Q&A: Brian Burke
Former Broadway dancer Brian Burke’s first experience with Las Vegas entertainment was with a touring production of Tap Dogs at the Stratosphere in the late 1990s. It’s almost poetic that his newest gig is as executive producer of new original show Celestia at The Strat. Burke’s career has included stints as artistic director of Celine Dion’s A New Day... residency at Caesars Palace and Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas as well as creative producer for TV’s America’s Got Talent and American Idol. Now he’s taking all his unique skills and experience and putting them to use to create something dynamic and new with Celestia.
Las Vegas must have made a big impact on you from that first experience with Tap Dogs.
It was actually really cool. I flew my mom and brother here, I think we gambled at the Monte Carlo and I showed my mom how to use a slot machine and we won $2,500. I took my brother to see David Copperfield and then we all went to see Mystére because it was the show. “O” opened at that time and I went to a press opening and just thought, “Wow, this is where entertainment is at.” It just blew my mind. I couldn’t even fathom something like that could even happen. So when Tap Dogs finished and I went back to New York, I knew I would love to go back to Vegas and work on one of those shows as a director.
How did you make the transition from Vegas shows to TV?
I met Simon Cowell’s global creative director when he came to see Le Rêve, and that show started getting booked for performances on TV shows like America’s Got Talent and Dancing with the Stars. So I started producing those performances on TV and on the Latin Grammys and other things, and I got to go do X Factor in the U.K. and Britain’s Got Talent.
How different is TV production from stage production?
The pace is totally different. Instead of spending nine months working on two minutes (of a show in Las Vegas), we were doing 124 performances in four weeks. It was like boot camp. It was shocking. But because of the experience of working with dancers and performers and everybody in those shows, I brought that to TV. I learned a whole new skill set, how to do that on TV, and then I brought that aesthetic to Las Vegas.
Right, there are some AGT performers in Celestia.
We wanted to make it something contemporary and modern, but because the audience is used to watching television a lot, they expect a high level of entertainment. I think the ticket buyer for this show is the same person who watches AGT, families and millennials. And people like to watch people do extraordinary things. But you should be able to sit down and enjoy a show without all the bells and whistles. We’ve got the projection all over the tent and a little gentle story and we’ve layered Celestia with music, but at the end of the day, people like watching human performance.
What was it like going back to The Strat?
I did take a moment and walk through the property to the sportsbook, where that show was, and it hit me that my dream of doing what I’m doing now started here. So many memories flooded in. It’s nice to see that property and area of town having a new life. I’ve been living here a long time and I love being a small part of that development. Celine was the first to do the residency thing and we were a small part of that. I love to see the development of the city because I love it so much and I believe in it.