$150 million Wynn fiasco is a hodgepodge of videogame and fantasy movie cliches played out on a giant disco turntable.
If you thought that permanently closing award-winning LE REVE was a stupid move, wait until you see the disaster that replaced it.
AWAKENING is the mega-expensive production that opened at Wynn Las Vegas in November. And after enduring 75 insufferable minutes, I can honestly say that the show seemed like a physical assault. I left the auditorium feeling nauseous, with a pounding headache, ringing ears, and welder’s flash (also known as “arc eyes“) that lasted for several hours.
Not since Cirque du Soleil’s R.U.N at Luxor has a major show been so ill-conceived. Just about everything that could be wrong in conceptualization appears here. From a hackneyed “fable” to mountains of cliches, from racial/gender stereotypes to cringe-worthy dialogue, this $150 million mistake is the show equivalent of a potluck stew from the prison mess hall.
LE REVE The Dream Theater
Upon entering, you’re told in no uncertain terms that photography and video recording will get you removed. The goal is apparently to surprise and overwhelm the audience with its production design, which is undeniably huge. The problem is that once the set is unveiled, there’s nothing else worthy of keeping you in your seat.
LE REVE was an aquatic spectacular whose centerpiece was a 27-foot-deep pool. With the water removed, the remaining pit has been converted into a massive lazy susan turntable. The flat stage-level surface has an outer ring and a disc at its center. Between them is a collection of crescent-shaped “pie sections”.
Each of the three areas can spin independently, rotate together, and raise or lower, depending on the needs of the scene. The entire floor is covered by LED screens to play video content like a television. It’s basically a disco dance floor that can double as a spice rack. Where’s John Travolta?
Once you’ve seen what the new hydraulic stage can do, you’re stuck with a dumb-as-f*ck storyline that riffs on Disney and sword-and-sorcery films, video games, and most blatantly, THE FIFTH ELEMENT. That 1997 sci-fi epic introduced “Leeloo”, a fire-haired goddess who joins Bruce Willis on a quest to reunite the four elements of nature (fire, air, earth, and water).
Here, Leeloo has been renamed “IO”. The Willis character is reworked to more closely resemble a young Indiana Jones, right down to the chest-baring shirt, wisecracks, and thirst for adventure. Indy’s resourceful little sidekick Short Round is here as well, but has been given the name “Boo”.
“IO”, “Bandit”, and “Boo” are knockoffs of memorable movie characters…
IO, Bandit, and Boo break into the palace of Maleficent, who is referred to here as “Darkness”. Upon stealing her prized magic jewel, they are recruited to recover missing elements in order to restore magic to the universe.
Along the way, the trio spouts clunky lines like “It shall be yours forever”, “Thief!” and “What was yours once is yours still” as if they’re reading from a children’s book. The setting is “the time before time in the place that never was”, also grade-school level blather.
A paycheck-collecting Anthony Hopkins narrates from beginning to end, explaining the characters’ backgrounds and motivations. That’s a big no-no in live storytelling. If you have to spoon-feed what’s happening, it’s being done incorrectly.
Hopkin’s thundering voice also speaks to cast members, giving them instructions on what to do next. So is he an observer or a participant in the plot? Not even scriptwriter Kelly Sue DeConnick, whose actual day job is writing comic books, seems to know.
The bandits have to visit several realms in order to recover the missing elements, but how they travel from one place to the next is unclear. Their first stop is the “Water Realm”, where they encounter a helium-balloon whale…and another FIFTH ELEMENT character.
Chris Tucker played “Ruby Rhod”, a flamboyantly feminine video podcast host who spouted meme-worthy lines (“Unbelievable!”) and reveled in chaos. Here he’s referred to as “Light of Water”, but “Light in the Loafers” would work just as well.
Twenty-five years later, Ruby’s still squawking into a microphone and unleashing the same schtick. Where are the lawsuits against this blatant theft of intellectual property? The four elements are missing in AWAKENING, and so is any hint of originality.
The reason for calling this show AWAKENING remains a mystery. Who is waking up? What is being risen? I suppose the title might be referring to a Phoenix puppet that appears toward the end, but even that has little impact on the plot. Perhaps it’s just another attempt to borrow from movies, like this forgotten Indiana Jones-style thriller.
For the next hour or so, IO and her friends follow their insipid assignment across the disco turntable, jumping, twirling, dance-fighting, and running in circles over and over. There’s nowhere else to go. The stage lowers out of sight, set pieces are rolled onto it from under a blanket of fog (you can hear the squeaks and noises as props are swapped out), and it rises up to represent another realm. And the goddamned thing never stops spinning. If you’re prone to motion sickness, bring along some Dramamine.
As mentioned above, the flashing multi-colored strobes, smoke effects, pounding music, and constant rotation of the stage are physically taxing. Each seat is equipped with a pair of speakers that jut out from behind and point directly at your ears. In-seat sound systems are nothing new, but they’re usually embedded into the headrest. Not only is the AWAKENING configuration invasive, but it’s deafening and inhibits movement.
Another big problem with this mess is a crisis of identity. Is this a musical? A play? A magic show with acrobatics? There’s no consistency from scene to scene…something that should have been worked out long before AWAKENING went into preview performances.
And who, exactly, is the intended audience? The juvenile plot should make it kid-friendly. There’s an early underwater sequence with the whimsy of THE LITTLE MERMAID and a happy-bouncy score to match. Then the tone shifts from dance sequences to battles, with magic acts interrupting the quest from time to time. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a Victorian orgy bumps and grinds for what seemed like eight minutes.
I truly feel bad for the dozens of performers in the cast. They try their darndest to make it work, but the material doesn’t warrant an audience reaction. It’s very awkward to hear blatantly piped-in applause through speakers when the few dozen people in attendance are blankly staring forward, hands in their laps.
Millions of dollars are being spent on a global marketing campaign, yet AWAKENING plays to mostly-empty seats. I’ve tracked ticket sales since the production was launched in early November, and only Friday and Saturday evenings experience what would be considered acceptable attendance.
The promotional campaign is on a scale I’ve never seen before. Advertisements blanket the city on billboards, video walls, taxi cabs, bus stop posters, and even across the massive Allegiant Stadium LED screen. The airport has been virtually blanketed with wraps and banners.
The show is featured in national print magazines, television programs, and throughout social media platforms. Still, nobody seems to care, as there’s no appeal to what’s being sold. An unauthorized live version of a twenty-five-year-old cult movie with prices up to $600? Thanks, but no thanks.
The performance I purchased a seat for was Tuesday, January 10th at 9:30 pm. I snapped the above photos exactly eight minutes before showtime. Very few people trickled in after that. There’s no way a production of this magnitude can survive much longer on such pathetic sales.
In early December, I tweeted screenshots of shockingly poor ticket sales. My accompanying article spelled out the facts in extensive detail. Associate Producer Sydney Yuman quickly jumped to the show’s defense, denying a problem. When I challenged her to explain with so much evidence to the contrary, she promptly blocked my Twitter and Instagram accounts.
Can AWAKENING be saved? Yes, I believe it can, but not without a major retooling. In its current state, the show has no hook. There’s nothing to grab audiences and make them choose it over branded, celebrity-based extravaganzas like Cirque du Soleil’s Vegas offerings and Katy Perry’s PLAY. Ticket prices that start at $125.00 up to $600.00 have to be addressed as well.
Another problem is the lack of a human element. There’s no heart or soul to this epic. Despite all the hoo-hah that Sir Anthony bellows about magic, light, darkness, and love, the wafer-thin characters offer nothing to care about. They’re props, just like the Macy’s Parade whale that floats around the theater.
A third complication is a bombastic score by film composer Brian Tyler, who also provided music for Cirque flop R.U.N. The soundtrack has no memorable themes or songs…just a lot of drum beats and choir crescendos. It’ll be forgotten before you leave your seat.
The disco-turntable stage is the show’s only real star, but it is also just hardware. The cast seems game, but their gorgeous faces and shredded bodies are barely visible until the final bows. Before that, they’re trapped inside overly elaborate Soyon An costumes, rendering them as little more than stiff-moving mannequins much of the time.
It should be noted that AWAKENING canceled performances for the entire second half of January without explanation. Sydney Yuman may claim “smooth sailing”, but insiders report that the show is being shut down for retooling. Let’s hope they can right their sinking ship the way LE REVE once did.
It’s an almost sure bet that the orgy sequence will be excised. Numerous people got up and left the theater during this part as I stared at the stage in disbelief. I’d like to say that those disgruntled patrons ended up missing the best parts, but there weren’t any.
Despite the fact that video recording is prohibited, I was able to smuggle out this 26-second clip that gives you the entire production in a nutshell. Watch the video below and you’ll save hundreds of dollars…and probably your eyesight and hearing.
Let’s hope that the creators of this miscalculation can toss their egos aside and find the proper balance between artistic vision and commercial viability. AWAKENING deserves the same chance that its predecessor once received. It’ll never match the splendor of LE REVE, but was that ever really possible?
AWAKENING performs Tuesday through Saturday at 7 pm and 9:30 pm. Tickets start at $125.00 plus taxes and fees and are available here. VEGAS 411 highly recommends that you wait until after the show returns in February from its retooling before attending.