Review: Zarkana

Cirque du Soleil is at it again, this time taking over the legendary Radio City Music Hall for Zarkana, an acrobatic rock opera. The story follows Zark, a magician who has lost his powers – and the love of his life – in an abandoned theatre populated by a motley collection of off-the-wall characters and stunningly talented acrobats. And why not…

One thing the Soleil folks do very well is design, and Zarkana is no exception. Stéphane Roy’s set and Raymond St-Jean’s projected imagery often harken to the kind of extravaganzas they used to do all the time at Radio City (and other places like the long-gone Hippodrome) in the early years of the 20th Century, while also pulsing with a distinctly 21st Century edge.

As usual, the circus acts are world-class; that’s a good thing, because without them Zarkana would be truly lousy. Just imagining the rock opera side of Zarkana (Nick Littlemore, music, and François Girard, lyrics) staged for its own sake makes me shudder. In the words of Betty White as a much younger funny old lady: “Stinky!” I’m not saying that Littlemore’s music is as bad as all that – as incidental music for circus acts it’s solid but unremarkable – but as a stand-alone music drama it is beyond awful.

Soleil shows used to have librettos that were in some kind of “exotic” fake language. That was actually preferable – the few times I could make out Girard’s ultra-jejune English lyrics, I sincerely wished I hadn’t heard them. Thankfully, they still don’t matter enough to get in the way of the excitement of the circus acts or the eye-popping spectacle. The clowns do successful work in a very traditional clowning vein – they repeatedly made the kiddies squeal with delight, which in a way is the highest praise a clown can get.

Zarkana is everything you’d expect from Cirque du Soleil, for better or worse. If you’ve enjoyed their shows before (as I have), you’ll enjoy this. In spite of all of the pretension, all you have here is great circus acts in gorgeous settings, nothing more and nothing less.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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