I’ve spent much of the last 16 years attempting to describe Las Vegas with words, explaining and detailing its vast experiences, moods and moments. On the Strip and off, I’ve consumed flavors and sounds, performances and presentations, conversations and interpretations. Some have been so spectacular and rare, they’ve been difficult to capture with mere reporting—challenging, but not impossible.
Until now. “O” is impossible. After almost 19 years’ worth of performances at a singularly astounding theater at Bellagio, Cirque du Soleil’s aquatic phenomenon finally added me to its collection of more than 15 million wide-eyed and amazed spectators. I didn’t take notes on my phone as I do at other Vegas shows. I couldn’t look away. I didn’t conceive the way I wanted to write about “O” as the curious character Philemon (played by Jorge Castano), who serves as the audience’s guide on this surreal adventure, was tossed back into the calm waters of the 1.5-million gallon stage-lake by two red-coated noblemen as they closed the curtain and the show. I couldn’t imagine the words. Instead, I was dreaming of the many more times I need to see it.
I’ve witnessed all but two of Cirque’s resident Vegas shows—“Zumanity” and “Criss Angel: Mindfreak Live” are still on the list, though I’ve also seen the two defunct shows “Viva Elvis” and “Zarkana”—and come away impressed with something every time. But you can’t single out memorable highlights or applause-inducing moments within “O,” because that would be every act. The beautiful, passionate performance of Le Travesti (Robert Knowles) is just as striking as the cadre of “zebras” dangling and splashing down from a swaying jungle gym-like suspension. The can-you-believe-that-just-happened factor is just as strong with Ray Wold’s L’Allume (the “man on fire”) as it is with the heart-stopping Bateau, a steel-framed airship in constant motion decorated with 11 acrobats flying all around it.
Other Cirque productions are known for their dramatic visual storytelling (“KÀ” at MGM Grand) or emotional connectivity (“The Beatles LOVE” at Mirage). But nothing I’ve seen balances a truly inspiring spectacle with Cirque’s signature sense of whimsy the way “O” does. It’s the most cinematic show on the Strip, very quickly pulling you into its own fantastic world where things can be astonishing, silly, sexy and creepy at the same time. And it’s all awash in freedom, thanks to the one-of-a-kind stage that allows its performers to do the impossible whether they’re moving through water or air, unrestricted and unlimited.
“O” performs at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday at Bellagio and tickets range from $98.50 to $228; a VIP experience is also available in opera house-style suites. For information, call 702-796-9999 or visit cirquedusoleil.com.