Why did ‘Iris’ fail? Cirque show didn’t catch on in Los Angeles

The surprising demise of Cirque du Soleil’s “Iris” at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood has disappointed local cultural and business leaders who had hoped the production would become a long-running presence in the city.

Despite promises that “Iris” would run for 10 years, the consensus is that the show never captured the public’s imagination, confounded by a low level of excitement in Los Angeles and high ticket prices, which rose to as much as $253 for certain VIP packages.

“It didn’t capture the fancy of Angelenos like ‘Wicked’ or ‘The Lion King,’ which became must-see events,” said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.


“I did not hear a lot of people say you have to see ‘Iris.’”

PHOTOS: Cirque du Soleil - Iris

“Iris,” which opened in September 2011, is set to close on Jan. 19. The show, a colorful survey of the history of the movies using Cirque’s signature-style acrobatics and aerial effects, had a price tag of approximately $100 million. The cost includes upgrades to the Dolby Theatre, the home of the Academy Awards that’s within the Hollywood & Highland Center.

Danny Elfman, who composed the music for “Iris,” said in an interview that he had expected the show to run “at least to the summer,” after which Cirque would make a decision whether or not to continue.

“Everyone knew that the attendance was not up,” Elfman said.

The Oscar-nominated composer, who lives in Los Angeles, said he was extremely happy with the show from an artistic point of view, but said that he was disappointed by the lack of general public awareness.

“After a year of advertising, the fact that most people I ran in to had no knowledge of it being there says it all. It wasn’t able to get into the general consciousness,” Elfman said.

Nyla Arslanian, who heads the Hollywood Arts Council, noted that the high ticket prices for “Iris” may not be something families are willing to pay in the current economy.

She also said that Cirque faced the challenge of “sustaining a production of that magnitude and number of seats” over an extended period of time. The Dolby Theatre has a seating capacity of approximately 3,400 though some sections are blocked off for technical reasons during “Iris.”

Iris” has multiple performances per week, with the number fluctuating depending on the time of year. During peak holiday seasons, it can have as many as 11 performances per week, which is more than the typical Broadway production.

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Cirque officials declined requests for comment. They also declined to provide box-office figures. At one point the top ticket price of $253 was a record high in Los Angeles.

Company officials said that they expected Southern California residents to drive attendance in the first two years of the show’s run, and that then tourist interest would pick up, according to Gubler of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

But that obviously has not happened. Michael Ritchie, the head of Center Theatre Group, said that tourists who come to L.A. don’t usually put theater-going on their itineraries.

“They don’t have that in their minds when they come to L.A. It’s the rare tourist that puts it on their radar,” said Ritchie, whose theaters include the Ahmanson and Mark Taper Forum.

Although CTG didn’t have a hand in producing “Iris,” the company partnered with Cirque in 2011 to offer CTG subscribers first-priority seating for preview performances — one of many efforts by Cirque to stoke early public interest.

“Iris” is Cirque du Soleil’s first attempt at a long run in L.A. But the company is no stranger to the area, having brought touring shows to the city since the Los Angeles Arts Festival in 1987. Most recently, “Ovo” and “Kooza” set up shop for two-month runs on the beach near Santa Monica Pier.

“The touring shows attract people who live in L.A. County. With ‘Iris,’ they were hoping a lot of tourists would come and they would sustain that,” said Judith Meister, an official with Santa Monica’s office of community and cultural services.

PHOTOS: Cirque du Soleil - Iris

She said that “Kooza” in 2009 was a success at the box office but that “Ovo,” which ran earlier this year, was less so, “probably due to the economy.”

The impact of “Iris” on local businesses in Hollywood remains unclear.

Rolling Stone LA, a restaurant in Hollywood & Highland, serves between 150 and 250 people on show nights, up from 100 on normal weeknights, said manager Mariano Cordero.

At The Grill on Hollywood, also inside Hollywood & Highland, a manager said that on weeknights that “Iris” plays, the restaurant serves as many as 150 people, similar to business it would do on a Friday night.

Part of the cost of the theater’s upgrades came from a $30-million loan provided by the city of Los Angeles to CIM Group, which owns the Dolby. CIM spokeswoman Karen Diehl said that the payments would be made as scheduled.

Although Cirque is a giant operation with 20 permanent and touring productions all over the world, “Iris” joins a list of recent flops for the Montreal-based company. “Viva Elvis” at the Aria Resort in Las Vegas closed in August after suffering from weak ticket sales.

Times staff writer Laura J. Nelson contributed to this report.


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