Suzy Benzinger has been designing costumes for films, commercials and theatrical productions like the original “Miss Saigon” on Broadway for more than 40 years. She’s never had an experience like the one at “Le Rêve.”
“I’d have to say ‘Le Rêve’ is probably the most challenging of all, but very rewarding,” says Benzinger. “It is the element of water for sure, but it’s also the idea that you have to put clothing on these performers that are able to move in ways most people’s bodies don’t move. What they do is superhuman. They are world-class athletes.”
Creating vibrant new costumes for the superhuman cast of more than 90 performers in the long-running, award-winning aquatic spectacular at the Wynn Theater is just one dimension of the recently completed reimagining of “Le Rêve.” It’s also equipped with all-new music, choreography and lighting concepts, making this show renovation the biggest since it debuted in its custom-built theater-in-the-round with the opening of Wynn Las Vegas in 2005.
Director Philip William McKinley, who previously helmed the resort’s Broadway-style production “Showstoppers,” began working with “Le Rêve” two years ago, when the process of redevelopment began. Tackling this major update to one of Las Vegas’ most popular and complicated production shows was a daunting task.
“I worked with [legendary stage producer and director] George Abbott when he was 100 years old and I asked him one time, ‘How can you continue to do this?’ He said two things. One was that he never did the same show the same way, he always thought of a different way,” McKinley says. “And the second really stuck with me. He said, ‘I always do things that scare the hell out of me.’ So yes, when I was asked to do this, it is pretty daunting, but it piques my curiosity and artists work best when they’re curious about something.”
The show’s classic narrative is intact, following the fantastic, sometimes harrowing journey of “The Dreamer” into a surreal world where she must choose between true love and dark desire. Dancing, diving, romance, comedy, synchronized swimming and aerial acrobatics are all part of “Le Rêve,” voted Best Show in Las Vegas for seven straight years by the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association.
The primary objectives in making changes to the show, explains McKinley, were to better connect the pieces of the story and to brighten things up visually, making each performance pop.
“It was quite dark and I don’t mean the subject matter. It was dark, lighting-wise, so we brightened those things up, the costumes especially,” he says. “There’s more color, more use of Swarovski crystals and the sets have been repainted and made brighter. I think I approached it more as a fairy tale with a hero and a villain, so it became this adventure in how we would get to that. But we didn’t want to lose the abstract quality of the show.”
Benzinger’s new costumes had to continue to function in an out of the water, hide harnesses and look incredible, but “clothing has to tell the story, too,” she says. “We definitely tried to bring more color and excitement. Some costumes became layers, revealing another costume underneath, but that turns into the complication of where does that other one go? It’s a lot of fun. Being forced to make a change creates a lot of fun ideas, but the change never really stops. It’s a living thing.”
“Le Rêve” has its own costume shop at Wynn so repairs and alterations are always happening. “Everyone has an individual fitting and all performers are different in how they like their costumes to fit, but it still has to look like a group for the show,” Benzinger says. “I want them to feel like a million dollars when they put it on. If every performer isn’t comfortable, I haven’t done my job.”
The show’s new score composed by music director Benoit Jutras with lyrics by Maribeth Derry might be one of the most striking changes for those who have seen “Le Rêve” a few times. The songs seem to push to the story forward in a more energetic way while better connecting the audience to the characters. Of course, accomplishing that musical adjustment wasn’t easy.
“It was an interesting process for Benoit because he had a full score that was the show, so to reimagine or redevelop that music and how it all fits together was a difficult task,” says McKinley. “But it was a fascinating process and one I enjoyed a lot. The show is like a giant clock and if one gear has to be changed, it affects the entire process.”
The music affects the choreography and timing, and the costumes affect each performer’s movements. The lighting changes the way we see the show but also the way the performers see their own stage, which has moving parts, fountains and fire and a 1.1 million-gallon pool.
“One of the most difficult scenes is the finale when there’s all those dives off the apparatus,” says McKinley. “I wanted to have a continuous flow of diving and that’s not an easy moment. I’m very fortunate in that we have great coaches who are there to make the impossible possible. I can say I would like to have this happen, and they jump over all the hurdles to make it happen. And they love doing it. If we’re not taking risks, the show would not be the same thing.”
“Le Rêve” is performed at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Friday through Tuesday at the Wynn Theater (3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-770-9966) and more information can be found at wynnlasvegas.com.