Seen In Las Vegas:Cirque du Soleil has gone overboard in its newest and fourth permanent show in Las Vegas: KÀ, which opened officially on February 3, after previewing since the end of November. Directed by French-Canadian director Robert Lapage, KÀ is the first Cirque du Soleil show with a plot, that of imperial twins who are separated when their kingdom is attacked by evil archers. After a shipwreck, various trials and tribulations, and falling in love with their soul mates along the way, and are reunited to live happily ever after. The 1,951-seat KÀ theatre is perhaps the most elaborate, technically-advanced venue anywhere. Designed by British architect Mark Fisher, who also designed the scenic elements for KÀ, the theatre is a vast, cathedral-like space, separated from the MGM casino by a lobby (unusual for Las Vegas. Anyone who saw EFX! will remember that there was once a typical Las Vegas showroom in this space. All vestiges of that venue have been erased!). The theatre consultants for the project were Auerbach, Pollock, Freidlander. The lobby serves as a transition, bringing the audience into a warm, nicely-lit space (architectural lighting by Auerbach Glasow) with a large double harp high on one wall (played live) across from a wooden wall that evokes a ship’s hull. Side corridors lead into the theatre where audiences are surprised at the design and vastness of the space. Its design is what Fisher refers to as post and beam construction with a seemingly infinite array of metal pillars and catwalks embracing the audience. But perhaps the most surprising element is that there is no stage per se: instead the playing area is a 50’ abyss filled with large, moving staging elements including a 300,000-lb "sand-cliff deck" built by Tomcat that twists and turns hydraulically on an articulated wrist. There is also a "tatami mat" or triple deck arrangement. Side platforms by Gala bring scenery or actors up from the pit. Fisher’s scenic elements also include a ship that pitches effectively in the storm scene and a wheel of death, or dangerous looking acrobatic apparatus. The costumes by Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt have a decidedly Asain flavor, with colorful fabrics for the imperial court and dark reds, browns, and black for the evil archers. Puppet master Michael Curry created some perfectly delightful creatures that are more like articulated costumes than puppets, with hard shells worn by performers. Two crabs, a starfish, a large snake, and various insects populate a beach and forest scene, adding a sense of whimsy to the show. Cirque du Soleil’s veteran sound designer, Jonathan Deans, added sound to the seats for an aural immersion that brings zinging arrows right next to your ears. Lighting is by Luc Lafortune, taking advantage of one of the largest theatrical lighting systems anywhere, with cutting edge gear and networking by Strand Lighting, with DMX512 isolation equipment by Doug Fleenor Design. The lighting gear was supplied by PRG in Las Vegas, with cabling supplied by TMB (many other audio, lighting, projection, effects, and staging vendor were also involved but are too numerous to mention here). Lafortune’s lighting evokes the warm world of the imperial palace and the cold, evil world of the archer’s den with a variety of cool and warm light sources and strong visual imagery that is his signature. Projection design is by Holger Forterer and includes underwater bubbles after the shipwreck scene, and projections on the sand-cliff deck that are activated by the performers as they land of the vertical surface (see photo below). All in all, KÀ takes Cirque du Soleil into uncharted territory and it’s nice to be able to go along for the ride.--Ellen Lampert-Gréaux

Seen at the Movies: Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Nobody Knows, loosely based on the actual story of several children abandoned by their mother for months in a Tokyo apartment, is a masterpiece of quiet observation. The film creates a world in some ways every bit as strange as any fantastic digital environment. Kore-eda rigorously concentrates on the gradual degradation of the lives of the four children, and particularly on the heroic failure of the family’s default leader, 12-year-old Akira (Yuya Yagira, in a Cannes Best Actor-winning performance), and yet the apartment setting, as designed by Toshihiro Isomi and Keiko Mitsumatsu never seems merely squalid. As the electricity and running water disappear, the children plant seeds on the cramped terrace, and life sprouts—it’s like the jungle is taking back civilization. Nobody Knows is long and taxing, but Kore-eda and his DP, Yutaka Yamasaki find continually unexpected, inventive, and in certain devastating instances, tactful ways of presenting their story. As movie ads this time of year love to proclaim, it’s the first great movie of 2005.

That the predictable, overextended Hitch gets by at all is a tribute to the good-looking charms of lead players Will Smith and Eva Mendes, and to the comic finesse of second banana Kevin James. Smith’s title figure is a "date doctor"—a guy who makes his living advising shlubs like James’ character how to woo women. But there’s nothing sleazy about it, don’t you see: Hitch is interested in nudging along the course of true love, not just getting his clients laid. This is one of those contemporary isn’t-New York-glossy-and-glam movies, and the screen is virtually smeared with bland good taste. Jane Musky’s sets, including swell, million-dollar-plus digs for Hitch and Mendes’ gossip columnist character, and Marlene Stewart’s costumes project the image of a city where everyone knows how to live, where to go, and how to dress, even if their personal lives are a shambles. Andrew Dunn is the cinematographer.

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s Inside Deep Throat is a breezy, NC-17-rated survey of the culture wars surrounding the 1972 porn milestone. As nostalgic images and contemporary interviews with everyone from Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano and co-star Harry Reems to such connoisseurs and commentators as Norman Mailer, Erica Jong, and Dick Cavett drift by, narrator Dennis Hopper reminds us of the brief flowering of "porno chic" around the film, the legal battles that nearly landed Reems in prison for his participation, and the feminist backlash centered on star Linda Lovelace’s charges of coercion and abuse. Deep Throat’s decidedly non-union crew members go uninterviewed and unmentioned, but for the record, they include cinematographer Harry Flecks and set designer Len Camp, with wardrobe by Royal Fashions.--John Calhoun

Seen Off-Broadway: Stage 5 at the shiny new Dodger Stages complex is the latest home for the crowd-pleasing Musical of Musicals: The Musical! It is the smallest theatre in the complex with 199 seats but it is ideally suited for this silly little show. The show’s format is a simple one: a single storyline is retold five times, but in the styles of hot Broadway composers past and present. The first storyline involves farm folk in the Midwest in the style of, you guessed it, Rogers and Hammerstein. The next story involves disaffected neighbors in a New York apartment building in the style of Sondheim followed by a star vehicle for a star who really can’t sing in Jerry Herman’s imitable style. Act 2 features a washed up diva and a diva wannabe reminiscent of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Blvd., Evita, and Jesus Christ Superstar. The show’s final salute brings the action to a cabaret in Chicago where everyone is nuanced with jazz hands and foreign phrases sprinkled about to mock Kander and Ebb.

The winning cast is comprised of four talented and tireless performers who also double as the pianist when the pianist (Eric Rockwell, the show’s co-author with co-star Joanne Bogart) takes his turn with the role of Jitter in all five scenarios. The other two cast members are Craig Fols and Lovette George and all four get their respective chances to shine in each of the sketches. Rockwell was especially funny as the German-accented creepy emcee in the Kander & Ebb bit and Bogart was a hit as Jerry Herman’s star of a certain age.

The set by James Morgan was minimal: a piano on a stage with occasional chairs and a roll-on staircase for diva entrances. But that was all that was needed. The proscenium arch had cut out letters surrounding it spelling out the plot: "You must pay the rent! I can’t pay the rent!" that were backlit in a striking manner. The actors were dressed in classy, mostly black attire by John Carver Sullivan that would be appropriate for a dinner party or an intimate off-Broadway review. The wardrobe allowed the performers to move freely during dream ballets, Fosse bounces, or even getting crushed by a chandelier. The lighting by Mary Jo Dondlinger was right on the money for the changing moods; bright and sunny for Rogers & Hammerstein; sinister for the Sweeney Toddish Sondheim bit; and tightly focused with well-placed shinbusters for the Kander & Ebb scene. When the audience applauds the lighting—and the lighting was exceedingly simple but very adept—then you know the designer nailed it.----Mark A. Newman

Seen in Santa Monica, CA: On January 19, 2005, The Madison Project, an arts education and community outreach organization based at Santa Monica College, broke ground for The Madison Theater, their new visual and performing arts venue, at the historic Madison campus. Various dignitaries, officials, celebrities and arts patrons gathered with several hundred, Santa Monica and Malibu area residents to celebrate the beginning of construction on the much-anticipated complex.

In a short ceremony, actor & SMC alum Dustin Hoffman, Madison Project Director Dale Franzen and SMC President/Superintendent Piedad Robertson spoke to those in attendance on the important artistic and cultural contribution that the theater will make to the Westside, entertaining and educating many adults and their children for years to come. Internationally acclaimed, baritone Rodney Gilfry performed "The Impossible Dream" as the look of the complex was unveiled.--ELG