Those who were surprised by the recent announcement that headlining illusionist Criss Angel has teamed with the legendary director Franco Dragone—the man behind some of the biggest shows the city has ever seen, including Mystère, O, Celine Dion’s A New Day and Le Rêve—must not know that these two luminaries go way back. Steve Wynn once enlisted them to create a new Las Vegas production in the early days of Wynn Las Vegas, but it wasn’t meant to be.
The new collaboration will also reunite Dragone with Las Vegas—one of the most mutually beneficial and impactful unions in the city’s storied entertainment history. The Weekly spoke with the Belgian director about the creative ambition of his latest project—Angel’s Amystika, set to open in March at Planet Hollywood—the Strip’s COVID comeback and much more.
Did the pandemic inspire your recent work in Las Vegas or was this return something you’ve been considering for longer? A bit of both. Last year we did this project to help raise funds for the artist community, because the situation was extremely difficult for most of our colleagues. For several weeks we did these sessions called Creators United, interviewing people who have done a lot … to make Las Vegas something unique in this world. I asked Criss [Angel] if he wanted to participate, and he said yes. We have followed each other for a long time, and we met again thanks to this initiative. We wanted to do something more, together as partners, and we decided to try this experience.
Criss has talked about wanting to create something new, and taking risks in a very risky time. I think for both of us it’s a risky time, during this pandemic we are going through, which is not finished, so maybe we are a little bit crazy. But we’ve jumped into this project completely, and it has deepened our friendship. To create something new nowadays is extremely different than 15 years ago. The audience can go on YouTube and see a lot of things, so when they actually come to you, you have to offer something that makes a difference. We have the ambition to surprise people and to give them the best of what we can do, and also the tools and the money that is a lot for us to spend, but I don’t have the pretension to say I will reinvent entertainment. We do our best to have high quality. So yes, we are trying to do something new, but we do this with much humility and ambition and we put all of our talent, experience and energy into the project.
What was it like for you to be in Las Vegas again and watch the iconic Cirque du Soleil shows you helped create come back to the stage after so many months without performances? I think Cirque du Soleil is one of the greatest production companies on Earth. For me it was fantastic to see that after this long shutdown they brought back thousands of performers and technicians. I am very proud the first two shows to reopen were Mystère and O, and while things are still fragile and we don’t what will happen with the new [COVID] variant, we have seen this proven through these shows, that the audience always wants to be together. We have Zoom and Skype and YouTube and all the things that help us work wherever we are, but people love to be together. This is the nature of humankind.
Sadly, the flip side of that is Le Rêve, which was shuttered last year. How did you react to that news? I did not understand [that decision] because Le Rêve was [awarded] and nominated several years in a row as the best on the Strip. Based on my information, the numbers were not bad; It made money. I think this is the first time I saw one of my theaters being torn down. But my first reaction was to think of the artists and people working on it and their jobs. You see a new team coming in [at Wynn] and maybe part of it is wanting to forget the past and bring a new way to see the world.
Your company had been developing an experience called Rise that could become a Las Vegas production. What’s the status of that project? Rise was also a project coming from the pandemic, initiated by artists and performers [who] had no producer, so they asked us. I think it will continue, because it was fantastic, during those hard times of the pandemic, as a gesture of resistance. But I think it really will become a new thing, because the idea is to create something in the open air. For us, it’s not always about big productions but how shows are done with other artists. It is still on the table.
Are you planning to spend a lot of the new year in Las Vegas? I have to go back and forth, but Las Vegas has been and will be, for us, the center point for our company. Las Vegas has changed, because there are key people that are not there anymore; the players have changed, but I think it’s for the best. It may be cliché, of course, but this place has created a community of creators, an underground, and in the underground is where you find the future, because they are not constrained in the big corporate companies, so they have more audacity. This is good. Thanks to those big productions and [casinos], we now have thousands of artists coming from all over the world, and you can find a lot of expertise. Vegas has really become the mecca of entertainment.