On the surface, the concept of Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo — which is about an Italian clown, Mauro, experiencing his own funeral — might seem morose. However, this touring production, now playing at the Microsoft Theater through April 30th, is more of a celebration of life than a rueful rumination about what has been lost; this makes sense as “Cortéo” means cortège, a fancy Italian-originated word for a joyous procession. There is, undoubtedly, an ebullience in the air — sometimes literally — as a cavalcade of smile and laugh-inducing characters weave a premise that keeps the audience enchanted, if not in utter wonderment, thanks to a succession of astonishing acts. Yet, ultimately, what makes Corteo particularly memorable is that it offers a narrative foray into a world where silver linings abound, and the glass is always half full; there is something to be learned by how a usually mournful occasion defies its destiny to become merry.
The Corteo extravaganza, which debuted in 2005, and is directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca (Director of Creation is Line Tremblay and Choreographer is Debra Brown), beautifully invites the audience to the stage (framed by curtains resembling an Adolphe Willette painting) once a Victorian-themed scrim is lifted to reveal Jean Rabasse’s set replete with chandeliers and beds (to name a few features) which are far from being solely decorative.
The 125-minute duration almost amounts to a dream tailored to each individual spectator and one which seamlessly plays into one’s bountiful imagination where a bevy of aerialists, jugglers, acrobats, and comic turns dazzle one after another. When villagers, clowns of all statures, as well as Mr. Loyal (the Maestro and Whistler), and even angels get into the mix, there is no denying that unless one suffers from Coulrophobia (the fear of clowns), Corteo will exceed expectations.
And if that’s not enough to whet the audience’s appetite, then the Italian and Spanish songs — composed by Philippe Leduc, Maria Bonzanigo, Jean-François Côté, and Roger Hewett — will leave an impression as they are mellifluously realized by elite singers. The band, too, spaced out in enclosures on the stage — and comprised of a violinist, accordionist, saxophonist, keyboardist, drummers, and guitarists, among others — deserves applause for furnishing a soundtrack that seamlessly complements the visuals.
Furthermore, not to be understated are the multitude of late 19th century and early 20th century-inspired costumes by Dominique Lemieux. The painstaking daily care that makes them look almost lifelike on their own absolutely manifests in glorious detail in the eye of the beholder. Similarly worthy of appreciation are the makeup design by Nathalie Gagné and the radiant lighting by Martin Labrecque. Suffice it to say, the technical marvels are just as important to the presentation of Corteo as the multiskilled performers themselves.
Some may go for the storytelling — and rightly so — but Cirque du Soleil has always been synonymous with fantastic feats that require years of diligent practice, which the average person would be hard-pressed to even envision doing. One highlight involves the aforementioned, pearl-constructed Chandeliers number as four dangling female aerialists (representing Mauro’s past lovers) spellbind from the Microsoft Theater ceiling, gracefully swinging and twirling at a precipitous pace. The Duo-Straps routine in Act II, featuring a twosome in the vein of Zac Efron and Zendaya in The Greatest Showman, is reminiscent of a similar ethereality as the male and female acrobats take turns supporting each other’s body weight before a glittery finish. In the Suspended Pole demonstration, observers witness a lone woman create an analogous mid-air art piece, using preternatural core strength to balance herself on very little surface area of her skin as soaring Spanish vocals and acoustic guitar fill the senses.
The Bouncing Beds bit (essentially trampolines) is one everyone can vicariously live through as couples relive their childhoods, but this time with synchronous flips and landings from one bed to the next, oftentimes using the bedposts to balance and somersault off of. Speaking of another piece of furniture that can be found in most homes, one intrepid male performer completely mobilizes two single ladders — one normal-sized and the other staggeringly tall — using them to balance himself and ascend to the top, one rung at a time. The Teeterboard, likewise, demands an amazing agility and rhythm from its cast members who launch their rivals in an alternating duel of effortless spring-boarding.
Corteo also offers acts unique to its show. One of these involves a Clowness named Anita who, with a bouquet of six jumbo helium balloons above her, is guided by Mauro into the crowd where attendees push her back up every time she descends. As cameras flash, it becomes clear this might be the most poetic and picturesque moment of the event. Evoking similar sentiments, but through aural means, are the Crystal Glasses and Tibetan Bowls; these containers turn into musical instruments, alongside sitting and split-legged percussionists, as Mr. Loyal whistles Mozart and adds some melodic color in a fantastic interplay with a violinist. Less playful but more heart-pounding is the Paradis act — whereupon a group of men launch their female partners in the air with stunning results using a modified trapeze contraption — and the Tournik, which takes the high bar act to another level, as male gymnasts (spaced apart only by mere inches) catapult and catch the bars in complete harmony with one another.
Not to mention, dependable, tried-and-true acts like the Cyr Wheel (performers maneuvering themselves in human-sized metal rings that revolve at exponentially high speeds) and Juggling (with pins and diabolos) abound among the parade of undertakings. There are also lighthearted sketches, such as one involving Victorino, the Giant Clown, who, dressed as a Scotsman, attempts to putt a golf ball that curiously has a life of its own. Another one reenacts the tryst between Romeo and Juliet — except this time with Victor, the Little Clown and the Clowness. In comparison, scenes centered around Mauro, as he retraces his upbringing or interacts with the angels, can be just as lively but also touch on a powerful sentimentality.
Overall, for two hours, the Federico Fellini-esque Corteo invites guests of all ages into a heavenscape that is the closest anyone might get to experiencing a surreal afterlife with angel wings to match — and to continue living to tell the tale. And beyond the theatrics, marching-band pageantry, and athletic master strokes, there is a vividly curated moral to the show: It’s easy to be sad, but it takes effort to adjust the lens by which we see our lives — especially when things don’t go as planned. To be cheerful or melancholy, the choice invariably lies within us.
Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo runs through Sunday, April 30th at the Microsoft Theater (777 Chick Hearn Ct, Los Angeles, CA 90015). For more information about the show, and/or to purchase tickets, please visit: microsofttheater.com