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Cirque's B'Way Stumble

NEW YORK (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — A mere six weeks after it's debut, Cirque du Soleil's latest show, "Banana Shpeel" is ending its less-then-stellar run at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan.

According to the New York Times, the show seemed to have a lot going for it. A heavyweight production budget of $20 million ($25 million eventually), as well as a proven creative team led by David Shiner as writer-director. Shiner has practical performing experience as a clown, but was also the co-creator of the successful 1993 B'way show "Fool Moon."

"Banana Shpeel" was something of a departure for Cirque; attempting to blend elements of Cirque's usual fare of acrobats and clowns with overtones of Vaudeville variety theatre.

"We tried something very new and very different for Cirque, which is what we love doing — tackling new creative challenges — but obviously this was a difficult and somewhat surprising process for us," Cirque president/CEO Daniel Lamarre told the Times. "I think it will take some time to understand what happened with 'Banana Shpeel' in New York."

According to the Times, trouble reared it's head for the show early on. The departures of a number of the show's actors, including Annaleigh Ashford ("Hair," "Legally Blonde") and Michael Longoria ("Jersey Boys") hinted at creative turmoil going on in the show's production.

"There was such a struggle getting everyone, people in the rehearsal room, senior Cirque executives, on the same page about what the show was supposed to be," Ashford told The Times. "But I got the clear sense that Cirque, while wanting a different sort of show, also didn’t want a show that looked too much like Broadway." An early in-house preview of the show met with an unfavorable response and the production underwent an extensive overhaul, dropping a number of traditional song numbers in favor of more Vaudeville variety.

Unfortunately, the re-work appeared to be for naught and the show opened for a public preview in Chicago to brutal reviews. Despite this, Cirque execs decided to move forward with the show in New York.

"A lot of people have told me that a normal producer would have given up after Chicago, but we’re not a normal producer," Mr. Lamarre told The Times. "That said, we don’t think we’re invincible, we weren’t arrogant about it. We weren’t pleased after Chicago. But the spirit of Cirque, working day and night to make the show work, is a point of pride for us, and we wanted to give our team a chance to fix the show."

The failed show was also a financial hit for the Beacon, run by MSG Entertainment, who were also financial stakeholders in the show. The Beacon just underwent a $16 million renovation last year and blocking out the calendar for "Shpeel" meant lost opportunties, including having to move the highly popular annual March residency by the Allman Brothers. Cirque officials however, took pains to point out that they were never pressured by MSG. Despite the failure, MSG has indicated that it plans on continuing its relationship with Cirque is currently planning on a major production for Radio City Music Hall set to debut in 2011. – CelebrityAccess Staff Writers