Cirque du Soleil to move into Kodak Theatre

IT’S OFFICIAL: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, flanked by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, right, and a character known as The Innocent, announces a 10-year Kodak Theatre deal on Monday.
IT’S OFFICIAL: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, flanked by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, right, and a character known as The Innocent, announces a 10-year Kodak Theatre deal on Monday.
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

In a move to fill the Kodak Theatre’s often-empty stage between the Academy Awards shows for which it was built, the theater’s owner has committed to a 10-year, $100-million agreement with Cirque du Soleil to create a permanent show for the Hollywood venue.

The new production featuring a movie industry theme, announced Monday, is expected to open in 2010. It will be directed by Frenchman Philippe Decoufle, who staged the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. It will join Cirque’s U.S. roster of five permanent Las Vegas shows -- “O,” “Ka,” “Mystere,” “Zumanity” and “Love” -- as well as a production in Orlando, Fla.

Next year, Cirque will open a magic show in Las Vegas and permanent shows in Tokyo and Macao.

“This is Cirque meets Hollywood,” said its founder, Guy Laliberte. “This will be a Los Angeles production that will not be imported from outside, but will be a real Los Angeles attraction on the international scene.”

The agreement comes at a time when the 3,400-seat, $94-million Kodak, designed by architect David Rockwell, is struggling to book successful shows and is facing increased competition from the newly opened Nokia Theatre in downtown L.A. Though praised as a state-of-the-art, television-friendly venue for the Oscars broadcast and other TV programs, the Kodak has otherwise been criticized for sightlines impaired by its steep, four-level opera house-style interior, as well as its acoustics, which can make it problematic for presenting theater, dance or some music concerts.

Laliberte said the high-ceilinged structure is ideal for Cirque’s acrobatics, providing appropriate space for the necessary grids and equipment. The theater’s ability to serve Cirque’s needs, he added, was tested in 2002, when Cirque acrobats performed live on the Academy Awards show. Cirque plans to use 2,000 to 2,500 seats.

Shaul Kuba, founder and principal of the Kodak’s owner, CIM Group, said a Cirque show is the perfect fit for the theater, part of the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex. “L.A. theaters are all competing for the same product,” Kuba said. “The downtown theaters, the Pantages, the theaters in Beverly Hills are competing for the same market of touring shows. So from our perspective, we had to do something unique.”

Kuba said the Hollywood themed production will be a tourist attraction, like Universal Studios or Disneyland, rather than a Broadway-style experience. “It’s one more thing that the tourists can do that will be a little bit different,” he said.

Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, the U.S. concert industry’s leading trade publication, said Monday that, with last month’s opening of the Nokia, the time is ideal for the Kodak to take on a permanent show.

“The Nokia is eating even further into a market that is already really competitive,” Bongiovanni said. “I think the Kodak needed to be re-purposed, and the fact that Cirque is planning to have a permanent show in Los Angeles is a brilliant move, especially with a Hollywood theme.”

Cirque plans to spend $40 million on the creative aspects of the production and $60 million on retrofitting the theater for its needs. However, Laliberte said the stage would remain a traditional proscenium that can accommodate the awards ceremonies and TV show.

Cirque will continue to present its tent shows, such as the current “Corteo,” in the Los Angeles area. Laliberte said that using the Kodak would allow the new show to use more special effects, including video, than the tent shows. But Cirque will not make radical interior or exterior changes to the theater, as it did for the water show “O” at the Bellagio hotel, which requires a pool.

Each year, Cirque will go on hiatus for four to six weeks to allow for the Academy Awards production. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a 20-year contract with the Kodak. Otherwise the Cirque show will be the theater’s only tenant, presenting eight shows a week.

Cirque president and chief of direction Daniel Lamarre said ticket prices were expected to fall between the $80 to $90 going rate a touring Broadway show ticket might cost and the $120 that has become common for Las Vegas shows.

Some touring Broadway musicals have enjoyed multiyear success in Los Angeles -- including “The Lion King” at the Pantages and the city’s most durable musical, “Phantom of the Opera,” which survived for an unprecedented 224 weeks, from 1989 to 1993, at the Ahmanson Theatre. Still, none has lasted for 10 years.

Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said other shows aiming for long runs at the Kodak have balked at trying to accommodate the Academy Awards. “I think this is a perfect match for the theater,” Gubler said.

Los Angeles city planner Kevin Keller, who was planner for the Nokia Theatre and oversees the Hollywood area, said, “This is obviously a positive -- it would bring even more pedestrian traffic to the district, and be a benefit to activating both the center, and the street.”