Cirque du Soleil, the global entertainment company with annual pre-pandemic revenues of $1 billion, is known for trafficking in multi-million dollar extravaganzas with acrobatic feats that stretch the boundaries of the imagination. For 20 years, Daniel Lamarre was the chief executive officer responsible for bringing these fantastical productions to life. In his new book, BALANCING ACTS, Lamarre, now executive vice-chairman of the board, shares his insights into the nature of creativity as an essential part of management in all industries. In this excerpt from his book, Lamarre describes the genesis of the unique collaboration between Cirque and the Beatles, which resulted in the only live show in which Beatles recorded music and images have ever been used since the breakup of the legendary band more than 50 years ago—and one of the biggest shows in Cirque’s history.
AS THE AUDIENCE SETTLES IN THE playing Liverpool sailors climb ropes dangling from the ceiling. The lush a cappella harmonies of Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison fill the air.
It’s August 26, 2021, our first showing of The Beatles LOVE at the Mirage in Las Vegas after a 17-month pandemic intermission. As the CEO of Cirque du Soleil (I’ve since transitioned to executive vice-chairman of the board), I’m a bundle of nervous excitement. Whenever I see this production—even 15 years after its premiere—I can’t relax and watch like everybody else. Sure, I’m dazzled by the acrobatics, the dancing and the rich trove of characters and stories culled from more than 120 Beatles songs that were sampled to create the soundtrack. But I can’t stop my mind from racing back to the long series of improbable events that led to the staging of this spectacular show and how my life—in fact, my whole approach to business and creativity—was changed by working with the Beatles.
My journey started in 2001, less than a year after being hired by Cirque as a senior executive. I entered a London hotel suite, nervous as a schoolboy, and began shaking hands with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, his wife Olivia and Yoko Ono. Never in my craziest dreams did I ever imagine I would be in a business meeting like this.
We were there to discuss an idea George had mentioned to Cirque founder Guy Laliberté a few months earlier at George’s 19th century neo-Gothic mansion in Henley-onThames, near London. “I admire what you have done [with Cirque], and it seems like we have a lot in common when it comes to creativity. I know I am dying,” George told Guy over tea. “I don’t know how many years I have left, but before I go, I’d like to do a creative project with the Beatles music. Do you think Cirque would like to be involved?”
That started a conversation that eventually brought us all together in this London hotel suite. I was struck by how each Beatle was almost exactly as I imagined. Paul was clearly in charge, a true people pleaser who flattered us effusively, telling us how much he loved our shows. George, “the quiet Beatle,” was down-to-earth, like your nextdoor neighbor. Ringo was pure Ringo: hanging back at first, but then cracking jokes, one after another, keeping everyone loose.
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