Cirque Dreams Holidaze has brought their latest holiday reimagination live family holiday spectacular to Philadelphia December 26 – 29 at the Merriam Theater. The critically-acclaimed extravaganza combines Broadway production values and Cirque adventures to craft a show that is absolutely perfect for fans of all ages. Broadway Director and Cirque Dreams founder, Neil Goldberg has curated an astoundingly talented cast of not just Cirque artists, but singers, dancers and circus artists that all conspire to make a stunning spectacle. The show features three hundred stunning costumes, thirty artists & twenty edge-of-your seats acts from all over the world. Expect seasonal music turned upside down and four holidays celebrated throughout the show-Christmas, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and New Year’s. I sat down to chat with Goldberg himself and while we dived into his storied career and the amazing moments that he has been able to experience, we also chatted about what makes Cirque Dreams Holidaze so special and what we can expect next from the ever changing franchise.
Michael Cook: Tell me about the new Cirque Dreams-Holidaze…
Neil Goldberg: Well first, we have never had it in Philadelphia, so we are really excited about that. Cirque Holidaze has been out on the road and this is their twelfth season. The popularity has grown so much that this year, we have six different companies of the similar show. We are also in Philly during the best possible week of the season; we have managed to stretch out the holiday season right through the end of December (laughs)! The show also truly has something for everyone. It’s not a book musical, its not a story. There are twenty scenes in the show and every one of the scenes is built around the theme of holiday season. What we do is we incorporate these amazing artists from the world of contemporary circus and Cirque and we make them the centerpiece of the scenes. We then build the theme around; for example, if we are going to the North Pole, we are going to have a dozen costume characters and penguins, snowballs flying everywhere and then at the center there will be one penguin who snaps all of these slippery sliding cylinders one on top of the other who literally defies the laws of gravity as the audiences are covering their eyes in anticipation of what may happen.
MC: Cirque productions are well known for the reality defying productions, and it sounds like Cirque Dreams-Holidaze is no exception.
NG: Absolutely. We do that in every scene, we take aerialists and transform them into angels and have them fly out and lunge off of the stage, toy soldiers that walk on wires across the stage with a marching band behind them. We really try to capture the majesty, excitement and celebration of the holiday season. Not just with Christmas, there are themes that are reminiscent of Thanksgiving, New Years and Hanukkah. There is no shortage of festivity, creativity, and imagination when you are thinking of the holidays season. It is wrapping gifts, ribbons, fun, partying, and of course, great and recognizable music. We are also able to blend the score as a combination of traditional favorites that we have reorchestrated like “The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” and “Deck The Halls” with all of the familiar aspects of the songs, like the trumpets.
It’s thirty artists from twelve different artists who are the best at what they do. Three Hundred costumes and the costumes are a show in themselves. To get this all out in front of everyone, it’s almost as much of a show going on backstage as onstage to get this all out in front of everyone. It’s truly the show that has something in it for everyone. It is fun, sexy, G-rated, and it checks all of the boxes.
MC: Cirque Dreams was founded in 1993 and it has done such different and unique things on stage that people have truly not gotten to see before. What is it like to be behind something that is now known as much more than a stage performance?
NG: You know, I don’t really stop to think about it too much. We live in a world that has so much accessibility through social media and the internet. I am very aware of the accessibility out there and what people are watching ,whether its a reality show competition or a YouTube video. My mind is always trying to stay ahead of the curve and bring something fresh to people to be entertained by. Even if it is something that they have seen in a different format, we are always trying to redesign and repackage it in a way that it’s new and unique to the audiences. When I started it was myself and two other people. Now twenty seven years later, there are over two hundred and fifty of us. The culmination of this chapter of my career is that I sold Cirque Dreams to Cirque Du Soleil. Now, Cirque Dreams is a division of Cirque Du Soleil. That fact that I now have the Cirque assets at my disposal is just the culmination of having all of the creativity that you could ever want at your disposal right within arms reach. Being able to merge Cirque Dreams in with Cirque DuSoleil is truly the kind of thing that people dream of.
MC: In terms of accessibility, while people can see almost any medium of entertainment on television, how do you attract people to actually leave their house and show up for the shows?
NG: I think it is all about the creativity. It’s about using not just my own imagination, but about the imaginations of all of the resources, assets and performers and blending them together. We Iive in a society today where we are fascinated by what the human body and the mind of other people can conjure up. That is why YouTube videos go viral; there is nothing creative that goes into making one, but when you make something that is unique and different, it goes viral and everyone wants to see it. It’s the same thing as live stage entertainment. Granted, theater has been around forever and not everyone can afford to buy a Broadway ticket or fly to Vegas and see a spectacle like that, but the Cirque Dreams formula has always been to package these shows and bring them to performing arts centers and theaters where you have a more traditional stage theatrical experience. Then to be able to sit there in the comfort of that environment, watch the curtain go up and be transported into the collective imagination of all of these amazing performers and designers is a really unique experience. Especially through the lens of Cirque Dreams’ vision of keeping it affordable and in the theater that comes right to your hometown.
MC: After seeing Cirque shows in Vegas as well as in the venues you mention, I can personally attest to the fact that the intimacy of the shows makes the live experience that much more spectacular..
NG: I think you brought up a key word and that is accessibility. The cool thing about Cirque Dreams Holidaze is the fact that it is accessible. We are not trying to transport people and make them think about something that they don’t understand. Everyone understands the holiday season, gift giving, shopping, the fun, the tinsel and the lights. When you package all that together and take the artistry and present it in a way that it brings recognizable music to life, it is just a winning formula.
MC: As a producer, what do you think it takes to produce a successful, unique and amazing event?
NG: A lot more than it did years ago. I think it starts with funding and it is challenging with economy and the cost of things to put out a real quality production that does not cost millions of dollars. From a creative standpoint, I think it is a lot of layers. Unless you are trying to tell a specific story that is relatable to the masses, I think it is about checking a lot of different boxes. There needs to be the visual component that keeps the eyes and the mind intrigued with what is happening. There needs to be traditional theatrical Broadway style production numbers, and personally for me, I have a passion for costume and costume design and think that a costume can tell a story within itself. We spend a lot of time, focus and energy on designing costumes so that each time they step on stage they are a story unto themselves. Music is a very strong denominator of any theatrical experience, having it be compelling and the fact that the holidays offer so much great musical catalogs to pull from for reference and integration into the show is important also. I think its a combination of all of those things really, but ultimately at the end of the day, productions that have the word “Cirque” in it are expecting that acrobatic capacity. They are expecting to be wowed by seeing or hearing something that they have never heard and their mind immediately goes to “who thought of that”?!
MC: Event production and captivating audiences has certainly changed in today’s age, that is for sure.
NG: Completely. When I grew up, nothing was international and everything was about our community. Today, the world is everyone’s oyster and everything is so accessible. To be able to expand your boundaries and horizons and to share that with your audience, that we are the United Nations of talent, imagination and entertainment in one place, is very unique and special.
MC: As a producer for all of these years, you have worked with so many people and had so many experiences. Is there anything that you look back on and see as truly a mind blowing experience thet you got to be a part of?
NG: Actually I will tell you that the Super Bowl in Tampa, I was behind the scenes getting everything ready for half-time and pre show, and through the amplification, I heard Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem. It stopped me dead in my tracks. Every time I hear that version of her singing, I sort of pinch myself and remind myself that I was physically there. I am always the wizard behind the curtain, and have seen more back hallways, curtains, and undergrounds and ladders and crawlapsces and tents than anyone could imagine, as that is alll behind the scenes. That Super Bowl was one that I was in the back hallway getting everything prepped, and just hearing her voice was really compelling.
MC: what do you see forward for cirque dreams and what would you like to accomplish that you have not gotten to?
NG: Finding unique entertainment platforms and opportunity has really been compelling for me. We have a partnership with the Gaylord Hotels, the hotel business is not in the entertainment industry, but there are a lot of hotels that are offering holiday and family experiences. Six years ago, I started this partnership and now we have Cirque Dreams shows at five out of the six of their properties. I always continue through my travels to find unique experiences and venues where entertainment could be a strong hit. Where people are coming together and doing interesting things where something may not be an entertainment venue necessarily, like a theme park, that is a goal of mine; why does a movie theater always have to be about a movie with a flat screen? Why can’t it be about having dimensions and entertainment integrated in it? Those are the kinds of things that I look forward to developing in the future.
For Tickets for Cirque Dreams-Holidaze click here