Rarely do people just fall into wildly popular, multi-million-dollar-grossing theatrical productions. But that's sort of what happened to Neil Goldberg, creator, producer and artistic director of Cirque Dreams Illumination, in Tulsa May 11-16.
Goldberg was an entertainment and event producer for corporate America, when, in the late 1980s, Fortune 500 client IBM engaged him in producing a variety show that would combine 1900s European cirque with Broadway theatre and American variety show elements.
It was wildly successful, and Goldberg began taking his show to other big-name corporations, all of which greeted it with the same, positive reception.
It wasn't too long before representatives from Bally's, a Las Vegas hotel and casino, seeing the show at a pharmaceutical company's convention, asked Goldberg to create something the hotel could present to the public.
"I never really had the intention of creating cirque shows for the public," Goldberg said. "It was a project that sort of came my way in the late 1980s, and I saw a demand for it."
In 1993, Goldberg left corporate America and began Cirque Productions, the company through which he created Cirque Dreams, Imaginique, Ingenieux, Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy, Cirque Dreams Illumination, Cirque Dreams Coobrilla, Cirque Dreams Pandemonia and Cirque Dreams Holidaze.
The shows are about fantasy, the whimsical and surreal. Ever present in each production is a team of acrobats, gymnasts, contortionists, dancers and singers, all clad in bright, colorful, detailed costumes. And all come from the imagination of Neil Goldberg.
"Honestly, for me, it's second nature," the creator said. "I am and was a daydreamer. I was that kid in school staring outside the window, staring at clouds, daydreaming. I was always doodling on my book report tests.
"I was blessed with a vivid imagination and a gift for taking that and telling a story on stage. There are no boundaries, unlike with regular theatre where the curtain comes up and you have certain restrictions on stage. This genre was so new (when I created Cirque Productions), anything I wanted to imagine, I could recreate on stage and it would be accepted as art.
"I'm always about pushing the envelope," he said. "Success doesn't always come with a monetary award; it comes with the opportunity to truly delve into your imagination and the possibilities of what seem impossible."
While past productions have centered on fantasy and whimsy, Cirque Dreams Illumination is rooted in reality. It's about looking at what is common, ordinary and everyday in unusual, extraordinary and impossible ways, Goldberg said.
While offering the same "acrobatic audacity" as is present in other Cirque dreams shows, Goldberg wanted Illumination to relate to the artists on stage in ways they probably haven't been able to before.
"It's set in a relatable street scene environment, under a common bridge that might exist in every city in every country across the world," Goldberg said. "The artists play the roles of newscasters, repairmen, kids, moms, teachers ...
They take objects and items you might engage in that particular field and do something extraordinary with them."
He gave the example of a garbage man who dances with trash cans, of a professor who juggles school books, of an electrician who balances on an electric line like a tightrope.
"It's about taking things we see every day and bringing them to life in an imaginative way," Goldberg said.
Cirque Dreams Illumination features 28 performers -- one of whom is a 17-year-old Coweta resident who won her stage opportunity in an April 25 contest called "Run Away with Cirque Dreams" -- and 1,000 costumes. Each artist plays multiple roles and changes clothes eight to 10 times.
By the end of 2010, Goldberg said his company will be running six shows, chosen consecutively and employing about 350 artists.
For now, you can see Cirque Dreams Illumination at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Chapman Music Hall, 110 E. Second St., with eight performances May 11-16. Tickets are $16-$55 and available, along with other information, at www.tulsapac.com. The show is presented locally by Celebrity Attractions.
The spring theatre season is in full swing again, and American Theatre Company sets things off with its production of Reginald Rose's 12 Angry Men, opening Friday, May 7, at 8pm in the John H. Williams Theatre of the Tulsa PAC.
The story centers on 12 jurors, all male, confined to a air-condition-less deliberation room on a hot summer day, attempting to determine the outcome of a murder trial. If the defendant is convicted, he will certainly receive the death penalty. All of the jurors have determined him guilty -- except one.
Juror Eight wants, not to prove the man innocent, but to convince the other jurors to see the case with a clear head and open eyes.
Robert Walters directs Andy Axewell, Donny Bailey, Tom Berenson, Ed Burguiere, Ron Friedberg, Jeff Gaffen, Nate Gavin, Jeremy Geiger, Victor Muse, Nick Perez, Brian Rattingourd, Xavier Sagel and Bill Vint.
The show runs this weekend and next. Tickets are $24-$30 and available at the PAC's website.
Thunder Road Theatre presents Buffalo Gallery, about a Native American art gallery owner, in the Liddy Doenges Theatre of the PAC May 6-8.
The production, written and directed by Julie Little Thunder and first produced in 1993 under the direction of Ken Spence at Heller Theater, features a cameo appearance by Oklahoma native and film star Wes Studi.
The new production also features a revised script.
"This play addresses the human foibles of artists and gallery owners, but it also shows the power of Indian art to touch people's lives," Little Thunder said.
Tickets are $12, $10 for students and seniors, and are available at the PAC's website.
For the Kiddos
The Playhouse Theatre debuts its Playhouse Playground children's series this weekend with Lily's Purple Plastic Purse, May 7-9 and 14-15, in the Charles E. Norman Theatre of the PAC.
Adapted from Kevin Henkes' same-named book by Kevin Kling, the play is about a mouse who brings her new purple plastic purse to school and disrupts the class. It is aimed at teaching children the importance of respect and discipline.
Tickets and other information about the show are available at the PAC's website.
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