid skirt makes hula-hoop magic on an aerial suspension cable. Another beautiful woman tries again and again, to break her men’s addiction to televised sports, by dancing and draping herself in a very revealing outfit and fashion in front of the television set. Just about every fantasy one could imagine is addressed in this show, from bondage and S&M, to water and bathtub sexual fantasies, lap dancing, pole dancing, and including both lesbian and homosexual discoveries. This show challenges all barriers, and does it with grand class and beauty. The stage becomes a virtual lazy Susan of sex, spinning brilliantly across all ethnic and social boundaries. This is a remarkable introduction to and/or opportunity to revitalize your sexual education and exploration, yet done in a very safe way for the guests. Sex is indeed beautiful and Cirque Du Soleil’s “Zumanity” proves it to all who are adult enough and willing to experience this exciting show.

This remarkable show plays every Wednesday through Sunday, twice nightly, at 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. To look for special rates google “Zumanity” or contact the Cirque Du Soleil web-site, click on Las Vegas and the show you want to see by going to: for ticket purchases and more information on both of the shows reviewed today. If you wish to call directly the toll free number for Zumanity is 1-866-606-7111. The direct toll free number for “O” is 1-800-963-9634.

If you think our local economy is in trouble, think about this. My brother, who has lived in Las Vegas all his life, told me that in December 2007, the Las Vegas building permit department issued 10,000 permits. However, in December of 2008, the same permit department issued only 386 permits. Believe me, this is a great time to look for and find super deals on hotel accommodations and show reservations in this, the entertainment capital of the world. Vegas will absolutely welcome you!

Two Pianos and Four Hands delivers 176 notes in a musical memoir, lovingly relived!

Two years ago, Karen and I drove to San Jose to the San Jose Repertory Theatre to see two incredible piano impresarios, in a show entitled, “Two Pianos and Four Hands”. Then, last week, we were again invited to see the same show at the Center Repertory Company production in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, in Walnut Creek. Once again, a thoroughly outstanding and delightful experience rewarded our trip to the theatre. The two actor/pianists, Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, are thoroughly entertaining, bringing to the show a sense of first hand knowledge, almost as though they had written the show themselves.

Created originally by musicians Mark Anders and Carl L. Danielsen, this delightful musical theatre production encapsulates the humorous history of two young men and their journey from beginning piano lessons as children to adult concert piano stardom. Cleverly written by two musicians who made the learning journey, they bring to the audience a great sense of familiarity. Eighty eight keys times two pianists, means 176 possibilities for your listening pleasure. I heard several people sitting near us, utter an “Oh yes”, and “uh, huh”, a sort of “been there, done that” confirmation statement, as many in the audience acknowledged the trials and tribulations and rewards commensurate to the learning process of musicians.

The two men take themselves back to their childhood, reliving the joys and heartaches and fun-filled experience of eccentric teachers, demanding parents, the nightmares of competition, the endless hours of practice, and the ultimate sacrifice of personal pleasure to their dedicated practice regimen. The evening’s performance gradually takes us from their adolescence to their teens, to their college years and finally on to the reality of what it takes to truly become a professional musical entertainer. The show is brilliantly written, outrageously funny and performed to perfection by these two remarkable entertainers. Undoubtedly this is a show that will play and entertain us all for a very long time. The show gives us a broad artistic pallet of music for pianos, a canvas that delivers beautiful concert, classical and even pop music experiences.

This terrifically funny and light hearted show is just what the doctor ordered for an evening of kick back, relax, and be entertained, no heavy thinking required! “Two Pianos and Four Hands” continues Wednesday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m., now through Saturday, February 28th, ending with a matinee only performance on the 28th, at 2:30 p.m. The Center Repertory Theatre is located at 1601 Civic Drive in downtown Walnut Creek. Call (925) 295-1420 for more information or to reserve a seat. Tickets are a very reasonable $15 to $40 per ticket. The audience gave a standing ovation at the closing curtain. This is a great show, a family show. Don’t miss it!