Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère celebrates 9,000 performances as it prepares for its 20th anniversary
By Matt Kelemen
The Nov. 27 performance of Mystère of Mystère was a celebratory yet bittersweet milestone. It was the 9,000th show, but the sudden passing of François Dupuis, who played a signature character in Cirque du Soleil’s original Las Vegas production, three weeks prior cast a sorrowful shadow. “It’s really sad that we don’t have François, who was the ‘big baby’ here since day one,” says Brian Dewhurst, who plays audience-interacting “troublemaker” Brian Le Petit. “If you knew him offstage, you would realize what an amazing character he was.”
If there was ever a test of the stage adage “the show must go on” for Dewhurst and his Mystère colleagues, it was reaching that landmark performance without multitalented Dupuis. Dewhurst is the wild-haired guy in the suit with collar and cuffs akimbo who plays with the crowds before the show, then causes mischief during it. It’s a huge responsibility being the first character audiences see at Mystère, and for some guests, their first taste of Cirque du Soleil altogether. Even under tragic circumstances, Brian Le Petit has to make people smile.
Mystère has undergone some slight revisions since it opened at Treasure Island in 1993, but it has consistently generated smiles with its surreal interpretation of the circus. Aerialists slide down ribbons in the sky or swing around a suspended cube. Hands balance bodies and beat huge taiko drums, bungees and Chinese poles allow demonstrations of vertical grace, and trampolines and trapezes provide a nod to three-ring traditions while Cirque’s modern performers push the limits of what can be done with them.
Dewhurst himself is part of that tradition, having been born into a circus family in Manchester, England, before honing his craft in London. He was Mystère’s original artistic director for a short time before joining the European tour of Saltimbanco as a performer. “O” brought Dewhurst back to Las Vegas—his son Nicky and daughter Sally are also part of the Cirque family in Las Vegas—but he rejoined Mystère 12 years ago. He directly followed in his predecessor’s footsteps at first. “After a few weeks, I didn’t feel comfortable doing that,” recalls Dewhurst. “So it changed dramatically from the way he was playing it. … The structure created for the character is so solid that it allows that.”
Thus, the man of mischief became more interactive with unwitting patrons trying to find their seats. Dewhurst’s tweaking is one of the rare minor revisions to the show, which recently incorporated acts and music from the Japanese Cirque du Soleil production Zed. Guitarist Bruce Rickerd, who hasn’t missed a show since Mystère started, was happy to find the new music allowed him space to contribute. “I feel really privileged to be part of this production after 9,000 shows,” says Rickerd, who gets room to improvise within composers’ arrangements. The opportunity to express individual creativity in the disciplined realms of a Cirque production keeps him—and his colleagues—inspired. “A lot of the guitar stuff is actually mine. … I don’t just consider myself the lead guitar player.”