IRIS is the newest production from Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun), and is self-described as a lyrical, fanciful, kinetic foray into the seventh art. The show brings together dance, acrobatics, live video, filmed sequences and animation that take spectators on a fantastic voyage through the history of cinema and its genres. From illustration to animation, black and white to color, silent films to talkies and fixed shots to swooping camera movements, spectators witness the poetic construction of this magical art form.
My first Cirque Du Soleil experience was under the big top in Santa Monica in the early 90’s. Nouvelle Experience was an eye-popping, awe-inspiring event that would change me forever. The bright, colorful, surrealistic costumes, the amazing aerialists, acrobats and clowns was something the likes I had never seen. My parents were visiting from the Midwest and that’s all we talked about for the rest of their trip. From that moment on, when the Cirque was in town, I was there, like a kid in a candy shop waiting for the newest treat.
It was with this great sense of excitement and anticipation, that I went to the newest Cirque Du Soleil show IRIS, at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. I had butterflies in my stomach. I was about to embark on another great new adventure that would transport me to another time and another world. IRIS is the 28th Cirque Du Soleil production, and at first blush, was yet another masterful creation of theatrical storytelling. Unfortunately, that exhilaration, that sense of wonder and amazement was to be short-lived.
The story of IRIS centers on Buster, a melancholy composer in search of true love. Somewhere between reality and make-believe, he spots the girl of his dreams, Scarlett, a naïve actress who longs to become a movie star. But will Buster and Scarlett find each other in the real world? This was the storyline presented in the press kit. This wasn’t the story that was presented on stage. I had no idea what the story was. There were cameras, actors, and a director and producer, but beyond that, nothing made any sense. It had all the makings a classic Cirque Du Soleil Show, bizarre characters, creative costumes, brilliant lighting and sets, but no story.
The show was written by first time Cirque scribe Philippe Decoufle and lacks the panache and especially the drama and humor that have become synonymous with the Cirque Du Soleil productions. I'm guessing Mr. Decufle never saw a Cirque Du Soleil show before or he would have better understood the concept of what he was supposed to have achieved. I find this hard to believe since Cirque Du Soleil has opened close to 30 different productions in all parts of the world. Why choose a first-timer to write the show, especially when it’s playing in Hollywood, the entertainment capital of the world? Television and film were created and honed here in the "City of Angeles", why the creators would give that monumental task to someone who has never written a show before is beyond me.
The first half of IRIS is entertaining and pretty much up to par with most of the Cirque shows, except for the comedy element, which was seriously lacking. Part of the charm of the Cirque shows is their insightful humor that counterbalances the dramatic and awe-inspiring performances. The camera-bots and other fantastical film-related prop creations that follow the characters around the stage were marvelous and the production design of the show itself was nothing short of genius. It’s the story itself that fell flat.
One of the main actors is a Pee-Wee Herman-esque character who appears from the wings with a streamer of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of his shoe as he hops across the stage. It was actually kind of funny, and yet he came back out and did the same gag a second time just to make sure we “got the joke”. At one point he turns to the audience and says, “This is a Kodak moment!” (Get it? We’re in the Kodak Theater, wink, wink). There is also a hefty Redhead who is the female comedy relief in the show. Unfortunately, she didn’t offer much relief. The use of comedy improvisation has always worked well with Cirque shows but in the case of IRIS, scripted comedy would serve them far better.
The highlight of the show by far is the masterful and engaging score by award-winning film composer Danny Elfman. Elfman’s amazing range of talent and versatility from television to film and now theater is unparalleled. Elfman’s score is engaging, heartwarming, dramatic and yet whimsical which is pitch perfect for this particular Cirque Du Soleil incarnation. Elfman’s television credits include “Desperate Housewives”, “The Simpsons”, “Tales From the Crypt”, “The Flash” and “Perversions of Science”.
Elfman is one of the most prolific film composers today whose credits include “The Wolfman”, “Mission Impossible”, “Terminator: Salvation”, “Spiderman”, “Men In Black” and has collaborated with Tim Burton on most of his films including “Alice in Wonderland”, “Mars Attacks”, “Nightmare Before Christmas”, “Edward Scissorhands”, and the cult hit, “Beetlejuice”. Upcoming films include “The Hunger Games”, “Dark Shadows”, “Men In Black III” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful”. Elfman's score truly drives the show and helps to keep it on track.
There is a twenty-minute intermission between acts where you can get a cocktail, get a quick bite to eat or purchase a myriad of Cirque Du Soleil IRIS merchandise including hats, masks and clothing. The one thing I desperately wanted (the Danny Elfman soundtrack CD) was not available yet and won’t be for a few more months. They do however, offer a two-CD compilation of the “Best of the Cirque Du Soleil Music” from the last twenty-five years which is a steal at around twenty dollars.
The second half of the show begins with Movie Set, a huge song and dance number with everyone in the cast running around, flipping, twirling, bouncing and everything else all at once. It is so disjointed you don’t know where you’re supposed to look. It’s as though a team of choreographers each directed the performers to all do something completely different. It was a mess. What was actually amazing about the number is that no one ran into each other. Later on in the show, there is a beautiful blonde doing a trapeze act which pretty much was her just swinging back and forth with a bare minimum of acrobatics. I was dumbfounded.
It almost looked as though IRIS was utilizing a group of second-rate performers because everyone else was already contracted to the other shows. There was a group of tumbling acrobats in brightly colored bug costumes that was pretty impressive. Although a few of the performers were slightly off and missed their marks (which I had never seen before seen in a Cirque show). There was also a sophomoric improvised awards show where someone from the audience was selected and brought up on stage. A spurned actress (which was actually a guy in drag) threatens him with a gun. Really? Incorporating audience members into the show has worked well with other cirque shows including Zumanity (see my plug at the end of the article), but this time it didn't work.
Notable acts in the second half include Filmstrip, an ingeniously choreographed number where performers advance from one frame of film to the next, to create the illusion of continuous movement. The Rooftops, a tribute to gangster movies with the work of stunt actors and trampolinists who make astounding leaps and flips in a non-stop action movie sequence. And finally a hand balancing act by Scarlett whose performance along with Danny Elfman’s soulful score was truly romantic. This was the only time in the entire show where the audience actually understood that Buster and Scarlett were romantically connected, and that wasn’t until the end of the show.
Don't get me wrong, IRIS is visually stunning, from the lighting to the production design. Where the show falls short, is in the writing. Mr. Decufle should bring in a real comedy writer and kick it up a notch. More script and less improvisation. Add another scene with Buster and Scarlett and develop their relationship or least some voice-over from Buster so we know he's in love with her. How about giving the director a megaphone (ala Cecil B. DeMille) and let him set up the acts. I was disappointed because IRIS did not deliver what defines what a Cirque show usually is. If you’ve never seen a Cirque Du Soleil Show, you will be amazed. If you have, not so much.
I was recently in Las Vagas and saw the adult-themed Zumanity show at the New York New York Casino. The show is excellent. There are also plenty of other Cirque Du Soleil productions to choose from, including three based upon pop and Rock N' Roll musical legends Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
For more information on any of their amazing shows, go to the website at www.cirquedusoleil.com