Those surprised by the recent news that headlining illusionist Criss Angel has teamed up with legendary director Franco Dragone, the man behind some of the greatest shows the city has ever seen, including Mystery, O, by Celine Dion A new day and The dream– must not know that these two luminaries go back a long way. Steve Wynn once enlisted them to create a new Las Vegas production in the early days of Wynn Las Vegas, but it wasn’t meant to be.
The new collaboration will also reunite Dragone with Las Vegas, one of the most mutually beneficial and impactful unions in the city’s entertainment history. the Weekly spoke with the Belgian director about the creative ambition of his latest project, Angel’s Amystika, slated to open in March at Planet Hollywood, the return of COVID to the Strip and more.
Has the pandemic inspired your recent work in Las Vegas or was this comeback something you’ve been considering for longer? A bit of both. Last year we did this project to help raise funds for the artist community, as the situation was extremely difficult for most of our colleagues. For several weeks we did these sessions called Creators United, interviewing people who have done a lot… to make Las Vegas something unique in this world. I asked Criss [Angel] if he wanted to participate, and he said yes. We have been following each other for a long time, and we found each other thanks to this initiative. We wanted to do something more, together as partners, and we decided to try this experiment.
Criss talked about wanting to create something new and taking risks in very risky times. I think for both of us it’s a risky time, during this pandemic that we’re going through, which isn’t over, so maybe we’re a little crazy. But we completely threw ourselves into this project, and it deepened our friendship. Creating something new today is vastly different than it was 15 years ago. Audiences can go to YouTube and see a lot of things, so when they come to you, you have to offer something that makes a difference. We have the ambition to surprise people and give them the best of what we can do, and also the tools and the money that we spend a lot, but I don’t pretend to say that I’m going to reinvent the entertainment. We do our best to have high quality. So yes, we try to do something new, but we do it with a lot of humility and ambition and we put all our talent, experience and energy into the project.
How was it for you to be in Las Vegas again and see the iconic Cirque du Soleil shows you helped create return to the stage after so many months without performing? I think Cirque du Soleil is one of the greatest production companies on Earth. For me, it was fantastic to see that after this long shutdown, they brought back thousands of artists and technicians. I am very proud that the first two salons to reopen have been Mystery and O, and while things are still fragile and we don’t know what will happen with the new [COVID] variant, as we have seen proven through these broadcasts, that the public always wants to be together. We have Zoom and Skype and YouTube and all the things that help us work wherever we are, but people love being together. It is the nature of humanity.
Unfortunately, the other side of the coin is The dream, which was closed last year. How did you react to this news? I did not understand [that decision] because The dream has been [awarded] and nominated several years in a row as the best of the Strip. According to my information, the numbers were not bad; He made money. I think this is the first time I’ve seen one of my theaters demolished. But my first reaction was to think about the artists and the people who worked there and their trades. You see a new team coming [at Wynn] and maybe part of that is wanting to forget the past and bring in a new way of seeing the world.
Your company had developed an experiment called To augment which could become a Las Vegas production. Where is this project? To augment was also a project resulting from the pandemic, initiated by artists and performers [who] didn’t have a producer, so they asked us. I think it will continue, because it was fantastic, in these difficult times of the pandemic, as a gesture of resistance. But I think it will really become something new, because the idea is to create something out in the open. For us, it’s not always about big productions but about how shows are done with other artists. It’s still on the table.
Do you plan to spend much of the New Year in Las Vegas? I have to go back and forth, but Las Vegas has been and will be, for us, the focal point of our business. Las Vegas has changed, because there are key people who are no longer there; the players have changed, but I think it’s for the best. It may be cliché, yes, but this place has created a community of creators, an underground, and it is in the underground that we find the future, because they are not restrained in the big companies, so they are more daring. Its good. Thanks to these large productions and [casinos], we now have thousands of artists from all over the world, and you can find a lot of expertise. Vegas has truly become the mecca of entertainment.