The juggernaut of human wonders and awe-inspiring promotional blitzes that is Cirque du Soleil has conquered its biggest territory yet: Radio City Music Hall, New York City’s vast and storied cavern of theatrical magic.
One of the few theaters that is itself an attraction, Radio City might have swallowed up Cirque. After all, despite its razzmatazz, Cirque du Soleil remains at heart a circus composed of all human performers—human and thus human-sized. But Zarkana is, as Ed Sullivan might have said, a really big show, designed specially for this really big space.
Cirque shows always center on a theme, but this one is supposed to have an actual storyline. Such as it is, the tale concerns a magician named Zark (Garou) who has lost his powers, and is also searching for his true love (played by a singer named Cassiopée). The story is negligible and the singing doesn’t impress; now and then it even distracts from the cavalcade of wonders being performed behind and above them by the show’s over 75 artists.
That’s just a small quibble. Dazzling juggling, a stupendous high-wire act, an eye-pleasing flag act, aerial hoops, surreal visuals, amazing sand painting, a graceful rope dance, a ladder act displaying incredible feats of balance and strength, and, of course, trapeze artists and the famous acrobats of “Banquine” are just some of the delights that comprise Zarkana.
The sets, backdrops, and projections evoke equal wonder, establishing broad and deep three-dimensional worlds filled with background performers climbing about, animated snakes, stars and planets, cosmic spiderwebs, and much more. More than a visual feast, it’s that rare show that can break through one’s usual cynicism and raise in an adult mind a childlike sense of wonder. The half-hearted attempt at a rock-opera story falls flat, but everything else stays astonishingly aloft. The high-flying wonder that is Cirque du Soleil soars on, bigger than ever.
If you’ve got the time or the money for just one big, colorful show featuring spiders this season, the choice is easy. Zarkana runs at Radio City Music Hall through October 8, after which it packs up for Madrid and Moscow. For more information and tickets, visit the Cirque du Soleil website.