By Sylvie Drake
When Neil Goldberg was seven, his Mom took him to see The Miracle Worker on Broadway. What fascinated him most was not the play, but the three-dimensional design of Helen Keller’s house revolving on stage.
“I came home and did two things,” Goldberg said on the line from his Florida headquarters. “I decided I wanted to learn more about set design—and I wrote my first Tony Award acceptance speech—which I still have to this day.”
That conversation happened a few years ago, when Goldberg was touring Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy, which was a hit in Denver and later on Broadway. Now Goldberg is back—as promised—with a different edition called Cirque Dreams Holidaze. With its dazzling costumes and a score that runs the gamut from jazz and ballroom to pop, Holidaze is described as an urban theatrical innovation that turns the ordinary on its head. Its one-of-a-kind artists breathe acrobatic energy into a “magical metropolis,” reinvent familiar objects, balance on wires and leap over tall buildings.
Goldberg had been doing entertainment events for American companies since the late 1980swhen IBM hired him to travel the world and find different talent to put together for an international conference. “The vocabulary was just supposed to be visual,” he explained. “Pure talent on stage. That’s when I became exposed to this whole Cirque genre.”
The event, European in inspiration and highly diversified, was a success that made Goldberg realize he was on to something. His clients would give the show a name of their choosing, while his job was to deliver the goods. When staging one of these in Washington, DC, he was approached by the Bally’s Hotel chain. They hired his Cirque Ingénieux for the Bally’s casino showroom in Atlantic City. It wasn’t long before Goldberg moved from the boardroom to the greenroom. From his family’s background in textile production, he had acquired a knowledge and love of fabric and design.
“By the age of 13 or 14 I knew the difference between yarn dyes, woven fabrics, polyesters and cottons and how things are printed,” he said.
Since then his 20,000-square-foot-production facility in Pompano Beach, Fla., has kept busy. It includes wardrobe and design shops, a gym and a studio “the size of any proscenium stage, so we can block and train artists here…”
He remains very hands on, not just in the scenic aspects of each show, but in all manner of design, which, he said, has been “my passion my entire life.” These Cirques have lots of action, no animals, no plot, plenty of music, singing, and lots of aerialists and contortionists from all corners of the globe.
If your first thought is that this sounds a lot like Canada’s Cirque du Soleil, Goldberg insists it was not in his consciousness when he selected the Cirque moniker and style in 1991, even though Cirque du Soleil had made its first splash in the US as the surprise hit of the 1987 Los Angeles Arts Festival.
How does Goldberg dispel comparisons?
“We’ve stayed very true to the vision I created from the inception of this thing and that was to combine the European variety cirque talent with American Broadway theatrics—taking these shows and putting them into the format of traditional Broadway musical theatre, with a proscenium, two acts and an intermission.
“In a theatre with a proscenium stage you have the ability to become very engaged with the audience. We always have kept the human element very real to the audience and to the experience. It’s not disguised with an overwhelming amount of technology and smoke and mirrors. I think audiences want to see and believe what they’re experiencing up close and personal. You don’t want to lose sight of what the artists really do.”
'Cirque Dreams Holidaze'
Through Dec 22
Tickets: 303-893-4100, 1-800-641-1222 or go to www.denvercenter.org