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Cirque du Soleil to get ‘traditional’ for Broadway

Some 60 workers raise a section of the Cirque du Soleil "Big Top" at Marymoor Park in Redmond, Wash. in 2013.

Greg Gilbert/(File) AP/The Seattle Times

Cirque du Soleil announced this week that it would be launching a new theatrical division, aiming to develop and bring new musicals to Broadway and beyond.

While the Montreal-based circus company has had great success with Las Vegas spectaculars and touring big-top and arena shows, its previous attempts to crack the New York market – whether with Banana Shpeel in 2010 or Zarkana in 2011 – have been financial failures that played a part in last year's layoffs of 400 employees.

The Globe and Mail reached Scott Zeiger, Cirque du Soleil Theatrical's new president and managing director hired away from BASE Entertainment, at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas to talk about why this time (may) be different.

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What's the purpose of Cirque du Soleil Theatrical?

Clearly, Cirque du Soleil has conquered almost everything they've done on the highest possible level. The one area that they have yet to conquer, to bring magic and artistry to, is the traditional Broadway stage. And I use Broadway as a descriptor: Broadway is the Mirvish subscription in Toronto, Broadway is the West End, Broadway is New York City and Broadway is global touring.

You're known at BASE for bringing Broadway to Vegas with Phantom – The Las Vegas Spectacular, Rock of Ages and Million Dollar Quartet. Do you think the pipeline can flow in the other direction? Cirque has tried to bring its aesthetic to New York before.

What Cirque has attempted to do, particularly with Zarkana, was to do a resident-show-style spectacle [as in Las Vegas]. Our ambitions are going to be quite different. In New York City, the Broadway mindset and the Broadway ticket-buyer is hoping and expecting to see truly linear stories. We intend to bring in first-class, world-class book writers, composers and lyricists.

Cirque tried a project somewhat similar to that with Banana Shpeel which, when it started, had music and lyrics and musical-theatre artists. What has the company learned from it?

I'm still at BASE and I haven't gone into the ledgers and rolled up my sleeves to figure it out. Banana Shpeel, while it did go on to a traditional legit stage, was produced primarily as a vaudevillian circus. I'm hopeful that what we're going to bring much more closely resembles traditional Broadway shows … and brings to the table circus artistry and Cirque's, not just acts, but aesthetic and design.

There's another Quebec circus company, Les 7 doigts de la main, that just had a great success on Broadway working on Pippin. Will you be considering collaborations of that sort?

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What Pippin did was very beautiful – I think that's a good template, an interesting template to look at. We – meaning [Cirque founder] Guy [Laliberté] and [president] Daniel [Lamarre] and myself – we didn't say, 'Oh, Pippin did it, so we're going to do it.' But looking at their success both artistically and at the box office is a great motivator for us to get rolling, for sure.

You're currently working on Arrabal, a dance spectacular directed by Sergio Trujillo, that will have its world premiere in Toronto next month. Will Cirque du Soleil Theatrical also be looking at Toronto – or Montreal – for tryouts or full productions?

Most definitely. When you look at the trajectory of nearly every Broadway hit, most tried out out of town. There's no reason why in the development of the works that we're doing, that major Canadian markets wouldn't be considered as developmental stops on the way to Broadway and the West End and around the world.

Cirque du Soleil has a great infrastructure in Montreal. Will the shows be developed there?

Yeah. Artistically, I would imagine that all of the circus arts that are integrated into any Broadway musical that we created will be developed in Montreal and integrated in Montreal.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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Theatre critic

J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe's theatre critic. More

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