The folks behind the entertainment behemoth Cirque du Soleil have made an unimaginably large amount of money over many years by delivering sophisticated circus shows to audiences around the world. Always a little arty. And just eclectic enough to make its productions seem more than a mere circus in New Age clothing, Cirque long ago successfully separated itself from the rest of the pack, including Ringling Bros., and made a mint in the process.
But now Cirque appears to be unabashedly lowering its sights to embrace everyone -- and anyone -- who maybe thought Cirque was too high-falutin' for them. In Chicago Wednesday to announce the name of -- and launch the marketing blitz for -- Cirque's new vaudeville stage show that will have its world premiere at the Chicago Theatre starting Nov. 19, Cirque Creation Director Serge Roy insisted that "Banana Shpeel," as it's been dubbed, will be nothing more nor less than PURE entertainment. And lest he leave any doubt in anyone's mind, Roy repeated that message several times with increasing emphasis. Clowns, it appears, will be at the heart of the new 90-minute "Banana Shpeel," though there will be plenty of dance too. But no story line. The bits and pieces of the show can apparently run in any order, which should give one a sense of how it's being put together.
In many ways this new Cirque entertainment is indicative of where we're at when it comes to mounting and marketing live theater -- or entertainment -- circa late 2009. Look for plenty of new theater productions to come down hard on the entertainment factor in the months ahead. And then the producers will have to hope that whatever they're selling is indeed entertaining enough to get consumers to part with their money.