"O" (it is common to include quotation marks due to its One-Letter Title) is Cirque Du Soleil's eleventh show, which opened at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada in October 1998. It is also, perhaps, the company's Magnum Opus.
The setting is a baroque opera house, carrying on from the posh theme of its host hotel, with a red velvet curtain and soaring ceiling. As the lights dim, an "audience member" (Philemon) is surprised twice over -- first by a nymph-like woman who descends from the top of the dome and drops a red scarf to him, and second by someone beckoning to him from behind the curtain. Curious, he goes up to see what the stranger wants. Said stranger (Le Vieux) turns out to be the theater's guardian...because it's no ordinary theater. Philemon has just become the leading man in a unique adventure...
"O" is the phonetic pronounciation of the French word for water (eau); it also represents the number zero and infinity. The world of this theater is one inspired by all theater, a world based around water. What lies beyond that curtain is a gigantic pool. While it can (and does) switch to a conventional stage in seconds, depending on the needs of the moment, it is usually in its true watery form. It is here that a colorful array of acrobatics unfold, from water ballet to high diving to fire spinning to the travails of two clowns on a shack adrift at sea. And in these acts unfold tales of love, disappointment, youth, death, joy, and strife on top of Philemon and Le Vieux's dual pursuit of the beautiful Aurora.
Wildly ambitious and extravagant, the show opened to glowing reviews and caused a sensation in Vegas, setting a high bar for subsequent theatrical spectacles worldwide (including Cirque's own) to clear. Due to an arrangement with its host casino it has not been filmed, but the making-of documentary Flow, available in Region 1 via Cirque's gift shops and online boutique, includes excerpts from it; the Widget Series Solstrom also featured some of its acts, characters, and performers.
- Audience Participation: Due to the show's unique staging, not much of it here -- well, not much that's real, anyway. The man taken from the audience for the high dive is a plant; the two men who wind up dancing with the clowns are not.
- Busby Berkeley Number: The opening water ballet and the "Tzelma" transition are examples of the Esther Williams variant.
- Costume Porn: Especially impressive considering all the costumes are designed to hold up despite frequent exposure to, and often immersion in, water. The makeup was also specially formulated for these unique conditions, so it wouldn't run/wear off.
- Crusty Caretaker: Le Vieux; for more, see the next trope...
- Dark Is Not Evil: Le Vieux is a hunchbacked older man in whiteface; combined with his black and white suit and the creepy way he (literally) pulls Philemon into the story, he looks like an elegant Monster Clown. He is a grouchy fellow, but good at heart, with a hint of the Trickster about him. He becomes a Man In White and reunites Aurora with Philemon at the end.
- Dramatic Curtain Toss: The curtain isn't just raised as the show proper begins. Most of it is sucked up and away to reveal the stage space; the remainder resting on the "floor" is then gently pulled away to reveal the water.
- The Everyman: Philemon.
- Everything's Better with Spinning: The fire and aerial hoops acts. The latter is the show's climax.
- For Doom the Bell Tolls: As the Russian swings act nears its finish, the bell on the middle swing begins to toll as an acrobat spins the swing up and over the bar -- and a funeral procession, complete with a wagon with a coffin upon it, crosses the stage in the background. However, the music and foreground action remains cheerful, and the coffin pops open to reveal a minor female character who cheerfully waves to the audience.
- Gentle Giant: The Barrel Organ Grinder.
- Gorgeous Garment Generation: Philemon is first seen in a plain T-shirt, pants, and ball cap; once he's fully pulled into the theater's world, he wears the clothes of an adventurer from an Arabian Nights tale. (One alternate name for the character, seen on a souvenir ornament, is "Sinbad".)
- Homage: In the first sequence with the clowns on the drifting shack, Le Vieux appears in the background and "conducts" the water. "Waterspouts" rise into the air as The Jimmy Hart Version of "Night on Bald Mountain" is performed; this coincides with the shack springing a terrible leak the clowns desperately try to stopper. This is likely an affectionate reference to two segments of Fantasia -- "Night on Bald Mountain" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice".
- Incendiary Exponent: The fire act.
- The Ingenue: Aurora.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: The official website currently lists nine significant characters/character groups. Minor and not-so-minor characters not listed include the Bride (female lead singer), a wedding party, the "Flayed Ones" who perform the "bateau" act (aerial cradle/parallel bars), and the clowns. And then there's all the bit parts for background business or colorful processions.
- Long Runners: 10+ years.
- MacGuffin: The red scarf, which Philemon has a hard time keeping his.
- Magical Land
- Man in White: Le Vieux, at the end.
- Man On Fire: Named L'Allume, he slowly becomes this as he reads a newspaper.
- Melancholy Moon: The backdrop for the clowns on the shack includes a projected moon which qualifies as this when they huddle together, having endured the waterspouts and the leak, at the end of their first segment. (As the shack drifts off, a cow jumps over that moon.)
- Mood Whiplash: The transition to Russian swings suddenly goes from joyful to mournful, then back to joyful as the act itself starts.
- No Fourth Wall
- Opening Water Ballet
- Rewritten Pop Version / Rearrange the Song
- The song from the solo trapeze/trapeze Washington act -- which does not appear on the soundtrack album -- appeared over the end credits of the Journey of Man short film; on its soundtrack album, a pop version with new English-language lyrics made an appearance along with the original take.
- In the Delirium concert tour, "Nostalgie" became "Bridge of Sorrow", "Africa" became "Bour Mowote", and "Mer Noire" became "Time Flies".
- Scenery Porn: Inherent in the concept of a giant pool for a stage.
- Set Switch Song: "Africa" and "Nostalgie".
- Singing Simlish
- Speaking Simlish
- Spiritual Successor: Director/writer Franco Dragone has since mounted two non-Cirque shows with water "stages" -- Le Reve (2005) in Las Vegas and The House of Dancing Water (2010) in Macau, China.
- Transvestite: Le Travesti, a dancer whose solo in the spotlight leads into the fire act.
- Trapped in Another World
- Walking Shirtless Scene: The Masked Thief and his fellow fire spinners, several of the high divers, the Barrel Organ Grinder, and Le Travesti.
- When It Rains, It Pours: About halfway through the cadre act, a heavy rain begins to fall (making the act that much more challenging for the performers).